A Survivor Does Hip Hop

By Nathan Burstein

Published February 03, 2010, issue of February 12, 2010.
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An 85-year-old survivor of Auschwitz has adapted the sound of gangsta rappers and dance clubs.

Esther Bejarano, one of the last living members of the Girls’ Orchestra of Auschwitz, has become an unlikely hip-hop artist in recent years, spreading a message of anti-racism across Germany.

A pianist in her childhood who was sent to Auschwitz at 18, Bejarano spent much of January touring Germany, where the octogenarian combined hip-hop beats with a long-standing commitment to education about the genocide.

The daughter of a German-Jewish cantor from Saarbruecken, Bejarano released her debut hip-hop album last year with Microphone Mafia, a Cologne-based rap duo concerned about German xenophobia and antisemitism. “I know this hip-hop stuff is popular among the youth,” Bejarano told the German magazine Der Spiegel. “I thought if we worked together, then young people could learn more about what happened [during the Holocaust].”

The latest album, “Per la Vita” (“For Life”) is rife with rhymes created by Microphone Mafia and has already achieved success: A single from the CD is currently No. 2 on one of the German pop charts.

Dubbed “Holocaust hip hop” by Der Spiegel, the lyrics are in Italian, Yiddish and Hebrew.

An accordion player for the girls’ orchestra, Bejarano survived the slaughter partly by playing for Jews and other prisoners as they were herded off trains arriving at the death camp. Despite losing her parents and sister in the genocide, Bejarano returned to music after the war, later performing Jewish and anti-fascist songs with Coincidence, a group she formed with her son and daughter.

A regular speaker at German schools, Bejarano plans to continue her foray into hip hop. She and the band have scheduled several concerts in Germany in February, and they plan to begin work on a new album. “We intend to make another CD,” she said. “We have so much to do.”


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