Although born in Wurzburg in 1928, Mrs. Baum lived her early years with her parents, Artur and Berta Berlinger, in Schweinfurt on the Main River in Germany, approximately 70 miles southeast of Frankfurt. She estimates that Schweinfurt had a then population of about 40,000, and that there were approximately 350 Jewish people living there. Her father was the cantor of the synagogue as well as the teacher of the Jewish community, teaching subjects ranging from Hebrew to music. Her father was also an accomplished artist in fine and graphic arts and sculpturing, and an art teacher at the local girls' high school. She had one sister, Senta, 7 years older. The family lived in the two-story building of the Schweinfurt Jewish Community Council, occupying one half of the upper floor. The other half was occupied by the local rabbi and his family. They followed orthodox Jewish practices. Photos of her parents and their residence were shown. Mrs. Baum attended public school for a few grades, but was then expelled for being Jewish and subsequently attended a one-room school operated by the Jewish community.
During the mass riots against Jews on November 9 & 10, 1938, known as Kristallnacht, the synagogue adjacent to their home was looted and set on fire. Before and after photos of the synagogue were shown. The Berlinger's family home also was ransacked and severly damaged and a fire was started on the lower level of their building. However, it was extinguished when a local citizen observing the mayhem objected on the basis that there were people upstairs. Her father was arrested and sent to the Dachau concentration camp. He was released after more than one month, probably because of his military service as a front line soldier during World War I. Mrs. Baum recalls in detail her traumatic experiences during that period.
When it became obvious after Kristallnacht that there was no future for Jews in Germany, Mrs. Baum and subsequently her sister were sent to England on the Kindertransport. Her father's and mother's attempts to leave Germany were not successful and they were among the last Jews from Schweinfurt to be deported to the Theresienstadt concentration camp on September 21, 1942. Ultimately there were sent to Auschwitz where both perished.
During a post-war visit to the Holocaust museum, Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, Mrs. Baum was shown a signed self-portrait of her father drawn while at Theresienstadt. Further research correlated this portrait to a previously discovered synagogue, essentially a prayer room in Theresienstadt, whose walls were inscribed with large Hebrew writings. These writings were definitively attributed to have been painted by her father.
A subsequent visit by Mrs. Baum and her husband to Terezin (the Czech name for Theresienstadt) revealed the prayer room to be in what is now a private residence. It has been rented by the Theresienstadt Museum and can be visited upon request. Photographs were shown. The writings on the wall are significant in that they convey a religious message and a belief in G-d within the context of knowing, by those who attended the services held there, that their ultimate fate was to be murdered by the Nazis. Whether this synagogue was sanctioned by the Nazis in this so-called "model concentration camp", or was clandestine is unknown. However, it is believed to be the latter since it is now known as the "secret synagogue".
At Yad Vashem Mrs. Baum also found a picture of the bakery in Terezin as well as a Jewish calendar for the year 5704 (1943-1944), created by her father in Theresienstadt whose cover had drawings by him. In this calendar, he recorded a daily log of community events at Theresienstadt.
Mrs. Baum came to England in early 1939, at age 11 on a train with about 200 other children in the rescue operation Kindertransport (Transport of Children). She was a "sponsored" child meaning that her foster parents to be were pre-determined. She lived with an orthodox Jewish family, who had three children of their own, in the east end of London and was very well treated and accepted by all. Following several evacuations from London during air raids to small towns and the destruction by bombs of her foster parents' home, she left them voluntarily and went to live in a hostel. At a social function she met her husband to be, Henry, who also came to England on a Kindertransport. She continued on good terms with her foster parents and still communicates with their children.
Mrs. Baum came to the United States in 1948 due to efforts and help from a cousin who lived in the United States. Henry had preceded her and they were married in 1949, whereupon she moved from New York to Detroit where her husband already resided. They have two sons and one daughter, as well as grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
They both continue to practice their orthodox Jewish faith which was unbroken by the events of the Holocaust.
Mrs. Baum has revisited her hometown, Schweinfurt. To her it is a city like any other German city.
In her closing remarks which Rose Baum asked her husband to read, she expressed the conviction that the meaning of her father's writings on the walls of the "hidden synagogue" in Theresienstadt expressed his complete unshakeable trust in G-d and an artistic way of showing his faith in G-d. He had little else to offer having given up all of his personal belongings and his children, and he hoped that the sentences on the wall would endure for the whole world to see. She and her husband have attempted to instill the values of her father in their own children and grandchildren.
Date: June 10, 2003
Length of Interview: 1 hour 20 minutes
Interview & Synopsis by: Hans Weinmann