After World War I, Yonia's family moved to Vilna. Yonia studied painting and graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Vilna. When Germany invaded Poland in September 1939, Yonia was living with his wife in Warsaw. They fled to Brest-Litovsk in eastern Poland, occupied by Soviet forces in mid-September 1939. Then Yonia and his wife escaped to Vilna. After the Soviets occupied Vilna in June 1940, Yonia and his wife forged Japanese transit visas and left for Japan. In Japan, they were unable to obtain valid visas for another country and were forced to remain. Japanese authorities required them to relocate to Shanghai in Japanese-occupied China in the fall of 1941. They remained in Shanghai for the duration of the war. In 1948, Yonia and his wife immigrated to Mexico. In 1956, Yonia immigrated to the United States.
We walked out from the city and outside of Warsaw we met many, many, many people. Most of the time young people who didn't want to be captured by the Germans and went to the eastern part of Poland, uh, believing that some sort of resistance would be organized. Where did we get the food? Where did we get the water? Where did we get places to sleep? The little towns on our way were burning and the people left them. They ran out. In the countryside the peasants came... the peasants came out and they gave us food. They said, "Take it, eat it. We don't want to wait with all our, uh, cows and pigs and horses for the Germans. You are our brothers." It was an atmosphere of fear and expectation. Uh, on the way we were all the time bombarded by the Germans' Luftwaffe [air force] and many peoples were killed. And finally, we went to the eastern part of Poland...to the eastern and, uh, southern part of Poland. And at that time we all of a sudden got the news that Poland will be divided between Stalin's Russia and Hitler's Germany. And we didn't know what to expect.