An Auschwitz survivor who said music helped to keep her alive in the Nazi death camp and later dedicated her life to fighting racism in Germany has died at age 96.
Esther Bejarano died peacefully in the early hours of Saturday at the Jewish Hospital in Hambury, according to German news agency dpa. A cause of death was not given.
As a teenager, Bejarano was sent to Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland in 1943, before later being transferred to Ravensbrueck concentration camp and surviving a death march at the end of the war.
After the Holocaust, Bejarano emigrated to Israel and married Nissim Bejarano. The couple had two children, Edna and Joram, before they returned to Germany in 1960, where she continued to fight against racism and discrimination.
Esther Bejarano (pictured) died in the early hours of Saturday at the Jewish Hospital in Hambury. A cause of death was not given
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas paid tribute to Bejarano after her death, calling her ‘an important voice in the fight against racism and antisemitism’.
The musician was born in 1924 as the daughter of Jewish cantor Rudolf Loewy in then French-occupied Saarlouis, before the family later moved to Saarbruecken.
Bejarano enjoyed a sheltered upbringing filled with music in the city until the Nazis came to power in 1933 and the city was returned to Germany in 1935.
Her parents and her sister Ruth were tragically deported and killed, while Bejarano had to perform forced labour before she was sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1943.
In her book Memories, she said she arrived at Auschwitz exhausted after spending days travelling in a cattle car and was greeted by an SS officer saying: ‘Now, you filthy Jews, we will show you what it means to work.’
A teenager in the Nazi death camp, she volunteered to become a member of the girls’ orchestra and would play the accordion with ‘tears in her eyes’ every single time trains filled with Jews from all over Europe arrived.
Bejarano (pictured) was sent to Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland in 1943, before being transferred to Ravensbrueck Nazi camp and surviving a death march at the end of the war
Bejarano would later credit music for helping to keep her alive in the notorious Nazi concentration camp in occupied Poland, and during the years after the Holocaust.
‘We played with tears in our eyes,’ she recalled in a 2010 interview.
‘The new arrivals came in waving and applauding us, but we knew they would be taken directly to the gas chambers.’
Because her grandmother had been a Christian, Bejarano was later transferred to Ravensbrueck concentration camp in northern Germany, which was exclusively for women.
Speaking of the years she spent in the Nazi camps, she told DW before her 90th birthday: ‘One’s best years as a youth are those from ages 16 to 20. But what kind of a youth did we have? None, really. A horrible youth.’
At the end of the war, Bejarano was taken on a death march – the forced evacuation of Nazi prisoners towards the west as the Soviet army closed in on the Eastern front.
Thousands of weakened prisoners died while walking long distances during the marches, but Bejarano survived and was later rescued by American soldiers.
At Auschwitz (pictured in February 1945), she volunteered to be in the girls’ orchestra and would play the accordion with ‘tears in her eyes’ as trains filled with Jews arrived
Bejarano (pictured) would later credit music for helping to keep her alive in the notorious Nazi concentration camp in occupied Poland, and during the years after the Holocaust
Recalling the rescue in a memoir, Bejarano said US troops gave her an accordion, which she played the day US soldiers and concentration camp survivors danced around a burning portrait of Adolf Hitler to celebrate the Allied victory.
After the war, Bejarano emigrated to Israel to become a singer, and also met her husband Nissim Bejarano, who she shares two children, Edna and Joram, with.
The couple returned to Germany in 1960 and Bejarano decided to become politically active after encountering open antisemitism in the country.
She fought against racism and discrimination and co-founded the Auschwitz Committee in 1986 to give survivors a platform for their stories.
Her goal was to help to prevent an ‘inhuman’ ideology from spreading again so she decided to tell her life story in schools and elsewhere in a bid to do so.
Bejarano and her two children played Yiddish melodies and Jewish resistance songs in a Hamburg-based band called Coincidence, and she also joined hip-hop group Microphone Mafia to spread an anti-racism message to German youth.
‘We all love music and share a common goal: We’re fighting against racism and discrimination,’ she said of her collaborations across cultures and generations.
After the war, Bejarano (pictured) emigrated to Israel to become a singer, and met her husband Nissim Bejarano, who she shares two children, Edna and Joram, with
Even well into her 90s, Bejarano continued to appear on stage to sing alongside the Cologne-based band Microphone Mafia to share her message of putting an end to racism and antisemitism.
Even in her 90s, Esther Bejarano appeared on stage and sang, accompanied by the band Microphone Mafia. The Cologne-based men rapped, Joram played the bass, and Esther warbled the refrain.
Bejarano received awards, including Germany’s Order of Merit, for fighting against what she called the ‘old and new Nazis’, quoting fellow Holocaust survivor Primo Levi’s warning that ‘it happened, therefore it can happen again’.
While addressing groups of young people in Germany, Bejarano would say: ‘You are not guilty of what happened back then. But you become guilty if you refuse to listen to what happened.’
WHAT WAS THE AUSCHWITZ CONCENTRATION CAMP?
Auschwitz was a notorious Nazi concentration and extermination camp which killed at least 1.1million in just over four-and-a-half years during World War Two.
Auschwitz, which was located in Nazi-occupied Poland, was a complex of more than 40 concentration camps and became a major site for the Nazi’s plan for genocide of the Jews – the Final Solution to the Jewish Question.
The camp was made up of three different sites – Auschwitz I, the original concentration camp, Auschwitz II-Birkenau, a combined concentration and extermination camp and Auschwitz III–Monowitz, a labour camp, with a further 45 satellite sites.
Auschwitz was an extermination camp used by the Nazis in Poland to murder more than 1.1 million Jews
SS officers continuously used prisoners for forced labour to keep expanding the Nazi camp, while the first prisoners arrived at Auschwitz on May 20, 1940.
Birkenau, which was an extermination camp with the notorious gas chambers, in particular became a major part of the Nazis’ ‘Final Solution’, where they sought to rid Europe of Jews.
SS engineers originally constructed an improvised gas chamber in block 11 of Auschwitz’s main camp, before a permanent gas chamber was built in a separate building, as part of the crematorium.
The Nazi death camp was also known for SS physicians carrying out medical experiments in the hospital, including performing forced sterilisations and castrations of adults and conducting pseudoscientific research on children.
An estimated 1.3 million people were sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau, of whom at least 1.1 million died – around 90 percent of which were Jews.
Since 1947, it has operated as Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, which in 1979 was named a World Heritage Site by Unesco.
Since 1947, it has operated as Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, which in 1979 was named a World Heritage Site by Unesco