Manuscript Writing Project
The Story of Martin Baranek
I was born in a town called Wierzbnik in August of 1930. It was a small town of about 800 Jewish families, which was approximately 3500 people. My immediate family consisted of my mother, father, and my younger brother by two years, as well as my grandparents, aunts, uncles and many cousins. I was a young boy when the war came to my town. I was only 9 years old. Life before the war was pretty good for the standard of that time but primitive. It was the period before TV, computers, cars; some homes didn’t even have electricity. We didn’t know any better than what we had, which was a happy life surrounded by family. We observed the Jewish holidays traditionally, people didn’t work during the “chaggim” and kept Shabbat. But conditions changed upon the German occupation. Jewish life was about to get much more difficult.
At that time I had just finished my second year of public school but was not permitted to return, as the Jews were not allowed to go to school anymore. We began attending private lessons as well as continued going to Hebrew school, which was called “heder”. The Jews became subjected to persecution and segregation. We were forced to wear armbands that said “Jude” on them. A short while later the Ghetto was established, a part of town where we already lived and therefore didn’t have to move, but others weren’t so fortunate. They began importing Jews from other surrounding towns by the trainload to come live in the Ghetto. With so many people living in such small and close spaces, disease began to spread such as typhus and food supplies became increasingly scarce. The Germans began selecting young and strong people to go work in the factories. 2000 people were chosen; among them were my mother, who went to work in the wood mill and father, who was sent to the ammunition factory. My parents were taken by force along with other adults leaving children and elderly behind. My brother was 10 and I was 12 at this time and remained in the Ghetto with my grandmother, as we were both still very young. The remaining people were taken in cattle cars and sent off to Treblinka. Standing in line to board the train with my brother and grandmother was terrifying. We had no idea what would happen to us and if we would ever see my parents again. I was worried for my brother but while waiting my grandmother instructed me to run away and save myself .All those people were loaded onto the cattle train and were killed soon after but I escaped.
Left alone and frightened for my life, I stole away to the wood mill factory where I told the German soldier I was 15 and able to work. He knew I was not 15 but fortunately he allowed me to work anyway and it was there that I was reunited with my mother. We worked there for a while longer until the Germans shipped us out to Birkenau. The camp was horrible. Surviving on barely anything and in awful conditions of infectious disease and constantly doing hard labor. People were being killed individually and by the masses in gas chambers. There were certain times when people were chosen to go to the Gas Chambers. One on Rosh Hashanah, where I was fortunate enough not to be chosen for, and one on Yom Kippur. I was chosen to go into the Gas Chamber for the Yom Kippur Selection but due to pure luck, got away. I survived 6 months in Birkenau before I was sent to go on the Death march to Mauthausen. We stayed there for 4 months, then marched to Gunskirchen. We remained there and worked while starved and being beaten to near death by German soldiers. We built barraks, stayed in overpopulated conditions and daily two to three hundred prisoners died of dysentery or typhoid. We were finally liberated on May the 4th 1945, 3 months before my 15th birthday.
After the war I lived in Italy because there was nothing left for me in Poland. To my knowledge, no one from my family survived so I continued through life on my own. After living in Italy, I wished to go to Palestine so I boarded an illegal ship but was caught and sent to Cyprus. I eventually made my way to Palestine where I worked on a Kibbutz for a year. By then I was of age to go to the Army. In the year 1948 I left the army and made my voyage to Canada, as I had found out my mother had survived and was living with distant relatives in Toronto.
This is my story. May our children and our children’s children and all future generations remember the lives that were lost in the Holocaust and remember the stories that the survivors told. Let it never be forgotten what happened to our people and let us ensure that nothing like it ever happens again.