Students sat on the stairs leading into the audience while others stood for lack of open seats at Monday’s packed Six O’Clock Series event in Eberly Auditorium titled “Moshe Baran: His Story of Struggle, Resistance, and Survival During the Holocaust.”
“I am honored by your presence,” Holocaust survivor and Jewish partisan fighter Moshe Baran, 93,said, addressing the audience.
By the end of the event, however, the Indiana University of Pennsylvania students seemed to be the ones who were honored. Following the hour-and-a-half-long presentation, students and other attendees lined up to meet Baran, hoping for photos, autographs and simply a chance to thank him for his speaking.
During World War II, Baran and the other residents of his hometown of Horodok, Poland, were forced to live in the Krasne Ghetto, a walled town where Jews and other Nazi undesirables were imprisoned.
“This was a holding pen before their death,” Baran said of the ghetto. “Once you were in the ghetto, there was no way out.”
However, Baran found a way out, and with the help of other partisan resistance fighters – of whom Baran said there were between 20,000 and 30,000 during the war – he was able to rescue his sister, brother and mother only two days before the liquidation of the ghetto.
The liquidation, he said, happened 71 years ago this month, and he described what transpired.
“On a cold March night,” Baran began, “the skeletons who were awakened in the ghettos after years and months had been led to a place,
which is called the barracks. They were shot, then they were loaded on trucks, then they were driven out to outside of the town to an empty building – loaded into the place and put on fire.”
Baran heard this story from a historian near his village who, at age 7, had witnessed the events of that night through the window of his house. Baran met the historian on a trip back to Poland with his daughter, Avi Baran Munro, and grandchildren.
“And [the historian] remembered that days later, the Germans came to check on what [his family] had seen,” Munro said, “and he remembers that News there was a smell in the town for a long time, which was the burning of the bodies in the barn.”
Baran’s sister and father were among the many killed during the liquidation of his ghetto, and his mother was the only mother of his village to have escaped.
At Monday’s presentation, Baran showed a documentary that was made by a teenager who had been interested in the stories of Moshe and his wife Malka Baran.
The short film titled “A Look in the Eyes of Resistance” further elaborated on how Baran was able to escape the ghetto and join the partisan resistance, and Malka Baran, who died in 2007, told her story of surviving a concentration camp, an experience she said was hard to talk about at first.
“It was too painful – too raw,” she said.
However, through time and years, she said, many Holocaust survivors were able to find the means of expressing their experience, and in the video she shared some of her poetry.
Though his wife has passed away, Moshe Baran continues to share his story at schools as he has done twice at IUP and through his blog,
“Language Can Kill – Messages of Genocide.”
Along with his story, he shared some advice with the students.
“Do not be a bystander,” he said. “If you want to save the world, start with your world.”
The world that Baran left in his journey from forced laborer to partisan fighter to Russian fighter to bookkeeper and then to a resident of the United States has since been changed.
Munro said that in their trip, they had found that the area where Baran’s parents and grandparents had grown up was changing back, with Jews returning to the area and the history of the war and the Holocaust being taught and remembered.
In the meantime, Baran, who is a Pittsburgh resident, teaches that resistance and faith are the only ways to combat the negative impacts of bad people and that we must learn from the history of past generations.
“My faith exists as a barrier against the Hitlers, the dictators and the emperors,” he said. “I have to live up to the expectations of my generations before me who sacrificed their lives to stand for this identity.”