I am currently working as an English language assistant at a school in Hamburg, Germany, and last week I had the privilege of attending a reading and concert by Auschwitz survivor Esther Bejarano.
Ms Bejarano, now in her nineties, is one of the dwindling number of concentration camp survivors left. When I heard about the event I was apprehensive, expecting it to be quite an emotional evening. But let's face it, for how much longer are we going to have the opportunity to learn from such a person, and to remember them? Simply seeing the lady, and knowing what she had experienced, was both upsetting and awe-inspiring.
The evening began with Ms Bejarano reading from her memoir Erinnerungen (Memories), which detailed her time first at Auschwitz, then at Ravensbrück, ending with her eventual liberation. Ms Bejarano perhaps owes her freedom in great part to her musical talent, which gained her a place in the Auschwitz Girls' Orchestra. She has continued to sing and play ever since. Following the reading, she once again took to the stage alongside the anti-racist band Microphone Mafia. The music was quite a mixture, combining rap with more traditional folk and world music, including a lot of Yiddish influence. The evening ended with an encore and a standing ovation.
I had expected it to be an emotional evening, and it was. However, though the memories must have left their scars, Ms Bejarano told her story as it was, speaking in clear German. It is easy to shelve such events as the Holocaust, however devastating, as a part of history, long before our time. But seeing this lady in the flesh brought it all home. In a few years time there will be nobody left to tell the story first hand, and Ms Bejarano has made it her life's work to go on telling not just her story, but the story of those she met throughout her experiences.
The memories must hurt, but to see a woman so strong and so full of life despite the horrors she went through was an inspiration. She remains determined to sing, determined to live, determined to be happy, and determined to tell her tale. The Holocaust did not stop her from living her life. Instead, her liberation, as she put it, was her "second birth". The applause that followed this statement was the longest I have ever heard.