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Holocaust memorial dedicated at Hagerstown Community College

June 01, 2013|By ALICIA NOTARIANNI | alnotarianni@aol.com
  • Ed Baer describes the artwork he donated to Kepler Center at Hagerstown Community College. He purchased it recently because it reminded him of his grandmother Sophie, who died during the Holocaust.
By Kevin G. Gilbert/Staff Photographer

Adolph “Ed” Baer was 7 years old when a man rode by on a bicycle and tried to run him over.

Baer was trying to cross the street to his grandparents’ house while he visited them in Reichelsheim, Germany. He grabbed a hold of the bicycle on impulse, like swatting a fly, he said, and the man dragged him 10 or 20 feet until he finally fell, bruised, bloodied and concussed.

People saw, but no one helped. No one called the police. It was the summer of 1937. Baer did not understand at the time that the man was a Nazi and that witnesses did not want to be seen as sympathetic to a young Jewish boy.

“You see, it was the beginning of the Nazi era,” Baer said. “(The bicyclist) was a Nazi, bent on destruction, bent on killing me. For my grandparents, it was the beginning of a nightmare.”

By 1939, Baer’s parents, fearing for their lives, received exit visas for the United States. Though his father was jailed for a time in France as an enemy of the state, the immediate family eventually managed to escape and reunite in the United States.

Despite the family’s efforts to help them, Baer’s maternal grandparents, Joseph and Sophie Samuel, suffered a different fate. The couple was taken to Terezin, a concentration camp, where in 1942, Joseph Samuel died of malnutrition and “the diseases of the camp,” Baer said. In 1944, Sophie Samuel was shipped to Auschwitz. She perished in gas chambers there.

“Had she made it for another six months, she would have been liberated,” he said.

Baer, 83, of Hagerstown, shared the haunting story with a crowd of about 50 people Saturday at the dedication of a Holocaust memorial at the Kepler Center at Hagerstown Community College.

For decades, Baer said, he never returned to Germany. But when his children reached adolescence, he felt a need to share their heritage with them, so he and his wife, Hannah Baer, took them there. Now, as his generation is passing on, he said, Baer is compelled to share his story with his community to ensure it is not forgotten.

Baer bestowed upon HCC a financial gift, as well as two pieces of art that were unveiled in the Kepler Center lobby. One was “The Olive Branch,” a bronze sculpture by artist J.R. Eason that he acquired last year because it reminded him of his grandmother.

“The woman portrayed is tall, statuesque, handsome. She bears a definite resemblance to my grandmother,” he said.

The other piece, “Light at the End,” is a painting by Holocaust survivor Frederick Terna. Terna survived four camps, including Terezin. Today, he is 90, and has visited Baer’s home, discussing the inspiration he found for the earth-toned painting while he clenched dirt in his bare hands at Terezin.

Stacey Lowman, HCC’s executive director of college advancement, said Baer’s gift to the college adds to “the beauty and the significance” of the building.

Baer’s friend and former Washington County Commissioner Ronald L. Bowers attended the invitation-only event. Bowers said Baer’s gift is “what community and the community college network means.”

“It’s bringing all diversified backgrounds of people from the community together to be shown at the community college,” he said.

Baer’s three children, Sandy Baer and Dede Glassband, both of Baltimore, and Michael Baer of Scottsdale, Ariz., said as first-generation Americans, they have important ties to their father’s stories and they support him in telling them.

“It’s really special here at the junior college to put it in an academic environment where (there are) people who are thoughtful and studying,” Michael Baer said. “And it may be an inspiration for someone to actually go out and learn something about a part of our history that nobody in the world is really very proud of, but it’s important for us all to remember to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

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