Oral History: Lawrence Baron

2022.12 - Baron croppedNarrator: Lawrence Baron
Interviewer: Skye Doney
Date: 20 December 2022
Transcribed by: Teresa Bergen
Total Time: 1 hour, 57 minutes, 13 seconds

Lawrence Baron Biography:
Professor Emeritus Lawrence Baron held the Nasatir Chair of Modern Jewish History at San Diego State University from 1988 until 2012 and directed its Jewish Studies Program until 2006. He received his Ph.D. in modern European cultural and intellectual history from the University of Wisconsin where he studied with George L. Mosse. He taught at St. Lawrence University from 1975 until 1988. He has authored and edited four books including The Modern Jewish Experience in World Cinema (Brandeis University Press: 2011) and Projecting the Holocaust into the Present: The Changing Focus of Contemporary Holocaust Cinema (Rowman and Littlefield: 2005). He served as the historian and as an interviewer for Sam and Pearl Oliner’s The Altruistic Personality: Rescuers of Jews in Nazi Europe. In 2006 he delivered the keynote address for Yad Vashem’s first conference devoted to Hollywood and the Holocaust. His contribution to Holocaust Studies was profiled in Fifty Key Thinkers on the Holocaust and Genocide (Routledge: 2010). In the fall semester of 2015, he taught as the Ida King Distinguished Visiting Professor of Holocaust and Genocide Studies at the Richard Stockton University of New Jersey.

**To access the OHMS oral history page for Lawrence Baron, which allows listeners to search text or keywords and to listen to specific sections of this interview, click here.**


[Begin Track 1.]

Doney: Okay, this is the twentieth of December, 2022. I’m Skye Doney and I’m interviewing Professor Lawrence Baron who received his PhD in December of 1974 from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Completed a PhD titled “The Eclectic Anarchism of Eric Mühsam” with Professor George L. Mosse. And this is part of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Archives Pral History Project. Professor Baron, thank you for joining me today.

Baron: Looking forward to it.

Doney: We’re going to start really at the very beginning. Where were you born? What kind of milieu were you born? Feel free to talk about your childhood and early schooling.

Baron: I was born in Chicago. My father was a truckdriver for Schlitz. He delivered beer to, initially to the Gold Coast, to some of the great nightclubs. But then to Roosevelt Road, which drank a lot more beer. It was a predominantly Black neighborhood. And my mother was a kind of the classic homemaker for that era. I wouldn’t call our home an intellectual environment. I’m the only one of three children who went to college and got a degree. My brother, who was considerably older than me, joined, enlisted in the army right after the Korean War and ended up in Korea and then in the hardware supply business. When he came back he was basically an adult and didn’t live at our house. My sister got a technical education. She was a medical technician.

But to the extent that I remember books being around our house, they were mostly popular biographies and things like that. The only sort of real input I got there was from my father, who loved film and loved documentaries and used to take me, I remember Saturdays we would go to this theater and watch movies often. And I also remember all these documentaries, particularly about World War Two, that I watched in the 1950s. probably that was my first exposure to the Holocaust. Though I grew up in Albany Park. I don’t know if you know Chicago very well. At that time, it was kind of like the Williamsburg of Chicago. It was an orthodox, ultra-orthodox neighborhood. But my parents weren’t particularly religious. We were “Holiday Hebrews.” So we celebrated the holidays and maybe lit candles on Shabbat and had a challah, but not much more than that. And I had no Holocaust survivors in my family at that time. But my parents did have friends who were survivors, though I wasn’t particularly interested in that, and I didn’t know much about their stories back then. 00:03:00

And I had a Hebrew school education, which was lousy. I remember I hated it very much because we would have to go after school. And I would often fall in puddles so I wouldn’t have to go. (laughs) My parents were wondering if I had a physical disability. But I do remember one of my teachers being–this was probably my first conscious exposure to the Holocaust. I’m not sure I knew what it meant—whose name was Mr. Brodetsky. He was a Holocaust survivor. His hands were misshapen. I remember the number on his arms. And we gave him hell. And he would always, after he really got frustrated, he would say, “And I survived Auschwitz to teach you brats?!” (laughter) But that’s really all I remember of that.

I went to an amazing public high school. I wasn’t a very good student in grammar school. But I think it had to do with being in the Chicago school system. We moved to Skokie. There, there was a lot more exposure to Holocaust survivors who were parents of my friends. And I fell into a kind of a nerdy group, I guess, brainy group. And that’s what really got my interest in serious study going. I mean, we would play poker and do other things. But we also would talk about the books we were reading in classes. And the school was Niles East, for the whole Skokie system consisted of Niles East, West and North. East no longer exists, except on film in Risky Business. It’s the high school in Risky Business. (laughs) But it was an amazing school. And I had teachers who were as fine of teachers as many of the professors I had in college. And some courses that I think were more rigorous than I experienced in college.

And I remember, the one thing I do remember is my high school counselor, my father didn’t think we could afford for me to go away for school. Or at least I had to stay in state and go to University of Illinois. And so I wanted to go to Northwestern, which was probably ten miles from where I lived. And I was in the top 1% of my class and won a local scholarship. And my guidance counselor looked at my record and she said, “Do you want to go to Northwestern?” I said yeah. This is 1964. She said, “You know Northwestern has a Jewish quota.” And she dissuaded me and I went to University of Illinois, which was not a bad decision. But, 1965 is when the Civil Rights Act is passed and the quotas came down. So I was one year away from going to Northwestern.

Doney: Wow. 00:06:00 Were there particular teachers, history teachers that got you interested in the discipline or books? Okay.

Baron: Yeah, there were two of them. These were AP history courses. One was US and the other was European. They were both excellent. And in fact I tested out of my college intro courses both in European history and American history. So, yeah, they were amazing. And I wasn’t interested in history. I mean, I was interested. But at that time, I wanted to be a veterinarian. And Illinois seemed like a good choice. It was one of the better veterinary schools.

Doney: So you entered the University of Illinois on a pre-veterinary track. Could you talk about—

Baron: Well, I very quickly shifted over to be a history major.

Doney: Can you talk about that process and sort of following the discipline again after—

Baron: Yeah. Well, at University of Illinois, which was at that time, I don’t know if it still is, probably on a par in history with the University of Wisconsin. And I ended up taking some amazing professors. The one who stands out, not that his field is anywhere near what I ended up doing, is Chester Starr (1914-1999), who was one of the leading classicists of ancient Greek and Roman history. But just amazing. And I think one of the things that attracted me was during the late [19]60s, and the Vietnam War. And he always related Greek history and Roman history to what was going on in the world. And I had another very good professor in classics, a guy by the name of [Richard E.] Mitchell who was very good.

But then I ended up with a history professor who was new, he had just gotten his PhD, by the name of David Sumler (1941-2012). I don’t know what became of him. But he taught the 19th and 20th century European surveys. And that really caught my attention. And particularly with everything going on in the United States student movement, the link, the interwar period and the link between intellectuals getting radicalized and politicized and then just many of them disillusioned really interested me. And so I wrote my honors thesis with him on Stephen Spender (1909-1995), who was a British poet who got involved in the Spanish Civil War. Eventually he got disillusioned. And the book I most remember from that period is The God That Failed (1949) by Richard Crossman (1907-1974), which got me involved in this research.

But it’s also Sumler’s course where I first learned about Mosse. Because I can’t remember whether he assigned the book or whether he lectured about it. But he talked about The Crisis of German Ideology (1964, 2021). And that interested me a great deal as well. But again, not from 00:09:00 so much a Jewish perspective. I was just sort of interested in the activist history of the background of the Weimar Republic and then Spanish Civil War and the Soviet Union. So that was my experience at Illinois.

Doney: Were you then also studying languages? Did you have in mind to continue?

Baron: Well, I had done two years of German in high school. And I continued, we had to have a minor then at Illinois. So I had four years of German there. And I remember Mosse when I first met him and I said well, because I don’t know if they still do this. But you used to apply to the professor. And Mosse had to pick you. So I said, “Why’d you pick me?”

And he said, “I liked your language background.” So that was a nice thing. Though it was mostly a literary background. I certainly couldn’t speak very well until I’d spent a year of research in Germany. And actually that’s the other thing. I have very strong memories of my German lit courses at Illinois. And really loving that literature of [Thomas] Mann, [Bertolt] Brecht, Hermann Hesse, who was all the rage then. And reading it in German. That’s another thing that kind of set me in the direction I went the rest of my life, which was studying intellectuals and culture and how it reflected broader historical trends or shaped them.

Doney: Yeah, many of these texts still really resonate with students.

Baron: Yeah.

Doney: I think Hesse is one of those that just continues. Did you have, so did you apply to several programs? I’m wondering about how do you decide to come up to Madison from completing that?

Baron: I was worried, yeah, I was worried whether I could come up to Madison because I was draft bait and was very low on the lottery when they had that. I think I was forty. But I was also active in the antiwar movement. Had campaigned for [Eugene] McCarthy (1916-2005) in Wisconsin, by the way. We went to, because if you remember, the Wisconsin primary’s the one that drove [Lyndon B.] Johnson (1908-1973) out. We were driving home, I remember, back to Champaign. And I remember Johnson making his announcement he wasn’t going to run because McCarthy was doing so well.

So I (laughs) have funny little side story. We campaigned in Appleton door to door. And Appleton is where Joe McCarthy (1908-1957) came from. So they said, “When you go to the door, just say, ‘Vote for Eugene McCarthy. He’s a good Joe.’” So we, I had that background. And out of that, I became a draft counselor. I had the good fortune to get to meet Alice Lynd, of Alice and Staughton Lynd (1929-2022). And so I would help people figure out ways 00:12:00 they could delay being drafted or legal ways they could get out or ways they could make their cases or become conscientious objectors. And I did a little of that work when I got into Madison as well.

Doney: And did you start that, you started that as an undergraduate?

