Home Womens boots Esther Bejarano died on July 10

Esther Bejarano died on July 10


THE WAS THINKING of an orchestra at Auschwitz freezes the blood. The idea that at the end of these railroads, through these high iron gates, in the midst of the veil and the ashes of the still burning crematoriums, a light music was playing, is an obscenity. But Auschwitz had several orchestras, playing or rehearsing for up to ten hours a day. And for 18-year-old Esther Loewy, the brand new Girls’ Orchestra was a stroke of luck. If she could get in there, she wouldn’t be carrying stones all day, which could kill her. She would receive more food. So, before her audition, she sat in a corner of her barracks, a dull little figure with sore hands and a shaved head, practicing.

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The track she put together was easy, the hit song from the movie “Bel Ami”, which was also about luck. “You’re lucky with women, Bel Ami!” he ran: Du hast Glück bei den Frau’n, Bel Ami! Everyone knew this cheerful melody. What she didn’t know was how to play the heavy accordion that was resting on her lap. She had lied when she said she had done it, just to get in. As a pianist she could practice the keys with her right hand, but all those buttons with her left turned her off. What did they mean? It was urgent; without music it was over. Then she stumbled across a C major chord, like an old friend, and everything was fine. His luck was in it.

It was hardly a rest cure. Her morning task now was to stand in all weather at the gate of the camp, playing German marching songs as the prisoners went to forced labor and in the evening, labored home. The same old tunes over and over again. In the evenings there were classical concerts, adapted to the few instruments they had and to all the scores they could get. Rather, it was her genre, like the Bachs, Mozart and Schubert, that she sang at the behest of the barracks: the music of her childhood in Saarbrücken, where their house resonated with family recitals and the rich opera voice of her. father, cantor in the synagogue. But it was in another world. In it, she was playing with a gun pointed at her back; the power of music was used as a decoy and a lie, a promise of comfort where there was none. The worst was when they played at the station as the foul cattle wagons arrived. The dazed newcomers were smiling and waving, with no idea what to expect. She would cry while playing.

Yet even through such scenes, luck sometimes shone. When she caught typhoid, her role as the only accordionist received the proper care. After less than a year at Auschwitz, his status as mischling, Métis, with a Christian grandmother, saw her move to Ravensbrück, a women’s camp a little less harsh. When, in 1945, the prisoners marched west to escape Soviet forces, she and six other girls fled into the forest. There they fell with American troops; safe now, she slowly made her way to France and, ultimately, Palestine. She had survived.

The war was over. Its own struggle, however, was only beginning, against racism and anti-Semitism everywhere. Young Esther, singing and playing shyly in Auschwitz, might have been astonished to see herself seven decades later with a pixie haircut and a long scarf, dancing on a stage with rappers. But she did, this time making music vigorous and provocative enough to avenge those desperate faces at the station, and all those who had died.

The post-war world had seriously disappointed her. She settled and married in the new state of Israel, where she found success as a singer, but Israel’s treatment of Palestinians drove her mad with anger. It seemed to him outright racism, forced displacement and oppression of people as unjust as the persecution of the Jews of Europe. She attacked these policies her entire life, so furiously that she was later labeled an anti-Semite herself, and obviously Israel was not the place to stay.

She took the family to Germany. It was home, but full of horrible memories. The day she was kicked out of school at age 14; the time Hitler had visited Saarbrücken, the crowd waving strangely to him; the beating of her sister Ruth at Kristallnacht in 1938, until she could barely stand; The murder of Ruth and the murder of her parents. She could at least hope that after the defeat of Germany Nazism would disappear. When the Americans had rescued her, she had played the accordion as Hitler’s portrait blazed fiercely in a fire. Certainly his vile ideas were now as dead as he was.

They were still there, however. They lurked like bad seeds underground, or like her recurring nightmare of Nazi boots trampling her – just as, during the forced march to Ravensbrück, soldiers shot and stomped on the bodies of those who were too weak to continue. In 1986, at age 61, she quarreled with members of the fascist movement NPD and their police protectors, right in front of his shop in Hamburg. When both groups insulted her, it was time to write her memoir about the camps and co-found the Auschwitz Committee, which helped survivors tell their stories. It was also time to unleash her music against what she called the Great Silence.

His father had collected Yiddish songs. Now she has formed a group, called Coincidence, with her children Joram and Edna, to sing more recent melodies of Jewish resistance. Her favorite was “Mir Lebn Eybik”, “We will live forever”, a song from the Vilnius ghetto: “We will live forever, / though the worlds are burning, / We will live forever, / no money around .. ./We will live again and again … / We will live forever, / We are here!

This certainly seemed true to her, as she tirelessly roamed Germany. Each week she was in a different city, especially in schools, telling the children what had happened to the Jews, alerting them to racism in all its forms. To modernize the message, she adopted hip-hop from Microphone Mafia, two towering young men, one of whom is a Turkish immigrant, who rapped to the songs of the resistance (a bit loud, she thought), while that she, the lucky little survivor, with her fists closed, kept the old words flowing.

She also sang “Bel Ami”. Usually it was a provocative and cheerful song without an accordion, which she did not play on stage. If someone else played the accordion for her, it would become harder to sing, as if her voice was floundering in tears. â– 

This article appeared in the Obituary section of the print edition under the title “Chansons contre la haine”