Tosca’s sister: art for life

Tosca has sister.  Her name is Esther. Esther Loewy Bejarano. Esther doesn’t sing vissi d’arte, I lived for art.  She sings for life, for living.

Esther was born in 1924 to Jewish parents.  Before she was 16 she had been sent to a work camp near Berlin.  Her parents were deported to Latvia where they were shot.  Then, Esther was sent to Auschwitz in 1943.  She survived hard labor by singing classical German songs by Schubert, Bach and Mozart for extra food.  When the SS commandant of the women’s camp decided that she wanted a girls orchestra, Esther got in by saying that she could play the accordion, even though she only knew the piano.  Because there were fewer women instrumentalists than men, they were treated somewhat better, enabling Esther to survive despite getting seriously ill twice.

But her orchestra had to play for the new arrivals as they walked to the gas chambers.  They also played marches that the women prisoners had to keep in step with as they left and returned each day from the hard labor Charlotte Delbo describes so vividly.

As the war ended, Esther escaped from a death march.  After months of looking for her family and avoiding marauding soldiers, she finally made it to Palestine where she found her sister, Tosca.  (Her other sister Ruth had been shot by the Germans after being turned away by Swiss border guards.)

Many who had been through experiences like Esther’s could never make music again.  In Israel, however, she trained as a singer, later joining a workers’ choir and then performing in many concerts while she was in the army.  Esther explains:

Some people say, after Auschwitz, you can’t write any more poems, there can’t be music, beautiful pictures.  I think that’s completely wrong. We have to express to people what happened to us.

Despite their military service Esther and her husband objected to Israel’s continued wars with its neighbors and returned to Germany after the 1956 Suez crisis.  Today, at 89, Esther still sings in Germany with a Turkish-Italian rap group, Microphone Mafia.  “I use music to act against fascism.  Music is everything for me.”

You can see and hear Esther and Microphone Mafia on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VqgMkiq5b40. The chorus she sings in this video is from a song by a German rock group called Höhner, the first two lines of which go:

Wann jeiht dr Himmel uch för mich widder op
Wann jeiht dr Himmel widder op ?

I’m not sure what German dialect this is, but the New York Times story on Esther translates the song as:

When will the heavens open up, again, for me?
When will they open up?

Esther makes her music to counter the forces of death.  She sings for life.  In fact, the name of the CD that she and Microphone Mafia have released is Per la vita.

The group also sings a song that was written by Jews in the Vilna ghetto before they were slaughtered by the Nazis, “We live forever.”  Esther recorded this song with her daughter Edna back in 1995 with a group called Coincidence.  In keeping with Esther’s making music to promote life, the name of this album in Yiddish and German is Lider fars lebn – Lieder für das Leben.  Songs for living.

In Yiddish, “We live forever” is Mir lebn ejbig.  You can hear Esther, her daughter and the group Coincidence perform Mir lebn ejbig at  http://lyrics.wikia.com/Coincidence:Mir_Lebn_Ejbig.

We live forever
A world burns
We live forever
Without a dime
Despite the jabs of all enemies
Who mock our face
We live forever, because we are
We live forever in each hour
We want to live and experience
And survive bad times
We live forever
We are here!

We sing to live.

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