Baron: Well, much of this happened my last year at Illinois. I got a degree in history. But because I was of draft age and looked like a primary target, I ended up also getting a double degree. So I also had a degree in social studies education. And it was when I was doing my student teaching that I got involved.

Part of this had to do with my wife’s mother, who was an activist and ran a very important women’s group that was connected, that got me connected with Alice Lynd. So, yeah, that started that last year.

Doney: So did you two meet, I’m just curious, did you meet through activism? You and—

Baron: Oh, no. We met at University of Illinois.

Doney: Okay. Okay. Well let’s, all right. So now we’re in your last year. You’re involved in the antiwar movement. You’ve completed four years of German. You’re studying history and you’re applying for graduate schools.

Baron: Right. And I don’t remember applying to any other graduate school. But again, as we were talking about before, our memories are faulty.

Doney: Yeah.

Baron: But I mean, I knew of Mosse. I liked that book. But what really connected me to want to go to University of Wisconsin was I had many friends from Chicago who went. And whenever we’d get together during vacations, usually over poker. That’s another thing about my high school. Two of my poker mates went on to win Nobel Prizes in science. It was a brainy group. But whenever we would meet, they would just rave about George or about Harvey [Goldberg] (1922-1987). And that’s what really brought me there. These two great teachers, the German intellectual thing. And I should say, there was one other course at Illinois taught by a man by the name of [John B.] Sirich (1910-1978). I was trying to look, find out more about him. I don’t know whether he was famous or whatever. I took him because he was known to be an alcoholic and missed a lot of classes. (laughs) and was an easy grader. But he taught the intellectual history course. And I remember Crane Brinton’s (1898-1968) The Shaping of the Modern Mind (1963) is also something that kind of got me going on intellectual history.

So going to Madison just was a choice that if I didn’t have those friends, I might have ended up somewhere else. But it seemed like a great place to come.

Doney: 00:15:00 Well then let’s talk about Madison. What year did you arrive? Early impressions of the city, of the campus, of the history department? Just general initial experience.

Baron: I arrived in [19]69. I arrived a month early to get housing. And I loved, how could you not love, Madison? Madison is the perfect medium-sized city. If I ever live again in a medium-sized city, it had everything. Great culture coming in, but it wasn’t too crowded. It was livable then pricewise. We loved the Mifflin Street Coop, things like that. It was just a wonderful place to be. Enjoyed it a lot.

The atmosphere the first year was [19]69-[19]70, which is one of the big years. I think of that year, especially the second semester, maybe there was the TAA strike and the riots after the invasion of Cambodia, the bombing of Cambodia and Kent State, that closed down the university for like I think eight weeks. Students had an option to not take their finals, not to be graded that semester and to come back and finish up. So it was a remarkable introduction.

And George wasn’t there the first year I was there. Georges Haupt (1928-1978) was his replacement, who was a wonderfully warm person. George came back the second semester. Haupt was there the first semester. And Haupt was a wonderful person. Haupt was a survivor as well as a Romanian-Jewish guy. But anyways, what struck me about that first year was I was a little isolated from Mosse’s group because I needed to teach. I wasn’t a TA in history. But I had such a strong background in ancient history that I ended up teaching the classics department for a wonderful course called Ancient Religions and the Early Church. And I can’t even remember the professor’s name, but it was a great course. And my best friend that time was my fellow TA in there, Victor Estevez, who went on to become a pretty prominent classicist himself and a pioneer in the gay rights movement as well who died of AIDS much too young. But so I was doing that.

And even when I came back to the history department and taught in the history department, I taught for Frank “Mike” Clover (1940-2019) in his course on barbarian Europe, I think it was. And so it wasn’t I think until the third year maybe that I taught for George. 00:18:00 Very good students. What I remember of that first year, I was involved in the TAA strike. I used to go, someone’s told me they’ve seen me in The War at Home. But I haven’t been able to pick myself out in it. But I used to go around, I was a folk singer. I also write parodies. I’ve been doing that since high school. So I would go around to picket lines and sing union songs. Georges Haupt and Mosse loved some of these union songs. And so that was really fun.

And the other thing I remember (laughs) during the TAA strike was a bunch of the graduate students in George’s seminar, which was always held at his house, not on campus, decided we would bring the strike to his house. I don’t know if you’ve heard this story before. So we picketed his house. And we marched around. And George came out with Schnutzie. And he said, “None of you will ever get jobs! None of you will ever get jobs!” But of course he fought really hard for his students to get jobs. And we won that strike. And I kind of smiled this week when I saw about the UC TA strike and saying wow, we did that fifty years ago and got—

And the other thing, my father was a Daly Democrat. And didn’t understand the antiwar movement or any of that and didn’t understand me very well. But we bonded over the TAA strike, because he was a Teamster. And one of the reasons the TAs won is the Teamsters of Milwaukee supported it.

And as far as the people there, professors that I had that I remember really clearly, part of that was, I always wanted to take a course from Harvey and I never got a chance to. But he did direct one of the areas of my prelims. I also wanted to take a course from [Theodore S.] Hamerow (1920-2013), and he also directed one of my areas. George was the other and then Ed Gargan (1922-1995) did French history.

But I had very close ties with the German department. I continued in German. And we had that wonderful, I don’t know if they still have the symposium, the New German Critique people, the history department people. But I was involved in that. My first article came from co-writing it with a group German graduate students for the symposium. Since I was interested already in Mühsam and anarchism, I wrote about the Baader-Meinhof gang and we did an article about the anarchism in the new left in Germany. So I remember that. And I remember [Reinhold] Grimm (1931-2009) very well, who was kind of a mentor for me outside the department. And Evi [Evelyn Torton] Beck (b. 1933), who was a wonderful Yiddishist in the German department. 00:21:00

Until doing research in Germany for Mühsam, the Jewish aspect was not as important to me as the his activism. Though Mühsam was Jewish and it became important in his life, it was always the activism of intellectuals that drew me, and which George talked about. Even my master’s, I don’t know if they still require a master’s thesis. My master’s thesis was on an Expressionist playwright. George loved it because it was right up his alley. It was a guy who was antiwar at the end of World War One. And wrote a famous play that I had read when I was at Illinois. That’s why I was interested in this guy. Very little had been written about him. Reinhard Goering (1887-1936) was his name. He wrote one of the famous Expressionist antiwar plays, but became a Nazi. George loved that. (laughs)

Doney: Yeah.

Baron: That was his thing.

Doney: Yeah. I have a bunch—

Baron: As far as colleagues—

Doney: Yeah.

Baron: —Within George’s seminar, the person I was closest with and still am very close with is Jimmy Fisher. And we remain friends throughout this. We had a very bright guy who was as good a friend as Jimmy when he was there by the name of Bob Gippin who decided academia wasn’t for him after one year. I think he was the brightest of us all. And he went on to law school and then a very successful career as, I think, a district attorney in Ohio. And the other, Al Kelly was in my group as was Peter Gordy whom I don’t know if he ever finished or not. Those are the people I remember from that class, though a lot of the people that I became closest with were people in the German department. And particularly an Israeli by the name of Gad Ben Ami who I think never completed his doctorate. But I’ve stayed in touch with him as well.

And I knew some of Mosse’s later students, I helped Steve Aschheim a bit and got to know him. And then Michael Berkowitz, because Michael ended up being my replacement when I left Saint Lawrence University. And we had a lot of common friends. And we’ve remained in touch as well.

Doney: And some shared visual culture research interests.

Baron: Right. Right. Michael’s now into movies. I notice he’s doing research on movies.

Doney: Yeah. The history of photography and increasingly yeah, moving into moving pictures.

Baron: Which by the way makes total sense when, I’ve always wondered why George, 00:24:00 didn’t do much with movies, but he always talked about Triumph of the Will in his classes.

Doney: Yeah.

Baron: But he was so interested in the visualization. But in many ways I think that’s something that runs through, certainly runs through my work now, is this idea of the visualization and popularization of ideas. Not so much the original ideas, you have to know those, but how they get understood and transmitted and changed in the process. And movies, that’s what movies are doing.

Doney: Yeah. Yeah.

Baron: I always tell my friends, how many people read academic books? How many people see movies? It’s the greatest teacher of history. Maybe miseducator of history. But you need to study it because of that.

Doney: Yeah. I often tell my students that Hollywood’s really good at listening to historians about what people wore—

Baron: Yeah.

Doney: —and less great about what happened.

Baron: Well, actually, I think they do sometimes a better job, I was going to raise this later, but I’ll raise it now. Do you know the movie The Empty Mirror?

Doney: I don’t.

Baron: The Empty Mirror is a movie about Hitler. It’s kind of a, well, it’s not a soliloquy because there’s other people. It’s Hitler in front of a movie camera, movie projector, talking about his life. He’s supposedly dictating his life. But he talks about all his theories. It’s by a guy by the name of Barry Hershey. And on the film website, Hershey lists the syllabi from Harvard that influenced him. But it’s very clear, and I saw an interview, I was trying to find it yesterday from him when I was doing my book. He was very influenced by Mosse as well. And the movie is really kind of, if you want to see a movie made by someone who saw Nazism through the lens of George Mosse and Nazi ideology, The Empty Mirror is it. He provides a bibliography for his movie The Empty Mirror and has notes at the end of the movie’s website about the themes he was going to talk about including reality and myth, rationalism vs. emotion. Everything is right out of George.

Doney: Yeah. That’s awesome. I will watch that. Thank you for that recommendation.

Baron: So those were the folks I got to know.

Doney: Yeah. Okay.

