Holocaust survivor, storyteller and sage Moshe Baran has died at 103
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News ObituaryMoshe Baran

Holocaust survivor, storyteller and sage Moshe Baran has died at 103

Dedication to 'taking root in fertile ground,' enabled centenarian to live life of wit, wisdom, family and survival

Moshe Baran. (Photo courtesy of Avi Baran Munro)
Moshe Baran. (Photo courtesy of Avi Baran Munro)

Moshe Baran, a World War II partisan, then Pittsburgher, whose century-plus years of life encompassed the modern Jewish story, died Feb. 3. Baran was 103 and known worldwide for his wit, devotion and commitment to taking root in fertile soil.

Born Dec. 10, 1920, to Yosef, a trader, and Esther, a homemaker, Baran was the oldest of four children.

The family lived in Horodok, Poland, in a small home with a “dirt floor and no running water or electricity,” Baran’s grandson Boaz Munro said. “Moshe’s bubby slept in a loft above the oven in the middle of the house, because it was the warmest place to be.”

Horodok typified shtetl life.

“Twice a week, the square filled with farmers, merchants and animals,” Munro said. “On Fridays, women cooked and cleaned in preparation for Shabbat. Families gathered for dinner, and Shabbat was quiet as people refrained from work, prayed and visited neighbors.”

The start of World War II razed that reality.

Following the Soviets’ occupation of Horodok in 1939, “religious life ended and people began disappearing, sent to Siberia,” Munro said. In 1941, after the Nazis attacked the Soviet Union, “everyone had to wear a star and live in the ghetto.”

Prominent Jews, including Baran’s uncle, were shot. Baran and his brother were sent to different towns as forced laborers.

In the summer of 1942, Horodok’s Jews were exterminated.

“They were forced into a barn, gunned down and the barn was set on fire,” Munro said.

Baran and his immediate family escaped after hiding in a nearby town; his grandmother did not. The surviving relatives ended up in Krasne, a nearby ghetto. Baran and other young men escaped again, stole weapons that the Germans had captured from the Russians and joined the partisans.

After working with the resistance group to retrieve his family and other weapons, Baran’s sister, brother and their mother “rode out of the ghetto on the wagon of a Christian farmer, who was working with the partisans,” Munro said.

Despite the escape from Krasne, another sister, who was ill, remained with their father. Two days later, Baran’s sister and father, along with 2,000 other residents of the ghetto, were shot by German soldiers.

“They burned the bodies in a huge pyre,” Munro said.

Baran continued working with the partisans.

“They ambushed garrisons and blew up railroads,” his grandson said. One of Baran’s responsibilities was lighting signal fires in the forest, so “Soviet planes could see where to drop supplies.”

After Germany eventually retreated, Baran was drafted into the Soviet army and spent three years serving before arriving, along with surviving members of his family, to a displaced person camp in Austria.

Inside the camp, Baran met Malka Klin, a Polish orphaned survivor. Klin eventually moved to Israel. Baran, his mother and two siblings went to Shreveport, Louisiana, after relatives agreed to sponsor them. Baran and Klin corresponded for years.

The Barans eventually left Louisiana for New York, “looking for that Jewish community,” Munro said.

Baran then went to Israel, married Klin and brought her back to New York.

“He loved my bubby with a respect and admiration that is rarely seen in most marriages,” their granddaughter Eliana Munro said.

The couple became “regulars at Forest Hills Jewish Center and worked hard to build a new family,” according to their grandson Isaac Munro. They raised two daughters, Bella and Avi, “talented, intelligent, fiercely devoted girls who grew up to become talented, intelligent, fiercely devoted mothers.”

Bella made aliyah, married and raised a family in Israel. Avi married and raised a family in Pittsburgh.

Malka Baran and Moshe Baran. (Photo courtesy of Avi Baran Munro)

After leaving New York in 1993, Moshe and Malka split their time between Squirrel Hill and the Jewish state.

Despite their advanced age, “they adapted quickly and allowed this beautiful vibrant community to become not just their home but their extended family,” Isaac Munro said.

Whether through involvement at Congregation Beth Shalom, Young Peoples Synagogue, the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh, the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh, Community Day School or simply “walking up and down Forbes and Murray and saying hello to friends, they found ways to weave themselves into the fabric of the lives of everyone that they touched,” the grandson added. “And they did the same in Israel.”

Aviya Baran said she would “count the days” until her grandparents returned to Israel, and when they would leave, “my heart was broken.”

Moshe Baran, who told his story of survival in classrooms, documentaries and countless other settings, demonstrated several truths, according to his grandson Yosef Munro: “Protect and respect our traditions, [and] inject humor and wordplay into everything.”

Ted Goleman, who cared for Baran during the final years of his life, fondly recalled his wit.

After asking the centenarian the secret to living past 100, Baran told him, “Don’t die young.”

On another occasion, Goleman asked Baran whether the men would have been friends had they met at the war’s conclusion. Baran replied, “If we were, I wouldn’t have told anybody.”

Baran, who traversed a life of student, laborer, partisan, soldier, survivor, immigrant, husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather, storyteller and sage, epitomized the modern Jewish story, his descendants said.

He demonstrated that “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and that the heart and the will can triumph if you will, and that a good teacher still knows how to learn even at any time,” Yosef Munro said.

In conversations with family, friends and students, Baran often addressed the importance of “taking root in fertile ground,” his daughter Avi Baran Munro said.

But though growth is aided by a soil’s richness, the tender’s responsibility is paramount.

Baran reiterated this charge before concluding his survivor testimony at the National Catholic Center for Holocaust Education.

“If you have something of importance and you don’t share it with anybody, it’s a lost cause,” he said. “If you can contribute something to history you have an obligation to do it. There’s no excuse.” PJC

Adam Reinherz can be reached at areinherz@pittsburghjewishchronicle.org.

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