Morris Baker

[Age 81] The Holocaust survivor made it a point to share his memories of the Birkenau and Auschwitz death camps.

August 11, 2007|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,Sun reporter

Morris Baker, a Holocaust survivor who spoke widely of his experiences at Birkenau, Auschwitz and Kaufering No. 11, a satellite death camp of Dachau, died Thursday of complications from diabetes and kidney disease at Northwest Hospital Center. The longtime Pikesville resident was 81.

Mr. Baker was born and raised in Zambrov, a Polish shtetl of 3,300 Jews.

"He had very little formal education because the war had started. In 1942, the Nazis came to the village and went house to house. They took his father out to the woods and shot him," said his daughter, Mimi B. Kraus, of Reisterstown.

"His mother, Miriam Rachel, and two younger brothers, Avrum, 9, and Shlomo, 11, and his grandmother, Chana Sosnowitz, were taken to Birkenau and finally to Auschwitz, where the family was separated, and they later perished," she said.

On Jan. 15, 1943, Mr. Baker arrived at Auschwitz.

"It was bitter cold and a lot of snow," Mr. Baker told The Sun in 1995. "Right there in the railroad station, the selection started. I wound up with the able-bodied men. That was the last time I saw my mother and my two younger brothers and my grandmother."

Mr. Baker, who was 17, then had his head shaved and was issued prison garb. The number 87601 was tattooed on his left forearm.

Longtime prisoners told him to "forget about your families. Your families went up in smoke," Mr. Baker said in the 1995 interview.

He survived two encounters with Dr. Josef Mengele, the notorious Auschwitz camp doctor who was known as the "Angel of Death" and who used inmates for medical experiments.

"Two times I stood in front of Dr. Mengele completely naked," Mr. Baker recalled in the 1995 interview. "He looked you over. And if he didn't like the way you looked, they wrote down your number on the spot, and they took you to a certain barracks, and they took you down to the gas chambers."

"One time, he got an infection and kept soaking his arm in water until it healed; otherwise, he probably would have been sent to the gas chambers and exterminated," Mrs. Kraus said. "He survived the camps because he was young and able to work."

During the summer of 1944, Mr. Baker was selected to become part of "Canada," the Kommando unit that helped unload transports. New arrivals were stripped of their processions, including food that was confiscated by the Kommando.

"That summer, for four months, I wasn't hungry anymore," Mr. Baker said in the interview.

"I know that bothered him," Mrs. Kraus said.

In early May 1945, Mr. Baker was among hundreds of camp inmates who were forced to march from Kaufering No. 11 into Bavaria. Liberation came when the German guards who had been escorting them fled when they encountered American soldiers.

After the war, Mr. Baker spent three years in a displaced-persons camp in Naples, Italy, before traveling to Winnipeg, Canada, to live with an aunt.

While living in Winnipeg, he met and fell in love with the former Linda Cohen, whom he married in 1949.

After living in Cincinnati, the couple moved to Baltimore in 1953, where Mr. Baker worked as an upholsterer until retiring in 1997.

Mr. Baker, who was interviewed about his wartime experiences by Yale University in 1989, participated in Stephen Spielberg's Shoah Project and regularly attended Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremonies locally.

"He was active as a speaker with the Baltimore Jewish Council and traveled throughout the area speaking to students and in Christian churches. He never turned down an invitation to speak and tell his story," Mrs. Kraus said.

"It is very important to talk now to these students. We are all reaching a stage in our lives when, in 10 years, we won't be around anymore. Who will be left to tell this story?" Mr. Baker told The Sun in 1998.

"We must impress upon them that the Holocaust did happen, that it did take place, which so many people around the world try to deny," he said.

In 1996, Mr. Baker confronted his past when he returned to Zambrov, where no more than 50 Jews survived the Nazi purge, and to Auschwitz.

"He was afraid the guides would distort what had happened there but was pleased when they didn't," his daughter said. "It was very difficult emotionally, but he tolerated it. He cried quietly."

Mr. Baker enjoyed keeping up with current events and was an avid newspaper reader.

"He was never able mentally to get away from what he went through. What he had lost was always right there in front of him," Mrs. Kraus said. "What it did do was help him appreciate his life and his family."

Services for Mr. Baker will be held at 1 p.m. tomorrow at Sol Levinson & Bros., 8900 Reisterstown Road.

Also surviving are his wife of 58 years; and two grandchildren.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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