Baron: And they were wonderful. And Madison certainly didn’t disappoint. My wife came, we got married in 1970 and so she then came and lived with me. So that’s probably why, my friendships were probably with other married couples. Jimmy was married, and this guy Bob Gippin was. And Gad Ben Ami as well. 00:27:00 So I’m trying to think if there’s anybody else—oh, I know one other thing, which was a road I didn’t take, but it was kind of an interesting road. Ed Gargan got interested in quantitative and computer history. And so I was in that first seminar with him and I think it was Peter Smith from political science, but I’m not sure. And the other person very important to me was Sterling Fishman (1932-1997). Sterling for two reasons. One, I think he had written his undergraduate thesis or maybe his doctoral thesis on the Bavarian Revolution and Jewish intellectuals involved. Mühsam was one of them. I used his publisher to publish my book on Mühsam because they publish books on anarchism and the left, revisionist history. But he ran a seminar and I can’t remember whether it was a class or whether it was something that was voluntary, but it was really helpful, of people who were writing their dissertations getting together and sharing chapters and critiquing. And I think that’s where I really learned how to avoid academic jargon. Because I write in a kind of very matter of fact way. And I remember listening to some things. I said, the ideas are great there, but only other historians are going to understand you. And that’s something that’s stayed with me when I did this collection on the Jewish film in world cinema. And it was trying to feature classic articles on important movies. And I picked from lots of them by of other people. But one of the things I demanded from the people, if they allowed me to reprint it, I asked them to rewrite it for students. And if they didn’t, I volunteered to rewrite it. It’s just a really important thing. I’d go to conferences and I listen for the people who know how to say things that can reach a broader audience.

Doney: But that’s also very Mossean. It really, it’s interesting. There’s a reason I think those books continue to be so widely read. They’re so accessible.

Baron: It’s kind of a funny short story. When I got to San Diego State, I was asked to teach the graduate methodology course. And I said, I really don’t know much about methodology, because they didn’t require it at Wisconsin. They didn’t have a course in theory. Maybe they do now, but they didn’t require it back then. And I remember someone asking George, “What about this theory 00:30:00 or methodology?” And George said, “Methodology?” He says, “I write history. I don’t write with a method.” (laughs)

Doney: That’s great. Yeah. All right, before—we’re moving forward here. But I wanted to just stop in Madison for a couple more questions. One of which is I wonder if you could talk about the mechanics of Mosse’s seminar. But also the seminar you had with Haupt. How does this work? Because graduate training was structured differently then. And then I also, I wonder about your involvement with the German department and the Wisconsin workshop, if maybe there was something else to add there. But let’s start with the nuts and bolts of training with Mosse and his colleagues.

Baron: Well, I mean, George’s seminars were, we had a body of material on some common theme. And every week, I forget whether it was, probably it was two of us, had to present on a topic that we had done some intensive research in. And then George would just go around and have each of us critique it. (laughs) And that was the seminar. I always remember having the breaks where we would go for, was it Rolling Rock (it was Leinenkugel)? I forget what beer we had. It was one of the local Wisconsin beers. Having beers together. But that was the focus. I don’t remember the Haupt one that well. I do remember the quantitative one. And there we picked things and we had to pick things where we could get quantitative materials and see what we could find. I remember I did mine on Chartism and how it did in off-year elections in England. And I remember a very good seminar on Nietzsche, which was taught by Klaus Berghahn (1937-2019). That was really excellent. And I’m trying to think what I had, I must have done something, I probably did a seminar on Brecht with Grimm. But I’m not sure. I read all his books. So I’m not sure whether it was a seminar or his books. But I remember those things very clearly.

And the excitement then was New German Critique I think started when I was there or maybe the year after I arrived. That’s where I had my first publication in English was in New German Critique doing book reviews related to my Mühsam research. And also Jim Steakley, though he came later. But Mühsam was a gay rights activist as well. So I ended up reviewing Jim Steakley’s book for New German Critique. 00:33:00 So I remember that very clearly. I just remember those workshops were just terrific. And we did some interesting stuff. I remember we went to Milwaukee to see a production of The Measures Taken by Brecht. And went to The Three Brothers, the wonderful, what’s the name of that wonderful Turkish or Serbian pastry [burek]. I’m sure the Turks would object, the Serbs would object. But I have really fond memories of that. And the interchanges we had. Good friendships.

Doney: Yeah. Did you also study with [Jost] Hermand (1930-2021)?

Baron: You know, I never had a course with Hermand. Grimm was on my dissertation committee, as was Evelyn Beck. And they had someone else, Hans Mayer was on it. He was interested because Mühsam tried to organize the lumpen proletariat in 1909. So Mayer was interested in that.

That’s the other thing. I didn’t even write this down, but I remember this so clearly. That the famous scholars would come in and speak, and often were friends with George. Just major, Hans Gerth (1908-1978). you know, really major figures. Who was the great Camus woman scholar? Germaine Brée (1907-2001).

Doney: Germaine Brée, yeah.

Baron: Just wonderful people who were coming in and out and who we would get to see, not just in their lectures but often George would organize things and we’d get to hear them in smaller forums. That was really an exciting thing. Madison was an exciting place.

Doney: Okay. So—

Baron: One other colleague whom I recall.

Doney: Yeah, please.

Baron: Allan Sharlin (1950-1983). Again, someone who died way too young, and who went a very different path. In fact, Allan was in the quantitative seminar.

Doney: Really?

Baron: I think that’s one of the things that might have sent him in that direction.

Doney: So let’s talk a little bit about how do you land on Mühsam and anarchism?

Baron: Mühsam was the perfect figure.

Doney: Okay. All right.

Baron: In fact I even, though he had red hair, I even look a little like Mühsam. And I used to wear granny glasses, which he wore. I’m trying to think where I even learned about him, where I first learned about him. But he was just this amazing figure. He was a poet, a journalist, a playwright, an activist, obviously. 00:36:00 All those things. Anarchism as a movement probably could not build things permanently. The idea of decentralized society—but the cultural critique of bourgeois society and capitalist society was brilliant. And so he was a gay rights activist. He was a women’s libber. He was, he tried to organize the lumpen. He was involved in the free love movement. He was also a performer. This is something I think that also attracted me to him. He wrote satirical chansons or Bankellieder and performed them in various coffeehouses. And I eventually ended up doing some of his repertoire, to play some of his repertoire. He was really brilliant, but he ended up being one of the leaders of the Munich Soviet. Just by happenstance. I mean, this is not someone you would expect to be leading a movement and of course he got arrested. Put in prison for five years. And then was released in the same amnesty that released Hitler in [19]24. But he was one of the most hated by the Nazis. His name appears in Der ewige Jude, one of the, The Eternal Jew. They show a picture of him among the other hated Jews, Jewish radicals. In the [19]20s he put out a new magazine that was very good and saw what the Nazis were doing. Very early on he identified how dangerous they were. In the Munich Soviet, he tried to build a coalition with the communists because he thought that the Soviet idea was a kind of anarchist decentralization. But he tried to build it with the SA leaders because of the Strasser brothers, whom he saw as more proletarian and socialistic than Hitler. And that probably helped him. He was arrested the night of the Reichstag fire. But he was put in a camp that was run by the SA. Though he wasn’t treated well, he lived there for a year. And I think at least in part there was some respect for him because of what he had done with the Strasser brothers. But on the Night of the Long Knives when the SS took over the camp, they said he committed suicide. Pretty clear he was killed by the SS.

Doney: Was most of your research then in Munich?

Baron: Actually, most of my research was in Marbach 00:39:00 and in Berlin. Marbach is where the National Literaturarchiv is. And they have a full run of all his magazines, quite a few of his letters. He was so involved with all these authors that so it wasn’t only his collections. I could go to all sorts of collections to find his letters. George visited me there once.

Doney: Oh, really?

Baron: Which was a memorable visit because Fiddler on The Roof was coming to town. I don’t think George had seen it yet, and certainly hadn’t seen it in German. And I wanted to get tickets for it. And George was with me when I was trying to get tickets. And they said, “Oh, we’re all sold out.”

And George said, “Well, let me talk to them.” He said, “Ich bin Professor.” And immediately they said, “Oh, there’s tickets, Herr Professor.” So we got in.

And then I moved to Berlin because Mühsam had married a Russian woman. And she fled to the Soviet Union after he was arrested. She was then put under house arrest for almost twenty years as a Trotskyite. But many of his papers, his diaries, in particular, ended up in Soviet hands. And they copied them and sent them back to the main archive in East Berlin. And so I did the last part of my research crossing the border every day in East Berlin, reading his diaries. Which were fascinating. And I also found out this whole thing about how we reshape history by changing memories. There were cross outs in the diary where he made them more politically correct when he knew something had changed. (laughs) So initially he was kind of gung-ho for the war, which was unusual among leftists, because they were fighting Czarist Russia.

Doney: Yeah.

Baron: But he crossed out that stuff. (laughs) And there was great stuff also about his love affairs and his cheating on his wife. It was really wonderful stuff. But he was just a great figure. And he became very popular in the [19]70s among the student movement. And there’s now an Erich Mühsam journal. And his books keep on coming out. He really was an amazingly interesting figure. Though I do remember, and I can’t remember whether it was George or Gargan who asked this when I did my defense. I think it was Gargan. But it might have been George, because it kind of was George’s sneaky way of doing things. The first question was how do you justify writing a 300-page dissertation on such an insignificant figure? And when I first heard that, I was angry. And then afterwards I realized no, 00:42:00 this is my chance to tell why he’s a significant figure. So that was a wonderful experience. And my next project really was a very George project, on Theodor Lessing (1872-1933) who wrote Jewish Self-Hatred. And I got a bunch of articles out of that. I would have written a book, except someone came out with one, and it had all sorts of unpublished stuff that I hadn’t found. And I decided I would drop it.

And he was a very similar figure. Theodor Lessing was a Jewish völkisch thinker and anti-modernist. But he ended up being on the progressive side of politics, even though his intellectual reasoning wasn’t very progressive. He was driven out of his teaching position by Nazi students in 1927.

Doney: Wow.

Baron: In Hanover because he had written a very negative book about Hindenburg. And also he had written a book in defense of, or at least against capital punishment for Germany’s most notorious serial killer, [Fritz] Haarmann (1879-1925).

Doney: Haarmann, yeah.

