Holocaust survivor Michael Baran knew he was nearing the end of his life last year as coronavirus swept through New York City.
Baran — a 97-year-old Yiddish teacher from Poland whose father, siblings and other family members were murdered by the Nazis during World War II — was suffering from kidney failure late last March. He feared catching COVID-19 while undergoing long, painful days of dialysis in Woodside, Queens.
For Baran, who married his wife, Millie, just as the war was coming to an end, the only place to die was at home with the woman he had loved for 75 years — the one person who knew their native town of Oshmiany before the invasion, before the death camps and before their lives had been stolen.
“He died the way he really wanted to die — with my mom,” his daughter Ruth Baran-Gerold told the Daily News, recalling how her parents lay in their bed in Forest Hills on the night of April 17, 2020, sharing a few final moments of laughter before her father fell silent in her mother’s arms.
“Throughout his life, his love for my mom is what meant the most,” the daughter said. “They were on their own, relying on their own power, their own abilities, the kindness of some strangers, and on one another to make it.”
Baran is one of 15 survivors who died during the pandemic, or in the few months before coronavirus hit New York, who will be honored by the Museum of Jewish Heritage in lower Manhattan for Holocaust Remembrance Day on April 8.
“For us, this day really underscores never forget, and never again,” said the museum’s president and CEO, Jack Kliger, noting that survivors’ obituaries and testimonials will be featured on the museum website in a moving tribute to their legacies.
“These were people who were teenagers during the war,” he said. “Most of them had tremendous hope for the future, they had hope for their future generations, and they [had] hope mankind can be better.”
Boris and Beyla Solovyov, a couple who settled in Cleveland after fleeing the war following the 1941 German invasion of Russia, will also be honored.
Beyla, who was taken with her family to the ghetto in Bershad, Ukraine, where she witnessed hangings and suffered beatings at the hands of the Nazis, died of natural causes at 10:30 a.m. on Oct. 10, 2019. She was 83 and had suffered failing health after falling and breaking her hip.
“[My father] kept on saying to her, ‘My love, please wake up, why aren’t you talking to me?’ ” their daughter Marina Abramovitz of Merrick, L.I., said of Boris, who suffered from debilitating dementia.
“He couldn’t understand what was going on, that she was gone. But he knew that he loved her, and I knew that was it for him.”
Boris, 84, survived the war in Odessa, Ukraine, where tens of thousands of Jews were massacred. That was the same city where he would later meet his wife, when he saved her from drowning in Ukraine’s Dead Sea. Boris died from coronavirus at 10:30 a.m. on April 10, 2020, exactly six months after Beyla’s death.
“They were very protective of one another,” Abramovitz said. “They really loved each other, more than anything.”
For Baran — who taught Jewish history, language and literature, and served as director of Camp Hemshekh in the Catskills — the story of the day he and his wife pulled into New York Harbor in May 1949 after a two-week voyage from their homeland is one he’d often share with the children of survivors.
“My father used to tell the kids that when they saw the Statue of Liberty, they all put on their best clothes,” said Baran-Gerold. “He said it was the best day of his life, because it was the symbol of freedom that they hadn’t had in so many years.
“We view the Holocaust not just as a genocide, but as a an assassination of a way of life. He viewed [his teachings] as such an awesome responsibility, that he could say, ‘This is what happened to us, this is what we survived, this is what you must remember.’ ”