The Nazi-allied government of Bulgaria, led by Dobri Bozhilov, refused to deport its 50,000 Jewish citizens, saving them, though Bulgaria did deport Jews to concentration camps from areas in conquered Greece and Macedonia. Every one of the Jews within its borders survived and few outside Bulgaria know about it. In Bulgarian occupied Greeece the Bulgarian authorities arrested the majority of the Jewish population on Passover 1943. The active participation of Bulgaria in the Holocaust however did not extend to its pre-war territory and it did not deport its own 50,000 Jewish citizens. The Virtual Jewish History Tour: Bulgaria.
March 2006, by Edith Baker.
My story is worthwhile knowing because it deals with some facts little known by the majority of Jews in the U.S. and abroad. The world is aware of the monumental tragedy of the Holocaust, as it should be, however very few know of the acts of courage and humanity which occurred in Bulgaria, a tiny country in Eastern Europe.
Bulgaria prides itself with the fact that it was the only country in the Balkans, where the church, members of the parliament and our King Boris III of Hapsburg were responsible for the salvation of its 50,000 Jews, inspite of the fact that Bulgaria was a satellite of Germany’s Nazi party.
During WWII, Bulgaria was not exactly free of Anti-Semitism, not overt, but the inevitable bigotry was often experienced. We had to wear the Star of David on our clothes, we were displaced from our homes and all moneys and properties were confiscated. We were not allowed to listen to radio during the war years and we did have labor camps, mostly for young men and some Jewish dignitaries.
In 1943, we were given 24 hours to assemble 20 kilos of our belongings, leave our homes and whatever property, and get to the train station to be shipped to an unknown destination. We knew almost nothing of what was happening in other countries because of lack of information.
While waiting at the train station for our departure, we did see the passing death trains, which were transporting Jews from Yugoslavia and other neighboring countries. We looked at gaunt eyes, filled with terror, peering through the slats of the cattle trains. At that point, we had no doubt that we were destined for the same fate.
It was during those undesirable moments that a miracle happened. The Archbishop of the Russian Orthodox Church placed himself on the railroad tracks of the trains and refused to move until something was done about the release of the passengers in the trains.
We stayed 2 days in the trains, not knowing why we were not moving. We had no water or food, but were allowed to come out and walk in the station. After what seemed like an insurmountable time, we were back on the trains, which stopped at small towns and villages and were told to leave the station and go to the community center, where the local Jewish families were waiting to take us to their homes.
Later, much later, we found out about the incredible acts of courage by the church and some members of the Parliament.
There were very few Jews in the small towns and the villages in the mountains. The Germans were either unaware of their existence, or the Bulgarian government chose to keep it that way.
These acts of courage, were and always will be a thorn in the countries, where no one lifted a finger to stop these astocities as this tiny country in the Balkans did to save its Jews.
It was easier, we assume, to claim ignorance of the horrible blowing smoke from the same stacks of the camps and spreading ashes of the millions of souls who perished.
We lived in exile for 2 years, always fearful that things will catch up with us and that our fate would be no different than all the other Jews we were hearing about. Those were harsh years, unpredictable, scary, uncertain, but hope and the spirit of survival was in every breath we took.
We returned to Sofia in 1945, full of gratitude and love for our liberators, the Russians. The American forces left the Balkans in the hands of the Russians. We assume that this was a negotiated decision. Upon our return, we found nothing of our homes and properties and our assets. The Bulgarian government confiscated them all. When we eventually retrieved them, the Russians gave us time to rebuild and restore our properties and businesses and almost immediately nationalized everything all over again.
Here, started the new phase of our lives. Now, we were under Communist rule. At times we regretted having tasted freedom, because here we were again, prisoners of another impossible regime.
The Russians had a list of people (who were known to have been successful businessmen and had properties) whether they were Jews or non-Jews and their plans were to indoctrinate us and watch us. Any misconduct was punishable by being sent to labor camps. Now, the red Star replaced the swastika.
I was warned to quickly find a job in order to escape the watchful eye of the “red spies”. Bulgaria had a very active Communist party.