Baron: Who ate people. And Lessing was driven out. And eventually he fled to Prague in 1933, where he was assassinated by some Nazis who followed him across the border. So these are very George topics.

Doney: Yeah.

Baron: And that was where I was at right after graduate school. But I love Erich Mühsam still, and got to know his niece. And it was a good experience.

Doney: So you successfully defend the dissertation.

Baron: Yeah.

Doney: This is now, I guess we’re in 1974.

Baron: Right.

Doney: And this is also a turning point for higher education.

Baron: Yeah.

Doney: There are a lot of students still in the graduate programs, but now as we get into the [19]70s, there’s a lot of pressure on the job market. I wonder if you could talk about finishing and then how you land your first gig and Mosse’s role in that. Yeah, just the transition into the professorate.

Baron: Well, (laughs) we assumed that for every job at least in European history, there would be a hundred or fifty applicants for. And it was going to be hard. And I just remember getting all those form letters about why, always the same. Oh, we had so many qualified applicants, you know, this and that. 00:45:00. Since I graduated mid-year, the year before, I started applying before I was done with the PhD.

And I did finally land my first interview at an AHA conference. And it was for Pacific Lutheran University. And I went in, I thought I did a good job. But I got beat out by a University of Wisconsin student, Christopher Browning. (laughs) Couldn’t feel too bad about that, I guess. But who knew what Christopher Browning was going to turn into then.

But I was getting turned down everywhere. I certainly didn’t have a regular job. Any job offers. And I had my high school teaching, which I could do. And I did, I mentioned I got the high school degree. My first year, also, another reason I wasn’t around that much is I did a lot of subbing in the Madison system. And in Chicago when I came home for vacations. But I was worried I wasn’t going to get anything and I’ll end up being a high school teacher.

And two jobs came up last minute. One was at Shimer College, which was one of the Robert Hutchins (1899-1977) schools. Sort of a great books, interesting school in, God, I can’t remember the name of the little town. No, I forget what the name of the little town was. But I got that job offer. But they said to me, “You know, right now we can’t guarantee that we’re going to open next fall.” (laughs) They were having, they were having terrible problems financially. Only had 200 students, I think. So I was wary of that one. They eventually, by the way, moved, I think they now have a small campus in Waukegan.

Then I got this other job, kind of last minute. I know exactly when I went for my interview. It was the same weekend that Saigon fell. It was in May. I don’t have a job. And there’s this job at Saint Lawrence University. Upstate New York, in a county with more cows than people. You know, the town of Canton, 6,000 when the college isn’t there. Very conservative, Republican. Stefanik is now their congresswoman. Gives you an idea of them. And so very, very conservative. And the school was really kind of a classic, wonderful liberal arts school. Two thousand students. Very bright students, but very, very preppy. It made The Preppy Handbook in the 1980s as one of the most preppy schools. Very wealthy. 00:48:00 You always knew when there was a weekend, parents’ weekend, because the cars improved. (laughs) You would see all these wonderful, expensive cars. It was also a place where a lot of very famous people, mostly government people, sent their kids. Because it was so remote. It’s right on the Canadian border, northern border. So remote that like General Westmoreland’s son was a student when I was there. Walter Mondale’s daughter was there. Turns out Susan Collins was there, but she was after me. But it was just a place, you know, it was a conservative, preppy, very WASP-ish place.

But they needed someone for a one-year position to teach the modern Europe surveys. And Western Civ. And a course of your choice, which turned out for me to be German history. And I kind of knew Saint Lawrence a little because I had been a research assistant for Sara Lennox, who was one of the New German Critique people, but who was teaching at Saint Lawrence. But she hired me to do research in the UW library’s Cutter Collection.

Doney: Oh, cool.

Baron: Because she just didn’t have a very good library, at least for what she wanted to do. So I knew Saint Lawrence a little from that. But I got the job. And I was only supposed to be there one year. And it was a nice year. I mean, I had a good time. And there’s something very nice about being a one-year person. You don’t have to worry about being so nice. (laughs) Because there’s not going to be any tenure decisions.

But then, someone didn’t get tenure in the history department. He didn’t teach in my field. He was a Reformation, German Reformation scholar. But it was last-minute that he didn’t get tenure. They needed someone. They wanted to keep the tenure track slot. And since I was getting good teaching evaluations, I got hired and spent thirteen years there.

And as far as teaching goes, those are really, at least for undergraduate teaching, the best years of my life. I learned to do a lot of interdisciplinary teaching. I introduced a course called The Modern Mind. But I also did another course on what I called Fiction as History, which was on historical novels and what we could learn from them. I did a course on anarchism. The first day I would hand out the syllabus and it was blank. (laughter) And I’d say to my students, 00:51:00 “Let’s write the syllabus. This is what anarchism is about.” (laughs) Though I had ideas, obviously, of what we would cover. But I had a lot of good times. And a lot of team teaching, which is very difficult to do at big universities. But very easy to do at small ones.

And kind of the crowning achievement for me was I, with a group of people, all who were modernists in different fields, we created what was called The Modernism Seminar. And we all taught the same, I taught the core course, which was Modern European Intellectual History, 19th, 20th Century, primarily 20th Century. And one colleague taught Modern British Literature 20th Century. One taught modern theology. We had a political scientist teaching modern political theory. We had an art historian. And so students would take my course and one of the others. And then we would have a joint seminar on the overlap. And it was really exciting. It was really exciting and fun and I loved it.

And Saint Lawrence was also important to me because the Jewish aspect, which had never been my primary research interest though George obviously was teaching a lot about Jewish history and the Holocaust. And I started veering that way after I spent a research year in Germany and started feeling like a fossil.

In fact, great story. I was living with a German family in an immersion program, language immersion program. And they invited us to watch TV with them. And the first story was about Soviet Jewry. And the second story was about Northern Ireland. This German family was very quiet about the Soviet Jewry thing. The Northern Ireland thing came up and they said, “Oh,” he said, “See, we resolved these problems long ago between Protestants and Catholics. We resolved these things.” And then they turned to me and they said, “What are you?”

And I said, “I’m Jewish.”

And they said, “Oh, well, you can see how liberal we were resolving the Catholic and Protestant issues.” (laughs) So that got me kind of interested.

Doney: Yeah.

Baron: And then my wife’s aunt had been a survivor. And we visited her village. And we realized, you know, she had told us about her friends and about how she remembers Kristallnacht and no one really expressing sympathy. But all the village came out and they were telling me how of them were her younger friends. One of them even gave me a gift that she had exchanged with the aunt. But that’s what got me really involved in studying the Holocaust.

And then going to Saint Lawrence, which was, as I said, a very WASPish place, very few Jewish professors, very few ethnics 00:54:00 in general. I remember when I first got the job and the chair of the history department, well, he wasn’t the chair then. But one of the Jewish members of the history department, I was talking to him. And I said, “Any antisemitism here?”

He says, “Antisemitism? Hell no.” He said, “They’re just learning about Catholics.” But I became more interested in Jewish history. Since many of the courses I taught at Saint Lawrence were courses that were someone else’s courses my first year, I had to develop a repertoire. One of those was the intellectual history course. But it also was the Jewish history, and then the Holocaust history starting in [19]76.

But one of the things of doing both of those things is I realized it wasn’t so much that there was this rampant antisemitism. There was a lot of a-semitism. Just people who didn’t know much. And the Holocaust was just beginning to get popularized in American education. I used to think I was on top of the field because there wasn’t that much research, or at least I thought there wasn’t that much. Now there’s way too much and I can’t do what I used to do. But that’s what really got me involved.

And my last semester there, we had a thing called winter term where we could teach anything we wanted. Experimental and team teaching, and I did a course on the [19]60s with a bunch of us that were all [19]60s activists and it was really fun. But the one I really remember was that’s where I taught my first film, Holocaust film class. And that really got me going. It took me a couple of years to start writing about it. But I had always loved film. And I had kind of a photographic memory of all the films I saw. And it really gave me that opportunity. So Saint Lawrence was a wonderful teaching experience, but very isolated place.

Doney: Sure. Before we talk about leaving—

Baron: Oh, well, one other thing about Saint Lawrence while I think of it—

Doney: Yeah, yeah.

Baron: The other Holocaust connection that Saint Lawrence gave me was in two ways. I was on sabbatical in 1981 and supposed to write this article about Theodor Lessing and Edmund Husserl (1859-1938). Lessing had been one of Husserl’s students. Lessing wrote a book on the phenomenology of morals. Husserl was certain that it was plagiarized from his lectures (laughs) and exposed it. And so I did this article on this whole dispute. It was really esoteric and got me to do research 00:57:00 in Belgium. But the interesting thing about it was, at the end of that, the semester wasn’t over. And my wife had gone back to school in Albany, so I was living in Albany which wasn’t far from Oswego, New York. And Oswego’s the place where the only camp that Roosevelt opened to Jewish refugees existed. In very late 1944, it was kind of like a token gesture to persuade the rest of the world to take in refugees. And there was pressure on him.

So I did an oral history of what it was like for this little town to take in Jewish refugees in the middle of the war. And that actually won an award for best local history article in New York History and became a radio documentary that also won an award, a national award for NPR. The St. Lawrence station was an NPR affiliate. So that got me more involved in the Holocaust stuff. Though I was already veering that way and had written my first Holocaust article in [19]77.

And the other thing that got me was after that terrible experience with writing about Lessing, I’m an insomniac, and I give that article to my friends who are insomniacs, because they can easily fall asleep reading it after the first page, but one of the things that that persuaded me was the rest of my sabbatical I’m going to spend on a topic that has relevance. And I decided I wanted to know more about people who rescued Jews. So I just started reading every rescuer memoir. And I wrote kind of a review essay looking for patterns and things like that. And at the same time, Samuel (1930-2021) and Pearl Oliner (1931-2021) had just started the Altruistic Personality Project, which was the follow-up to the Authoritarian Personality. It was funded by John Slawson. who had funded the Authoritarian Personality for the AJC. So this was an international project interviewing rescuers and people who they rescued. Again, doing oral history. And looking for the sociological, historical, psychological factors that made people into rescuers. And that was, for me that was the most meaningful research I ever did. I wrote the big historical chapter in the book The Altruistic Personality about the national historical contexts of rescuers. I did all the coding for when people would mention political parties which they belonged to.

