Esther Bejarano was a survivor from Auschwitz and used music to combat antisemitism in post-war Germany. She died at the age of 96.
Bejarano passed away peacefully on Saturday morning at the Jewish Hospital in Hamburg. The German news agency dpa reported that Helga Obens (a board member of Auschwitz Committee Germany) said this. The cause of death has not been disclosed.
Heiko Maas, German Foreign Minister, paid tribute to Bejarano and called her “an important voice for the fight against racism”
Bejarano was born in 1924 to Rudolf Loewy, a Jewish cantor. The family moved to Saarbruecken in 1934, where Bejarano had a musical and safe upbringing. In 1935, the city was returned to Germany by the Nazis.
Bejarano was forced to work in order to be sent to Auschwitz–Birkenau in 1943. Ruth, her parents, and sister were eventually deported. She volunteered to play the accordion in the orchestra for girls, and was there every train carrying Jews from Europe arrived.
Bejarano later said that music kept her alive during the Holocaust, in particular in the Nazi death camp in Poland.
In a 2010 interview with The Associated Press , she said that “We played with tears” and that they were still having fun. “The new arrivals arrived waving and applauding, but we knew that they would be taken straight to the gas chambers.”
Bejarano, whose grandmother was a Christian, was later transferred to Ravensbrueck concentration camp. She survived a march at the end and was redeemed by God.
Bejarano wrote a memoir about her rescue by U.S troops, who gave her an accordion. She played it the day American soldiers and survivors of concentration camps danced around a burning portrait Adolf Hitler in celebration of the Allies’ victory over the Nazis.
After the war, Bejarano fled to Israel and married Nissim Bejarano. After having two children, Edna (and Joram), the couple returned to Germany in 1960. Bejarano was again confronted with open antisemitism and decided to get politically involved, founding the Auschwitz Committee 1986 to provide survivors with a platform to share their stories.
She joined her children to perform Yiddish songs and Jewish resistance songs with a Hamburg-based group they called Coincidence. Also, she teamed up with Microphone Mafia, a hip-hop group, to send an anti-racism message among German youth.
She said that “We all love music” and shared a common goal, pointing out her collaborations with people from different cultures.
Bejarano was awarded numerous awards, including Germany’s Order of Merit for her activism against the “old and New Nazis,” echoing Primo Levi, a fellow Holocaust survivor, who warned that “it happened, therefore, it can happen again.”
Bejarano said, “You’re not guilty of what happened back then.” You are guilty of what happened if you don’t listen to the events.
She was also not afraid to criticize current German officials. For example, tax authorities cancelled the charitable status for the country’s largest anti-fascist group. Later, the decision was reversed.
Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the German President, wrote in a condolence letter to Bejarano’s children that Bejarano “experienced firsthand what it means being discriminated against and persecuted, and tortured.” He also praised her education work.
He said, “We have suffered a great grief in her passing.” “She will always be in our hearts.