One of the last survivors of the Auschwitz Women’s Orchestra, Esther Bejarano, died in Austria on the night of Friday to Saturday at the age of 96, the Director of the Anne Frank Educational Centre announced on Twitter.
“She dedicated her life to music and the fight against racism and anti-Semitism,” Director Meron Mendel tweeted, recalling that Esther Bejarano, deported to the Nazi extermination camp in 1943, was saved because she was a musician and that she played the accordion in Auschwitz.
Born in Saarlouis, Germany, she was deported to Auschwitz in April 1943, then transferred in November that year to Ravensbrück Camp. Her parents and sister were killed by the Nazis.
After World War II, she went to Palestine. She lived for close to 15 years in Israel, then went back to Germany where, for years, she told her story.
In recent years, she often warned against the rise of the extreme right. “For those of us who have lived through (the deportations), it’s impossible to describe the extent to which this is serious,” she stressed, pointing to groups like the xenophobic, anti-Muslim Pegida movement and the extreme-right AfD party.
A highly respected personality in Germany, Ms. Bejarano wrote many autobiographical novels while devoting herself to singing and her activities in the International Auschwitz Committee.
Esther Bejarano was recruited into the Auschwitz Women’s Orchestra although she did not know to play the accordion, only the piano.
Along with the other musicians she was made to play for the prisoners and deportees as they alighted from the convoys. In 2014, she told Deutsche Welle: “You knew they were going to be gassed and all you could do was stay there and play.”