The diminutive figure at the front of a capacity crowd kept them enthralled with her larger-than-life story.
Tragically, the story she told was true, and she tells that story to the younger generations all over the country.
“They must not let it happen again,” said Esther Bauer. “They must not let anyone forget.
It is the Holocaust. It is the time when Adolph Hitler’s Nazi Germany killed more than 1 million Jewish children, 2 million Jewish women and 3 million Jewish men.
Bauer is one who went through the horror and lived to tell what that experience was like.
She addressed a packed George R. Johnson Cultural Heritage Center at Cleveland State Community College Tuesday night for the second time.
The audience gathered early and an overflow room had to be utilized to hold everyone who was interested in hearing what Bauer had to say.
Tracey Wright, director of CSCC Office of Special Programs and Community Relations, said Bauer’s visit was a unique occasion.
“I’ve rarely if ever booked the same person back-to-back,” Wright said. “But, sometimes you just have those special people for whom you have to make those exceptions. Tonight, you will see why that exception was made.”
Those who thought an address by a Holocaust survivor would be totally dour were quickly dissuaded of that notion, when Bauer opened her remarks speaking of her age.
“I was born in 1924, and you don’t have to take out your calculators,” Bauer said. “I will be 90 years old in March.”
She told of her father who was the principal of the Jewish Girls School and her mother who was a medical doctor.
“He was very Orthodox and I used to love to work with my hands stringing pearls, knitting and crocheting,” she said. “When it came to Friday night, my father would say I had to stop because it’s the Sabbath. I could never understand why I had to stop something that gave me so much pleasure.”
She connected in a humorous way with the younger generation when she noted her maiden name was Jonas.
“But I’m not related to the Jonas Brothers,” she said getting a hardy laugh from the audience.
She recalled that once Hitler came to power, everything changed.
“Jewish children were not allowed to go to public schools anymore. Public servants were not allowed to work anymore. Jewish doctors were not allowed to practice anymore,” Bauer said.
The world she related was one in which even the simple joys in life were forbidden.
“Hamburg is a beautiful city. I was going to the park one morning and there was a sign: ‘Jews are not allowed to enter,’” she said. “I had been going to the park since I was a little girl.”
The family was moved to a ghetto in Czechoslovakia where her father was made to do physical labor after being told not to worry and he would regain his school again.
“The next day he had to shovel coal, and he was not a physically trained man,” Bauer said. “He died after six weeks of meningitis. I’ve always said he died of a broken heart.”
Bauer met a young man who was given the orders to go to Dresden (Germany) to help build a new ghetto. They then decided to get married and he left only three days later.
She was told after a few weeks she could go and visit her husband.
“My mother said ‘Don’t go. Don’t go, stay here,’” Bauer recalled. “I said I do what my insides tell me. I went.”
She got on the train and “saw Polish names going by.”
“I knew we weren’t going to Dresden, but to Auschwitz,” she said.
The train was going to Auschwitz, the most horrific of all the German concentration camps.
“It was the worst of the worst of all camps, and difficult to explain in a couple of words,” she said. “I only found out years later, my husband was killed there,” she said.
When she arrived, it was Josef Mengele who told her whether to go right or left.
Mengele was the notorious Nazi physician who decided who of the victims would live, die or be used in medical experiments.
Bauer’s mother eventually was brought there and killed.
“One night there were trucks driving people to the gas chambers and we could hear them yelling and screaming,” Bauer said. “I can hear it today. And I will never forget the smell of the burning flesh.”
Bauer was eventually libertated and made her way to New York.
She takes great pleasure in telling one particular story as to how she, in some respects, put the screws to the Nazis.
“The only act of sabotage I was able to do when I was working was to make the rivets either too short or too long,” Bauer said. “I always said that no plane I ever built could fly.”