Because of my knowledge of English (being a graduate of the American College) I got a job as an interpreter in the AJDC or the Joint Distribution Committee. That’s where I met Fred Baker, who was sent from the Paris office of the JDC, to organize the resettlement of the Jewish population in Bulgaria. This was 1948. The job was monumental. He had opposition wherever he turned. Not that the Communists cared about the loss of Bulgarian Jews, but the complications created by red tape, the obstacles, the trading of human lives for dollars, was an obscene but necessary means of accomplishing this very difficult task. Fred was our Schindler!
The American Embassy was most helpful to Fred in organizing secretly the emigration of the 45-50,000 Jews who lived in Bulgaria, a country of 7 million people. After the Nazi occupation of Bulgaria, which lasted from 1942-1945, the Communists aided by the local communist party, was more than happy to get rid of the Jews who were not Communists. We were sold per head, like cattle to the JDC.
Fred, who was my boss (I was his interpreter) made sure that my mother and I, left for Israel with the first Alyah, on a ship called the “PanYork”. It was built for cargo and could house about 300 people. There were 700 of us, packed like sardines, with inadequate facilities (that’s putting it kindly). Children were sick; seniors were suffering from all kinds of illnesses due to the interminably long 5-day trip under the worst of circumstances.
We were watched and followed by British ships, with daily threats that if we landed in Israel (then Palestine) – the port of Haifa, we would be taken to Cyprus, where many ships were held in quarantine.
We landed outside the port of Haifa and each one of us stepped into the waters, guided by Israeli volunteers, in the middle of the night, to the port. We were given shelter for the night; we showered, got clean clothes, food and then were transferred to camps, especially built for new immigrants. The euphoria was great, although the word ‘camp’ sent chills through our bodies. We – i.e.- my mother and I were lucky, we only stayed in the camp for 2 days until family, which lived in Haifa, came to pick us up and took us to their home. Most of the people in the camp, unfortunately had no one to take them out of another constricted environment and languished there for a couple of years, until the Israeli government found placements for them.
To recount the exhilarating feeling upon setting foot in Israel is impossible to put into words. To breathe freely for the first time in years, not to be stared at, not to be afraid of being picked up and sent whom knows where. To see all the beautiful people walking freely and proudly, to know that we were among Jews, that we were safe at last, erased all of the horrible experiences of the last excruciating years. We couldn’t stop crying and laughing although the new country was still at war, still in blackout, on the verge of its long awaited independence day, 1948.
Nothing, but nothing in the world was as important as being free again. We had arrived in Paradizo.
One year later, after Fred completed his mission in Bulgaria, he came to Israel, where we were married 55 years ago.
BAKER, FRED ISAAC MAY 23, 1917 - DEC. 2006 , Born May 23, 1917, Fred passed away peacefully surrounded by his loved ones on December 16, 2006. A first generation American, son of Max and Rebecca Baker, Fred was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois. He graduated from the London School of Economics and received his Masters degree in Social Work Administration from the University of Chicago. (Dallas News Obituary)
Fred was an ardent believer that all Men are created equal, and in the tenets and cardinal moral truths of the Declaration of Independence, Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. He lived his rich, full life accomplishing tasks and deeds of national and international scope. He served as a Major in the Air Force, Special Intelligence division, under Major General William H. Draper, Jr. during WW II. He witnessed the liberation of the survivors at the Buchenwald Death Camp in April 1945, was a member of the sub-committee of the quadripartite Control Council, and later worked on the decartelization of I.G. Farben. He joined the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee at their Paris, France offices and eventually was assigned to Bulgarias JDC office. He assumed the responsibility of continuing the immigration and resettlement of 45,000 Jews who survived the Nazi occupation of Bulgaria. He arranged their passage to the newly formed state of Israel. He married Edith, his Bulgarian bride, in Israel in 1949, eventually taking her to the U.S. Fred continued his career in the United States, where he served as a political appointee and Regional Administrator for the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and Health, Education and Welfare (HEW). After his retirement from government work he founded Frame Masters and was a partner in the Edith Baker Gallery.
