Sometimes people touch us for just a brief time, but make a lasting impact on our lives. Some of my best friends live far away. We might not talk often, but I carry them with me through my days, and it does my heart good to simply know they are in the world.
I stay in touch with several of the people I have interviewed for A Peace of My Mind, but others come into my life for a few hours and then slip away. I think because I spend so much time editing their stories, and then sharing them in workshops and presentations, I feel like I get to know them better than our short time together should allow.
On June 14, 2010 I interviewed Fred and Judy Baron. In the spring of that year Fred spoke about his experience as a Holocaust survivor to my son’s middle school. A Peace of My Mind was young at the time, but I knew it was a story I wanted to include in the series. I couldn’t make it to the talk that day, so I wrote Fred a note inviting him to be a part of the project, I sealed it in an envelope and asked my son to deliver it to him after the talk. Later that week Fred called and told me he would be happy to meet.
When I arrived at his apartment, I learned that his wife had survived Bergen Belson concentration camp as well and I interviewed the two of them together. I traded just a few emails with them over the years, but I share their story almost every time I speak about A Peace of My Mind.
Today I learned that Fred Baron passed away May 23, 2014.
Our exhibit is at Macalester College and I was visiting with Rabbi Barry Cytron in the chapel where the exhibit is on display. He told me how he had traveled to Europe with the Barons and others who wanted to visit the concentration camps they had survived in their younger years. He spoke of the wisdom, grace, and humor he witnessed in Fred, that I had seen myself during our interview. And then he told me Fred had been gone for almost two years.
Yet he wasn’t.
His portrait was just upstairs. Just a few days before, I shared his words as I spoke about the project to students…and as I type those words now, I can hear his voice…
“I have hope that we learn from each other, that each generation learns from the previous one. I do realize the learning process is difficult and has its ups and downs. But we have learned so much in our relatively short human existence. We can send a man to the moon and bring him back. We can take the organs from one person and place them into another to give them life. We have done unimaginable things.
In the way we relate to each other on a human level…person to person…progress is much more difficult and much slower. That is what we need to strive for.”
Fred was 91 when he passed away. Each year there are fewer Holocaust survivors who can tell us their story to remind us in a personal way of the tragic ways humans can treat one another.
“It is our obligation to look after one another in this world,” Fred said. “Especially those who are less fortunate than ourselves.”
I have hope, too, that we learn from each other. That each generation can learn from the previous one. It’s at the core of this project.
It was an honor to spend time with Fred….to hear his story…to learn from him…and to record his story for others to hear long after he is gone.
I’ll continue to share Fred’s story wherever I go. Even in our short time together, Fred made a big impact, and those ripples will continue to expand long after he is gone.
Rest in peace, Fred. We won’t forget.