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Showing posts with label Leon Bakst. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Leon Bakst. Show all posts

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Featured Jewish Partisan - Leon Bakst, born on May 3rd

Leon Bakst was one of four siblings born to a wholesale merchant in Ivie, a small Polish town 73 miles west of Minsk. Leon was 15 when the German army invaded eastern Poland in the summer of 1941, occupying Ivie and forcing the town’s Jews into a ghetto.

When the Germans asked Leon’s father what he did for a living, he lied and told the Germans that he was a brush maker. Though he traded in raw materials required for making brushes, he had never actually made a brush in his life. However, he figured that the occupiers would have more use for a tradesman than a merchant. His assessment of the situation was correct – he was spared the initial massacre of influential Jewish men. It would not be the last time his quick wits would save him and his family from annihilation. During the next round-up, as the family was approaching the SS officials in charge of choosing the next massacre victims, Leon’s father put his wife and daughters behind himself and his two sons – he realized the Nazis were more likely to spare able-bodied men than families with lots of women and children. The gamble paid off: seeing only a father and his two teenage sons from their vantage point behind the table, the SS men hurriedly dismissed the family.


The Bakst family.

By this point in the war, the Nazis were not particularly concerned about hiding their true plans for the Jews of Poland. Leon and his brother were among those forced to dig mass graves a mile outside of their town. Leon remembers seeing the soldiers execute one of the crew:

“It was a Rabbi’s son – he had a little bit…one arm. [It] wasn’t as strong as the other; it was kind of a weak arm. So after we got through digging out, before we’re fixing to go back to the ghetto, [they] shot him, right there in front of the grave. And we left.”

Months later, Leon and his older brother, along with 200 other young people, were selected by the local Judenrat council to go to a labor camp in Lida, another town 25 miles west of Ivie. The tragic separation from his family actually saved his life, but he never got the chance to see his parents again – the Germans destroyed their ghetto shortly after he left, as he learnt later.

The labor camp was located in a railroad yard – the prisoners even slept in the boxcars. Their food rations were meager, and their futures uncertain. However, the prisoners had one tremendous advantage: their job was to load trains bound for Germany with weapons and ammunition captured from the retreating Russians. Having heard about partisan groups roaming the nearby forests, twenty of the youngsters decided to risk escape and join them. By slowly stealing rifles and stashing them in the ground, the prisoners were able to arm themselves before fleeing.

Having spent many summers in the area, the two brothers were familiar with the surroundings, making it easier for their group to travel at night. The rifles they stole from the Germans also ensured that the group got fed along the way, and their numbers kept them safe from bands of former Russian soldiers turned bandits and marauders – men who would not hesitate to kill a stray escapee for a pair of boots or a rifle.

Having finally reached the Naliboki forest, the youngsters encountered the Bielski brigade, which at the time had about 200 partisans. Since the group arrived with rifles, the Bielskis quickly accepted the newcomers.

During his time with the Bielskis, Leon was involved in a series of tasks ranging from guard duty to food-gathering missions to railroad sabotage. As he says, the main purpose of the partisans was to keep the members of the group alive. By 1945, the Bielskis saved more than 1,200 Jewish lives.

After the war’s end, Leon managed to leave Poland with his brother and Libby – a partisan from another otriad and Leon’s future wife. They eventually made it to a displaced persons’ camp in Munich, where Leon met Allen Small, a boyhood friend from Ivie who fought with a Soviet partisan otriad. It would be 65 years before they see one another again. (For more on this story, see JPEF’s documentary “The Reunion”.)


Leon and Libby in Munich, 1946.

During the four years they spent in the displaced persons’ camp, Leon and Libby got married and their first child was born. They immigrated to the United States in 1949. Leon currently lives in Dallas, Texas. He has two daughters. Of his legacy as a partisan, Leon says:

“When I was in the underground, it was a happy time of my life because I felt I’m fighting not only for myself, I was fighting for freedom, and [to] take revenge for the Jewish people. That's what I’m proud of it. And that’s why I take, I keep on living for it, you know, and I can try to tell as many people I can to relay the message to them, what happened in World War II to the Jewish people, [that] some of the people were heroic and they went to the underground and fought."

Leon with Allen Small (left) at the NY premiere of "The Reunion".

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving From JPEF!

Allen and his childhood friend Leon Bakst were reunited for the first time in over 65 years at the November 2011 Jewish partisan reunion in NYC. While their meeting is the focus of JPEF's newest documentary film The Reunion, it was not the only life-altering experience Allen had at this event. He was surprised to reconnect with Judith Ginsburg, another fellow partisan who, unbeknownst to Allen, has been living in Florida a short distance from his home for many years. Since November 2011, the Ginsburg and Small families have celebrated many happy occasions together – including Thanksgiving and New Year’s.


