Albert Baron was born in Nancy, France, in 1934. His father, Jacob, was a master tailor who owned a men and ladies' ready to wear shop. In 1940, his father decided to escape to so-called "Free France," which was under the administration of the collaborationist Vichy government, and the family fled to Toulouse.
In Toulouse, Albert's father was caught in a round up of Jews by French police, but was released from prison when Albert's cousin paid off the chief of police. After hiding in an attic and in basements to avoid capture by agents of the French Gestapo, the Baron family escaped by train to Bagneres-de-Luchon, a small village in the foothills of the Pyrenees Mountains.
Albert and his family lived in relative security in Luchon for a year and a half, openly hiding in a town in which nobody chose to denounce them. Early in the fall of 1942, Albert and his brother were placed for several weeks in a monastery and his sister in a convent for their protection while their parents made plans to escape from France. It was decided that although German troops were patrolling the mountains, the family, along with two other families, would risk the journey. To reduce the chance of being caught, they decided to escape by foot over the Pyrenees Mountains during the week before Christmas.
They trekked for 24 hours straight, over the mountains and across the border into Spain, and into the protective custody of the Franco government. With the help of Jewish organizations in Spain, the family moved to Barcelona, where they lived until they emigrated to Montreal, Canada, arriving there in March 1944 with assistance from the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and HIAS. The family spent their first evening in Montreal at a Passover seder at the Montreal Talmud Torah, a local Hebrew school.
After the war the family learned that almost all the members of their family who had remained in Poland, including Albert's grandparents, were murdered during the Holocaust.
Albert completed a degree in marketing at McGill University at night while continuing to work and went on to a career in sales and marketing. Albert and his late wife, Rita, moved their family to Atlanta in 1970 when Albert accepted a sales position. The Barons have two children and two grandchildren.
But we did climb over this mountain and went around Andorra and ended up in, on the border, and a Spanish patroller, a border guard stopped us. Now we were told, I think my dad showed us that the Civil Guards, which is what the Spaniards called themselves, wore very strange-looking helmets made out of leather that looked like this really. That I can still remember as a child. Of course I've seen, I saw them after that. But he stopped us and demanded money or jewelry or anything to allow us to continue to pass. Of course, nobody had any choice, gave him just about everything they had, to at least be alive and be safe. And he sent us to a side of a road.
And here we arrived, and this was, I remember it was pitch dark, it was black. And here's this group of about 15 people not knowing where to go. The Basque guides are gone, the patrolman sends us off on the side of a road. Well, the only thing I remember is my dad telling me that I fell asleep just standing up, just on the side of the road. Realize that on that 24-hour journey we weren't allowed to sleep or rest because if you do you could freeze to death, so you pretty much have to keep moving all the time.
Now in the middle of this darkness a whistle appeared on the road and somebody came by on a bicycle. And what this man was doing was looking for people who had journeyed over the mountain, to assist them in going further on. He was part of the, at that time I think it was the World Jewish Committee, rather than the American Jewish Congress, which is what it is now. At that time they had quite a few Jews who had gone to Spain to try and rescue or assist refugees that were coming over the mountain.
So they took us and led us to the nearest village. There was no place to sleep, so they gave us the jail as a place to rest and rest and sleep, stay over night. The Chief of Police who greeted us spoke French and was able, of course, most of us spoke French but no Spanish, but most of the people on these areas, being close to the borders did speak French. And he was told that this border patrolman had taken money and jewelry in order to let us go by. And surprisingly enough, the next morning, everything was returned. He was apprehended and all the jewelry, the money was returned to whoever they belonged to.
And from what we gathered, theoretically, from what we gathered, the Spaniards really did not want to be known as thieves, and assisted, more than anything else, at the instruction of the Franco government. Generalissimo, or General Franco, who was a dictator and friend of Hitler and the Axis somehow gave an edict that anyone coming over the mountain has to be allowed to remain and not sent back.
Before we got across the ocean the ship stopped in the Azors and picked up a shipload, I guess you could call it, a shipload of pineapples to bring to the United States. Well, I guess, luckily enough, after wandering or being lost on the ocean, we ran out, the ship ran out of food. Had nothing to eat, virtually, and the only thing that was left to eat were the pineapples that were in the cargo section. So they started bringing up pineapples and this is what we ate for three days. Well, with all the people that were sick from it, including most of my family, to today I can still not eat pineapple, neither does my brother. Just will not eat pineapples. That's how bad it was.
So here we are, and we arrived in Montreal on the first night of Passover, April 6th or 7th, was the first night of Passover. And we were taken to a seder in a big hall called the Montreal Talmud Torah and enjoyed a, our first seder in freedom, really. Although we were free in Spain, as my dad thought that finally we were free, but still, not being allowed to work and not being allowed to do this, and living under a dictatorship really didn't feel free until we arrived in Montreal.