Holocaust survivor Esther Bauer speaking at JCC today

Holocaust survivor Esther M. Bauer.

A woman who survived time in the most notorious concentration camp during the Holocaust will give a talk as part of Jefferson Community College’s “It’s a Beautiful Week” dedicated to mental health.

Esther M. Bauer, 88, will speak at 7:30 p.m. today in the Sturtz Theater about her personal memories of Auschwitz and the impact of the mass genocide on her life, and to warn that history can repeat itself.

“Without thinking, I say yes,” it can happen again, she said from her home in Yonkers during a phone interview. “Look at what’s happening in Africa and in the Middle East. They’re all terrible situations. People kill people.”

Mrs. Bauer was 18 when she and her family were taken by Nazis from their home in Hamburg, Germany, to Theresienstadt, a transit ghetto in Czechoslovakia that she called “death row.”

After marrying a fellow prisoner there, her new husband was transferred to what the Nazis told her was another transit ghetto. However, when she volunteered to transfer to where he was being held, she was taken to Auschwitz — where she found out her husband had been killed.

She also lost her mother, who had been a nurse, and father, who had worked as a girl’s-school principal in Hamburg, before she finally was liberated by American troops at Mauthausen in Austria.

Despite her trauma and tremendous loss, Mrs. Bauer was able to move on, get married again and have a son. She now has two grandchildren.

She’s made friends with other Holocaust survivors, but said they never talk about that part of their lives when they meet.

“We want to forget,” she said. “I was once told by a psychiatrist in New York that I live in a shell and I don’t let things get to me. The first 20 years, I couldn’t talk about it. The next 20 years, no one wanted to hear about it.”

It was in the late 1990s when she finally was ready to speak in public about her experience.

Although she moved to the U.S. in 1946 because she felt a loyalty to the country that freed her and to escape the memories of the Holocaust, Mrs. Bauer has returned to Germany several times to speak about her experience.

“Time heals,” she said. “Of course, I will never forget and I will never forgive, but I am happy now.”

Thomas D. Wojcikowski, assistant director of student activities and cultural affairs, said the college had another Holocaust speaker give a presentation about four years ago. He said Mrs. Bauer’s message is important for the community to hear.

“She’s got a thrill for life,” he said. “No matter what you go through, you just have to keep on going forward.”

-Reena Singh, Watertown Daily Times staff writer