On this day, March 19, in 1943, the “German Master Race” overcame yet another obstacle in its quest for “Lebensraum” [living space] when Jewish residents of the town of Krasny, northwest of Minsk in Belarus were exterminated. Among the “defenders of the city” was my father, Yosef Baran, 55 years old and my sister Musia, 15. Thousands of “Jewish warriors” finally succumbed to the might and glory of the “superior race” as envisioned by their fuhrer in his dream of establishing the thousand year Reich.
The scene of the last march of the defeated was described to me, my daughter, and my two grandsons in August of 2010 when we retraced my roots. An historian of the town of Krasny, Chariton Alexander, described the events of that final “battle” as viewed through his then twelve year old eyes. The day before the Germans had ordered the residents to lower the shades and not to look out of the windows. But curiosity prevailed, and Chariton Alexander and other members of his family saw the march of thousands of “ghosts” who, after languishing for months and years in the Krasny ghetto — isolated, starved, sick, hopeless and forlorn — were led on this winter day to the army barracks across the street from their house. A German soldier with a bucket was standing at the entrance to the barracks collecting any valuables the wretched skeletons might have carried. Once in the barracks they were stripped, shot, loaded on trucks and transported to a structure outside of town. They were unloaded and the structure was set on fire. The stench of the burned bodies lingered in the air for weeks. The Germans tried various methods to eliminate the stench but to no avail.
In August of 2010 my family stood near the spot where the ashes left on that day are concealed by the earth, and where there is now a monument to the memory of those who perished. The monument is enclosed by a wrought-iron fence and is well maintained by the local authorities.
Today is the sixty-eighth anniversary of that event, and I will once again say Kaddish for my father and my sister and for all those who no longer have anyone to say Kaddish. And we are again in the midst of a hate campaign against the Jewish people, but thanks to the internet, this time it is worldwide, not restricted to the whims and limitations of a single madman. The tragic shooting in Newtown, Connecticut is being used in the Muslim world to accuse the Jews not only of the Newtown murders, but by implication of genetic mental illness that causes them to harbor murderous intent against non-Jews.
By coincidence, today also marks the publication in the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle of a guest column I wrote about the Newtown tragedy titled “Lies That Never Die”. The death of my family was a direct result of hate speech that became action, and the inspiration for this blog. For me, to do nothing has never been an option. I encourage all of you to avoid being complacent: this is once again a time when tolerance of hate speech could lead to violence, and we should all be working to foster the awareness that may prevent it.