Allen Small and Judith Ginsburg at the 2011 Partisan Reunion in NYC.

Allen credits the Jewish Partisan Educational Foundation with bringing him new family members on this holiday of Thanksgiving and is grateful for the blessings that have come to him since last November. JPEF, in turn, is grateful for Allen for having stood up against the forces of evil and oppression at an incredibly young age – and for sharing his story with us, which you can read on the JPEF Partisan Pages, where new short biographies have been posted for Allen Small and his friend Leon Bakst.

Stay tuned for two more new biographies on our partisan pages after the holiday weekend!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Actor Liev Schreiber Narrates Documentary “The Reunion” – World Premiere to Be Held in New York at Paley Center for Media

NEW YORK CITY – October 19, 2012 – The Jewish Partisan Educational Foundation (JPEF), an organization dedicated to inspiring the next generation by teaching the history and life lessons of Jewish partisans, will host the premier of its latest documentary “The Reunion”, narrated by actor Liev Schreiber who portrayed Jewish resistance fighter, Zus Bielski, in the film Defiance. The premiere will be held at the Paley Center for Media on October 22.

The documentary was inspired last fall, when JPEF hosted a reunion for all surviving Jewish partisans in New York City. 55 Jewish partisans attended the event, WCBS Anchor Dana Tyler was the emcee and actor Ed Asner gave a special presentation.

Allen Small and Leon Bakst were close friends growing up in Poland, both fought against the Nazis as Jewish partisans, and each lost their families during the Holocaust. They said goodbye, for what they thought was the last time, 66 years ago in a displaced persons camp in Germany. Their story unfolds in The Reunion, written and produced by JPEF’s executive director, Mitch Braff.

"This is an important story that must be told. I was happy to contribute to The Reunion, in hopes of helping ensure more people learn what the Jewish partisans went through and the incredible things they accomplished," said Schreiber. "Working on Defiance was a powerful and very personal experience for me. It was the beginning of an awareness and commitment that I'm certain will be with me for the rest of my life."

JPEF develops free educational materials for schools on the 30,000 Jews who fought against the Nazis as partisans. The Jewish partisans saved thousands of lives and destroyed thousands of German trains and convoys. Small, who now lives in Florida, Bakst, who now lives in Texas, and other partisans - including Frank Blaichman and Romi Cohn from New York, as well as Leah Johnson from Florida – are featured in the film. The movie answers questions about their very challenging life experiences.

Ticket sales can be purchased either on site or online at www.jewishpartisans.org/reunionNY. All proceeds from the ticket sales go towards developing JPEF’s curriculum. Members of the press, partisans and their families are invited to attend complimentary. A preview of the film can be seen at www.jewishpartisans.org/reuniontrailer.

About Jewish Partisans Educational Foundation:
JPEF is a not for profit organization and is the only association in the world solely committed to teaching the history and life lessons of the 30,000 Jews who fought back as partisans during World War II. More than 6,500 schools and synagogues worldwide use the organization’s free curriculum targeted for 7th-12th grades. Our mission is to develop and distribute effective educational materials about the Jewish partisans and their life lessons, bringing the celebration of heroic resistance against tyranny into educational and cultural organizations. For more information about the organization, the curriculum, to connect with other partisans or to donate, please visit www.jewishpartisans.org.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Liev Schreiber Narrates "The Reunion", A New JPEF Documentary

On September 21st, JPEF executive director Mitch Braff was in New York City with Liev Schreiber, recording the narration voice-overs for JPEF's new documentary film, "The Reunion". The film features candid conversations with Jewish partisans about the responsibility of being among the last Holocaust survivors, and celebrates moments of joy as former resistance fighters reunite and see each other for the first time in over 65 years.

This photograph was taken right after the studio session. JPEF is grateful for Liev's continual help over the years, including our PSA last summer with Larry King and Edward Zwick. Liev Schreiber played Zus Bielski in the 2008 film "Defiance".

The film will premiere across the United States in 2012-2013. Premieres are confirmed in New York City on October 22nd at the Paley Center for Media, as well as in San Francisco on November 13th at the Delancey Street Screening Room. More dates and venues to be announced in the future.

Watch the hymn of the partisans sung by the Tribute Dinner attendees in this clip from the upcoming film:

For more information about the film, please visit www.jewishpartisans.org/reunion.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Jewish Partisans honored in New York City

Over 55 Jewish partisans gathered together in New York City on November 6th and 7th to commemorate the enduring legacy they share and to be honored at the Jewish Partisan Educational Foundation’s 2011 Tribute Dinner. Traveling from throughout the United States, many with children, grandchildren and even some great-grandchildren in tow, they reconnected with friends and quickly rekindled the strong bonds that will forever unite them.

