Any moment of happiness Esther Bauer experience during her time imprisoned in Nazi concentration camps was quickly taken away.
When the Nazis forced Bauer and her family to move to the Terezin concentration camp in Czechoslovakia in 1942, she at least had the comfort of knowing that her father and mother were with her. But that small comfort came to an abrupt end when Bauer’s father died after six weeks.
Bauer did meet her first husband in Terezin. But three days after they were married, he was taken away to the Auschwitz concentration camp and she never saw him again.
Bauer, 88, shared all of these painful memories with a group of nearly 200 eighth-grade students inside the Pelham Middle School library Thursday afternoon.
“I love to talk to young people, tell them what happened and see the reactions and their questions,” said Bauer, who now lives in Yonkers. “I tell them they have to see that this never happens again.”
Bauer was 9 when Hitler came into power in 1933. Her father was a principal at all Jewish school and her mother was physician. Bauer said she began to notice the subtle shifts in her native countries policy as she Jews were slowly segregated from the rest of the population.
By 1941, her family was forced to move into an all Jewish apartment and in 1942 her family was moved to concentration camps.
Bauer detailed how she was tricked into going to Auschwitz. Her husband and a group of other men were sent there first, under the pretense that they were building a ghetto in another city. The wives of these men were asked if they wanted to follow their husbands a week later.
“I was married three days," Bauer said. "I said of course I’m going. But my mother said no, no, no. Stay here. I said no, I always do what my insides tell me.”
But as she was being transported, Bauer realized she had been lied to.
“We were headed to Auschwitz,” Bauer said. “Auschwitz of course was the worst camp you can imagine.”
Bauer described how she was starved, mistreated and nearly died on more than one occasion during the ordeal. Her mother, who was also sent Auschwitz, died in the concentration camp.
Bauer said shewas forced to build airplanes for nearly a year, but was moved to an Austrian camp called Mautahousen after her supplies ran out. She was freed by Allied forces shortly after in 1945.
“One morning, I heard people say ‘the Nazis are all gone and they’re not here anymore’,” Bauer said. “I couldn’t believe it and lo and behold, the American army came up the hill with the white flag and liberated us.”
Bauer was the second speaker who was brought in this week. On Wednesday, New Jersey-native and Nanuet resident Al Moskin spoke about his experiences serving in the U.S. military and fighting in France, Germany and Austria during WWII. Moskin participated in the liberation of Mauthausen concentration camp.
Vicki Ettinger, Language/Speech Pathologist at Pelham middle and high schools, brought the speakers in because the subject matter coincides with the material the eighth grade is currently studying in English and Social Studies.
“We want the students to figure what are they going to do with their lives based on what they learned and what they are hearing about,” Ettinger said. “It’s not about simply looking into history and saying ‘hah, that happened a long time ago’. It’s about, what does this mean to me. What am I going to do with this information.”