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Jewish Heritage: The Oral Histories - Cuba Family Archives

MEMOIRIST:                       ALBERT BARON (1934-  ) 

INTERVIEWER:                   JOHN KENT

                                           RUTH EINSTEIN

DATE:                                   JANUARY 19, 2001

LOCATION:                          ATLANTA, GEORGIA

ID#:                                     OHC10050

NUMBER OF PAGES:           29

Transcript (PDF)


On life for Jews in occupied France

“My dad on one of his outing gets caught in what we call in French a ‘rafle,’ which actually means a ‘round-up.’  . . . When we became aware that he had been caught, my French [cousin]—this is my aunt’s daughter, who was a French national and French citizen—was able to pay off the police to let him go.  Now no sooner did they let him go that he came to home and told us he was going into hiding because they’re looking for him . . . My sister, my brother and I were in that little apartment waiting for some news as to what to do when the Gestapo came knocking at our door . . . my sister who was the oldest—who was at the time maybe 13 years old—was aware of the danger.  They wanted to know where my dad was and that if she didn’t take them where he is that they would come back and take my brother and I.  She immediately said that she would take them where he is and led them off—led them astray—she was quite fleet-footed at 13.  They were older, and she outran them—being sure that she wasn’t followed—to where my father was hiding in my aunt’s attic.   My brother and I went there on our own.  My brother, [who] was also older, took me by the hand, and then we ran to my aunt’s house.”   3, 4

“We couldn’t go east to Switzerland or Italy because all the doors were closed.  Italy was part of the Axis . . . and Switzerland had closed its doors to immigrants.  We ended up in a little town called . . . Bagneres de-Luchon . . . which is a small little village right at the foothills of the Pyrenees mountains.  My dad rented a little villa, little house on a backstreet that was owned by a gentleman who knew—even though he was not Jewish—that we were Jews, and at the jeopardy of his own life, rented us this little villa.  We remained there for nearly a year-and-a-half, which we felt was safe . . . we felt that by that time the war would be over.  Unfortunately, the war was just beginning . . .” 4

“My dad at the time was making provisions to get us over the mountain into Spain. Now realize were talking about a mountain that’s somewhere between 6,000 to 7,000 feet high . . . just for comparison we’re talking about twice the height of the Carolina Mountains which are about 3,000 [feet].  The only way to escape into Spain via the mountain was via a 24-hour trek . . . the only guides that you could find to take you over these mountains were Basques.  They, for a sum of money, would take us over the mountains safely into Spain, over at which time at the border they would have to backtrack and go back down.  They felt that the time to do this—if there was a good time—would be prior to Christmas—prior to the holidays—where the patrollers would be preoccupied with the holidays and would never suspect that people were crazy enough to try to climb a mountain with two to three feet of snow on the mountain.  So we decided that we would attempt to do it, which we did.  We were given warm clothes.  Warm boots and only what we could carry on our back is all we could take over with us.”   5, 6

“I can still remember as a child . . .  [a border guard] stopped us and demanded money or jewelry or anything to allow us to continue to pass.  Nobody had any choice just to give him about everything they had . . . to at least be alive and be safe . . . and he sent us to the side of a road.  Here we arrived . . . it was pitch dark . . . it was black . . . here’s this group of about 15 people not knowing where to go.  The Basque guides are gone, the patrolman sent us off on the side of the road . . . the only thing I remember is my dad telling me that I fell asleep just standing up there on the side of the road.  Realize that on that 24-hour journey we 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.”  6, 7

On their flight from Europe to Canada:

“There was a ship . . . called the ‘Serpa Pinto,’ registered [in] Portugal. Since Portugal was neutral they were allowed to cross the ocean.  There were very few ships—[but] this one was allowed to go across the ocean.  [My father] was given the option of going across in March or in June.  He felt that the sooner the better even though March is not a very good month to cross the ocean.  We left Barcelona, went to Lisbon [Portugal] where the ship was docked, and we joined about 180 passengers on that ship, which was more or less a semi-freighter . . . I think it was about March 27 . . . the ship was supposed to take about five days to get to United States . . . not five days, eight days . . . in those days it took about eight days.  Being in late March, the weather was bad, we hit a storm, and we were lost in the ocean about three days not able to go west but had to go north to go against the waves.  Before we got across the ocean the ship stopped in the Azores and picked up a shipload . . . of pineapples to bring to the United States . . . after being lost for three days in the ocean . . . the ship ran out of food . . . had nothing to eat virtually.  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.  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 pineapple—that’s how bad it was.”  9, 10

