Cover art for podcast Based on a True Story

Based on a True Story

205 EpisodesProduced by Dan LeFebvreWebsite

We've all seen the movies that claim to be 'based on a true story', but have you ever wondered how historically accurate they are? That's what we'll find out as we compare Hollywood with history.



Nechama Tec was born in Lublin, Poland in 1931. When she was eight years old, her life would forever change as Nazis invaded her hometown. As a Polish Jew, she survived the Holocaust thanks to Polish Catholics who hid her from the Nazis.

Over forty years later, in the 1980s, Nechama started doing research on the events that she had lived through. Her book, When Light Pierced the Darkness: Christian Rescue of Jews in Nazi-Occupied Poland was published in 1986. It was while Nechama was researching for this book that she called up a man named Tuvia Bielski, who was living in Brooklyn at the time.

"He was very friendly and wanted to know what book I'm writing," Nechama recalled in an interview with NPR. After explaining that she was researching the story of a man who had helped over 300 Jews escape the Nazis, Tuvia replied: "Big deal. When you come to me, I will show you how people saved more than a thousand."

And that's how Nechama found the topic for her next book, which would be published in 1993 titled Defiance: The Bielski Partisans.

Nechama's book about the Bielski brothers never reached #1 on the New York Times Best-Seller's List, but it won numerous awards, including the International Anne Frank Special Recognition Prize.

One of Edward Zwick's friends found the book and was so fascinated by it that he passed it onto the director. Initially, Edward was hesitant of doing yet another Holocaust movie, but he was so enthralled by the story that he couldn't resist. In 1999, Edward acquired the film rights and started work on the film.

It took nearly a decade before it was ready to start shooting. And when it did, they had to act fast. Actor Daniel Craig was cast for the lead role in May of 2007, but they had to start shooting right away so he could move onto another obligation as James Bond in Quantum of Solace. So shooting for Defiance began in September of 2007 and wrapped up in just three months.

On January 19th, 2009, Defiance was released to underwhelming box office numbers. With a budget of $32 million, the film would go on to only make back about $28 million in theaters. After Nechama saw the film, she was shocked by some of the changes Hollywood made.

Let's find out just how much changed as we learn the true story behind Defiance.

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