Monday, July 18, 2016
The Nazis broke the Ribbentrop pact and attacked the Soviet Union in the summer of 1941. Five days later, they arrived in Moshe’s hometown. The edicts that went in effect soon after put the Jewish population outside of the protection of the law. Several months later, Moshe and his family were forced out of their homes and confined to a ghetto – a space of 15-20 homes for hundreds of families. Surrounded by barbed wire, guarded by Germans and local police, denied freedom of movement and opportunity to obtain food, lacking in sanitary facilities, the inhabitants began to hear rumors about the destruction of neighboring communities by the Germans. A number of young people then began to plan. However, neither escape nor resistance was actually feasible at the time – they had no weapons and nowhere to go.
In the spring of 1942, the Germans told the Judenrat to provide a number of able-bodied young men for various projects. Approximately 25-30 were selected and sent to neighboring towns. Moshe and his brother were among them. Moshe was assigned to work on building a rail line, but his brother was sent elsewhere.
The Germans who guarded them were abusive – constantly scolding, shouting, and hitting the prisoners. Only one of them, a lieutenant named Miller, did not take part in those hateful acts.
Two of Moshe’s friends worked in a warehouse where they sorted out weapons captured from the Russians. They eventually worked out a plan where they would take out weapons wrapped in rags and hide them in a nearby junkyard. On his way home from work one day, Moshe asked the sympathetic lieutenant if he could retrieve something from the pile of junk. Thus, Moshe successfully smuggled gun parts into the Ghetto.
Moshe and his friends knew of a woman who was familiar with the area, and knew where the partisans were. She would lead them to a nearby encampment, where local Jewish escapees had set up a camp in the forest. In return, she asked if she and her two little children could come along. They escaped one night, after clearing out a crawlspace underneath the barbed wire fence. Miraculously, they made it to the Jewish encampments without incident.
About a week later, two Russian officers were passing by. It turned out they were sent to organize the resistance movement - but it also turned out they were Jewish, so Moshe asked them to help him join the resistance. Because Moshe had weapons hidden in the Ghetto, the officers agreed.
The officers eventually gave Moshe the name of a local farmer who would help bring the weapons out. Moshe used the occasion to pass a note to his family in the Ghetto through the farmer. He wanted to facilitate their escape. Moshe’s brother, sister, and mother escaped during several successful smuggling operations. Unfortunately, on March 19th - two days after the last escape - the Ghetto was liquidated, and Moshe’s father, younger sister, and other relatives perished, along with several thousand other Jews from the local areas.
Moshe joined the partisans, taking part in underground activities until the spring of 1944, when the advancing Soviet army liberated the area. He took part in ambush and sabotage operations with the partisans and was in charge of recovering weapons dropped from Russian planes. As was the fate of most eastern European partisans after the liberation of their area, Moshe was drafted into the Soviet army. But his bookkeeping abilities got him attached to the local staff of the battalion as the treasurer’s assistant, which kept him well away from the front lines.
After the war’s end, Moshe eventually made it back to Russia; but as a Polish citizen, he as eligible for a travel permit back to Poland, according to the rules of the time. In Poland, he connected with the Bricha, an organization whose purpose was to smuggle Jews from Europe to Palestine.
Eventually arriving in Austria, Moshe met his future wife Malka in one of the American zones, who was herself a survivor of a forced labor camp in Poland. In 1948, Malka left for the east, but Moshe and his family were unable to follow: his mother’s niece, who was living in Shreveport, Louisiana at the time, impored them to come to the United States. Though Moshe was committed to Malka and wished to marry her eventually, the family ultimately decided to take the opportunity and come to the United States.
Moshe settled in New York, eventually marrying Malka and bringing her back from Israel. In New York, Malka worked for a number of years as the director of a Jewish preschool and Moshe was employed for many years in the real estate industry. In 1993, Moshe and his wife moved to Pittsburgh after retirement. One of their two daughters settled there in a neighborhood called Squirrel Hill, where the Barans found a welcoming Jewish community, and where Moshe lives to this day, active in the community and as a public speaker and blogger. He writes the blog Language Can Kill: Messages Of Genocide, and speaks regularly about his life in the partisans and about the destructive power of hatred, which can have devastating consequences if left unchecked.
Thursday, February 21, 2013
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