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Alvin Fisher, who envisioned Baltimore’s Holocaust Memorial, dies

Alvin Fisher was a voracious reader of books and periodicals.
Alvin Fisher was a voracious reader of books and periodicals.(HANDOUT)

Alvin Fisher, a salesman and property investor who envisioned Baltimore’s Holocaust Memorial, died of congestive heart failure Feb. 6 at the Edenwald Retirement Community in Towson. He was 99.

Born in Baltimore and raised in the Easterwood Park section of West Baltimore, he was the son of William Fisher, who sold and delivered ice, and his wife, Fannie Abrams.

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Mr. Fisher was one of a group who formed what was first a sports club and later a social club they called the Easterwood Park Boys. They held periodic reunions.

“He never tired of telling us how his mother fed a large family without much money,” said his daughter, Marilyn Fisher. "He told us the hot dogs were split vertically and each child got 1/2 a hot dog per bun to make the hot dogs go further. "

His father was born in Baltimore, but his mother was an immigrant from eastern Russia.

Mr. Fisher was a 1936 graduate of Baltimore City College and initially worked at an aunt’s dry good store. He later sold rugs at a neighborhood department store.

During World War II he served in the Air Force and was assigned to a cryptology unit at bases in California, Texas and Chicago.

“His time in the military opened his eyes to the world,” said his daughter. “He ate non-kosher food and went to the theater. He had lived a sheltered life in Baltimore.”

He met his future wife, Hilda Cohen, at a social club event attended by returning World War II servicemen.

After leaving the military he took courses at the Johns Hopkins University and began selling women’s dresses, dinette sets and other household items in an installment business he operated.

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“He had a rack of clothes in the back of his car,” said his daughter.

He later bought ground rents and owned more than 30 rental properties.

A 1980 Sun article described Mr. Fisher as a “strapping man of 60 [with] a salt-and pepper goatee and an infectious energy.”

The article went on to discuss a rent control bill being considered by the Baltimore City Council. The article noted that Mr. Fisher, unlike other landlords, did not oppose rent control.

“Keeping a good tenant is worth not raising the rent,” he said.

Mr. Fisher’s spent 12 years building enthusiasm for a Holocaust memorial in Baltimore that he felt would help people remember the event he knew, but later generations seemed to question.

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When the memorial was completed in 1980, a Sun article described it as a “monument to the tenacity of a Baltimore County real estate man as well as to the memory of six million murdered lives.”

The article said that one a spring day in 1968 Mr. Fisher had shown a U.S. Army Signal Corps-produced film of “gaunt concentration camp survivors standing beside piles of human bones” to about 75 ninth graders in the religious studies school of Temple Oheb Shalom.

Some of the students said the film was a fake. “Not a single one expressed any horror,” he said, saying that he went home ""a little despondent."

He said even his own children did not fully understand the Holocaust.

“It was not as clear to them as I would have liked,” he said in 1980.

He went on to discuss the Signal Corps film with his wife and “the germ of the idea ” was placed in his mind.

This led to his campaign.

“Mr. Fisher said he blamed the adult Jewish community, himself included, for not having seriously commemorated the Holocaust in a continual and public way dramatic enough to bring Jews and non-Jews together,” The Sun article said.

Nearly 12 years of meeting and planning sessions followed before the memorial was completed at Gay and Water streets in downtown Baltimore.

“Since my Dad wasn’t wealthy, he couldn’t fund the project himself,” said his daughter, Marilyn. “He was able to marshal support in the Jewish community. ...

“My dad was proud to have introduced the idea of a memorial, and other Holocaust memorials have since been established,” his daughter said.

Mr. Fisher was a devotee of Baltimore neighborhood bakeries and often bought peach cakes in season. He also liked to pick up bargains in candy and confections by buying them the day after a holiday.

Mr. Fisher played tennis, enjoyed running and organized an informal runners’ club. He was a world traveler who made friends on his trips. A member of Road Scholars, he participated in adult learning vacations.

He was a voracious book and newspapers reader who was interested in the world of ideas.

“His read lots of other periodicals including The New Yorker and The New Republic," his daughter said. "His chair in the den was reserved just for him and it was surrounded by teetering piles of library books."

His wife of 73 years, Hilda Cohen Fisher, a retired Goucher College chemistry lab supervisor, died in late 2019. Another daughter, Lynn Toby Fisher, died March 6, a month after her father.

In addition to his daughter, survivors include a son, Robert Fisher of Chicago; another daughter, Arlene Blaker of Baltimore; seven grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.

No funeral is planned.

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