Werner Baum was born Werner Feigenbaum, on January 20, 1929, in Stuttgart, Germany, to a family that could trace its German roots back to the 1700s. Werner’s parents, Emil and Claire Feigenbaum, and his older brother Kurt were well-assimilated liberal Jews who viewed themselves as loyal Germans. His father, a highly decorated German soldier during WWI, was a respected businessman who manufactured raw materials for the textile industry and employed many people. In October 1938, one month before Kristallnacht, the Gestapo arrested Werner's father and imprisoned him on false charges. After his mother successfully negotiated his release, the family emigrated to Vilvoorde, a small town near Brussels, Belgium, where his father had business connections and the family felt they could live in relative safety.
On May 10, 1940, the Nazis attacked Belgium. The Belgian authorities proceeded to arrest many German and Austrian nationals and French foreigners, including Werner’s father and brother, whom they considered enemy aliens. May 12 they were placed on a train going to internment camps in France. German war planes bombed the train, injuring Emil, who died of his wounds a few days later. Kurt was sent to a series of forced labor camps including Auschwitz. (See also Kurt Baum.) After an unsuccessful attempt to flee to France, Werner and his mother returned to Belgium, now under German control. Prohibited from attending school, Werner and his mother were forced from their home in 1944 and interned in barracks in Malignes, France, awaiting deportation to Eastern Europe. Luckily Werner’s grandmother was allowed to remain in town, where she died a natural death. Conditions in the barracks were extremely harsh, and forced marches were common. Miraculously Werner and his mother were given a dramatic reprieve. As they were about to board a train for deportation to Auschwitz, they were called back. By September 1944 they were liberated by British soldiers. When the war finally ended. Werner and his mother returned to Vilvoorde where they were reunited with Kurt, the only other family member to survive, and his new wife.
Once Kurt found employment in Rochester, Werner now a trained bookkeeper, relocated with his mother to Rochester. By 1952, Werner was drafted into the US Army during the Korean War and stationed at Fort Knox, keeping track of the gold. Upon his discharge, he worked as a computer programmer at Haloid, which became Xerox. He joined the Classical Music Lovers Exchange and through correspondence met Roz Friedman from West Virginia. They married on August 18, 1987.
Werner and his brother began speaking publicly about their war experiences after they heard about attempts by revisionists to deny the occurrence of Nazi atrocities. Werner retired from Xerox in 1990 and became one of the original members of the Eastman School of Music New Horizons Band, playing percussion and bass drums. He also volunteered at the WXXI auctions and helped deliver Kosher Meals on Wheels. He passed away on May 1, 1996 at the age of 67.
Biography written by: Helen Swede