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Holocaust Survivor Speaks to Pelham Eighth-Graders

PELHAM, N.Y. – Holocaust survivor Esther Bauer spoke to the Pelham Middle School eighth-graders Thursday about her harrowing three years as a Nazi prisoner, including her time at Auschwitz, and told them, “They have to see that this never happens again.”

Bauer was 9 years old when Adolf Hitler took power in Germany. Slowly, many rights of Jewish people were taken away, including being able to vote, possessing a passport and swimming. She was no longer permitted to go to school at age 15 and had to work at a factory along with other Jewish children instead.

The current Yonkers resident, who has been speaking about the Holocaust in the United States and Germany for years, was a prisoner of the Nazis from age 18 to 21, which she said are the “best years of your life.” Her parents and first husband died in concentration camps.

She spent two years in her first concentration camp and was then transported to Auschwitz, which she called a “horrible, horrible place.” Bauer graphically told the students about her first time in the shower at Auschwitz and not knowing whether water or gas would come out of the showerhead, and the cries of people who were being transported to the gas chamber in the middle of the night.

She would later spend nine months building airplanes for the Germans, 12 hours a day. The Nazi who was in charge beat them with his belt, and pairs of girls were forced to sleep in straw sacks infested with lice, bedbugs and fleas. Bauer and the other victims resorted to eating grass, because they were not given food.

They were transported to the Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp in Austria after running out of materials. Shortly after that, they were liberated by the Americans, which Bauer said she was “very happy” about.

“I said, 'Now I want to live.' To this day, I’m happy to wake up every morning.”

After she was liberated, she worked for the Americans because she knew German and English, and then moved to New York, where she was married for 46 years.

At one point, when answering a student’s question about having the will to live, she said that she never thought she would get out of the concentration camps.

“The will to live is very strong, so you live from one day to the next and you think, 'Well, tomorrow they’ll kill me, but I’ll enjoy today,' ” Bauer said.

Vicki Ettenger, the language and speech pathologist at Pelham Middle School, has been inviting speakers to the school to discuss the Holocaust for the past 10 years, because the students study the event in eighth grade.

“I think it’s very important that the students hear a firsthand response,” said Ettenger. “We felt it was very important that as long as these people are still alive and can come and share, that they must come and share and let the kids hear it firsthand.”

Eighth-graders Bella Yoloff and Tori Schepis, were moved by Bauer’s speech.

“I really liked it, because I really wanted to hear a personal story of it,” Yoloff said. “It was different to be in the same room as someone who survived and was there. We could pass it down to our generation, so that we can prevent this from happening again.”

Schepis agreed and said, “Because history repeats itself. It just amazes me that she’s open to talk about it after everything she went through.”

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