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Showing posts with label The Reunion. Show all posts
Showing posts with label The Reunion. 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.

Monday, July 30, 2012

New Trailer For JPEF's Upcoming Documentary, "The Reunion"

Last November, The Jewish Partisan Educational Foundation honored 55 Jewish partisans and their families in New York City at a series of special events. Two film crews were on location to document the occasion. The footage will be used in JPEF's newest documentary film, "The Reunion".

"The Reunion" features candid conversations about the responsibilities of being one of the last Holocaust survivors, and celebrates moments of joy as former resistance fighters see each other for the first time in over 65 years. "The Reunion" commemorates the stories of forging lifelong bonds, and reveals a unique legacy that connects people across decades and generations.

Watch the new trailer:

In 2013, the film will be used in classrooms and synagogues as part of JPEF's educational programs.

To take part in one of the premieres, or for more information on obtaining a copy of the film, please email reunion@jewishpartisans.org.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

New JPEF Curricula, Film and E-Learning 2.0 for 2012-2013

Here’s a sneak peak at just some of what JPEF has planned for the coming school year in 2012-2013:

  • New Curricula – including Tactics of Resistance and a new How-To series, starting with Strengthening Jewish Pride
  • E-Learning 2.0 – Improved interface, professional development units and new courses
  • New FilmThe Reunion: Jewish partisans from around the world gather and share their stories – including two friends who reunite for the first time in 65 years
  • New Workshops and Pilot Programs

New Curricula
Tactics of Resistance

When is violence is an appropriate response to Aggression (if ever)? Was non-violence effective during the Holocaust? Expand your students’ vocabulary and creative/critical thinking around the spectrum of violent and non-violent resistance to aggression today (globally and in our own lives) through the lens of Jews who fought back against the Holocaust. Includes an overview of Jewish armed and unarmed resistance during the Holocaust.

Painting on the right by Mieczyslaw Watorski, courtesy of the Holocaust Library & Resource Center at Albright College.

How to Use JPEF Materials to…

JPEF is launching a new series of educator’s guides on how to use our materials for specific subjects and contexts such as Language Arts, Tolerance and Civics classes. Our first module, Strengthening Jewish Identity includes discussion questions to go with our films, tips for increasing Jewish pride, and an index of materials best suited to day schools, summer camps, supplementary programs, youth groups and more.

Workshops and Pilot Programs

E-Learning 2.0

Draft screenshot of our new E-Learning interfaceOver 89% of educators who have take a JPEF E-Learning course said they would take another and 97% would recommend it to a colleague. Now the State of New Jersey Holocaust Commission is offering professional development units for each course, and we’re working on more certifications. We’re also developing new courses for our upcoming curricula and other projects.

The Reunion

In November 2011, JPEF honored more than 55 surviving Jewish partisans in a series of events in New York City. JPEF’s newest documentary, "The Reunion," features candid conversations about the responsibilities of being one of the last Holocaust survivors, and moments of joy as former resistance fighters see each other for the first time in over 65 years. "The Reunion" tells the story of lifelong bonds and a unique legacy that connects people across decades and generations.

  • The Reunion premieres in New York, San Francisco and Miami with an additional screening in Dallas, and will eventually be featured on our website
  • For more information about the film, please visit our Reunion page.

Allen and Leon at the JPEF Partisan Tribute Dinner