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From Auschwitz to first pitch: A survivor’s story

Mark Parker



Viola Baras shares a moment with Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Jason Adam before throwing out a ceremonial first pitch Wednesday evening. Photos by Mark Parker.

Viola Baras has a “victory picture” featuring dozens of descendants whose existence hinged on her surviving three Nazi concentration camps and a death march during the Holocaust.

Several family members gleefully cheered Wednesday evening as she took the mound at Tropicana Field. Baras threw out the ceremonial first pitch before a matchup between the Tampa Bay Rays and division rival Boston Red Sox.

“It’s unbelievable that I lived to see that,” Baras said. “I’m 96 years old – who would have ever thought that I’m going to throw the first ball? If you live long enough, you accomplish a lot.”

Viola Baras, 96, declined to say how long she practiced her underhand throw.

Baras was born in Munkasz, Czechoslovakia, where she and her sister grew up in an observant Jewish home. Her immediate and extended family lived on a designated “Jewish street.”

However, Baras attended public school until the horrors of World War II caught up to the family. In March 1944, the German army invaded what was then Hungary and ordered the town’s Jews into a schoolyard.

Nazis shot Baras’ grandfather before cramming her into a boxcar with about 20 family members, excluding her father. The train stopped outside the Auschwitz concentration camp.

Baras, her mother and sister kept their familial relationship a secret, which allowed them to stay together and provide much-needed support. Baras spent her days separating clothing from those killed in the facility’s gas chamber.

History.com reports that 85% of prisoners died at Auschwitz. As the Soviet Red Army approached in January 1945, toward the war’s end, Nazis sent the remaining Jews on a death march to other camps.

Baras dug trenches for the German defense at Ravensbruck. She was then transferred to Neustadt-Gleve – and liberated by the Soviets.

“With six million Jews who passed away, why was I the one who survived,” Baras said. “I have no answer. I think it was God’s wish. I’m not a very religious person, but I believe in God. I believe it was meant for me to stay alive.”

A picture of Viola Baras taken shortly after World War II.

She eventually reunited with her father. They then stayed in a refugee camp in Germany for over two years before emigrating to the United States in 1948. Baras married her husband, also a Holocaust survivor, in 1950.

The two started a farm and had four sons. Baras said they never spoke to anyone – including their children – about what they endured.

“The people who survived felt guilty, they felt ashamed,” she added. “We made believe that it didn’t exist. A person cannot realize how much I suffered.”

However, Baras came to feel an “obligation to repeat” what she went through in local synagogues and schools. She said you “only need one person to listen” to help prevent future atrocities.

Her son, Dr. David Baras, frequently speaks at the Florida Holocaust Museum. In 2014, he threw out a game’s first pitch after Rays officials spotted a picture of him crossing the Antarctica Ice Marathon’s finish line wearing a Rays shirt.

His mother has three other sons, 10 grandchildren and 16 great-grandchildren. Baras noted that if his parents did not survive the Holocaust, then their 30 descendants would not exist.

“We have a picture of the entire family,” Baras said. “My mom calls it her victory picture because it’s her victory over Nazi Germany.

“I wish she never had to go through that. But her ability to move past all the terrible things that happened to her is unbelievable. She’s my hero.”

From left: Zach Barasz, Viola Baras, Dr. David Baras and Bryn Barasz, 6.

Wednesday night was also the museum’s annual Rays Up! event, with the Rays Baseball Foundation donating ticket proceeds to the St. Petersburg institution. Board Chairman Mike Igel said the funding helps keep the lessons learned from survivor stories alive.

Igel called the Rays community leaders who have long supported the museum’s mission. While Viola Baras is not the first Holocaust survivor to throw out a first pitch at the ‘Trop, he said those moments are impossible to take for granted.

“People always think about all the horrors – and they should – of the Holocaust,” Igel added. “But the lessons that people sometimes, at least initially, don’t think about are those of resilience and perseverance. A night like this reminds us of both of those things, and that’s why we celebrate it.”



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  1. Will Michaels

    Will Michaels

    May 25, 2024at5:36 pm

    Viola Baras is an inspiration to us all. Thank you for sharing her life story of perseverance and love. Yes, Viola, we are “listening!”

  2. Avatar

    Joe Olinski

    May 23, 2024at5:28 pm

    She’s a remarkable lady yes she is real hero for all the things she had to endure in her life. She is a true hero and for your family u must be very proud of her . God bless her

  3. Avatar

    Michael Brudny

    May 23, 2024at4:08 pm

    Great story!

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