Thursday, September 26, 2019
Charles Bedzow was born Chonon Bedzowski on September 28, 1924 in the town of Lida, located in present-day Belarus. Once the Germans occupied Lida, Charles and his family were stuffed into an overcrowded, disease ridden ghetto within the town. He and his family suffered under the constant threat of starvation in the gradually worsening conditions. In the spring of 1942, he watched as his fellow townspeople were methodically slaughtered, but by a miracle, his immediate family was spared.
Fortunately, partisan leader Tuvia Bielski was a family friend to the Bedzowski family as the two families had been close before the war. After the occupation, Tuvia sent a message to the Bedzowski family – the message urged them to escape the liquidation of the ghetto by fleeing into the nearby woods, where the Bielskis had set up camp after the liquidation of their own village. Charles escaped to the woods and joined the Bielski Brigade. Because the Bielski camp allowed refugees regardless of their age or gender, Charles was joined by his mother, Chasia, his older sister Leah, younger sister Sonia, and younger brother Benny. Almost the entire family survived the Holocaust – an extreme rarity.
The Bedzowski family’s escape into the woods was complex and extremely dangerous. They traversed the treacherous landscape, crawled under fences and walked through the woods for two days, exhausted. Charles reported his thoughts upon arriving at the Bielski camp: “This must be one of the few places in all of Europe where Jews can move in total freedom.”
Despite the fact that like many partisans, Charles was only 17 when he entered the Bielski Brigade, he was quickly entrusted with dangerous work. His missions included the gathering of supplies for the group, scouting, sabotaging German efforts, and participating in ambushes. One such ambush occurred on January 28, 1944. A group of Bielski partisans went to a local village, pretending to be drunk. Their raucous noise alerted the locals, who notified the Germans nearby. 150 partisans lay in wait for the Germans, and they killed 26 policemen and eight Nazi officers during the ambush.
Unfortunately, the Bedzowski family’s participation in the partisan movement was not without a price. On one of her missions to bring medicine and Jews to the brigade from a nearby ghetto, Charles’s sister, Sonia, was caught by enemy forces and sent to the Treblinka death camp, where she died.
Following the war, the remaining members of the Bedzowski family wound up in a displaced persons camp in Torino, Italy. Charles married a fellow partisan from Poland, Sara Golcman, in 1946. In 1949 he and his family emigrated to Montreal, Canada, where he started a successful international real estate firm. Charles and Sara had three children; his surviving brother and sister went on to raise families of their own, and his mother, Chasia, not only survived the war, but went on to live with Charles until her death in 2000.
Charles is JPEF’s Honorary International Chairman. His story is featured in We Fought Back, an anthology of partisan stories from Scholastic publishing. Visit www.jewishpartisans.org for more about Charles Bedzow, including three videos of him reflecting on his time as a partisan. Visit jewishpartisans.org/defiance to see JPEF’s short documentary films and educational materials on the Bielski partisans.
Monday, June 1, 2015
With the help of Tuvia Bielski, siblings Charles Bedzow and Leah Johnson escaped the Lida ghetto before its residents were rounded up, shot and tossed into mass graves. Their biographies are available on the Partisans section of our main website. Charles Bedzow (born Chonon Bedzowski) and Leah Johnson (born Leah Bedzowski) grew up in Lida, a Polish town located in present-day Belarus. When they were in their mid-teens, the Nazis invaded Poland and confined Lida’s Jewish population into a ghetto, where their family lived in overcrowded, pest-infested quarters. Miraculously, the siblings' immediate family escaped the massacres that followed months later.
Convinced no one would be spared, the Bedzowskis were resolute to get out. Help came from Tuvia Bielski – the Bielskis knew the Bedzowskis, and Tuvia managed to get a letter to them to ask if they would join him and his brothers. They escaped the ghetto to join the Bielski brigade in the woods, where both Charles and Leah served as scouts, stood guard, and went on supply-gathering missions, among other things.
Charles and Leah survived the war with the Bielski camp and escaped to a DP camp in Torino. They and their families – both were now married – immigrated across the Atlantic to Canada.
Read the biographies here:
Thursday, November 14, 2013
In November of 2008, Defiance director Edward Zwick took these photographs of surviving Bielski partisans at the screening of Defiance at the Museum of Jewish Heritage. We have posted some of these on our Facebook page earlier, in conjunction with our tribute dinner honoring partisans from the Bielski brigade and their 3rd generation descendants. Here is the entire set:
All photos © 2008 Edward Zwick. Used with permission.
Thursday, October 11, 2012
Educators: we are pleased to inform you that Scholastic has recently published a collection of stories entitled We Fought Back: Teen Resisters of the Holocaust. The book is written by Allan Zullo, and is his fourth book about the Holocaust for the teenage audience. The book is aimed at young readers, and gives a true-life narrative account of seven teen-aged partisans fighting the Nazis in World War II.
Each story opens with an attention-grabbing scene of sabotage, ambush, or a bloodied battlefield. The stories are fast-paced and captivating, but their content is always grounded in the actual experience of partisans, allowing students to see how life was like for teens of similar age in the most dire of situations.
Of the seven stories in the book, five are about partisans profiled on the JPEF partisan pages. These include Frank Blaichman, Sonia Orbuch (known in the book as Sarah Shainwald), Martin Petrasek (in the book as Martin Friedman), Shalom Yoran (in the book as Selim Sznycer), and Romi Cohn. At least one more will join them in the coming weeks as we finalize four new partisan biographies with accompanying photos and video interview clips.
The book provides a great opportunity for middle and high school teachers to supplement their history and English classes. As the book gives an account of a lesser-known aspect of the Jewish experience during the war, it is an obvious complement to the study of the Holocaust in schools. In addition to offering first-hand accounts of the war experience, the book supports curriculum aimed at exploring Jewish identity, leadership, and resistance.
In English courses, the book’s dramatized versions of the partisan fighters’ true stories provide a counterbalance to reading lists traditionally centered around fiction. Often we find non-fiction underutilized in the English classroom and yet it accounts for much of adult reading. This is an opportunity to engage students with narrative in an alternative way, potentially appealing to reluctant readers – or simply enriching the reading experience for all students.
The age of the protagonists in these stories makes it easy for students to identify with them, and the narrative of survival and resistance to oppression is powerful and compelling, especially for that age group. In these ways and more, We Fought Back can be a great resource for any classroom.
— Written by Chelsea Martin.