The celebration began with a Sunday afternoon reception for partisans and their family members, hosted by JPEF, at the Park East Synagogue. Laughter resonated throughout the space as partisans embraced one another, tears of joy welling in their eyes. For many, this was the first time they had seen one another in over sixty-five years. Allen Small, who traveled from Palm Beach Gables, Florida, was overjoyed to be reunited with Leon Bakst who came from Dallas, Texas.

Over 400 guests packed the stylish art deco Edison Ballroom the following evening to formally recognize and honor the courage and sacrifice demonstrated by these Jewish partisans during World War II. Mistress of Ceremonies Dana Tyler, Senior News Anchor for WCBS-TV and actor and Emmy winner Edward Asner, the cousin of partisan Abe Asner, paid tribute to each of the honorees. With their black and white partisan photograph projected on screen, each partisan was individually honored and identified by name, country of birth and the partisan group in which they served. In all there were 23 women and 33 men, representing brigades from Belarus, Poland, Czechoslovakia, the Ukraine, Russia and France. Included among the attending partisans were six married couples, three sets of siblings, a rabbi, a cantor and a mohel.

Guests watched in awe as each partisan, most in their eighties and nineties, stood to accept their honor with the same characteristic strength and determination that empowered them to fight back so many years before.

In his address Asner stated, “JPEF is important because it puts the legacy of the Jewish partisans front and center, as no other organization does. It stays committed to its mission and does not deviate.”

Lauren Feingold, granddaughter of partisans Dr. Charles Bedzow and Sara Golcman Bedzow also spoke. As the first third generation representative to the JPEF Board, Lauren worked closely with her grandfather, who serves as JPEF’s Honorary International Chairman, to promote the Tribute Dinner and guarantee its success. Like Lauren, many of those involved in the recently formed 3G group, are already working to ensure that young people everywhere are empowered by their grandparent’s examples, and she challenged her peers to join in this quest. She was followed by Charles who spoke movingly to his fellow partisans reminding them that they share a unique and important legacy; one which must be passed from generation to generation.

In a fitting testament to this charge, Cantor Shira Ginsburg, grandaugher of partisan Judith Ginsburg, closed the event with a performance of the song “Who Am I”, about her family and the inspiration of her grandmother’s partisan legacy. As Shira’s beautiful voice filled the room, more than forty third generation teens and young adults raised white candles high, signaling their commitment to keep the flame alive.

JPEF extends its sincere appreciation to event co-chairperons Esther-Ann Asch, Suzanne and Elliott Felson, Kim and Jonathan Kushner and Diane and Howard Wohl for their dedication to ensuring the success of this remarkable event.

Links to press materials about the event:
Jerusalem Post article.
Jewish Week article.
An article in the Algemeiner.
WCBS nightly news video.
More photos from the event on our Flickr page.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Partisan Legacy Honored in New York City

Fifty-five surviving partisans, many traveling from as far away as California, Colorado and Tennessee, attended the Jewish Partisan Educational Foundation's Tribute Dinner on Monday, December 7th. For many, this was the first time that they had seen one another in over 60 years. Allen Small and Leon Bakst were reunited for the first time since the War. Growing up together in a small town, in what is now Belarus, they attended the same school. Fighting with different partisan brigades during the war, they had last seen each other at a DP camp in Germany before coming to the United States. Another partisan stated that this was one of the “best nights of his life.”

Group photo of attending partisans at the Park East Synagogue in Manhattan.
NEW YORK (JTA) — Allen Small, 83, and Leon Bakst, 86, hugged each other so tight, Small said, “I couldn’t let go.”
Their embrace at a synagogue on Manhattan's Upper East Side was 65 years in the making.
Small and Bakst grew up a few houses apart in Ivye, Belarus, attending the same school and synagogue before reality turned black, back when their names were Avraham Schmulewitz and Leibel Bakst, and Ivye belonged to Poland and the Nazis had not yet invaded. They last saw each another in 1946 at a displaced persons camp in Munich.
During the two years preceding their liberation by the Red Army in 1944, the then teenagers fought the Nazis in separate brigades in the vast Nalibotskaya Pushcha forest. For their daring, Small, now living in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., and Bakst, of Dallas, along with 53 other Jewish partisans from across the United States, were honored here at a synagogue reception Nov. 6 and a gala dinner the next evening.

Click here to read the rest of this article.

Click here to read another article about this event from the New York Jewish Week.

Click here to view a video about this event that aired on CBS News New York.