He was a long standing member and exercised at The Cooper Aerobics Center and Ewing Cardiovascular Center. Fred was deeply loved, respected and cherished by his beloved family - his wife of 57 years, Edith, son, Jeff, daughter, Rini, son-in-law, Roger, 9 year old granddaughter, Cailey (the apple of his eye), his brother and sister in law, Dr. Paul and Sorelle Baker, and their sons, his sister-in-law in Portugal, Eva Arie, and her children and grandchildren. He had numerous friends in the Dallas community who revered him for his knowledge of most any subject. His many friends in the art community will miss him for his love of art. We give many thanks to the wonderful staff of Friends Place and Walnut Place, who gave him loving care to the very end.
Service will be held on Tuesday, December 19, 2006 at 3pm in Lefkowitz Chapel at Temple Emanuel 8500 Hillcrest. In lieu of flowers, kindly send donations to the Alzheimers Association 4144 N. Central Exp # 750 Dallas 75204 or charity of your choice.
OB6 Obituaries, Notices Published in the Dallas Morning News on 12/18/2006. (Dallas News Obituary)
The statement on my birth announcement read … “Heir to the Baker
millions”, but for as long as I can remember, Dad introduced me as the “Heir
to the Baker liabilities”. I looked up ‘liability’ in the
Funk and Wagnall’s when I was 12. It was just Dad’s way of telling
me: “I love you son, … and you’re on your own”.
Our family life was a large and extended, but not related family of friends that had come from the Northeast in the 1940’s and 50’s and developed a life their parents couldn’t even imagine.
It was in this milieu, that Rini and I grew up. Family, art and people - and lots of them. A rich, full and good life… Dinner with family every night with full-court political discussions that kept us at the table for at least an hour. We didn’t have to learn this stuff. It was in us.
Dad was an urban man. He could be gregarious, but was very comfortable with a book or a symphony playing. He was an intellectual and he loved people.
…What sort of man gets degrees in both Economics and Social Work?
It’s the kind of Man whose ‘ideas’ are as big as his ‘ideals’. The kind of man who sees no contradiction between freedom & individual liberty … and social consciousness & responsibility. Fred assumed these concepts went hand in hand … and it’s hopeful to think that they may be coming into play again.
I don’t know if he intended to do big things… but his age and history put him in a place to do just that. The London School of Economics… The OSS … The liberation of Buchenwald … the decartelization of the German war machine and I.G. Farben, maker of Zyklon-B, used to gas German victims … not to mention the relocation of 50,000 displaced Jews from behind the newly formed Iron Curtain to Israel in 1948.
Our folks moved to Dallas in 1951. Dad had received his Masters in Social Work from the University of Chicago. He found his niche in government and worked for Health and Human Services (including FEMA… back when it worked!) and HUD (working with Black Panther’s in the dismantling of the Pruitt/Igo Housing Projects in St. Louis). He finished his career as Deputy Director of HEW for the 5 State Region during the Carter Administration.
After his government service, he opened ‘Framemasters’ and enjoyed the fruits of his labors. He held court, had great discussions on life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, kept his pipe lit and occasionally framed a picture. He sold the company to his employees and dear family friends, Terry & Bill.
Fred Baker was about people. He was a facilitator of opportunities helping thousands achieve their dreams. He was about opening doors… He was about having a chance…
Dad loved to talk, but he always walked the walk… and that’s the definition of a Mensch!
Eulogy for Fred Baker
December 19, 2006
Rabbi David Stern
Fred Baker loved to talk about politics – and if the talk turned to argument, with a worthy intellectual opponent, all the better. He was an unreconstructed New Deal Democrat to the end, with some choice words and opinions about the current direction of our country. Some teenage boys are nervous about picking up their dates because they will have to answer to the girl’s father about driving, or curfew, or school, or family pedigree. But at the Baker house, the date would have to wait until Fred sat the poor kid down and made him talk politics.
Fred was impatient with injustice, insistent on fair and equal opportunity for all. He worked closely with minority communities, in his government service in the departments of Housing and Urban Development and Health, Education and Welfare, and as a committed volunteer. He believed deeply in the values upon which this nation was founded, and in government’s responsibility to make those values real in people’s lives. When he taught English to new immigrants in Dallas, he didn’t only teach them vocabulary – he shared his passion for civic values. One family he worked with said that Fred didn’t just teach them the meaning of words – he taught them the meaning of the Constitution of the United States.