While in hiding in the south of France:

“The atmosphere is my dad tried to keep us as normal a life as possible.  When we lived in France in that little villa at the base of that little mountain, we had a garden in the middle in order to eat . . . we couldn’t take a chance, so we grew and became farmers.  We had grapes—lot of grapes in the area—we had chickens, we had eggs.  The farmers in the immediate area brought us fresh milk, and bread, and butter I believe.  But everything else we grew . . . and ate what we could eat . . . We had rabbits—we ate rabbit—it was not kosher, but when you’re hungry, you eat whatever is available at the time.”   11

“My mother was a seamstress, my dad was a tailor so it was natural for them to go into business together and have this ladies’ and men’s ready-to-wear and custom tailoring . . . became quite successful in their business from what I understood.  They lived quite well.  Then suddenly you get uprooted and you lose everything that you’ve worked for because by the time we came to Canada my dad told me he had about $12 in his pocket—that was it.”  12

On his return to Bagneres-de-Luchon after the war and visiting his protected:

“When I mentioned to this elderly gentleman, who was now close to 80 or older, that I was the youngest of the Baron children, I thought he was going to faint—it was like he had seen a ghost.  He wasn’t really sure what had happened to us—he didn’t think that he would ever see anybody in our family, so that was kind of a joyous occasion . . . to see the little village we were in.”  24

“I think they have to realize how fortunate they are to be living in a free, democratic country, and how they can grow up here in total peace, that they can achieve  . . . work as hard as they want to work and be able to achieve.  We didn’t have that opportunity growing up as a child.   A snack, believe it or not, was half an apple.  Realizing that the hardships that I had growing up . . . as a result, positively, we grew up faster.  We matured faster than I find the children today . . . I’m not saying that they’re spoiled, but they surely have it a lot easier than we had.”   28

“My parents couldn’t afford to give me 25 cents to get a hot dog—I would buy just a bun.  Things that were tough growing up and we realized it.  A football to me was a schmatta [Yiddish: a rag] ball.  A schmatta ball was a sock that you filled with old rags and that’s what we played touch football with.  We couldn’t afford a ‘pigskin.’”   29


Albert Baron was born in Nancy, France on October 6, 1934.  He was the youngest of two other children.  Albert’s parents, Jacob and Rose Klarman Baron, owned a successful men’s and ladies’ ready-to-wear and tailoring business.  Albert’s family immigrated to France from Poland and never became French citizens.  Albert had a very normal childhood until early 1940 when Nancy, which was close to the German border, was bombed.  The Barons hid in a bomb shelter for about three weeks. Albert’s father decided to move the family to the south of France in the spring of 1940.  Albert’s father bought a truck and asked his brother-in-law to drive his family to Toulouse, where a portion of their family lived.  Tragically, when Albert’s uncle returned to Nancy, his wife and daughter had been deported by the Gestapo. 

In Toulouse, the Baron family lived in an apartment.  Albert’s father was picked up by the Gestapo in Toulouse but managed to escape and go into hiding.  When the French Gestapo came to look for him they were led astray by Albert’s cousin.  After that, the Barons fled to a small village at the foot of the Pyrenees called Bagneres-de-Luchon and lived on a small farm rented to them by a gentile. 

In December 1942, the Barons left Luchon and trekked over the Pyrenees Mountains to find asylum in Spain, as Albert’s father was advised that the Germans were beginning to identify and round up Jews near Luchon.  The Barons traveled over the mountains, along with other families and Basque guides, for more than 24 hours.  They could not stop moving for fear of freezing to death.  Once across the border, the Spanish patrol demanded all their money and jewelry to let them pass, although these items were later returned after the Chief of Police of the village they were taken to intervened in the matter.  The families who crossed the border spent the night in the only available space—a jail—and were taken by truck the next day to Barcelona, Spain.  Although the Barons found asylum in Spain, Albert’s parents were not allowed to work. They soon made plans to go to the United States via Canada, which was allowing Jews to enter in 1944.  Albert’s sister was sponsored by Albert’s aunt and was able to enter the United States in 1943.

