Moshe Baran is not your run-of-the-mill 92-year-old. A retired real estate manager, Moshe has the distinction of being a Holocaust survivor and one of a dwindling number of partisans still alive to tell his story. His story is one of determination, survival and courage. But it is his resolve to speak about his experiences to keep the memories of those who were murdered alive that sets him apart. His Internet campaign to stop hate makes him even more remarkable. And so, he will be telling his story at the 33rd Annual Teaneck Holocaust Commemoration.
Moshe grew up in Horodok, Poland, a town with over 300 Jewish families. When the Nazis arrived in the spring of 1942, he was rounded up and sent to Krasne, the region’s last ghetto, where he worked 12-hour shifts laying railroad ties to build a supply line to the eastern front. Finding out that Horodok would be destroyed, his family escaped the massacre by hiding in an underground bunker on an uncle’s property. They then joined Moshe in Krasne.
Through friends, he learned that there was a resistance movement in the forest. He yearned to become a partisan. But the admission fee was to bring a gun. He contacted friends working in a warehouse where the Germans collected guns abandoned by the retreating Russian army and a plan was hatched. They smuggled parts into a junk pile and Baran retrieved them. “One of the German guards was a mensch,” he said. “He let me take junk from the pile and ironically helped me to survive. Because of Lieutenant Miller, I am sitting here.”
A woman in the ghetto knew where other escapees had set up camp and agreed to show them if they took her children out. They dug their way under a fence and walked 15 miles through the night to join the partisans. His first day as a partisan gave him a new freedom. “It was the first time I looked up and saw the sun. Until then, we were living like hunted animals and were always afraid of what would happen next.”
“One of the German guards was a mensch,” he said. “He let me take junk from the pile and ironically helped me to survive. Because of Lieutenant Miller, I am sitting here.”
As a member of the partisans, he helped sabotage railways, planted explosives, ambushed German trucks and cut their supply lines. He helped Russian partisans retrieve weapons from Russian airdrops by setting fires to mark the spot for the drop. He also arranged for the rescue of his brother, sister and mother. (To his knowledge, she was the only mother from his shtetl to survive.) His father had stayed behind in Krasne to care for his sick sister. They died when the ghetto was liquidated.
For nearly two years, Baran lived in hiding. When the Germans mounted an offensive against the partisans, the group moved deeper into the swamps where they eventually confronted the Germans. He survived the gun battle that ensued. In July 1944, the region was liberated and he was conscripted into the Russian Army where he stayed until the war ended in May 1945. Since there was no home to return to, Baran made his way to a displaced persons camp in Linz, Austria. There he met his future wife, who had survived Treblinka. They married in the newly formed State of Israel and, in 1954, they moved to New York.
The Barans moved to Pittsburgh in 1993 to be close to their daughter and it was then that Moshe began speaking to groups about his wartime experiences. “There are many people who are not alive to tell their story and there are others who are not able to speak about it. I am fortunate to be able to tell my story and this makes up for the pain of reliving the horrors,” he says.
In September, 2012, Moshe began writing a blog called “Language Can Kill – Messages of Genocide.” It was dedicated to his late wife who stressed how important it is to disavow the language of hate. When asked why he started an anti-hate blog at the age of 91, he said, “Before the war, people said that they didn’t know what was going on and didn’t do anything to stop the Germans. Today, we know what is going on with the hatred spewed by terror groups and others, as well as by oppressive regimes. For me, doing nothing is not an option.”
Mr. Baran will tell his story at the annual Teaneck Yom HaShoah Commemoration on Monday, April 8th in Teaneck High School. For more information go to www.teaneckyomhashoa.org.
By Steve Fox