“The first twenty years I couldn’t talk about it, and the second twenty years nobody wanted to hear. It has been in the last twenty-five years that people became more and more interested in what I had to say.”
Esther Bauer visited Woodberry Forest School on April 20, 2015, to talk about her horrifying experiences as a Jewish prisoner in four Nazi Germany concentration camps. With great optimism, hope, and even humor, she talked directly to the hearts of the Woodberry audience, which was fascinated with the incredible story of her life. In a very moving lecture, she reminded all community members of their responsibility to never forget in order to protect the future. Her visit was initiated by Jannis Stöter ’16, this year’s ASSIST scholar from Germany, who had met Esther for the first time two-and-one-half years ago when he had participated in a European theater project in remembrance of the Holocaust.
Born in Hamburg, Germany, in 1924, Esther experienced firsthand how things became progressively worse for her Jewish family immediately after the Nazi party had taken over power in 1933. Only nine years later, she, her mother, and her father were deported to Theresienstadt and made prisoners “from one minute to another,” as Esther recalled. Her father, Dr. Alberto Jonas, died a few days later of “a broken heart rather than the sickness,” in Esther’s words. Having been in Theresienstadt for almost two years, she married her Czech friend Honza, who was sent to build up a new camp near Dresden shortly after their marriage. Esther followed him, leaving behind her mother. However, when she found Polish names on the train, she immediately realized that the Nazis had lied and that she was on her way to Auschwitz. She never saw Honza again. Esther’s mother followed her to Auschwitz, where she was also murdered, but Esther survived. After she had been brought to Freiberg, Esther eventually landed in Mauthausen, where American soldiers finally liberated her on May 5, 1945. Esther immigrated to the United States in 1946 and is now living in New York City. A few years ago, she received the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany.
Along with her biography, Esther shared some very personal moments with the audience. She talked about how she had accidentally met one of the Americans who had liberated her at her hairdresser’s. In addition, Esther mentioned the only object from her imprisonment that she has kept over the years — a homemade aluminum comb, a piece of luxury that she acquired when she was building airplane parts in Freiberg.
Today she travels with Bill Engel, an American World War II veteran she met twelve years ago. Bill holds the Legion of Honor, the highest French civilian award.