Holocaust survivor to Sewickley Academy students: Eliminate 'hate' from vocabulary
Holocaust survivor Moshe Baran's message was clear during a recent visit to Sewickley Academy's middle school: Don't be passive.
“When you see something's wrong, react. Be aware of what's going on,” said Baran, 92, of Squirrel Hill. “We have a country here we should cherish.”
Baran and his late wife, Malka, began visiting Sewickley Academy eighth-graders more than a decade ago, to share their stories. Malka died in 2007.
For his and Malka's dedication to the academy, Baran was presented with a certificate of gratitude from students, faculty and staff on April 16. A dogwood tree that stands outside of the academy's middle school also was dedicated in the couple's honor.
Sewickley Academy alumnus, past parent and trustee emeritus Jeff Lenchner arranged for the visits to coincide with eighth-grade coursework focusing on literature of the Holocaust, academy spokeswoman Mandi Semple said.
Students listened intently last week in the middle school commons as Baran shared stories about growing up in Horodok, Poland, before the Nazis arrived in 1942.
He was sent to the Krasny ghetto and forced labor camps in Belorussia, now Belarus, in eastern Europe during World War II.
During that time, his mental state was like “a caged animal who worried only about when the next drop of food will come. You don't make any plans. You don't have any vision,” he said.
Fresh water was unavailable, he said, and they were forced to drink rainwater that collected in tire tracks after first sifting it through cloth.
Baran eventually escaped with others by digging a hole under a fence and walking several miles to join a resistance movement.
He later served with the Russian army until the war ended, then moved to a camp for displaced survivors in Austria.
He met Malka there. The couple married and moved to New York in the early 1950s. They moved to Pittsburgh in 1993.
Baran told academy students that he was “one of the fortunate ones” who got out alive. Some people who were in the same circumstances didn't make it, he said.
Because he survived, he believes he should share his story. The fact that people listen is his reward for the pain retelling the story every time he faces a new audience, he said.
“It's important what you do with the time, when you have the time,” he told the students.
During the ceremony to honor the Barans, Head of School Kolia O'Connor told students they were part of history, and that by hearing Baran's story it was now their responsibility to pass it on to others.
Matthew Teitelbaum, a ninth-grader, said he was so inspired by Baran's visit last year that he wrote a poem for him that he read during the ceremony.
Teitelbaum said Baran is a true hero and he hopes to pass along his story and those of other Holocaust survivors because their numbers are growing fewer.
Baran told students he hopes they never have to experience anything like what he went through.
“I suggest to you, light candles. Dark forces do not like light,” he said. “We should care about each other. Eliminate the word ‘hate' from your vocabulary.”
Kristina Serafini is a photographer and reporter for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-324-1405 or firstname.lastname@example.org.