Claire Baum

Warming Hearths and Hearts

Claire has learned that a special and unexpected delivery can change one’s life.

Claire Friedberg was born in Rotterdam, Holland, in 1936.

In 1939, just prior to the outbreak of World War II, Claire’s family decided to leave Holland, only to be notified that their visa had been refused by the United States.

In 1940, Rotterdam was bombed and Holland was at war. In 1942, Claire’s father decided to join the Resistance. That year Jews were systematically arrested in Holland. An alphabetical list of Jewish names with their addresses was posted by the government at Rotterdam City Hall that helped the Nazis identify, arrest, and deport Jews. Shortly after Claire’s grandparents were arrested, Claire’s father decided to split the family up to increase their chances for survival. He found a Christian family to hide toddlers Claire and her sister Olga.

After the sisters lived in a stranger’s home in another village for a short time, a neighbour, a member of the Hitler Youth, threatened to betray their cover. A member of the Jewish Resistance then placed them in the Rotterdam home of a 28-year-old childless woman, where they stayed for three and a half years. The sisters had to hide during the day while non-Jewish children attended school. The children’s beloved caretaker, Tanta Nel, taught them to read and write, and encouraged them to write letters to their parents despite not knowing their whereabouts.

In 1945, after the German armed forces surrendered, the sisters heard a terrifying knock at the door. Claire saw two people she didn’t immediately recognize. They were her parents. Claire’s family moved to Canada, which Claire calls “the land of our liberators,” arriving in Halifax by boat on March 15, 1951. Claire met her husband, Seymour Baum, in Toronto and has been married for more than 50 years. She worked full time for 25 years, alongside her husband, to build a successful company, Armstrong-Baum Plumbing and Heating Co.

About 40 years after liberation, Claire received a letter from a Dutch woman who had found a package containing letters and pictures while cleaning out her mother’s basement. Claire’s parents had hidden in the house for a short time and left the package behind. Yad Vashem recognized this woman’s mother, Claire and Olga’s rescuer—Nel Van Woudenberg—with the special title of “Righteous Among the Nations” in 1979.

Claire has been actively involved as a speaker about her Holocaust experiences for the Sarah and Chaim Neuberger Holocaust Education Centre of the UJA Federation of Greater Toronto, Canadian Jewish Congress, B’nai Brith, and numerous schools, in various parts of North America. A part of Claire’s story is included in Whispers in Hiding, the last volume of a children’s trilogy about the Holocaust by Kathy Kacer.

Claire’s main goal is to educate young people about the Holocaust. She believes that “understanding and co-operation are the building blocks of a safe foundation.”

Claire and her husband are blessed with three children and eight grandchildren.