FORT SILL--Rudy Baum is one of a dwindling number of witnesses to man's greatest inhumanity towards his fellow man. Rudy Baum is a Holocaust survivor.
The 92-year-old Baum was at Fort Sill Thursday as the keynote speaker at the Days of Remembrance Lunch. The last time Baum was at Fort Sill was 66 years ago when he was sent to Fort Sill as part of his induction into the U.S. Army.
Baum fled Germany in the mid-1930's following an increase in the persecution of Jews by the Nazi regime of Adolf Hitler.
"Signs appeared that said, 'Dogs and Jews not allowed,'" Baum recalled Thursday. "They were putting us on the same level as the dogs."
While Baum fled to the United States, and his sister to where present-day Israel is, their parents Norbert and Julie stayed behind in Frankfurt, Germany.
"They said, 'bad comes to worse we'll take the last train,'" Baum said. "Unfortunately the last train brought them to a ghetto in Poland where my mother committed suicide and I've never been able to ascertain what happened to my father."
Working as a salesman in the Dallas area, Baum received what he called "a hello from the President". It was his draft notice, but as a non-citizen Baum was given the option to take a deferment. Knowing full well what was going on in Germany the then 26-year-old Baum refused the deferment and showed up for duty at Fort Sill.
By 1944 Baum was in Europe as part of General George S. Patton's now famous 3rd Army. He left England on July 3, 1944 and was in Paris when the American army allowed General Charles de Gaulle to ride triumphantly through the Arc de Triomphe officially marking the end of the Nazi occupation of Paris.
"The French were delirious. They were overjoyed. They celebrated what you would call today 24/7," Baum said with a grin. "There was champagne, food, it was unbelievable."
By 1945 Baum and his 20th Corps, 3rd Army were in his hometown of Frankfurt. By then the city was all but destroyed. Baum sought out his old house, but couldn't bring himself to go inside because he said the memories were too painful.
On April 11, 1945 Baum entered the Nazi Concentration Camp called Buchenwald, located near the town of Weimar. It was at Buchenwald where the Nazi's slaughtered 56,000 human beings. Their only crimes--were their race, their religion, their disabilities, and their political beliefs.
"It almost defies words to describe what we found. The crematory ovens were still burning," Baum recalled of the day he stared down man's inhumanity towards man. "Worst of all were the walking dead. The people who survived but who could barely walk."
Baum said upon seeing the sight General Patton became infuriated and ordered every resident of the nearby town to tour Buchenwald. Baum said he remembered watching as residents turned away or fainted. He said every single resident that came through Buchenwald that day claimed they knew nothing of what was going on there. Following the tour the mayor of Weimar committed suicide.
After his days at Buchenwald, Baum was sent to Marbourg, Germany as a media control officer. Up until this point he said he hated the Germans for what they had done to his family and countless others. But it was in Marbourg while running an Army newspaper that that opinion changed.
"I came across Germans who worked for the underground that sheltered Jewish familes," he said. "I came to the conclusion that the idea of collective guilt is wrong because if there's only one person who does good you can't say that everybody was bad."