But it is related to what I did with George, because it really was watching how ideas turn into action. I was particularly interested 01:00:00 in, because Saint Lawrence was near the Canadian border. And many Dutch rescuers had immigrated because they didn’t want to be in Holland after the war. And Canada was the liberating country of Holland. Many of them lived across the border not far from Canton. And if you know Canada, everything’s along the river. It’s why, you know, Saint Lawrence is named after the river. We were right by the river. So I got to interview a lot of people that had been recognized by Yad Vashem there. And then I went to Holland and interviewed people. And it just a wonderful experience to do. I got, particularly interested that many of these people were what we would call fundamentalist Calvinists. So I got really interested in the theology. Whenever they would mention, “Well, my pastor said this,” or they would quote Scripture. So I’ve written about this religious phenomena. Because those groups, which constituted about 8% of the population, accounted for 25% of the rescues. And this challenged the sort of standard thinking that fundamentalist Christianity has to be antisemitic because all of the texts are so anti-Judaic. There is a strain of philo-semitism there, partly through Calvin, that got transmitted. Partly because of their own isolation within Dutch society as well. So in many ways, it was a George project for me, even though it’s very different than what George ever did.

Doney: After the interview, I have a couple of things to say about that specifically, and that part of your work. But it’s interesting because you’re working on both the popularization of Holocaust memory, but you’re also doing these other forms of historical research.

Baron: Right.

Doney: And they’re so complementary. And yet I assume speaking to different audiences.

Baron: Well, the Oswego research arose because I am interested in political relevance. Oswego was not that far from Canton and northern New York at that time was starting to receive in the early 1980s, boat people from Vietnam. And there were big protests, as there were in California more recently, against Mexican immigrants. And I thought here’s this interesting case of this little town, Oswego, a college town, which took in a thousand people. And it worked. And it worked for a variety of reasons, some of them economic. There was an army base that recently was closed. Good economics to have these people there. There was a college that didn’t have a lot of students because they were off to war. 01:03:00 Some refugee kids of college age got to go to SUNY-Oswego. But there was also this kind of basic decency that prevailed then. Yeah, there was some opposition. Partly because of the way that Roosevelt did it. They weren’t allowed to work. So there was an objection, they were buying stuff in town but not contributing anything. Meanwhile, German and Italian POWs were working on the farms. Because there were camps for them in the area. But the university was great. Some of these refugees became some of the best students. Some brilliant musicians there. And it just became, terrific. And I got to go to the reunion in 1984 which Joseph Papp (1921-1991) sponsored.

Doney: Oh, wow.

Baron: For all the Oswego people. And I got to meet a lot of them, interview a lot of them for this radio show that we did. And it was just a really meaningful experience to me. But also a way to really do this. You can bring in immigrants. And they really can add a lot to your city. It’s not going to hurt you. We’re a big country. And if Oswego could do it. Roosevelt initially worried it couldn’t work because he had to deal with the nativist backlash. So he said, “Well, bring them in. But they’re not officially here. They’re only here as a temporary measure. They’ve got to send it back.” And they did, by the way, after the war. Even though they admitted most of them, they all had to go to Canada and return via the bridge at Niagara Falls to say that was the first time they were admitted into the United States, 1946 under Truman.

Doney: Wow. Yeah. Huh.

Baron: So it was kind of an interesting diversion for me. But it was so perfect after writing about Husserl.

Doney: Yeah, absolutely. That’s fascinating. I want to take one step back before we talk about San Diego and just the next phase of your career. You put together these amazing booklets of Mosseisms.

Baron: Oh, right. (laughs)

Doney: I wondered if this is an opportunity we could talk about how did those come about and how did you disseminate them?

Baron: Yeah. I was TAing for him. And sitting in the classes, I would write his jokes in the back of my notebooks. Whenever George would do one of his jokes, I would write it down. And then at the end of the semester, I would compile them and write parodies as an introduction to each volume. I’m sure you’ve seen these.

Doney: Yeah.

Baron: One was written in the style of Nietzsche, or another one would be written in the style of Freud. And then just have all his good one-liners from this semester. But for me, as 01:06:00 you know, part of my high school experience I didn’t mention was my parents used to vacation in Elkhart Lake. Which at that time, Elkhart Lake was kind of the Catskills for Jews in Milwaukee and Chicago. There was a big resort there called Schwartz’s. I don’t know if it still exists. I was at one called Pine Point, which was Jewish-owned. Not as much of a Jewish milieu as Schwartz’s, and Siebken’s which attracted German-Americans from nearly Milwaukee.

But I was there with my parents. I was fifteen. I had been writing these parodies and skits in high school for a long time. And they had a talent night. So I decided I’d do a stand-up routine. Partly with singing. I remember the song. It was a parody of, this was [19]63, it was right after the Cuban Missile Crisis. I did a parody of “Lemon Tree.” But it was “Bomb Shelter.” And it was about, you know, if you own a bomb shelter, you’ll shoot your neighbors dead. Bomb shelter, very pretty, but its walls are made of lead. If you own a bomb shelter, you’ll shoot your neighbor dead. Because these were the debates people were having during the time.

Doney: Yeah.

Baron: But I did comedy routines. Mostly self-deprecating sort of stuff. But also about what I saw happening at the hotel. And people comparing their scars at the beach. You know, older people. (laughs)

And the owner’s wife and owner were there. And they said, “We like this kid. Keep him.” So I spent three summers doing stand-up once a week. They couldn’t afford to pay me. But I got to do stand-up once a week. And I was a waiter the rest of the time. But out of that, I’ve always been interested in comedy and I think of all the great comedians. Brooks, Reiner and Brooks, and the 2,000 year-old man. My sister had a great influence on me. She brought home all these albums by Lenny Bruce, Shelly Berman, and Mort Sahl. So I was interested in that.

And George, I don’t know if it was deliberate, I think it was deliberate. George just always threw in these zingers. It had to be. When I eventually taught, I would kind of write out my jokes ahead of time, and I’d space them. They were kind of like the commercial breaks, you know.

Doney: (laughs) Yeah, yeah.

Baron: You’re watching this, you know, you’ve been writing furiously. I always thought of my students, especially in George’s class, they would write furiously. And I always thought they were kind of like Pavlov’s dogs. George would start speaking and they would secrete ink. (Doney laughs) And so that’s where that came from. 01:09:00 And people liked them, and it was fun to do.

Doney: Well, they’re hilarious. It’s an amazing, it’s a unique way to remember a course.

Baron: Yeah.

Doney: And a lecture style.

Baron: You know, I did that, and something I started my last ten years of teaching, and I do now in every lecture I give, at academic forums, papers, is I always write an overture to my lecture and sing it.

One example:

The Immigration Song (Melody: A Whiter Shade of Pale)

We sailed here in steerage.
On a long and crowded ride
Passed the lady in the harbor
Fearing we’d be denied .
Disembarked at Ellis Island.
Where our names were often changed.
Shuttled to an East side slum.
Being greenhorns seemed so strange.

We were a darker shade of pale
In our new adopted land.
Slaving in the sweatshops
Our unions took a stand. Racial boundaries were redrawn
Around blacks and Asians.
But even Europe’s ethnics Were not deemed Caucasians.

And it was somewhat later
That Congress stopped the flow Restricting who could come here.
For some yes, others no. They claimed there was a reason
But the truth was plain to see.
Anglo Saxon Protestants
Guarding racial purity.

We were one of many ethnics
Who embarked to both the coasts. And we faced discrimination
As the doors began to close. We were a darker shade of pale
In our new adopted land.
Facing quotas in employment
And in schools throughout the land. Racial boundaries were redrawn.
Around Blacks and Asians.
But even Europe’s ethnics Were not deemed Caucasians.

Doney: That’s great.

Baron: And I would do that in my courses as well. So I remember the World War One one. First time I did it, I was teaching World War One. And I took Bob Marley’s “I Shot the Sheriff” and I put it “I Shot the Archduke.” (laughter) Went through a whole thing of, you know, the war. And students would say, “God, I was writing this test and I remembered that from your song.

Doney: Yeah, yeah.

Baron: So it was a mnemonic device as well.

Doney: Yeah, it makes sense that you’re drawn to Mosse. The entertainer.

Baron: I’ve often thought of doing a songbook, a history songbook of parodies.

Doney: I think you should.

Baron: Because I’ve got about 200 of them now. On everything.

Doney: Yeah.

Baron: And I did it with methodology, too. Even in the methodology seminars (laughs) I would write songs about methodological issues.

Doney: There’s this new book that’s cocktails, like historical cocktails, cocktails for historians. And if there’s an audience for that, there’s certainly an audience for a parody songbook. I mean, that’s great.

Baron: Yeah. And I still do that in my columns. My columns are sometimes satire, you know, straight satire. But often I’ll write a parody. I did one last week after Trump made his statement about suspending the constitution. So I did a song called, I forget what I even titled it for. But it’s the Beatles’ “Revolution.” It’s about suspending the Constitution.

Doney: (laughs) Let’s, okay, so we’re on this other thread, this like entertainment, this performance thread. Let’s, are you writing publicly already at Saint Lawrence? Like these sort of satirical columns? Or does that begin in San Diego?

Baron: Well, I do some of that. And actually, you’ve brought back a memory that I forgot entirely. Which is, Saint Lawrence had during this winter term, where things were really loose, no grades. Students just had to attend. And it was just fun. And they had a thing where they would invite a professor to be a resident in a dorm, and be in the dorm for a week. And one of the things you had to do was a lecture or something one night. So I did a stand-up routine. And it was fun. I did that also when I retired from Saint Lawrence. 01:12:00 I did a whole stand-up routine at my retirement dinner. So I did a lot of jokes within courses. But I wasn’t writing, I started really doing the more satirical, serious writing at San Diego State, but for a totally different reason. My wife and I were going through infertility treatments. It didn’t work. And we met with a group, a support group. And I wrote this comedy song to “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.” But this was about endometriosis. Even though the sound of it sounds quite atrocious. And someone said, “You should write that up.”

