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Martin Baranek

Martin Baranek was born in 1930 in Wierzbnik, Poland. He lived a happy life until Germany invaded Poland in 1939. At that time, Martin and other Jewish children were no longer permitted to attend school. Soon, all Jews were forced to turn in their valuables, wear yellow armbands, and move to a crowded ghetto, whose conditions worsened over time.

In 1942, the Germans prepared to liquidate the Wierzbnik ghetto. Martin and his parents had work permits for the local factories; however, a German officer confiscated Martin’s permit and sent him to the line bound for the trains to Treblinka. At the last moment, Martin escaped. His younger brother, Yechskel, most of his extended family, and the majority of Jews in the area were transported to Treblinka, where they were murdered.

Martin sneaked into the woodworking camp, where he found his mother, and worked as a slave laborer until July 1944. He and his father were then transported to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where he narrowly escaped the gas chambers twice, once by hiding in an oven and the second time because his uncle bribed a supervisor with a gold coin. Tragically, Martin’s father was not so fortunate.

In January 1945, after walking for days in sub-zero temperatures without food, water, or shelter, Martin and other prisoners came to the Mauthausen camp in Austria. Disease and starvation were rapidly overtaking the prisoners when the US army liberated them in May 1945.

Martin went to Palestine, where he fought in Israel’s War of Independence and lived for several years. The Red Cross put Martin in contact with his mother who was living in Canada, and in December 1949 they were reunited. Upon arrival in Canada, Martin spoke Yiddish, Polish, Italian, and Hebrew, but not a word of English. At first, Martin worked in the garment industry. In 1953, Martin married Betty. Martin started a supermarket and eventually opened up several more stores before retiring.

In his retirement years, Martin discovered a new passion when a group from Toronto, children of survivors from Wierzbnik, approached him in 2002 to lead them on a trip to Poland so they could see the places where their relatives had once lived. Martin has returned to Poland for the March of the Living, which is a program dedicated towards studying the history of the Holocaust. He has also spoken about his experiences at schools across North America.

Martin and his wife, Betty, are blessed with four children and nine grandchildren.

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