Penn State New Kensington prepares for 21st annual Holocaust program
As Lois Rubin, associate professor of history at Penn State New Kensington, prepares for the school's 21st annual Holocaust program, she describes herself as lucky.
The Jewish professor, who lives in Pittsburgh's Squirrel Hill neighborhood, credits her birth in the United States, rather than her grandparents' home in Europe, for saving her life.
“I was born in the early 1940s, and I always see myself through the lens of what if I had been born in Europe,” she said. “I probably would not have survived. There were 1.5 million Jewish children who were killed there.”
That gratefulness has inspired her to bring Holocaust survivors to Penn State New Kensington, where she has been teaching composition for 29 years. There has been a scant number of Jewish students at PSNK, Rubin said.
“I was nervous about it because we didn't have Jewish students, but it was so well received, and that's why I continued,” she said. “I never thought of stopping.”
She said that another motivation is the persistence of the Holocaust deniers, “who would want to undermine what has happened.”
Rubin knows how rich the survivor stories are firsthand: She ran two writing workshops for local Holocaust survivors to pen their memoirs in the Oxford University Press 2002 book “Flares of Memory.”
“They had powerful stories to tell,” she said. “They just needed help in constructing them. It was one of the most satisfying experiences I have had.”
Many of the Holocaust survivors have died. The youngest who can remember were born in the 1930s, putting them in the 80-plus age bracket.
Wednesday's presentation by Moshe Baran, marks the first time that a resistance fighter has been a part of PSNK's Holocaust program.
Baran, 92, of Pittsburgh escaped a Nazi labor camp in what is now the Republic of Belarus, a former Soviet republic. He hid in the forest and joined the resistance movement, helping with sabotage and ambush operations.
As part of the resistance, Baran arranged for the rescue of his brother, sister and mother, all of whom survived. He married another survivor, Malka Klin, and the couple immigrated to New York City in 1954.
Baran is past president of the Holocaust Survivors of Pittsburgh.
He's been telling his story for a number of years in books as well as The Jewish Chronicle newspaper.
“The Holocaust is a stain of blood and shame on humanity,” he said, “If we don't tell the stories, who will?”
As Baran was part of the resistance movement, he takes issue with people who balk at what some consider the Jewish people's lack of resistance and the Nazis' process of breaking people down.
“Who did they expect to resist?” asked Baran as he remembered his home village of Holodok, Poland, as a place where people didn't have weapons, didn't see weapons.
The Nazis “put you in a ghetto, they isolated you from your surroundings,” he said. “You are hungry and depressed. You expect your demise at any minute. It was a process.
“They send you to Auschwitz and to a ghetto and pick you up like garbage with trucks and take you outside of town and force you in a barn and machine gun you down and throw you in a fire.
“This is a sick world, my friend, but I'm an optimist,” he said.
Baran stresses that one of the most important qualities in a community is “love of neighbors.”
“It doesn't cost you anything.”
Mary Ann Thomas is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4691 or firstname.lastname@example.org.