'Pockets Of Poison' Still Exist: Holocaust Survivors Reflect On Pittsburgh Shooting Holocaust survivors Moshe Baran and Sam Gottesman live on the same floor of a Squirrel Hill apartment building just five blocks away from the Tree of Life synagogue.
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'Pockets Of Poison' Still Exist: Holocaust Survivors Reflect On Pittsburgh Shooting

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'Pockets Of Poison' Still Exist: Holocaust Survivors Reflect On Pittsburgh Shooting

'Pockets Of Poison' Still Exist: Holocaust Survivors Reflect On Pittsburgh Shooting

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

In Pittsburgh's Squirrel Hill neighborhood, just five blocks from the Tree of Life synagogue, two Holocaust survivors live on the same floor of an apartment building. Two men say that, sadly, they were not surprised that the community was targeted. Reporter Reid Frazier sat down with each of the men to get their reactions to the deadly attack.

REID FRAZIER, BYLINE: Behind a bureau in Sam Gottesman's Squirrel Hill apartment is a collage of photos from his life. There are pictures of family gatherings, his wedding and some black-and-white photos of people in prison uniforms.

SAM GOTTESMAN: This is another picture of us taken by the U.S. Army.

FRAZIER: Gottesman was born in 1923, in the former Czechoslovakia. He survived; most of his family did not. One day, they were evicted from the ghetto they were living in and sent on a train to Auschwitz. When they got off the train, he went with other able-bodied men in one direction.

GOTTESMAN: And then we saw the elderly, the women with the children, on the other side. They were ordered to walk somewhere else. That was the last time we saw our families.

FRAZIER: Gottesman was shipped to a series of work camps and later liberated by American troops. Eventually, he came to Pittsburgh. He was at synagogue last Saturday morning when news of a shooting at a different temple, the Tree of Life, raced through the building.

GOTTESMAN: So it was right away known that something happened. We didn't know details.

FRAZIER: But soon enough, the details would come through - 11 dead, shot by a man who said he wanted to kill Jews. Gottesman wasn't shocked that something like this could happen here. Anti-Semitism is something he's been living with his whole life, he says.

GOTTESMAN: The world considers me the Jew, and the Jew is pointed out for something different than the rest of the world. So I have taken it as given.

FRAZIER: Down the hall from Gottesman lives another Holocaust survivor from what is now Belarus - Moshe Baran. During World War II, Baran managed to escape a Nazi work camp and joined a group called the Jewish Partisans. They were resistance fighters that lived in the forests. They fought Nazis and saved as many Jews as they could.

MOSHE BARAN: I used the occasion to bring out my family, first my brother and sister from the ghetto, and then my mother.

FRAZIER: But he couldn't save his father or another sister. After the war, he eventually made his way to America. He says he isn't surprised there are still pockets of poison, as he calls it, in the U.S.

BARAN: You know, I am foolproof. You know what it is? I've gotten a lot of shocks in my life.

FRAZIER: Baran turns 98 next month and still speaks publicly about his experiences in the Holocaust. I asked what he thought about the rise of Holocaust denial, a common thread in the far right anti-Semitism the alleged killer was a part of.

BARAN: Disgusting. And somebody here is going to tell me it didn't happen. It didn't happen. Where's my father? Where's my sister? Where is my grandmother? Where are my uncles and cousins?

FRAZIER: So what would Moshe Baran do with the alleged killer, who posted hate for the Jews online because they helped refugees? He thinks about it.

BARAN: I would like him to see people helping people. And if they didn't like refugees, I would like them to see people coming here and settling down.

FRAZIER: He says his punishment would be letting the killer see people of different faiths and origins getting along.

For NPR News I'm Reid Frazier in Pittsburgh.

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