Duffy, Peter 1969-
Duffy, Peter 1969-
Born 1969, in Syracuse, NY. Education: Attended the University of Pittsburgh.
The Bielski Brothers: The True Story of Three Men Who Defied the Nazis, Built a Village in the Forest, and Saved 1,200 Jews, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2003, also published as Brothers in Arms, Century, 2003.
The Killing of Major Denis Mahon: A Mystery of Old Ireland, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2007.
Contributor to periodicals, including the New York Times, New York Post, Newsday, the London Telegraph, Wall Street Journal, and Village Voice.
Freelance journalist Peter Duffy spent three years researching and writing The Bielski Brothers: The True Story of Three Men Who Defied the Nazis, Saved 1,200 Jews, and Built a Village in the Forest after seeing a reference to "Forest Jews" while surfing the Internet. He first wrote of the brothers in an article for the New York Times. The Bielski brothers, Tuvia, Zus, and Asael, were Jewish millers living in Stankevich, a village near the provincial capital of Novogrudek, a Polish town of approximately six thousand Jews in an area that is part of Belarus. They were not readily accepted by the more urban Jewish families, nor did they fit in with the surrounding peasant population. The family survived by milling grain into flour and meal.
When World War II erupted, Novogrudek came under Soviet rule, and in 1941 the Nazis invaded. Beginning in December of that year, they carried out four campaigns against the Jews, during which five thousand people were killed, including the Bielskis' parents. The brothers fled to the thick forest with their relatives, determined to kill as many Nazis as possible. But under Tuvia's leadership they also reached out to rescue the survivors of the mobile units dispersed to kill Jews. Eventually, the Nazis killed hundreds of thousands, with the cooperation of Poles, Ukrainians, and Lithuanians.
In 1943, the Nazis launched Operation Hermann, the purpose of which was to find and eradicate the forest Jews. As trees were flattened by heavy machinery, the brothers led the people deeper into the woods and into the waters of a swamp, rendering them undetectable to the planes flying overhead. The Bielskis then created a town in eastern Poland that contained a school, synagogue, theater, infirmary, shops for tradesmen, and even a cemetery and jail, which harbored more than one thousand people. Duffy notes that the brothers were not saints. They drank, caroused, and sometimes abused their power. Toward the end, Tuvia killed another Jew in anger.
Michael Skakun reviewed the book for Jewishpress.com, noting that "although Duffy conveys the thrill and travail of their extraordinary act of defiance, he is not loath to discuss the compromises and peccadilloes, even the acts of moral outrage, the Bielskis occasionally committed. He gives us the full chiaroscuro effect, painting both the hues of light and shadow that constitute a picture of heroism in extremis." A Publishers Weekly contributor wrote that The Bielski Brothers "is a story about heroes, and Duffy does a masterful job telling it." And Tribune Books writer Rebecca Skloot called this "a haunting book. Along with the brothers' story, Duffy traces the torture and extermination of Jews—a familiar tale that never loses its power—in vivid detail…. Duffy never judges whether the Nazis and their supporters deserved the brutality they experienced at the hands of the Bielski clan, which is a good thing. Readers can decide for themselves."
Unlike other heroes of the Holocaust, the names of the Bielski brothers were lost in history. Asael died in combat, but the remaining two immigrated to Brooklyn. Tuvia died in 1987 and Zus in 1995. Their younger brother, Aron, who had been a scout as a child in the forest, moved to Florida. Survivors of the brothers have accompanied Duffy on tours to promote the book, which has been translated into multiple languages.
In his second book, The Killing of Major Denis Mahon: A Mystery of Old Ireland, Duffy explores the murder of Major Denis Mahon during Ireland's Great Famine of the 1840s. Though most of the people who died in Ireland during the famine were poor, some of the landed gentry were killed by those who were starving. Mahon was one such individual. Duffy shows how Mahon was evicting tenants from his land during the famine, and there were warnings of a plot to kill his agent (the man responsible for carrying out the evictions). Instead, Mahon was himself murdered. Ironically, he was killed just after leaving a meeting where he had set forth plans for famine relief. Reviewers found much of value in the book. For instance, Michael Kenney, writing in the Boston Globe, stated that with the publication of The Killing of Major Denis Mahon, "Duffy makes a significant contribution to Great Famine literature." A Kirkus Reviews critic was equally impressed, commenting that Duffy "capably transforms one of the bleakest episodes in modern history into an instructive account of events that have lasting repercussions to this day." Another laudatory review was proffered by New York Times Book Review contributor Cormac O. Grada, who called the book "intricate and absorbing."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Boston Globe, October 2, 2007, Michael Kenney, review of The Killing of Major Denis Mahon: A Mystery of Old Ireland.
Catholic Sun, October 25-November 1, 2007, Connie Cissell, "Bringing the Famine Back Home."
Economist, July 5, 2003, review of The Bielski Brothers: The True Story of Three Men Who Defied the Nazis, Saved 1,200 Jews, and Built a Village in the Forest, p. 74.
Kirkus Reviews, May 1, 2003, review of The Bielski Brothers, p. 654; September 15, 2007, review of The Killing of Major Denis Mahon.
Library Journal, June 1, 2003, Frederic Krome, review of The Bielski Brothers, p. 138.
New York Times Book Review, October 5, 2003, Raye Snover, review of The Bielski Brothers, p. 24; December 9, 2007, Cormac O. Grada, "Famine's Villains," p. 31.
Publishers Weekly, May 26, 2003, review of The Bielski Brothers, p. 60; July 30, 2007, review of The Killing of Major Denis Mahon, p. 68.
Spectator, August 2, 2003, Carole Angier, review of Brothers in Arms, p. 34.
Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), August 24, 2003, Rebecca Skloot, review of The Bielski Brothers, p. 3.
Jewishpress.com,http://www.jewishpress.com/ (August 13, 2003), Michael Skakun, review of The Bielski Brothers.