So I wrote it as an article for New Woman Magazine, which at that time was a very popular feminist magazine. Cold submission. Got published. Earned more money from that than I’ve earned from anything else I’ve ever written.

Doney: (laughs) I believe it. Yeah.

Baron: It was called “From Here to Paternity.”

Doney: That’s a great title. (laughs)

Baron: So that’s always been with me. It’s just something I do.

Doney: So, let’s talk about “Humoring the Headlines.” Well, maybe we could use that as a transition. So you leave Saint Lawrence. Do you receive a call?

Baron: Actually, “Humoring the Headlines” comes later. It’s actually my retirement.

Doney: Okay.

Baron: So I’ll talk about that later.

Doney: Well let’s, I have actually one other sort of non sequitur, which is how do you come to know Judith Doneson? (1947-2002) Because I thought that was a really interesting, she’s a Hebrew U Mosse PhD student.

Baron: Yes.

Doney: So I thought this is an interesting moment of these two student groups. Steve Aschheim’s another where they’re coming together to collaborate.

Baron: But Steve was at Madison.

Doney: Yeah.

Baron: I don’t know if you ever heard George talk about Steve?

Doney: No.

Baron: Because Steve used to be, he was the Hasbara person. He was someone who did, selling Aliyah to Jewish kids. And George used to call him the Jewish Goebbels. (laughter) But I got to know Steve because he was working on these Eastern European things. Part of that has a lot to do with Jewish self-hatred and the Lessing work I was doing. So that became a connection between us.

But Judy is different. Judy, I mean, there wasn’t much written about Holocaust cinema until the 1980s. And Judy is one of the pioneers. So she writes her book—that’s why I taught the film course. There were no books to teach it. All of a sudden, there’s three in the 1980s. And hers was the one that I liked the best. Because the other people weren’t really historians. 01:15:00 They were film people. And I was going to a lot of Holocaust conferences because of the rescue work. And Judy and I just became friends. And I was already interested in film. And we were kind of outcasts. Film was really not something that most Holocaust scholars were interested in then. There were great films that came out. I mean, obviously, Shoah. But feature films historians weren’t too gung-ho on. And there was Judy and I and maybe one or two others. And we just became very good friends. We would call each other; we’d see a movie and talk about it. And in fact, I wrote one of her obituaries in a journal. I wrote this up yesterday, I didn’t mention it. Here’s my memory failing again. When I was working on your questions.

I was at a conference where Judy, I organized a panel on Holocaust film. It was Judy and Stuart Liebman, who was really an important Holocaust film scholar as well. And me. I was just starting to do this research. And George was there, by the way. And George attended the conference. In part he said, he wanted to learn about what I was doing. He was also a speaker there. But he came to our session.

But Judy gave this talk on movies about euthanasia. The German ones, the propaganda ones. But then Whose Life is it, Anyway? The Richard Dreyfuss movie. And she was very sympathetic. She said you really have to understand what people who are really sick might want, as opposed to the state wanting this. And I didn’t understand it then, but she had cancer. And she died only a couple of months later. And this was really her dealing with what it’s like to be a patient. But she was a great person. I enjoyed her. I brought her to San Diego State to speak for the program I ran. And I always enjoyed my times with her.

Doney: Thank you. Let’s talk about how you end up in San Diego. The transition from Upstate New York—

Baron: Right.

Doney: —to California.

Baron: Right. Well, it’s a strange thing. George certainly taught the Jewish history course and I ended up being a co-instructor with him the one semester after I finished being a graduate student. I was his co-instructor in the Jewish history course. Which meant, basically, I gave a couple of lectures when he was out of town. Not much more than that. So I wasn’t really formally a Jewish studies scholar. But I had taught Jewish and Holocaust courses at St. Lawrence and had been writing in the field. And this job came up. So I know one of the other things that led to this. 01:18:00 The other thing I got interested in was rural Jewry. Because I lived in an area, you know, where there were these little synagogues. Most of them were dying. They had once prospered because they were along the Saint Lawrence River. There had been Jewish merchants and store owners in cities, even in Canton. But as things shifted away from the Saint Lawrence Seaway, and as the older kids started going to college and not coming back to that area, there were these small, far-flung Jewish communities. Even at Saint Lawrence. I became the Hillel director. Informally. Not that I had any training. But there were, you know, 20, 30 Jewish students who wanted to do stuff. So I did Jewish things with them. And I organized the first meeting of rural northern New York, Vermont Jews getting together, talking about their experiences, their communities, local history. The guy who gave me this idea now teaches, I think it’s at Colby and there’s actually an Institute for the Study of Small Town Jewry [Center for Small Town Jewish Life] that is located there. But it’s such a different experience than large Jewish communities.

But there was this job that opened for the director of a Jewish studies program at San Diego State. And I thought I had no chance at this job because I just didn’t have the formal training that people were looking for, though I had the publications. And I wasn’t going to apply. And I had a colleague who, this is the connection between me and Michael Berkowitz, this wonderful rabbi but also scholar whom I helped hire at Saint Lawrence in the religious studies department. Because until he came, they only had, they had an Old Testament and a New Testament course. They didn’t have a Hebrew scripture course. So I fought for that and I was responsible for hiring him. Wonderful guy who just died this year, unfortunately. And Michael’s very close with him as well. But so I was deciding whether to apply or not. And my friend Richard Freund (1955-2022) who had been in San Diego for a year, said, “Apply for it.” And this job had been open for three years. In fact, the first director of this program, a temporary director, was Bob Filner (b. 1942), the since disgraced mayor of San Diego. (laughs) But he was in the history department. He was Jewish, so he was the head of Jewish studies. He didn’t do anything Jewish, but he was the head of Jewish studies. He became very Jewish when he ran for Congress. And then he would come to all the synagogues. 01:21:00 (laughter) So I thought I had no chance for this job.

And I went there and they had interviewed many people over the years. I mean, I got to see some of the files of the search. And they were interviewing people who were far more qualified than me. Deborah Lipstadt. But it was from the history department, which was a department that was riven with animosities and rivalries. If one person liked someone, another person hated that candidate.

So I got it, much to my surprise. And it was a different kind of experience entirely. And it was also when my wife and I were trying to have a child. And I was kind of overwhelmed. It was really as much a community position as a campus one. It was not what I was doing at St. Lawrence bur rather taking the academy into the community. And much of my work was either giving talks—I would give twenty lectures a year at community venues, but then I organized a weekly lecture series that was open to the community. Mostly attended by the community on the campus. I got to know almost every major scholar, Jewish studies scholar, on the west coast from that. I didn’t even mention this in the thing I wrote. But I’m the founder of the Western Jewish Studies Association. Because the AJS always used to meet in Boston. And it was held in December, what a stupid thing. The week before Christmas. The rates were cheaper. They’re meeting there right now.

Doney: Yeah. Still. Yeah.

Baron: They now meet elsewhere in part because there’s a Midwestern Jewish Studies and there’s a Western Jewish Studies, which I’m still president of. So that helped me get really involved in the Jewish studies community.

But I couldn’t really afford to do research abroad during that time. In part because we were trying to have a child, then we had a child. A 45-year-old couple who had adopted an infant. And I just had so much of this other work to do. Community work. And I was in charge of hiring a visiting Israeli professor every year. And getting them booked, getting them gigs in the community. And I organized several symposia a year. It was a busy, busy job. But there was one thing I could do. Which was, LA was nearby with the best film archives in the world. And I loved movies and I had already been drifting in that way. So that’s what really got me started. I could do research in archives, not go away for a long time. And I was excited by movies as a vehicle of popularizing history. 01:24:00 Reflecting, one of the things Judy taught me, and it comes from Pierre Sorlin, a great French film historian, is that movies, historical movies, are always about the present. Which was an important lesson to learn. The other big influence on me was Robert Rosenstone, who was one of pioneering film historians. I don’t know if you remember the AHR for a while used to do a movie review section. But that’s because of Robert Rosenstone and Robert Toplin pushing for that. And Rosenstone, who really argued that movies are akin to written history in the way that oral history is akin to scholarly history. And I think he’s got something. What’s the most popular form of history? Movies? Biography. We want stories.

Doney: Yeah.

Baron: We want to see how human beings interact. The broad forces, we need all that stuff to know about these broad forces in detail. But no one reads academic history. I wasn’t joking when I tried to figure out when I got my first book out and looked at the royalties and how many hours I had spent on that book. And I decided, it was way below minimum wage. (laughs)

Doney: Yeah. (laughs)

Baron: And the readership I’ve gotten and the things that have really struck people have been that article on infertility, the book on altruism. My book on Holocaust films sold out the first year. But the publishing companies issued it in an ebook version. We’re not going to issue a second edition, even though it sold out. So you know, it’s just a field that has given me an opportunity to do what I love. I started to teach my own courses on film history, Holocaust history, Jewish film history. And at a time when there weren’t many people doing it. Now there’s quite a few.

And one of the things I’m proud of is there’s this book that came out, Fifty Holocaust Thinkers [Fifty Key Thinkers on the Holocaust and Genocide (Routledge, 2010)], I forget, there’s some sort of adjective before it. But I’m one of them. Largely because of film. I think Judy is there as well. But yeah, we were some of the pioneers. Ilan Avisar an Israeli and Annette Insdorf. 01:27:00 Now there’s quite a few people working in film.

Doney: So in this job at San Diego, it has a strong public-facing component.

Baron: Yeah.

