Search This Blog

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Guest Blogger – Moshe Baran: A Journey Into Memory

Moshe Baran is a Jewish partisan from the town of Horodok, located in present-day southwestern Ukraine but belonging to Poland prior to the war. (View a video of pre-war life in the Horodok shtetl here.) Moshe was in his early 20s when the Nazis rounded up the Jews in Horodok and sent him to a labor camp near Krasne, where he worked grueling 12-hour shifts laying railroad ties and survived on bread crust and potato peel soup.

Having heard about the resistance movement – and the price of admission in the form of a weapon - he was eventually able to assemble a gun from scrap parts he managed to obtain with the aid of friends. He eventually escaped and joined a Russian partisan battalion, where he mined roads, planned ambushes, and set fires in the woods to mark airdrop spots. Moshe was also able to arrange the rescue of his mother, brother, and sister, which was a truly fortunate and rare occurrence for his situation. After the Russians liberated the region in ‘44, he was conscripted into the Red Army – but was spared the uncertain fate of the front lines, thanks to his bookkeeping skills.

After the war, he ended up at a DP camp in Linz, Austria; there, he met his wife Malka, a survivor of the Treblinka concentration camp. They married in the newly-formed state of Israel and emigrated to New York City in 1954. Now in his 90s, Moshe Baran lives in Pittsburgh, and devotes his time to speaking out about his experiences and the destructive power of hatred, which can have devastating consequences for society if left unchecked.

We are honored to re-post the following blog post from Moshe’s blog, Languages Can Kill: Messages of Genocide:


A Journey Into Memory

I had the privilege on January 9 to be interviewed for a documentary on the subject of Jewish resistance during the Second World War in Belarus. The documentary is being produced by Julia Mintz for national release later this year. During the interview, she led me to recount stories of the period prior to the War in the 1930s when the Nazis took power in Germany and began their hate campaign against the Jews. Even when the hate campagain eventually spilled over into Poland, in Belarus in the east where I lived at the time, I did not experience any blatant anti-semitism. The Belarus were a minority in Poland, and we Jews were a minority among them. So there was generally an amiable relationship among the population.

In the process of the interview for the documentary, I recalled that the news of what was going on in Germany and in western Poland certainly had reached us at the time. But as it is in human nature, unless one experiences something oneself, it not was easy to believe that what we were hearing could affect us directly. As with most ordinary people, we were simply naive enough to rely upon the humanity of our fellow humans. This proved to be a great disappointment, to put it mildly.

When words of hate are being disseminated we need to take it very seriously. There is never room for complacency, even when it seems that we ourselves are safe and unlikely to be affected by such speech. Words of hate lead to acts of hate, acts of hate lead to atrocities and genocide. We did not believe at the time that the words we were hearing could affect us in such a short time. But hate has no borders: those words did affect us, and they eventually affected the entire world.

“Love blinds us to faults, hatred to virtues” — Moshe Ibn Ezra

Click here to view the original post on Moshe's blog.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Partisans In The Arts: Paula Burger

Born in 1934, Paula Burger lived with her parents and younger brother Isaac in a small town about one mile from the larger Novogrodek shtetl. As common tradition in many Jewish families dictated, her family lived with Paula’s maternal grandparents. Paula’s grandfather was a landowner - a rarity among the Jewish population of Belarus - and her father owned a small grocery store in addition to overseeing the family ranch. She fondly remembers the candy her father sold at his store and the middle class life she lead until the Nazis invaded and occupied Novogrodek in July 1941.

Together with her parents, brother, and grandmother, Paula was rounded up and herded into the ghetto; they were allowed to take only what they could carry. Paula’s father managed to escape from the ghetto and joined various partisan units to fight the Nazis, all the while formulating a plan to save his family. Jealous neighbors, desirous of his ranch and the land it stood on, instigated a search for him. In their efforts to find him, the Nazis arrested Paula’s mother and brutally interrogated her to reveal her husband’s whereabouts. Since she had no idea where he was hiding, the torture brought no results; the Nazis kept her as an interpreter for a month and then shot her.

By then, Paula’s father had connected with the Bielski partisans and made arrangements to smuggle Paula and Isaac out of the ghetto with the help of a non-Jewish business colleague. Sealed in a large water barrel, Paula (age 7) knew that they could not make a sound or it would mean certain death and she took extreme care to make sure that Isaac, who was just 3 years old, stayed absolutely still. Paula and her surviving family stayed with the Bielski partisan group throughout the war, although there were times when they could not travel with them due to the harsh winter conditions, keeping themselves hidden in forest shelters instead. Although she was just a young girl, Paula contributed actively to armed resistance against the enemy, using her small fingers to pack explosives into yellow bricks, which were later used to blow up and derail Nazi supply trains.


