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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 Germans occupied Ivie in the summer of '41 and forced the town’s Jews into a ghetto. When they asked Leon’s father what he did for a living, he lied and told the Germans that he was a brush maker – he figured the occupiers would have more use for a tradesman. His assumptions were correct: he was spared from the initial massacre of Jewish men.
Months later, Leon and his older brother, along with 200 other young people, were deported to a labor camp in Lida. The tragic separation from his family actually saved his life, but he never got the chance to see his parents again – the Germans
Leon in 1944 - courtesy of the Bakst family
destroyed their ghetto shortly after he left, as he learned 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. Having heard about partisan groups living in the nearby forests, twenty of the youngsters decided to risk escape and join them. The prisoners had one tremendous advantage: the Germans were using the railroad depot to unload weapons and ammo taken from the retreating Russians. By slowly stealing rifles and stashing them in the ground, the prisoners were able to arm themselves before fleeing.