He was a people person and an ideas person all rolled into one. He had a powerful intellect, and preferred others who did too – he liked to associate with people who could challenge his mind. He read voraciously. His tastes ran almost exclusively to non-fiction – history and politics and philosophy, with the New Yorker and Commentary thrown in for good measure.
He seemed to know something about everything - but just as important, he could talk to just about anyone. He was a master schmoozer – holding court in the frame shop or in the Gallery, learning from artists about art, and then going to the library to deepen his own understanding. He passed on his love of learning and books to his children – if he could have given them library cards in utero he would have – but instead he waited until they were about five. Rini remembers going to the library with Fred and always coming home with a towering stack of whatever was the maximum number of books allowed. Rini and Jeff grew up knowing that that library card wasn’t just a card, it was a passport – to far away places and diverse cultures and worlds of imagination, to the emphasis on learning that is such a powerful part of Fred’s legacy. He approached new people and new topics with an engaged curiosity, ready to make the horizons of his mind and his learning even broader still. For Fred’s family, one of the hardest parts of his struggle with Alzheimer’s disease was the dulling of his intellectual capacity, which was for so long a source of such wisdom and knowledge and sparkling light.
That combination of intellect and ease with people carried Fred through his fascinating work and around the world. Serving in the Air Force Special Intelligence division during World War II, witnessing the liberation of Buchenwald, helping to dismantle I.G. Farben, the German company which produced the zyklon B gas used in the crematoria, resettling Bulgarian Jews in Israel, working for the Carter Administration here.
For all of his decades in Dallas, he never saw himself as a Texan – his imagination and interests ranged broader than any one state could contain. But this was home – because home was wherever Edith was. How he loved to brag about his “Bulgarian beauty.” They met in Sofia where Edith was assigned to Fred as a translator for his work with the Joint Distribution Committee. As Edith says, “He chased me around the desk until I caught him.” And so began 57 years of a love match – laughter and support and ideas and travel and music and art. And family most of all. The Bakers ate dinner together every night – where of course, the topic of discussion was politics. Jeff and Rini knew that they were not expected to be like anyone else, but to strive only to be their own best selves. Fred reveled in each of their accomplishments, and was present on the bumpier days. When Rini and Roger married, Fred welcomed Roger with love, and until his last days took unparalleled joy and delight in his granddaughter Cailey. She could make him laugh like no one else.
In the Baker household, unconditional love was a reality, not a cliché. And the kids saw in their parents 57 years of a most powerful example of what love can be. Fred said to Edith – you do whatever you want, and I will support you. And as Edith says – I did, and he did. The Baker Marble Company, the Edith Baker Gallery – Fred was Edith’s constant support each and every step of the way. Edith, your love and dedication for Fred over all those decades, and over the course of his disease, have held up your own mirror to his unswerving support for you. Your dignity, your honesty, your love for Fred have shone for us all, and we are with you now as you make your way.
Even beyond his professional service to the Joint Distribution Committee and the American Jewish Committee, Fred cared deeply about the Jewish people, about Jewish culture and values and ideals. So it’s appropriate that as Fred continued in life this last week in defiance of all medical predictions, Roger lovingly observed that Fred was a living Chanukah story – a miracle of a light that refused to go out. That was true last week, and it will be true next week, and next month, and next year, and beyond - because legacies like Fred’s do not fade. He was one of those rare human beings who could care deeply about humanity as a whole, and also care about one person at a time. He made friends wherever he went. He was a person of deep compassion and genuine kindness, but never veered from his strong convictions. He so wanted the world to be a fairer and more peaceful and less hateful place. This is a sad and shadowy time, and we will miss him deeply. But his passions – for his family, for the world of ideas, for politics as a means to lift up people and their circumstances – shine brightly even now. May the light of his example and his love ever guide us – in this festival of lights, and for all the time to come.
Fred Isaac Baker – Zecher tzaddik livracha – May the memory of the righteous always abide for blessing. Amen.