Jefferson Awards for Public ServiceBy Allen Martin

by Allen Martin and Jennifer Mistrot

VACAVILLE (KPIX 5) — One a recent morning, the administrative staff from the City of Vacaville received a very unique history lesson when author and speaker Marty Brounstein recounted for the group how his wife, Leah Baars, survived the Holocaust.

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Brounstein, author of the book Two Among the Righteous Few, passionately shared how Baar’s parents, pregnant with their daughter at the time, were hidden from the Nazis by a Dutch couple, Frans and Mein Wijnakker. It’s a story Brounstein says is timeless.

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“The people who had the courage to do, and the compassion to do these heroic things risking their lives,” recalled Brounstein. “They still teach lessons for us today.”

Now in his ninth year of telling his wife’s story, Brounstein has made over 700 appearances, both paid and unpaid, with the hope that those who hear the story will find their own courage to treat others with kindness. Along the way Brounstein says he has never forgotten his inspiration, his wife. And his introduction of her to the groups he speaks to often draws huge applause.

“And of course I have got someone near and dear to me that came out of it too,” said Brounstein with pride. ” I understand the depth of that so much more today. ”

His wife Leah Baars says she supports his message

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“It is a very sensitive topic. Because I really grew up in the shadow of the Holocaust,” recalled Baars. “My mom particularly was totally traumatized. And so I grew up knowing all the horror stories.”


Baars, still so shaken by those memories, says she simply can’t bear to be in the room when Brounstein recalls this history. So she will step outside when he recounts much of what happened in Holland under Nazi rule. But on this day the audience of Vacaville employees is riveted by what Brounstein has to say on the subject. It’s a story Employee Relations Manager Sandy Hess hopes the staff will take with them.

“It’s bigger than just yourself,” said Hess. “And I think the goal for this is to get our managers and supervisors to think about the residents that we serve, the employees that are part of their team, and how the decision they make affect them.”

For Brounstein, such observations are his motivation.

“Positive messages and lessons,” explained Brounstein. “About character, ethics, doing the right thing, respecting all sorts of people.”

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So for sharing the story of Franz and Mein Wijnakker’s courage during the Holocaust, and inspiring others to make a positive difference, this week’s Jefferson Award in the bay Area goes to Marty Brounstein.