Doney: You’re in the community. Is that, this is also a chance for you to not just educate, but to entertain. Is that where—

Baron: Well, I do that, too. I do that, too. But you know, I took it seriously. We held very serious academic conferences. One of the other influences, it’s interesting how these things jar memory. But one of my colleagues at San Diego State was Maurice Friedman (1921-2012), who is the great Buber scholar. He had been at Temple for years. And after the strike there, he was unhappy. There had been a big strike there. He came here. And so I organized an international Buber conference with him. I organized a symposium on women in Judaism with Marge Piercy. I brought her in for readings and a wonderful talk called “Hugging the Porcupine: Being a Woman and Jewish.” So it just was an opportunity for me to start the Western Jewish Studies Association came because I would ask the scholars I brought to San Diego State “Are you going to the AJS?” “No, it’s too far. It’s a bad time of the year.” There’s an AJS theme song which I sing every year at the conference, but it’s about how, Jews like the Robbins and the Siegels know you go south for winter. (laughter)

The Israel component was important too because the community was very gung-ho on Israel. But the only reason I resigned from it is I was offered another job as director of another Jewish studies program. And I was about to leave because they didn’t agree to certain demands I had for staying. San Diego State went through a bunch of terrible economic crises because of the state budget cuts. There just wasn’t a lot of money, you know, I had to do a lot of traveling. We had limited travel money. I had to go to conferences as the head of Jewish studies. And I was going to go to this other place which was offering me more. And San Diego States finally agreed, they wanted to keep me. But then they reneged on almost all their promises during the next financial crisis. So that’s when I resigned from the directorship and became—the other great teaching part of my life was, the advisor to the master’s program in history which I loved and did for six years. And I tried to do some 01:30:00 things that the university ultimately didn’t approve, but I thought were really creative and practical. And the AHA thought they were creative. The AHA published an article of mine on trying to offer a community college history teaching certificate. And I tried to combine the MA in history with the generic community college teaching certificate offered by San Diego State’s Department of Education. I did research and discovered that a large portion of the people teaching at community colleges had an MA, not a PhD. And they were getting jobs more so than PhDs. But unfortunately, San Diego State at that time decided it wanted to be seen more as a high-powered research university with PhDs. My department and college supported me, but the university didn’t.

Doney: That was rethinking the, rethinking the MA thesis?

Baron: Yeah.

Doney: It’s a great idea.

Baron: Yeah. And it’s still there. And actually we had a bunch of students who did it informally. I tried to make it more convenient and make it fewer courses. But we had a bunch of students who went through this community college program, teaching program, who were history majors. They got jobs. Some of them are tenure track jobs. A lot of them, a lot of the people who were MA students or teachers coming back, a lot of them are people who just love history. And they only want to teach part time. So most of them, I mean, were adjuncting. But they liked their adjuncting. And then we have a bunch of people who have done really well. Gotten tenure track jobs. And I’m proud of them.

Doney: Yeah. As you should be. That’s great. We have like a few questions that are reflective questions about changes in the field and pedagogy. You’ve talked, I think, very nicely about your own changing research interests and the origins of how your questions, your sources, and your general teaching and research interests have shifted. But before we go into those, I just want to pause and ask if there’s anything up to retiring from San Diego that we’ve missed. Or if there’s anything about your early interest in history, your time in Saint Lawrence, your time in the graduate program, that you want to touch on before we go in this final direction.

Baron: Well, I think I covered that pretty well. The retirement actually, it wasn’t early. I mean, I was 65. But I easily could have stayed on. And there were economic reasons to stay on. Or to take a FERP program, an early retirement program 01:33:00 and then continue teaching. But one of the things that’s happened at San Diego State is, it grew enormously. It really is a very, very good place to go. But one of the things they tried to do, they’ve done it everywhere, is focus on these big lectures so it could support fund the smaller courses. And San Diego State was originally built as a teachers’ college. And most of the rooms were for 30 or 40 students, which is how it was when I came. There were some bigger rooms. But when they started remodeling these older buildings, they would knock down walls and create these big lecture halls with the clickers. I don’t know if Wisconsin did that as well. I never taught a clicker course. The biggest course I ever taught was 80, but that was enough. I walked into it in the spring semester of 2012. I walked in there. I had 80 students in my Holocaust class, which was a course I really prided myself on in getting student discussion going. And I said, I can’t do it anymore. And they even gave me a teaching assistant, which I never had because teaching assistants were reserved for the big lecture courses of 200 and 300. But I had never had a teaching assistant. And I just decided I couldn’t teach that way. The university had changed.

Doney: Yeah.

Baron: And in retrospect when I see what’s happening in terms of political correctness and things like that, I’m glad I made that decision. Though I did go back and teach in 2015. I was a visiting professor at Stockton University, which has probably the most interesting and diverse MA Program in Holocaust studies in the country. And they have this visiting Holocaust scholar who comes every year. And I was it for only a semester. I couldn’t stay away a year. But that was fun going back and teaching. And that was not a politically, very politically correct place. So I felt comfortable there.

Doney: Yeah. This is something that often comes up in my conversations, whether Mosse’s provocation, style of provoking students.

Baron: Yeah.

Doney: I don’t know if it would work now. Probably not.

Baron: And these are, I think look back and I think oh, I told this joke. Could I have ever—even in my film course, Jewish film course, I thought it was important to show The Jazz Singer (1927). Such a seminal movie. And I had a couple of Black students in there. But I explained it to them. And actually when they watched it, and then I talked a little bit more about [Al] Jolson (1886-1950), 01:36:00 who was very active in civil rights. And fought to get the first Black musicians on Broadway, and boycotted certain things where Black musicians weren’t allowed. And gave equal billing to Cab Calloway (1907-1994) in one of his later musicals. You know, they understood. And then I said, and did you know that when they wanted to remake The Jazz Singer in the 1970s, it was to be as a Black movie about a Baptist minister from the South who moved north and his son wants to become a jazz singer. This is a universal story. This is not just a Jewish story.

Doney: Yeah. Yeah.

Baron: So, you know, the field has changed. As I kind of expressed, I’m wary of the current emphasis on methodology, I always taught my students, I said, don’t start with a particular theoretical methodology because it’s going to determine what you’re going to look at. I said, these are always tools. There’s going to be things, I mean there’s great stuff that I find in there. I find in film studies, which is probably the densest field you could imagine in terms of writing about the most exciting thing you could write about. (Doney laughs) But I always say these are just possible approaches, don’t view them as entirely shaping your outlook, because you’re going to limit yourself. And I always remember George’s statement 1:37:37 about theory, about methodology. And why we didn’t do that, why they didn’t require that of us.

Doney: Okay. So you talked about changes in teaching over the course of your career. You’ve talked a little bit about how just the field of Holocaust studies has also shifted.

Baron: Yeah.

Doney: Not only making space for film, but just the explosion, the proliferation of studies on the topic. The truly international nature of the conversation now, global nature of the conversation.

Baron: And the comparative part of it, too.

Doney: Yeah. Absolutely.

Baron: Which I’ve gotten involved in. You know, I do work on Armenian genocide movies.

Doney: Oh, really?

Baron: Which initially, because here’s this genocide which happened, which has been suppressed that it happened. I wrote an article on the first waves of Armenian genocide movies and there weren’t a lot of them, because you couldn’t distribute them. Threatening distributors in various countries, Turkey would say well, we’re going to boycott you or we’re going to withdraw from NATO. And so these movies just didn’t get made until the 1980s. Except for one that was made right after the World 01:39:00 War I. So these movies weren’t being made, for the most part, until 1980. But because you’re not only making this movie about this genocide, but you’re trying to say this is a true story. So one of the things that most of these movies do is they invoke the Holocaust in one way or another. They either have an epilogue or a prologue of Hitler’s statement of the Armenian genocide. Or if they’re set in the time, they feature the [Hans] Morgenthau (1904-1980) meeting with Talaat Pasha (1874-1921). This is from his memoir where he talks about the Armenian genocide. But Talaat always asks thing, “Aren’t you Jewish? Why are you so concerned about these Armenians?” And that means a whole different thing after 1945 than it means in 1915. And it’s also key to the Forty Days of Musa Dagh by a Jewish, you know, by Franz Werfel (1890-1945), Jewish author. And he writes the great novel of Armenian resistance. And he writes it in 1933. And it’s in many ways a parable about what’s going on in Germany with the Jews. So you can’t ignore it.

And they even take plot lines. There’s one movie that is borrowed from The Garden of the Finzi-Continis, but it’s in Armenia. A wealthy Armenian family thinks they’re immune. They live in this grand villa where nothing’s going to ever happen. And of course it doesn’t protect them.

So the comparative thing, I think, is really important. I mean, I just think, mentioning about filmmakers picking up on things. Filmmakers do pick up on history. They may not do it in the way we want. This is what Rosenstone talks a lot about. There are interpretations of history inherent in films. Sometimes it’s the great man theory. It’s pretty simple. But a lot of times there’s other things. A lot of movies have picked up about the Nazis, have picked up on Arendt and Hilberg and the bureaucratic aspect of it. The movies The Wannsee Conference and Conspiracy certainly picked up on that. But a number of the [Adolf] Eichmann (1906-1962) movies have picked up on it too. They’ve picked up on debates about the Jewish councils whose image changes from sort of the dupes Hilberg portrays to the more sympathetic view of Lucy Dawidowicz (1915-1990) and Isaiah Trunk (1905-1981) of Jews drawing on historical precedents and trying to mitigate the worst in a strategy that worked in the past. There’s been shifts in what we study, who we study. The shift that I was involved in was the rescuers were always these kind of, 01:42:00 happy stories that you could tell. But there was no analysis of what really motivated these people. It was just good that we knew about these people. And Yad Vashem in part is to blame for that. Could have done much more extensive interviewing than it did when recognizing them.

But there was a shift to the social science-y kind of model, which I was part of. And there were a lot of these things that came out. Nechama Tec (b. 1931) came out with a book about the, and Eva Fogelman, what’s her name, Kristen Monroe.

