My father, Martin Baral, was born in the Jewish quarter of the city of Krakow, Poland, on March 21, 1932. His family was well-to-do and secular, speaking Polish at home. They made their living as fur traders. In 1938, my father enrolled in a Zionist Jewish day school, which he attended for only one year. His studies were abruptly discontinued in 1939 with the outbreak of the Second World War and the German invasion of Poland. He always regretted that he never finished school.
Immediately after the invasion, the Nazis began persecuting Jews and plundering Jewish property. In March 1941, the Nazis declared that all Jews would have to relocate to the infamous Krakow Ghetto. The occupants of the ghetto were subject to overcrowded and subhuman conditions with constant “selections,” “actions,” “decrees,” killings, and deportations to Auschwitz and other death camps. My grandfather, Samuel Baral, was rescued by the German industrialist Oskar Schindler, who put 1,098 Jews on a list of “essential” workers, thereby saving them all from probable death. Samuel Baral was number 41 on that list. My father fell ill in the ghetto, and the Polish pharmacist Tadeusz Pankiewicz saved his life by giving him medication. In 1943, at the age of 11, my father escaped from the hell of the Krakow Ghetto exactly one day before its liquidation.
My father eventually reunited with his mother, two siblings, and three cousins and they found their way to Hungary and the small village of Dunamocz, where there was a Red Cross refugee camp. There, they had to pretend to be Roman Catholic. My father sang in the church choir and received communion. Until his last days, he could perfectly recite the Catholic mass in both Polish and Hungarian. In 1944, with the German occupation of Hungary, it became dangerous to remain in Dunamocz. My grandmother, Franka Baral, decided to leave the village with her family, although they had nowhere to go. They found themselves in Budapest, where they lived in destitution and fear and my father groveled for food.
Then a miracle occurred. They met a Hungarian woman named Ilona Nemes. She took in the whole group and, at enormous personal risk, sheltered them until the end of the war. After the war was over, my grandmother was able to procure a certificate from the British consul in Bucharest designated as “Emergency Certificate Number 1,” to legally enter Mandatory Palestine, even though the British government at that time banned all Jewish migration from Europe. In Palestine, the family struggled in their new life. My father told me he had a “pauper’s” bar mitzvah at the age of 15.
My father arrived alone in Australia in 1950 at the age of 17 as a refugee sponsored by my uncle Ignatius Feuer. Ignatius had left Krakow for Delhi, India, and ultimately Australia. Shortly after my father arrived, he met the world-famous pianist Hephzibah Menuhin (sister of the violinist Yehudi Menuhin) who helped my father by arranging picnics for refugee youth and committing herself to many other acts of generosity. My father never forgot her kindness.
In 1994, 50 years after the Nazis shut down his childhood school, my father was awarded an honorary degree from the Gordon Institute of Technology in Victoria, Australia. It was a very happy day for him. Martin Baral passed away on March 10, 2010, leaving behind his wife, Dahlia; three children: Naomi, Liane, and me; and 10 grandchildren.
Steven Baral immigrated to the United States from Australia and has lived in Seattle for the last 22 years.
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