As time goes on, the memory of the Holocaust seems to grow dimmer with every passing year. It would seem that with the numerous genocides that continue to this day, many people are reluctant to absorb the true meaning of the words: “never again.” Yet this book effectively encapsulates not only the horrors of the Holocaust, but the story of an extraordinary man who maintained his humanity against overwhelming odds.
In this way, Baruch Cohen’s memoir No One Bears Witness for the Witness
is truly a precious gift to readers. Following a preface by Dr. Frederick Krantz and an introduction by Dr. Joyce Rappaport, the memoir is divided into four parts. In Part I, Baruch describes his childhood growing up in Bucharest, Romania. Baruch grew up in a poor, but not deprived, household and we get to see a side of him as a young boy who loved animals
and going to movies. Baruch also describes his loving family and thriving Jewish life.
In 1937, Romania would change for the worse with the installment of racial laws and revocation of the citizenship of Romanian Jews. In January, 1941, Baruch describes the Holocaust as having come to his city. For three agonizing days, the Jewish community had to suffer what he called the Bucharest Kristallnacht. After the third day, Baruch went to a slaughterhouse to search for the whereabouts of his missing father.
Thankfully, Baruch’s father would later turn up safe on the outskirts of Bucharest. But not after Baruch witnessed what he would describe as the most shocking image of his life: corpses hanging from meat hooks with mocking signs attached, “advertising” what was sadistically described as “Jewish kosher meat.”
Part II details Baruch’s life as a forced laborer, abused and beaten by Romanian fascist soldiers. Baruch’s lower spine would break, which would later require surgery in Canada. Yet Baruch and his friends would continue secretly distributing flyers for Zionist organizations, calling for Jews to escape to Eretz Israel.
In December, 1943, Baruch would marry his wife Sonia in the midst of Jews being deported from neighboring Poland and Hungary to Nazi death camps in Transnistria. With the Communist takeover of Romania in 1944, Baruch and Sonia left for Israel with their daughter Malca. Though Baruch
was too old to enlist in the Israeli military, he did serve as a reservist in the Sinai War of 1956, where he learned how to use a gun for the first time—a source of great pride for him. The family would then move to Canada, at the behest of Sonia’s parents.
In Part III, Baruch details his life in Montreal, where he became CFO of a major corporation and did a Master’s in Judaic Studiesat McGill University. He served as Research Director of the Canadian Institute for Jewish Research and worked with the Montreal Holocaust Memorial Centre. Baruch would speak to classes at McGill and Concordia University, and to high school students, on the Holocaust and what happened to the Jews of Transnistria, a region of Romania where hundreds of thousands had been slaughtered.
The fourth and final part of the memoir consists of a collection of poetry written by Baruch over the years. Despite all that has happened to him and his family, Baruch truly believes that initially all human beings are good and that we must learn about the inhumanity of so-called humanity in order to oppose it. Baruch’s poems are very heartfelt and express a deep love for Israel and the Jewish people. But one that stands out is his poem
in memory of his daughter Malca, who sadly passed away in the year 2000. In his poem titled For Malca with Love, Baruch expresses a profound love for his daughter that is deeply moving and provides a glimpse of his depth as a compassionate human being.
Is it true that no one bears witness for the witness? To this day, Romania struggles to confront a dark chapter of its history. Baruch Cohen’s exceptional life is that of a man who witnessed the worst of humanity, yet persevered, and continuously uplifted those around him. In a world that is intent on forgetting the Holocaust, it is our responsibility as readers to internalize Baruch’s lessons and follow his example, thus truly honoring all he, as a witness, has done for us.
(Bradley Martin is Deputy Editor for the Canadian Institute
for Jewish Research and Senior Fellow with the Haym Salomon Center)