Bielski Brothers Survivors Raise Funds for Jewish Camping

June 23, 2009

( In 1942, the Jewish community was entrenched in the ghetto and Sarah Koll had the dire (and accurate) premonition that life was about to get much worse. She instructed her eight-year old daughter, Paula to take care of her younger brother, should bad come to worse. 

It did. Sarah was murdered by the Nazis as was her husband. Their two children were to survive on their own. They became part of the Bielski brothers’ partisan group.

Last week, 67 years later, Paula Burger shared her memories with guests at the Westin Westminister: the incredible sense of responsibility she felt towards four-year old Koll.

She carried him on her back through the snowy forest and cared for his every need. The memories of her mother holding her when she was most frightened, she said, are what kept her going

Paula and her younger brother, Isaac, described surviving the Holocaust as the only children of the partisan group. Now Denver residents, both Paula and Isaac were featured on the recently-released movie, Defiance.

“The story of the Bielsky Brothers could not have been released at a more appropriate time,” Rabbi Benjy Brackman, director of Chabad of NW Metro Denver, who sponsored and planned the evening.

“When the world is in such turmoil with people out of work, and nations in crisis, this story of bravery, courage, and heroism gives us each the strength we need to overcome our challenges.”

Neither Paula nor Isaac ever enjoyed the experience of summer camping. The evening was dedicated to raising funds to make that possible for Jewish children today whose parents cannot afford the tuition.

Paula and Isaac moved the audience with their harrowing tale of survival, inspiring listeners to participate at a silent auction. According to Rabbi Brackman, funds enough for an additional 15 children to attend Camp Gan Israel Westminister were raised and will be disbursed through the Albert Scholarship Fund.

“This story also shows how each person can have such an impact of society. We know that whoever saves a life saves a world, today we have evidence of this in Paula Burger and her family, and Cantor Isaac Koll and his family.

Roughly 35 percent of the campers at Gan Israel of Westminister receive some financial aid. “The importance of this fund during the current economy cannot be overstated,” said Rabbi Brackman.

The evening also paid tribute to slain guard, Stephen T. Johns, of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. A new Holocaust library was dedicated at Chabad of Northwest Denver in memory of local survivors and Cantor Koll sang the traditional Kel Maleh Rachamaim in memory of  those murdered in the Holocaust.

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