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Holocaust Survivor Enlightens Brandywine with Story 

Photo By: Kevin Dallatore

By: Kevin Dallatore, Lion’s Eye Staff Editor, kzd5241@psu.edu, updated by Lion’s Eye Web Staff

 

Holocaust survivor Esther Bauer came to Brandywine in October during common hour to talk about her experiences during the Holocaust.

Through her amazing recollection, those in attendance were able to picture the events of her life and get a closer look at what happened during this tragic time in world history. It was a moving speech that had everyone interested in learning as much as they could—at times, aghast and others, angry.

Bauer, who was born into a middle-income family in 1924, lived in Hamburg, Germany. When she was 9 years old, Hitler came to power. She recalls that, at that time, people were not sophisticated and, to shield her from the truth of Hitler’s reign, her parents did not tell her the truth of Hitler’s plans. After Hitler began to control Germany, her father, a Jewish teacher, was no longer allowed to teach the Jewish children who attended public schools. This trend continued as her mother, a doctor, could not go to work anymore, and Jewish people were not allowed to walk in the parks.

When the Nazis burned the synagogues in 1938, Bauer and her family were forced to wear the yellow stars on all of their clothing. “I can remember a man who got up from his seat on the subway and said to me, ‘please sit down.’ I knew that not all Germans were bad people,” Bauer said.

Another one of the rules enacted was that she and her family had to move from the home in which they lived in Hamburg to a Jewish apartment where there was no hot water and no heat–until they received a notice they were to move to Theresienstadt, a Jewish ghetto camp which is located in the present Czech Republic.

Upon arrival to Theresienstadt, they were forced to leave their suitcases on the floor and walk to the top floor of the building. While walking up to the top floor, she caught a glimpse of a young man, who would later introduce himself as Hanza, standing in the kitchen. Once she got up to the top floor where they were forced to sleep, they slept with nothing to comfort them. Their suitcases never made it to their rooms either.

Six weeks after her arrival at Theresienstadt, her father came down with meningitis and died. Later in her stay, Bauer also suffered health issues as she came down with pneumonia so severe that Hanza, who could not speak German but brought translators with him to speak with Bauer, found a doctor for her. Hanza was also able to get Bauer a job in the offices at the camp so she didn’t have to work in the fields. While working in the offices, one of her co-workers was able to teach her Czech so she could finally communicate with Hanza. Apparently the communication helped because they secretly married when they discovered he was going to be transferred to a different Nazi camp.

One of the main characteristics of Theresienstadt was that it was a temporary holding camp, and those in the camp would not be there for a long time. This was true for Bauer who was told she could be reunited with Hanza since she was his wife. Bauer made the hard decision to leave her mother behind to move to the camp in which Hanza was supposedly located. It was on the train that Bauer realized she was not going to be reunited with Hanza; she was actually going to Auschwitz.

As she recalls, Auschwitz was a dreadful place. Upon arrival she was told by the Nazi officers to throw all the food she was carrying over the fence because the Nazis would not allow them to carry it in. The lady who was standing next to her decided she was going to do as she was told and was immediately shot and killed.

As Bauer got as settled in as she could at Auschwitz, she received the new job of making metal rivets for German airplanes. She would work on these pieces for 12 hours a day with no breaks during her shifts.

In one of her many feisty moments during the speech, Bauer mentioned that she tried to make some of the pieces as short as possible as an act of sabotage so that none of the pieces she made for the planes would fit.

During the liberation of Auschwitz in 1945, Bauer was finally freed from Nazi rule and soon moved to the American occupied city of Lintz. While in Lintz, she was able to reach out to a family member who had moved to Illinois. They gave her an affidavit to come to the United States, and she arrived in New York in the June 1945.

As she finished her story, she opened it up for questions. The audience learned that Bauer does not feel guilty that she was able to be liberated while 6 million others were killed. Rather, she is happy that she was given the chance to live her life, marry, and after her husband’s death nearly 50 years later, meet her “boy-toy” Bill and tell everyone about her story.

“I couldn’t talk about my experience for the first 20 years. For the next 20 years, no one seemed to care, and now for these past 20 years, it seems like everyone wants to hear my story, which I am happy to tell,” Bauer said. “I would like for those who have heard my story to learn that everyone should look to see that the events that took place in my youth never happen again.”

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