Esther Bauer returns to UNH
Holocaust survivor delivers harrowing account once again
Esther Bauer spoke before an audience that filled the Granite State Room on Wednesday. Cameron Johnson/Staff
Esther Bauer was nine years old when Adolf Hitler came to power in her homeland of Germany. She survived the butchering of 11 million people by Nazis and on April 9, 2014, she shared her story in the Granite State Room of the Memorial Union Building at the University of New Hampshire.
Despite all the horrors she had seen, Bauer was an energetic speaker. She held the audience in rapt attention while recalling tragic memories, yet could move them to laughter with tales of clandestine meetings between men and women, who were segregated in the camps.
"People would let you have a [private] room for an hour. It wasn't easy, but it was done," Bauer said.
Six hundred students and faculty filled the room to capacity after the doors opened at 6:30 p.m. for the lecture, which began at 7 p.m. About 50 students had arrived almost an hour early to get good seats.
"People were just in awe, no one ... left till it was over, even during the questions," David Zamansky, the assistant director of the Memorial Union Building program and leadership, said. "That's the mark of a great event."
According to Zamansky an additional 130 students attended the event in the Strafford room via live audio and video.
Bauer found the current generation's enthusiasm for her history to be uplifting. "For the first 20 years [after the Holocaust] I could not talk about it. For the next 20 years no one wanted to hear it. I've only been able to discuss it in these past 25 years," Bauer said.
In 1942, Bauer's family was ordered to leave everything behind but one suitcase, and report to the Terezin concentration camp.
During the move, Bauer's father, who was a school principal, was told he would be teaching in a new school, but then was sent to a coal mine instead where he soon died of meningitis.
"I always said he died more of a broken heart than the sickness," Bauer said.
Terezin had a dirty stone floor with no furniture and wooden slats for latrines with "men, women and children all together." There was very little to eat.
Bauer met a young man named Honza, who helped her get office jobs, medical attention and food during her imprisonment.
"I was 18 years old, and I assume not bad looking. I knew [Honza] would come after me [when I first saw him,]" Bauer said.
She married Honza, but three days later he was sent supposedly to build a new ghetto in Dresden. Bauer was given the option to follow him, which she took even though she had to leave her mother.
"To say goodbye to your mother is a terrible thing, but I was excited to see Honza again," Bauer said.
The train she boarded was not headed to Dresden, but Auschwitz.
"Auschwitz was the most horrible place I have ever seen ... like hell," Bauer said.
A girl was shot dead next to Bauer for throwing bread over the fence to prisoners.
"To sit and do nothing and to hear the screaming of ... people in the gas chamber at night was ... horrible ... the smell of Auschwitz ... the burning human flesh ... it was terrible," Bauer said.
"We knew they killed people in the showers ... but we went into the shower and water came."
Bauer was finally liberated by American troops on May 5, 1945, from Mauthausen concentration camp, where she had been moved after Auschwitz.
"It was the happiest day of my life," Bauer said.
About 45 students waited in line to meet Bauer personally after the event.
"Her resilience amazed me," Hannah McQuilkin, a first-year graduate student in the marriage and family therapy program, said. "Her positive outlook, despite these traumatic events, was incredible."
"[I] just thought it was remarkable that she could talk ... smile ... laugh about it," Tyler Schlesinger, a sophomore business major, said.
Bauer lives in Yonkers, N.Y. with her "boy toy" Bill, who attended the event. Bauer likes to go to lectures about current events, science and history in her free time. She wore a necklace she made herself to the event.
She also attends concerts. Her favorites are Mozart, Beethoven and Bach, but, aside from jazz and a few other exceptions, she goes to "nothing written after 1900."
Bauer has made a point of enjoying life every day since her liberation.
"You've got to make sure [something like the Holocaust] never happens again," Bauer said in her final words to the audience, who met the end of the lecture with a standing ovation.
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