They were victims. They were treated cruelly and unjustly. But don't think for a second that the Jews never fought back against Nazi repression during World War II.
Someone who knows that better than anyone else quietly stood on a recent night outside the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Los Angeles. The soft-spoken, elderly man was listening to someone, but paused a moment to allow me to shake his hand. He smiled gently. I had just met a hero.
The man I had met was Kazik, a carefree Jewish driver who risked his life to fight the Nazis in the Warsaw Ghetto. He and others weren't professional soldiers; they had limited aid from others. These men and women fought back anyway.
Kazik was the World War II code name of Simha Rotem. Rotem, who now lives in Israel, was in Los Angeles for the world premiere screening of "Uprising," an NBC miniseries. He was an adviser for the TV program.
The true story of the 1943 uprising in Warsaw Ghetto airs at 9 p.m. Sunday and Monday on NBC. I urge you to watch it. The book was based on the accounts of survivors, including Rotem's 1994 book, "Kazik: Memoirs of a Warsaw Ghetto Fighter."
"It's about honor and decency and dignity and people who were persecuted who fought back, all on their own," said Leelee Sobrieski, who stars as Tosia Altman. Altman, a Jew, sneaked from the Warsaw Ghetto, the Jewish section of the Polish capital, into the Aryan section to get bread for her sick father.
When her father died and the Nazis took Altman's mother and sister away to a concentration camp, she joined the resistance movement.
"She had nothing left to lose," Sobrieski said during a teleconference with reporters. "Once the people you love disappear, you either want to disappear yourself or you want to do them honor."
Sobrieski developed a lot of respect for Altman. "I don't know if I would have that kind of strength," she said.
Altman regularly crossed into the Aryan section and smuggled weapons and explosives back into the Warsaw Ghetto.
Everything about making "Uprising" has been a learning experience, Sobrieski said. "I didn't realize there was one (an uprising). They held off the Nazis longer than the Polish Army." "Uprising" is based on the accounts of survivors.
In addition to Sobrieski, the miniseries stars Hank Azaria in his best performance ever as rebellion leader/teacher Mordechai Anielewicz and David Schwimmer, star of "Friends" and HBO's "Band of Brothers," as fellow leader and teacher Yitzhak Zuckerman. Together, they formed the Jewish Fighting Organization, and despite disagreements on how and when to fight back, the JFO members found ways to deal serious blows to the Nazis. They win some of the battles in "Uprising."
The film also stars Jon Voight as Nazi General Stroop, Mili Avital as freedom fighter Devorah Baron and Cary Elwes as Nazi propaganda filmmaker Fritz Hippler. They all do a great job.
And Donald Sutherland, who has acted in more than 100 movies, gives a sensitive, compelling performance as Jewish Council leader Adam Czerniakow.
Stephen Moyer ("Prince of Thieves") plays the hero I met, Kazik.
Jon Avnet, executive producer and director of "Uprising," talked about the miniseries before it was shown at the movie academy for the cast and crew, NBC executives and others in the Hollywood community. Avnet and Paul Brickman co-wrote the miniseries.
"It is a blessing to tell the story very few know, to speak for the many who have no voice and to let the world know they lived with the honor, they died with honor - Jewish honor," Avnet said.
Sobrieski called the entire filming a learning experience. "Uprising" was filmed in Slovakia. Many of the extras acting in "Uprising" are Slovakians, and before the end of the Cold War, they had lived under Communist rule in Czechoslovakia.
"We were surrounded by people who were oppressed for so many generations," Sobrieski said. "They had such incredible faces."
Now is the right time to see "Uprising," Sobrieski said. "I think it (the story) definitely will have more an impact on people's lives" because of the events of Sept. 11, she said. "I was born in New York; my mom was in New York when it happened. She was there and I couldn't reach her (at the time). I think the whole country and people I know felt lost and shaken up."
Sobrieski has Polish blood and her grandfather was Jewish. "I really wasn't brought up in any one particular way," she said. "I'm a configuration of everything."
In addition to "Uprising," Sobrieski is in three movies now at the theaters - "Joy Ride," Glass House" and "My First Mister." Between movies and television, she's now playing four different characters in four different kinds of films.
Sobrieski wants to do it all. "I want to be a mom, I want to be a director, I want to be a painter, I want to be a poet," she said.
She's already proven herself as an actress in "Uprising."
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