On January, 25th Esther Bejarano was invited for an eyewitness talk in the Centre for Historical Studies of Neuengamme Concentration Camp Memorial. Esther Bejarano read from her memoires “Erinnerungen. Vom Mädchenorchester in Auschwitz zur Rap-Band gegen rechts“ (Memories. From Women’s Orchestra in Auschwitz to the Rap-Band against the radical right wing).
Afterwards the audience, including four highly interested school classes, listened to her story and had the chance to ask numerous questions, including her engagement against right wing movements after the war. Heidburg Behling, honorary associate of the Neuengamme Concentration Camp Memorial chaired the interview.
Childhood and Youth
Esther Bejarano was born on December 15, 1924 in a city known as Saarlouis today into the family of a Jewish cantor. After the Novemberpogrom (so called "christal night") in 1938 her parents sent her to a preparation camp near Berlin, to be prepared for an emigration to Palestine. However the beginning of WW II destroyed this plan. The preparation camp was closed by National Socialists and in June 1941 Esther was deported into the forced labor camp in Neuendorf. She worked there until 1943 in a flower shop. The same year her parents were shot by National Socialists in the woods of Kovno/Lithuania. Esther got to know about the death of their parents only after the war.
In 1943 Esther Bejarano was deported to the Auschwitz concentration camp. After a humiliating registration procedure, during which she had her prisoner's number 41948 tattooed onto her arm, she and other prisoners were forced to gather large rocks. Eventually she heard that talented musicians for the Internal Camp Orchestra were searched; a position of the accordion player was unoccupied. Although Esther had no experience of playing the accordion, she inherited the love for music and learned to play piano from her father. She was able to transfer this knowledge on to the new instrument and became a member of the Auschwitz Women's Orchestra from this time on. The orchestra had to perform the cynical task of playing marches for the working commandos and "welcoming" the newly arrived prisoners, who were selected for the gas chambers, with music. Because of the terrible conditions in Auschwitz Esther caught typhoid fever at the age of 18 and suffered from whooping cough. Since she was considered one quarter "Aryan" from the racist point of view of the Nazis, as she had one non-Jewish grandmother, she got an opportunity to be transferred in the c Ravensbrück concentration camp. Although Esther initially thought a lot about whether to leave her fellow prisoners, she took part in the tests for the relocation permit and got approved.
Ravensbrück and Liberation
In Ravensbrück Esther and the other deportees were sent to a four-week quarantine and then were assigned for loading coal. Later she was "employed" as a forced laborer at Siemens in the assembly department. In January 1945 Esther was lucky enough to trade her Jewish badge for a red badge, which allowed her in her new position as a political prisoner to receive letters and smaller packages. At the end of April 1945 the concentration camp was cleared and Esther Bejarano was sent on the death march, during which she met six of her friends again and stayed together with them from that moment on. After the seven women heard about the order, not to shoot any more prisoners from now on, they decided to abandon the column secretly. In Mecklenburg they were rescued by US-troops, who invited them to a restaurant. After hearing Esther's story one of the soldiers gave her an accordion as a gift. Esther Bejarano remembers one special experience of the days after her liberation particularly good: American and Soviet soldiers together burnt a portrait of Adolf Hitler together on a market place, Esther accompanied this on her new accordion and her friends were dancing merrily with the soldiers.
After the war, Esther went searching for her relatives. She learned about the murder of her parents and decided to emigrate to Israel. In 1960 she returned to Germany with her husband and made the decision to go to Hamburg as the city was not connected with any bad memories. She still lives there.
Engagement in "anti-fascist work"
When being asked when and why she decided to speak publicly about her experiences, Esther told about her "key experience": One day in 1979 she worked in Hamburg in her small boutique in Eimsbüttel and heard that the NPD had been building an information point in front of her shop. People, mostly of young age, protested against it and but got arrested by the police. In a dialogue with a police officer she was told that there had also been concentration camps in Russia and that she should better go home, otherwise she would also be arrested. Esther replied that the police could go on and arrest her as she had survived Auschwitz. After this a man of the NPD intervened the conversation and started telling the policeman to arrest her, as only criminals had been sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp.
After this experience Esther Bejarano decided to take action against neo-Nazism and the oblivion and joined the "Association of Victims of the Nazi Regime - Federation of antifascists". To this day at the age of 91 she still gives eyewitness talks in order to educate young people about the past crimes of the Nazis and the current crimes of the Neonazis, writes books about her life and cherishes her love of music. Therefore she participates in a joint project with the Cologne rap band "Microphone Mafia"; as they like to stress, they are three generations and three religions combined to make music that makes a clear statement against the ultra-right. Text: Nicolas Weidenbörner