And now there’s more of a nuanced thing, which I agree with. And you really have to look at, there’s often, there’s a local, there’s micro-histories you have to understand that kind of explains these Calvinists in Holland. In Friesland. Friesland was where they hid them. The most isolated place in Holland. The place with the fewest Jews! (laughs) But the best place to hide them as well, in many ways. So there’s these local aspects. Now there’s this whole turn to geography in Holocaust studies.

Doney: Yeah. Space.

Baron: Maps. And so the field really has changed. And I think the comparative genocide, though a lot of people are very afraid of it, that it kind of drowned out the Holocaust. I think Michael Rothberg understands this kind of these intersecting memories. The way that Armenian movies would justify that there was a real genocide was by invoking the Holocaust. And all these things. Even Platoon, the movie, the scene where they’re bulldozing the bodies. That’s right out of the footage of the body bulldozers at Dachau.

Doney: Yeah.

Baron: These movies have lives of their own and get cited. And a similar scene occurs in the movie, oh, the one about Guy Fawkes, about the terrorist group in England that’s bombing stuff. And it’s a kind of dystopia. I want to say Z, but it’s—

Doney: V, V, V for Vendetta.

Baron: V. V for Vendetta. It has a scene very much like that that’s right out of the concentration camp liberation footage at the end of the war. So these things do inform each other. And in film history, I mean, now the exciting theme in film history is reception history-how a film is understood by audiences. It’s harder to get at, but it’s I think something that George was always doing. I remember always George talking about Gustav Freytag (1816-1895) and popularization and Karl May (1842-1912)

Doney: Felix Dahn (1834-1912).

Baron: He emphasized that it was really important to see how popular novels depicted ideas and movements, and how people received these messages. And now there’s really interesting research coming out on reception.

Doney: Yeah.

Baron: Movie reception. Hard to do. But I did one recently for a piece I’d written 01:45:00 on the Oscars and the Holocaust and on Anne Frank. And you know, Anne Frank, the original, gets kind of dumped on. One, you’ve got to see it in its context. You have to see it in its context. It’s the first great American Holocaust movie, but as Judy Doneson knew the film made Anne the girl next door, you know. You don’t cast a very Jewish girl. You don’t cast a very Jewish family. But everyone identifies with Anne.

But one of the things that was amazing, I was doing my research at the Herrick Library, which is the library run by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. It has all these great production records. And I’m coming across surveys of audience responses to The Diary of Anne Frank. And so I could see what audiences were really picking up on. Film historians often say audiences were only interested in the love story, or they’re only interested in the adolescent coming of age story. No, audiences picked up on the Jewish stuff as well. And some of it is kind of naive, sort of things. “Well, I didn’t know Jews were persecuted.” (laughs) Stuff like this. It’s there. And you can sort of get an idea, this is what people are seeing in a movie. And that’s kind of exciting research.

And you also get that when you work with the production records. Because you see how, you come up with an original script and you’ll see it’s much tougher. But then they have all the production notes. Part of that is the production code, which was the internal censorship agency of the movie industry. And they would put out these eleven-page things. They would look at a script before it was ever a movie and highlight all the negative things that couldn’t be in a movie or it wouldn’t be distributed. Because the movie studios owned the theaters as well. The theater chains. And you just see how things get changed.

I just wrote a little piece on Frank Sinatra’s The House I Live In, this wonderful song he recorded right after the war to protest antisemitism and discrimination. And in doing this, often we think only the big movies are the important ones. This was a ten-minute short. It won an Oscar. But it also got distributed to 20,000 schools. So there’s this whole sort of category of film history called useful films that aren’t feature films that become very important.

There’s also one that the US government made called Don’t be a Sucker, which was to resist demagogues and prejudice. These are important things. So I’m interested in that.

And then looking at these organizations. I did a thing on movies Hadassah made about the Holocaust, 01:48:00 arguing that when Hollywood was treating the Holocaust very gingerly and treated almost in a generic way, people were being exposed to the Holocaust in films that were being made by organizations, by relief organizations.

And some of these films, they started hiring big directors. And they would get these films into theaters. When we used to go to films, the first twenty, thirty minutes was always shorts of some sort. They would get into theaters. And some of the first films exposing general audiences to the Holocaust were ones made by these organization. Hadassah makes this film called Can You Hear Me? In [19]47. It’s about a woman who’s phoning—but she’s dead—she’s phoning someone on Earth. Says, “Can you hear me? Can you hear me?” And then she tells her story. It’s a woman who was killed in the Babi Yar Massacre. But she talks about her experiences. And then there’s this film clip in there. And it’s a film clip from a Russian movie that came out towards the end of the war where they recreated the Babi Yar Massacre. And it’s uncredited. And this film was highly touted when it came out. I found, I worked in the Hadassah archives, I found all this stuff about this film. And Babi Yar, I would say probably most Americans never heard of it maybe until Yevtushenko in the [19]60s. Or recently when it came back into the news because of being nearby where bombs were falling.

So I’m interested in those kind of little things as well. But those are things, that’s kind of micro-history.

Doney: Yeah, absolutely.

Baron: It’s kind of entered into this. And Holocaust studies has mirrored that. And it’s an exciting field. And the introduction of gender. I mean, I remember when gender was first introduced. Joan Ringelheim (1939-2021), and she did this conference on gender. It’s published and it’s almost like mimeographed. No one could sell this thing. And now there’s loads of books on women in the Holocaust. But initially, historians thought Jews all had the same experience. It was because you were Jewish. Well, yeah, it was because you were Jewish. But there were different things that were done to women than were done to men. And so that’s how the field has changed.

Like I say, when I first started teaching it, the Holocaust, I taught everything. I did the history, but then I’d do a thing on intellectual history at the end. I’d do the Holocaust and philosophy, the Holocaust in literature. This was all in one course, because I thought I could do it. (laughs) Now I can’t do that. At all.

Doney: Yeah. Yeah, each of those is its own course.

Baron: Yeah.

Doney: More content than you could cover. 01:51:00

Baron: Yeah, I did a thing on Holocaust and international law. That was always the last unit. And when I do my genocide course, I started teaching comparative genocide as a graduate seminar. And we’d always do a unit on international law and genocide at the end.

Doney: Wow. Thank you for that reflection. I mean, there was one thing we said we were going to come back to and we haven’t, which was how did you start writing “Humoring the Headlines.”

Baron: I had been writing for this newspaper called the San Diego Jewish Heritage. And I’d written pieces for them every once in a while. Usually movie reviews. And there’s a big Jewish film festival here. So they would often get me to write overviews of the festival offerings. I often was on festival committee screening films. So I’d write up the best movies to watch. And occasionally I’d write articles on different things that interested me. But I’d been asked several times, “Do you want to do a weekly column?”

And I said, “No, I can’t do that writing under deadline pressure.” Academic writing has made me a slow writer. And it would drive me nuts.

But when I retired, I decided well, I’ve always wanted to write satire. So, I’m going to do it. And the column started out with, it was really kind of spitballing. I’d watch the news all week and I’d write down things that I thought would be funny. Kind of disparate things. And then I started adding the parodies in there. And then I eventually started focusing the columns on one theme. So the last column that I wrote last week was just was originally called “Dealing from the Rock Bottom of the Deck” and it was about Donald Trump’s commercial for trading cards. But it’s all about it and all sorts of things that are the implication there. Him on Mount Rushmore. That’s because stone erodes more slowly than political popularity. (laughter) And just one thing after another after another of what was so insane.

Doney: Yeah. (laughs)

Baron: He’s a caricature of himself. But all those sorts of issues. I’ll send you a copy.

Doney: Yeah, please do.

Baron: And unfortunately, because of Trump, it became too focused on Trump. And I still have to recover from him and write about other things. But he’s such a perfect figure to write about. (laughs)

Doney: Yeah.

Baron: When he left office, I said oh, I’m not going to have to write about him. But he’s there. He’s there.

Doney: Yup. Still percolating. 01:54:00

Baron: Yeah.

Doney: Okay. Is there anything else you would like to add?

Baron: Well, yes.

Doney: Yeah.

Baron: About the humanity of George. I did come to the memorial service and to one of the reunions. I didn’t get to go to the biggy, that I should have. I guess, was that the fiftieth anniversary of the [19]60s, or—

Doney: Yeah. Yup. In 2018. Yeah.

Baron: Jimmy went and he told me, but I still enjoy every once in a while listening to some of the lectures George gives that you can still stream online. And some of the ones you can get of Harvey as well from the Ohio thing. And like I said, I really feel badly that I never got to take a course with him. Because in a different way, he was as interesting as George.

Doney: Yeah.

Baron: But George, I just have all these fond memories. And I think almost all his graduate students do. He really nurtured us. He didn’t, and it’s something that was hard to learn from me, interrupt his students. He really was, at least in the seminars, a student-centered professor. And we basically were the seminar. And George, you know, put his comments in. But he always, you know, it was really us presenting. And getting critiques from our colleagues. Which were not necessarily negative. There were helpful things. And like I said, Sterling did that with this workshop he had on writing your dissertation. And I’m very grateful.

I still every once in a while find Mosse being mentioned in introductions of me. O did a talk for the Miami Holocaust Memorial Center recently and Michael Berenbaum was hosting. And introducing me, he mentioned Mosse and he says, “Most of you probably don’t know this name, but you should read his books.” It’s amazing how well they age. The book on masculinity. Amazing. And sexuality. George was, had his finger on the pulse of a lot of things that have become much more popular and much more mainstream than when he was writing about them. And including, I think, the importance of myth and symbol and irrationality. And I think of James Young and all his work on Holocaust memorials and how important this subject of visualization is.

Doney: Absolutely. Well, thank you. Thank you for that. Thank you for sitting with me for so long.

Baron: That’s fine. That’s fine.

Doney: This is Skye Doney on the twentieth of December, 2022, concluding an oral history with Professor Lawrence Baron for the Mosse Oral History Project.


[End Interview.]


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