For last Thursday's Chautauqua at Greensburg High School, Moshe Baran, 92, shared how he fought as a Polish partisan against Nazis while he was in an internment camp.
Moshe lived in what was then Poland, and now Belarus. Around 300 families lived in the nearly-autonomous village of Horodok, Poland. Horodok had its own bank, and the people lived well, he said.
Beginning Sept. 9, 1939 (The Invasion of Poland), Russia and Germany attacked Belarus, and then Poland. Russia intended to further establish the Communist Regime.
Russian soldiers arrived in the village of Horodok and claimed that the people were living in squaller, despite evidence to the contrary. Horodok was forced to conform to communist living.
June 22, 1941 (Operation Barbarossa) Germany attacked the Soviet Union despite the German and Russian alliance. Horodok was overtaken in the invasion, and with Russian cooperation, all Jews were ordered to leave their homes.
The Jewish families were herded into the Krasne Ghetto, where houses meant to hold one family held two, and there was no water. The Russian soldiers were cooperating with the German soldiers, and rumors spread that soldiers were burning synagogues during Jewish holidays while people were inside.
Moshe was 22 at the time. He and his brothers were used for labor outside of the ghetto, where Moshe worked 12-hour days laying railroad ties. They were fed bread crusts and watery potato peel soup.
Moshe now attributes his restlessness to his youth, but he became increasingly infuriated with the situation. The ghetto would eventually be destroyed and Moshe and his family would be taken to a labor camp.
There were rumors of a Polish resistance outside of the ghetto. Moshe discovered a woman who knew how people were leaving and escaping. She showed Moshe and others the exit by a fence, where people could leave into the surrounding forest.
Moshe described one particular Nazi who was less cruel than the others. He was described as obese, and generally friendly to the people in the ghetto. Thanks to the man's lax manner, Moshe was able to sneak out of the ghetto.
After walking for miles, he discovered the group of Jews who were resisting. The partisan group had built a small community of escapees, but before Moshe could bring his family, he had to prove that he could be useful.
Moshe began stealing discarded weapon parts from the junk piles.
The Poles were not completely alone. One day Moshe came across two Russian soldiers who were training locals in the art of sabotage. The partisans not only able to make themselves weapons, they disrupted communications and made life more difficult for the Nazis.
Because of Moshe s work, he was able to smuggle his brother, sister and mother away. His father and sister were too ill to leave.
On March 17, 1943 the ghetto was liquidated. Moshe s father and sister were lost, though Moshe tried to retrieve them while the ghetto burned.
Out of 300 families, the Baran family were the only with four survivors, and the only family in which the mother survived.
In 1944, the region was liberated, and Moshe was put to work by the Russian army in bookkeeping until 1945.
He eventually met his wife in 1954, and they moved to New York to begin their family.
They now live in Pittsburgh, Penn.
Nov. 29, 2012 marked the 62nd year of Moshe s life in America.
Contact: Tess Rowing 812-663-3111 x7004