Bauer request: Don’t let Holocaust happen again
by CHRISTY ARMSTRONG, Banner Staff Writer
Mar 20, 2013 | 924 views | 0 0 comments | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Esther Bauer
Esther Bauer
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Esther Bauer, an 89-year-old Holocaust survivor, told an audience of students and guests at Cleveland State Community College about her life’s experiences Tuesday night.

She said it took her about 20 years after she was finally free from the concentration camps and forced factory labor she endured to be able to talk about the horrors of what she had seen.

Now, she travels around sharing her memories.

With some in the world trying to erase the collective memory of the event, she speaks so the memory of what happened will not die.

“All I can say is that I was there,” Bauer said. “I can only speak of my own experiences. There were many others.”

Bauer, originally from Hamburg, Germany, was one of millions of Jews in Europe who fell victim to the violence and cruelty of the Nazi regime that rose to power in Germany during World War II.

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum described the event as the “state-sponsored persecution and murder of approximately 6 million Jews by the Nazi regime and its collaborators.” 

Bauer’s father, Dr. Alberto Jonas, was principal of a Jewish school, and her mother, Dr. Marie Anna Jonas, was a medical doctor. As the Holocaust neared, the only child and her parents gradually lost their freedoms. She was 9 when the first restrictions on Jews began to happen in Germany. Jewish businesses were closed. Jews were kicked out of universities. Jews lost their jobs.

Bauer said she did not have much awareness of what was happening, but she did miss getting to eat her favorite kosher meat.

“My parents tried to keep everything from me,” Bauer said. “Then, everything became worse.” 

Then came Kristallnacht, or “the night of broken glass,” in 1938 when Nazis organized groups of people to smash in windows of Jews’ homes, robbing and even killing them in some cases.

Shortly thereafter, Gestapo, or members of the Nazi police, knocked on doors to tell people they were being deported.

Bauer said her family contemplated leaving to move to England, but were not able to do so. She said her family also tried to immigrate to the United States, but their “number” was not called in time.

Many of Bauer’s classmates immigrated, but her family stayed where they were.

In 1942, the Bauer’s family and their Jewish neighbors were rounded up and forced to head to a ghetto called Theresienstadt in Czechoslovakia. There, they lived in apartments without heating or indoor plumbing. There, her father died.

There, she met a boy whom she decided to marry because she wanted to stay with him when he was ordered to go help build a new ghetto. She went after him voluntarily, but they all ended up in the Auschwitz concentration camp.

Bauer recounted experiences that still haunt her memory. She recalls she and a group of other woman being stripped of their clothes and forced into a shower area. Water came to wash them, but she had heard stories of showers being used as gas chambers to murder large groups of people.

She recalls the screams of women who knew for certain that the gas chambers were where they were going. She knew how the ovens on the far side of the camp were used to cremate bodies.

“The screaming — I still hear that today,” Bauer said. “And the smell — I will never forget that.”

Bauer was part of a group of women taken out of the camp to be forced laborers in a Nazi airplane factory.

She said she and her fellow workers devised ways to sabotage the airplane parts by not riveting the metal pieces properly and never got caught. She laughed as she said she was determined that no plane she built would ever fly to support the Nazi cause.

She later learned her first husband and her mother had both died in Auschwitz.

Bauer’s personal story took a happier turn. Her camp was liberated by members of the U.S. military.

In 1946, she immigrated to the United States and began a career working in advertising in New York. She recalled happy moments of exploring New York City for the first time and reuniting with an old friend over banana split sundaes. She has a son who is a New York lawyer.

She now lives in an assisted living facility in Yonkers, where she shares an apartment with her boyfriend when they are not traveling for her speaking engagements.

Her faith in religion died along with her family, she said.

She said the Holocaust left her an atheist, but she believes that people have the capacity to do good things in the world and not just the terrible things she has seen.

She left her Cleveland State audience with one request after she had shared her personal history — the reason she had been traveling around to speak about the Holocaust.

“You have to see to it that this never happens again,” Bauer said.