Esther Bejarano, 96, Dies; Auschwitz Survivor Fought Hate With Hip-Hop

When Esther Bejarano was 18, she performed accordion within the girls’s orchestra at Auschwitz, which performed marches as prisoners left the focus camp for laborious labor and upbeat music as practice a great deal of Jews and others arrived.

“They must have thought, ‘Where music is playing, things can’t be that bad,’” she informed The New York Times in 2014, recalling how some detainees smiled and waved on the musicians. “They didn’t know where they were going. But we knew. We played with tears in our eyes.”

Mrs. Bejarano died on Saturday at a hospital in Hamburg, Germany. She was 96. With her demise, Anita Lasker-Wallfisch, a cellist, is believed to be the one member of the orchestra nonetheless alive.

Mrs. Bejarano’s demise was introduced by the International Auschwitz Committee, which was based by survivors of the demise camp and to which she belonged, serving as a strong voice towards intolerance in her later years.

She would additionally kind a band along with her kids to sing antiwar and Jewish resistance songs and, in her 80s, joined a hip-hop group that unfold an antifascist message.

Being in an orchestra at a focus camp was usually an escape from pressured labor, and probably from demise. For Mrs. Bejarano, taking part in music for her captors relieved her of getting to hold heavy rocks and earned her first rate medical remedy throughout two diseases.

Women deemed match for work on the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp, in a photograph taken in May 1944.Credit…Vashem Archives/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

When Mrs. Bejarano discovered girls’s orchestra was being shaped on the Auschwitz II-Birkenau camp, she approached its conductor, Zofia Czajkowska, a Polish music instructor.

She performed the piano, however there wasn’t one on the camp on the time. When Ms. Czajkowska requested if she might play the accordion, she mentioned she might, though she by no means had. Yet she handed her audition, taking part in a German track, “Du hast Glück bei den Frauen, Bel Ami” (“You’re Lucky With Women, Bel Ami”).

“At the time it was a very well-known hit,” Mrs. Bejarano mentioned in an interview cited in “Auschwitz Studies No. 27,” printed in 2014 by the Auschwitz Memorial State Museum. “I didn’t have any problems with my right hand, because I knew how to play the piano and immediately found the keyboard, but the bass is on the left, and only thanks to the fact that I have a good ear could I find the right tones. I managed.”

Orchestras had been shaped in lots of focus camps — to entertain the Nazis, but in addition to serve different functions.

“They were for the benefit of the administration and staff,” mentioned Bret Werb, the musicologist and recorded sound curator on the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. “They believed that quick march music would get the prisoners to march in time, and quickly, to hard labor.”

Mrs. Bejarano, who arrived at Auschwitz in April 1943, carried out on the camp for a number of months till being moved later that yr to the Ravensbrück focus camp in northern Germany. On a demise march from the camp close to the top of the battle, she and a number of other different prisoners escaped.

She celebrated the Allied victory over the Nazis in a market sq. in Lubz, Germany. An image of Hitler was set on fireplace by American troopers. A G.I. handed her an accordion, which she performed as troopers and different camp survivors danced.

“That was my liberation, an incredibly great liberation,” she informed Der Spiegel final yr. “The American and Russian soldiers embraced and shouted, ‘Hitler is dead.’”

She discovered her strategy to a displaced individuals camp at Bergen-Belsen, close to a former focus camp, the place she discovered that the Nazis had killed her mother and father in Riga, Latvia. Her sister Ruth, who had fled to Switzerland, was deported and despatched to Auschwitz earlier than Esther’s arrival.

“That is so fateful,” Mrs. Bejarano informed the British newspaper The Telegraph in an interview. “I came to Auschwitz in April 1943, and if she had lived, I would have met her there.”

From Bergen-Belsen, Mrs. Bejarano hitchhiked to Frankfurt and took a practice to Marseille, France, the place in August 1945 she boarded a ship to what was then British Palestine and was reunited along with her sister Tosca. Their brother, Gerhard, had immigrated to the United States some years earlier.

Mrs. Bejarano in 2015, with Efim Kofman on accordion. She shaped a band late in life to sing antiwar and Jewish resistance songs.Credit…Daniel Reinhardt/picture-alliance dpa, by way of Associated Press

Esther Loewy was born on Dec. 15, 1924, in Saarlouis, in southwestern Germany, close to the French border. Her father, Rudolf, was a instructor and cantor. He met her mom, Margarethe, in Berlin once they had been youngsters; he was her piano instructor, and the 2 fell in love.

Ms. Bejarano described her childhood as “lighthearted,” however that a part of her life ended when she was despatched at 16 to a Nazi work camp close to Berlin, from which she can be despatched to Auschwitz.

After the battle, she restarted her life in what would turn out to be Israel. She studied singing, joined a choir, gave music classes and in 1950 married Nissim Bejarano, a truck driver, with whom she had two kids, Joram, a son, and Edna, a daughter. In 1960, she returned to Germany, settling in Hamburg, and ran a laundry service along with her husband.

She is survived by her kids, two grandsons and 4 great-grandchildren.

She discovered it tough to debate the Holocaust with anybody till the 1970s, when she watched German law enforcement officials protect right-wing extremists towards protesters. The incident turned her into an activist, and she or he joined the Association of the Persecutees of the Nazi Regime. She started to inform her story in faculties, delivered protest speeches and sang with Coincidence, the band that she shaped along with her kids in 1989.

“I use music to act against fascism,” she informed The Times. “Music is everything to me.”

Around 2009, when she was in her 80s, Mrs. Bejarano’s musical profession took an surprising flip. She was requested to hitch Microphone Mafia, a German hip-hop group, with whom she continued to unfold her message towards fascism and intolerance to younger audiences in Germany and overseas, from Istanbul to Vancouver.

Onstage with the group’s Kutlu Yurtseven and Rossi Pennino, Mrs. Bejarano was an uncommon determine: a tiny lady with a snow-white pixie haircut, singing in Yiddish, Hebrew and Italian.

Hip-hop was not her most well-liked musical style. She joked that she persuaded her bandmates to decrease their quantity and cease leaping round onstage a lot. She believed that hip-hop’s affect on younger individuals might assist her counter an increase in intolerance.

“Twelve years together and almost 900 concerts together, and all this thanks to your strength,” Microphone Mafia wrote on its web site after Mrs. Bejarano’s demise. “Your laughter, your courage, your determination, your loving manner, your understanding, your fighting heart.”

Mrs. Bejarano, a recipient of Germany’s Order of Merit, issued a press release this yr by the International Auschwitz Committee calling for Germany to declare May eight a federal vacation to commemorate the top of World War II in Europe.

“And if you are concerned about whether Germans should celebrate this day solemnly,” she wrote, “imagine: What would the world look like if the Nazis had won?”