Menorah #8

When the war finally ended more than three years later, Paula’s father refused to go back to Novogrodek and the family instead went to Lida before crossing over into Czechoslovakia. Aided only by their wits and the kindness of strangers, the family made their way to the American Zone in West Germany. Paula learned English in the DP camp there. In 1949, on the cusp of becoming a teenager, Paula and her family moved to Chicago to join relatives, where Paula was finally able to hone her natural talent as an artist while attending high school.

As a child, Paula’s most prized possession was a box of colored pencils with which she would draw for hours. Although Paula did not begin painting professionally until she retired from a career in retail, real estate and nursing home administration, she was always painting pictures in her head and had an overwhelming desire to act on this passion. In a journal she kept as a young woman, Paula wrote, “I hope I don’t die before I get to paint.”

The passion for creative expression ran deeply through the veins of both Paula and Isaac. Though they had successful careers in business, they always pursued their art. While Paula painted colorful landscapes, still-lifes, and Judaic themed canvases, Isaac used his beautiful voice to become a Cantor - an avocation that continues to this day. Moved by the majestic beauty of the Rocky Mountains, Paula relocated to Denver with her family in 1967.

Paula Burger and Isaac KollPaula’s art has been shown in galleries throughout Colorado and one of her painting hangs in the state capitol. After a childhood filled with dark images of horror and loss, Paula’s goal is to capture the beauty in life through her art with the bold use of color and imagery. Two of her favorite paintings are show here. Her catalogue can be viewed at paulaburger.com.

Paula Burger has been speaking to students in middle schools, high schools and universities and to civic groups for over 20 years. She recently completed an autobiography about her experience as a child surviving in the forests during World War II, entitled “Temporary Pillows.” For more information, please email Paula at burgerart@gmail.com.


Thursday, February 7, 2013

Jewish Partisan Morris Sorid (z''l) Passes Away

Last month, the Jewish Partisan Educational Foundation mourned the passing of Jewish partisan Morris Sorid.

Born Moshe Yudewitz, he worked in Pruzany, Poland as a respected educator; by the time the Nazis invaded in 1940, he was living with his wife Regina and their young daughter, Tsveeyah. Having already confined them to a ghetto, the Nazis began the systematic deportation of Pruzany’s 10,000 Jews on January 27, 1943. Realizing that their best chance for survival lay in escape, Morris and Regina tearfully left Tsveeyah in the care of her grandparents several days later and hid in a bunker underneath their home. After 18 days, they escaped the ghetto and found temporary refuge in the home of a Catholic farmer, who risked his life to harbor them.

Shortly after, Morris and Regina began their odyssey in the forests of the Bilaloviez Wilderness; after wandering for about a week, they met and were accepted into the Russian Chapayev Brigade. With five detachments, the Chapayev Brigade was part of the larger Malenkovah Otriad.

A trained midwife, Regina treated the sick and the wounded. Morris participated in various acts of armed resistance, from securing food to blowing up bridges. By November 1943, he was appointed Deputy Commander of the Malenkovah Otriad. Morris and Regina were liberated from the forest in July 1944 and their first son was born just two months later. They named him Victor, as a remembrance of their liberation.


Morris Sorid (far left) in Munich, Germany with other survivors, 1948.

After the war, Morris and Regina learned that their daughter and the rest of the family had perished in Aushwitz. They spent several years in a DP camp in Germany before emigrating to the United States in 1948 and settling in Brooklyn. Morris changed the family name to Sorid, a variation of the Hebrew word for survivor “sarad”. He worked long hours to provide for his family, which by now included a second son Harvey. At 95 years old, Morris penned his memoir titled "One More Miracle." Eventually relocating to Far Rockaway, Morris achieved fame in October 2012 as the oldest evacuee from Hurricane Sandy and his story was the subject of many news articles. Read another article about his remarkable life on Philly.com.

Morris passed away on January 14, 2013, just shy of his 102nd birthday. The board and staff of the Jewish Partisan Educational Foundation extend their deepest condolences to the entire Sorid Family. May Morris’ memory be a blessing.