In honor of Holocaust Remembrance Day, Kidsburgh asked eight-grader Maya Groff to write about her experience meeting Moshe Baran last month during the 8th Grade Holocaust Survivors Dinner at Community Day School in Squirrel Hill.
As I listened to Moshe Baran’s story, I immediately understood two things about him: he has been through a terrible series of events and he is very strong.
In 1941, from the shtetl where Mr. Baran lived in eastern Poland, he was forced to move into a ghetto completely sealed off from the outside world. There, he faced the constant threats of hunger, death and disease. It represented the first act of his humanity being taken away. He was then moved to a work camp, where he faced long, cruel days of building railroads. This was the Nazis’ second step of dehumanization. They forced Mr. Baran to build the very train tracks ultimately used to transport German soldiers and supplies to the front lines.
Hundreds of questions ran through my mind as Mr. Baran recounted his life in Europe. How did he have a will to survive when the world around him was crumbling? What gave him hope that the madness would end? What was he forced to give up when he was made to live in a cramped and disease-ridden ghetto? Was he terrified of what was to come at the work camp and was he always thinking of ways to escape?
I couldn’t imagine these horrors. I couldn’t comprehend how he endured the senseless hatred and dehumanizing acts carried out against him during the Holocaust without giving up hope. Somehow, through it all, Mr. Baran found a will to survive.
He managed to escape from the work camp, and with the help of a farmer who was collaborating with the partisans, liberated his mother and younger siblings from the ghetto. He then fought hard and tirelessly against the Germans. He was dedicated to this resistance effort until the end of the war. He met his late wife, Malka, in a displaced persons camp in Austria, and they married in Israel in 1952 and then settled in the United States.
Mr. Baran is an incredibly strong man. Rather than letting the Holocaust destroy him, he has lived a full and happy life with his wife and their two daughters. He witnessed unthinkable horrors, yet somehow he faces every day looking forward to what life has in store. He focuses on the light of the future, not the shadows of his past.
But Mr. Baran does not forget. He has dedicated himself to teaching people around the world not to hate, as “hate is just the beginning.” He travels the country talking about the Holocaust and about how we must know about it to not repeat it. At 95 years old, he is strong enough to keep retelling his story even though it causes him pain every time.
Listening to his testimony at the 8th Grade Survivor Dinner at Community Day School was a very special and powerful experience for my classmates and me. I learned so much about Mr. Baran, his life during the Holocaust, and the message he wanted us to take away ― language can heal, and language can kill. “Do not be complacent,” he warns.
While I may not be able to fully understand what Mr. Baran went through, I do know that hearing his story firsthand that night made us all better people.