|Walter Baum||Born in Oberhausen, Germany 1897
Deceased in Oakland, California 1968
|Caroline Baum||Born in Metz, France 1897
Deceased in Oakland, California 1994
Walter Baum was born in Oberhausen, Germany in 1897. He was the fifth child of Wolf and Lina Baum. Walter’s father, an owner of an insurance business, died of pneumonia when Walter was 4 years old. It was up to Walter’s mother to earn a living and raise the family. Often they didn’t have enough food on the table, but Walter’s mother managed to keep the family together. Because he was so bright, Walter was allowed to be educated. His mother hoped that he would be a rabbi like his maternal grandfather. However, after enrolling in rabbinical school, Walter decided that career path wasn’t for him, and instead earned a doctorate in the social sciences at the University of Frankfurt.
Caroline was born in Metz, France in 1898. Her father was the commander of the occupying force of Alsace Lorraine. She spent her childhood going from fortress to fortress. Although she had a close attachment to her father, Caroline Baum had a rebellious streak and was one of the first women in Germany to go to college, earning a degree from the University of Cologne. She later decided to move to Frankfurt.
That is where Walter and Caroline met. They dated for two years before getting engaged and trying to get permission to get married from their respective parents. Caroline, who was Protestant, met fierce resistance from her father. After finally consenting, Caroline’s father warned they would be in trouble if another pogrom came around. At the time, Caroline laughed, thinking a civilized Germany would never do such a thing.
Walter and Caroline Baum were married in 1923. They had two children: Fred, born in 1926, and Ursula, born in 1930.
When Hitler came to power in 1933, Walter decided he had enough of Germany and decided to immigrate to France. He had to leave his wife, son, and daughter behind to live in Karlsruhe with his in-laws until he could earn a livelihood. Caroline’s stay in Karlsruhe was cut short when she was called before a tribunal and told that her husband was working against Hitler in Paris. She was given eight days to leave the country or else face arrest.
Caroline packed up her children and met Walter in Paris. At that point, Walter could not make a living and grew depressed at not being able to feed his family. He tried to commit suicide, but Caroline saved him. To raise his spirit, Caroline told him that she had a dream that one day they would be living in a house in the Caribbean. Walter just laughed at the prophetic dream.
The situation in France improved for Walter an Caroline. Walter was able to obtain employment with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee helping other refugees. The family was able to afford a nice apartment and became so assimilated into French culture that they only spoke French at home.
In September 1939, their world changed again. France and England declared war on Germany. At thetime, Caroline was with her children on summer holiday in Royan on the west coast of France. Walter had been stuck in Paris and was planning on joining them later. However, as a German expatriate, he was sent by the French to an internment camp.
Caroline and her children were not allowed to return to Paris and told they had to relocate to Angers, even though they had only clothing for the summer season. Caroline did not see her husband for several months until he showed up one day wearing a military uniform. As a condition for his release from the camp, Walter agreed to join the French Foreign Legion and serve in Africa. The couple spent the holiday together until Walter had to leave. At that point, Caroline was able to convince the authorities to grant her a travel pass and return to Paris.
In the spring, Walter flunked a physical in Africa and was sent home. At that point, World War II was called the “phony war.” The French army was convinced that they could defend France with the Maginot Line. However, in May the Germans began their assault through Belgium. Again, the French government demanded that expatriate men be interned. So again Walter was separated from his family.
The Germans broke through the lines and Paris was in its path. After a failed attempt to flee, Caroline woke up to discover that the Germans had put a Nazi swastika flag on the Eiffel tower. She and her children were trapped.
Desperate and starving, Caroline renewed her German passport in hopes of getting better rations. This action backfired when she was informed by the Germans that she would have to move her family back to Germany. Caroline was devastated and gravely worried that her half-Jewish children would be taken away from her. She didn’t know what to do. Things looked bleak until Caroline returned to her apartment and found a note under the door. She opened it and discovered it was from her husband. Walter wrote that he was safe and that he had escaped through Spain to Lisbon. He had been given a new assignment in the Dominican Republic. He told her to go to Marseilles and get on a boat from there and that her house in the Caribbean awaited her like the dream she had.
Caroline still had to obtain money and a safe conduct pass. Then someone knocked on her door. She could see a German officer cap through the transom window. Thinking she was going to be arrested, she told her children, “We might as well open it, they are just going to break it down.” However, the man turned out to be Caroline’s cousin, who brought her money from her parents.
With this money, Caroline was able to bribe an official and took a train to Marseilles on February 25, 1941. The family spent a couple of weeks in Marseilles until they could book passage on a ship headed to Martinique. Caroline and her children packed their things and went to the dock and discovered that they would be sailing on a rusty freighter. Upon boarding, they discovered they had to sleep in the hull of the boat. They were given a sack by the crew, who then pointed to a haystack and told to make a mattress. The deck of the ship had various holding pens for animals such as goats and lambs. Crewmen would slaughter the animals and put them in a pot and feed the passengers. Before reaching their destination, the ship first had to stop in several ports in Africa, including Oran and Casablanca. When the ship was docked in Casablanca, the Vichy French government would not let the ship leave the harbor, because some Vichy ships were caught carrying arms and the British were confiscating them.
The ship was stuck in a harbor in Casablanca for several weeks with the passengers not being allowed to leave the ship. After dysentery broke out, the passengers were finally relocated to an internment camp in Morocco. Caroline and her children spent several weeks in the camp until the Joint was able to charter a Portuguese ship that would take them to New York.
During the trip, the ship was hit by a waterspout, resulting in the passengers spending the trip pumping water from the hull until the ship could reach Bermuda for repairs.
Finally, the vessel reached New York. At that point, Caroline and her children were sent to Ellis Island.At the time, Ellis Island was more of a detention camp than a welcoming center. The United States, miredin the Great Depression, was worried about accepting penniless refugees in the country so security at the island was tight. At night, Caroline and her children were locked in a cell.
After a week, Caroline was able to book a passage on the cruise ship Borinquen. In Santo Domingo Caroline and Walter were reunited. Walter Baum was field director for Jewish refugees in Santo Domingo and the Jewish settlement in Sosúa. He also taught at the university in Santo Domingo.
In 1948, he noticed that students were missing in his classroom. When he visited the jail, he discovered his students were being held there. Apparently, the regime had planted spies in his classroom who reported on any students who said things against the regime. Walter complained to the authorities and Trujillo responded by exiling him and his family.
After being expelled, Walter and Caroline Baum lived in New York for a couple of years until Walter landed a job with the International Institute in Detroit. He retired in 1966. He and Caroline moved to Oakland, California. Walter Baum passed away in 1968 at the age of 70. Caroline Baum passed away in 1994 at the age of 96. As of this date, they have 28 descendants. The novel, “The Eternal Dream,” written by their grandson, Daniel K. Gilbert, is based on their life story.