The Barons took a cargo ship to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and then made their way to Montreal, Canada from there.  They arrived the first night of Passover and had their first seder in freedom.  While Albert’s parents were able to work in Montreal, the family remained poor, and Albert was the victim of many antisemitic attacks.  As a teenager and young adult, Albert was a very accomplished skier with dreams of skiing professionally.  Albert attended McGill University in Montreal and studied accounting and business while working during the day.  He met his wife, Rita, in 1955, and they decided that it was financially impractical for Albert to pursue a career in skiing.  They lived in Paris with their children from 1964 to 1970 for Albert’s job with a company called Chemsearch.  While in Paris, Albert was able to visit Nancy, Toulouse and the farmer who had provided the Barons with shelter in Luchon. 

In 1970, Albert, his wife and children moved to Atlanta partly to escape the harsh Canada winters.  Albert and his family settled in Atlanta and eventually joined The Temple, a reform synagogue.  They have two children, a son who is a neurologist, and a daughter.  They also have two grandchildren.  Albert and his family try to help less fortunate Jews—they sponsored a Russian family in Atlanta—and Albert speaks to high school groups about his experiences during the Holocaust.


Albert Baron describes fleeing with his family from Nancy, France in 1940 as the Germans began bombing and their further flight by train to a town near the base of the Pyrenees Mountains called Luchon, where they rented a small farm from a non-Jew.  While Baron does not recall being as afraid as he should have been in these circumstances because of his young age, he does recall his father explaining to him how to identify German soldiers.   Baron’s father also had Hebrew tutors for his sons while in Luchon, and Baron believes this gave him a strong Jewish foundation. 

From Luchon, the family trekked over the Pyrenees to find refuge in Spain and Albert recalls  how, in 1944, the Baron family crossed the ocean—enduring a hair-raising storm and near starvation—to the United States and from there made their way to Montreal, Canada.  Baron describes experiencing antisemitism in Montreal, especially from the French-Canadians.  Albert found that his fluency in French was helpful in school, and he was able to attend McGill University as a young adult. 

Albert recalls meeting his wife in 1955 and living in Paris, France.  Baron’s beloved father, whom he describes as a hero for saving the family from the Holocaust, passed away just after Albert and his family arrived in Paris.  Even though Albert knew his father was gravely ill with Lou Gehrig’s disease before he left, his father had urged Albert not to miss the opportunity to live in Europe.  While there Albert was able to visit the gentile farmer who had rented to the Baron family in Luchon.  Albert recalls the emotional reunion because until that time the farmer was not sure if the Baron family survived the war.  Albert describes the time in Paris with fond memories but made a decision to move to Atlanta in 1970. 

When the Barons moved to Atlanta, the city was beginning to grow, and although there were not many restaurants or synagogues, the Barons found less antisemitism and racism than they thought they would find.  Albert discusses how his family joined the Temple, a reform congregation and sponsored a Russian Jewish family and how they try to help financially, especially with older Jews.


Ahavath Achim—Atlanta, Georgia

Air raids


Bagneres-de-Luchon, France

Barcelona, Spain

Baron, Albert

Baron, Jacob

Baron, Maurice

Baron, Rita

Baron, Rose Klarman

Baron, Therese


Beth David—Montreal, Canada

Blacks—relations with Jews



Chagall, Marc

Christian-Jewish relations, Canada


De Gaulle, Charles (General)

Duplessis, Maurice Le Noblet

English language instruction

Flight and hiding




Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society [HIAS]

Holocaust, Jewish (1939-1945)

Holocaust survivors



Jews, French

Judaism, Reform

Klarman, Vishnitz

Laval, Pierre

Lou Gehrig’s Disease

McGill University—Montreal, Canada

McKenzie, William Lyon

Montreal, Canada

Nancy, France

National Chemsearch

Paris, France



Petain, Philippe (Marshal)

Pyrenees Mountains

Quebec, Canada



Roosevelt, Franklin Delano (President)


SS Serpa Pinto (ship)


Shearith Israel—Atlanta, Georgia


Six-Day War, 1967

Skyland Trail—Atlanta, Georgia


Star of David Badge

Temple Sinai—Atlanta, Georgia

Temple—Atlanta, Georgia

Toulouse, France

Vichy France

Warsaw, Poland

World War, 1939-1945

Yiddish language instruction

Young Mens’ Hebrew Association


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