- Born on May 8, 1890
- Made aliyah on Channukah, December, 1905
- Arrived at Umm Juni in 1910
- Moved to the permanent settlement on October 28, 1911
- Died on December 14, 1968
Yosef was born in Kosnitza, a village in the Ukraine on the banks of the Dniester.
His father had an inn in the village. The authorities restricted the movements of the jews and they were forced to leave the village and move to Kishinev, where his father opened a guest house to accommodate all the Jewish travelers who passed through.
When Yosef was three years old his parents sent him to cheder to study. He was known as a ‘good head’, he began to study Bible on his own and knew chapters from the Psalms by heart. At the age of nine he went on to a public school in Kishinev. He was also known for his musical talent, which he inherited from his father, and he learned to play the drum and the trumpet. When the winds of Zionism began to blow through the Jewish quarters Yosef joined the movement of the young people of Zion and frequented the company of the then leaders, Yosef Sprintzak and Chaim Greenberg, when he was only fourteen.
At the age of sixteen he decided to make aliyah. His parents were opposed to his leaving and only because of Nachum Twersky, who promised to take him under his wing and look after him, did they agree that he travel to the Land of Israel. He sailed on a ship of Russian Pilgrims, under difficult conditions.
In December, 1906, he arrived in Jaffa, when he was only sixteen. On that same day he went to Rechovot on foot and the next day he was already working in Smilansky’s orchard at ‘opening’ pits. After three months he moved on to ‘the Young Worker’ organization in Jerusalem to learn stonecutting, which was done exclusively by Arabs. The Jewish stonecutters worked during the day and in the evening they studied engraving at the Bezalel Academy. At that time Yosef fell ill with malaria and was hospitalized for a number of weeks. He continued working as a stonecutter in Jaffa and afterwards in Atlit. At this time he became acquainted with Miriam, who had come to visit her brother Aharon, also a member of the group of stonecutters, and their first contact was formed.
In 1908 Yosef moved to Zichron Yaakov and there he fulfilled his dream – working in agriculture. In 1910 he joined the people of the Romanian commune in Chedera. Chedera charmed him with its pioneer past and communal life. The ties between him and Miriam strengthened. In September, 1910, the first people of the group came to Umm Juni to receive the place from the pioneer labor group ‘The Ploughman’. There they also signed the contract with ‘Training of the Settlement in Eretz Israel’ and Yosef was one of the signers.
With the first housewarmings on Degania, in June, 1912, there was also celebrated the wedding of Yosef and Miriam, the first family of the group. It grew into a family with many children – seven boys and girls. Yosef was active in the life of the group and in the life of the workers’ movement. In 1919 he went on a mission for the workers’ movement to strengthen the connection with the Jews of Russia after the Bolshevik Revolution – the first contact of the pioneers from the Land of Israel with the Jews of Russia. This was a trip of great interest and adventures. On his return to Degania he found his friends mourning Yosef Bussel, of blessed memory, who had drowned in the Kinneret that night.
In 1920 the ‘General Organization of Workers in the Land of Israel’ (the Histadrut) was established and Yosef was among its founders. In 1921 he went on a mission to the United States with Berl Katzenelson and Mania Shochat. In the United States they visited the communes of the Dukhobors. He returned to the land of Israel when the land riots broke out in Jaffa and Tel-Aviv. He was among the defenders of Jaffa and was even injured there. In 1923 he was a delegate to the Zionist Congress in Karlsbad. In 1927 he went to Trans-Jordan with Pinchas Rutenberg to authorize the purchase of the land at Naharayim. He was unflagging in the service of the Yishuv (pre-state Jewish Palestine) in the national institutions and in the Zionist Congresses.
During the Second World War, in 1941, he enlisted in the British Army and set up the ‘Committee for the Soldier’. In this capacity he visited in Egypt, Austria, Belgium and other places and he met with the enlisted soldiers from the Land of Israel. He also met with Degania people, among them three of his children who had been mobilized into the British Army – Gideon, Amos and Yoya. In 1948 he worked in the refugee camps in Cypress. In 1949 he was elected to the first Knesset and was a member there for four years. During all the years he was on various missions he made a point of coming home every weekend; he would change from dress clothes into work clothes and go about his work – sweeping and cleaning the sidewalks, the grass, the area in front of the dining room and around the tank. He also saw to keeping the cemetery clean, with the help of children he had recruited for the project.
Yosef would receive every tourist and visitor he met on Degania with devotion and love and he would explain our way of life to him. He saw a national mission in this activity. On Friday nights he made a point of participating in the celebrations and at the prepared table he would tell about his activities within the country and abroad and the entire group would listen. At the end all those who loved to sing gathered round him and Yosef would teach them a new song.
From the year 1949 he stood at the head of the soldiers’ committee, all of whose activities were directed towards the benefit of the soldiers of the Israel Defence Forces (IDF). In 1956 he was the secretary of Degania but he did not neglect his activities on behalf of the soldiers’ committee.
Yosef saw in the recording of the public activities and events of Degania an important assignment, and with the archivist’s sense he recorded and kept everything that seemed to him important in the story of Degania. He was also gifted with his writing ability and his book, A Village by the Jordan, was translated into many languages and even into Braille, and is widely known in many countries. Yosef wrote many articles and published them in newspapers of the movement and elsewhere. After his death, a book about Yosef Baratz was published, telling of his life and his widespread activities.
When he became ill he was cut off from his activities and struggled with his illness until he died, at the age of 78. He left his wife, Miriam, and a large family – his children Gideon, Dvorka, Amos, Yoya, Baia, Michal and Eli and their families.
May his memory be for a blessing.