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Rabbis' Blog

Defiance - An Evening of Courage and Inspiration

Mrs. Leah Johnson 

An overflowing crowd of close to 100 participants gathered together to hear firsthand the fascinating story of a young Holocaust survivor. Mrs. Leah Bedzowski Johnson (Yonson) was a young teenager when the Nazis invaded her hometown and altered her life forever. Miraculously, she survived the horrors of the war as part of the famed Bielski brother’s partisan group. Accompanied by her son, Dr. Murray  Johnson of Dallas, she shared her experiences with a riveted crowd.

The evening began with a special screening of the History Channel documentary about the Bielsi brothers entitled: Jerusalem In The Woods. Through interviews and vintage footage the film recounts the incredible tale of three brothers, Tuvia, Asael and Zus Bielski who fled to the woods to escape the Nazis. There they started a partisan group with the agenda of rescuing as many Jews possible – no matter the circumstances. Over the ensuing war years the group swelled to over 1000 Jews. They built an elaborate village which included (among others) a bakery, a munitions shop and even a synagogue.

At the war’s end over 1,200 Jews emerged from the forest as a result of their courageous efforts. Young Leah Bedzowski, her mother and younger brother were among these “forest Jews”. During the war she met and eventually married Velvel Yonsan, known as “Wolf the Machine Gunner”. After the war, the Johnsons emigrated to Canada and rebuilt their shattered lives.

“We were young and hopeful” said Johnson of those years. “We felt that we would survive and start anew. Although we were starving and suffering from the bitter cold, we never lost hope”.

Johnson clarified, that although the saga of the Bielski brothers is a unique tale of overt resistance, every Jew that survived those horrible years was truly a resistance fighter. “To retain the will to stay alive under those terrible conditions, in the ghettos, the concentration camps – necessitated a very unique strength.”

“This was so amazing!” said Dov Kupfer. “As the son of a Holocaust survivor I identified with her story and her message was very inspirational.”

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