Two Auschwitz survivors pass away within a week of each other
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Two Auschwitz survivors pass away within a week of each other

Esther Bejarano survived by pretending to play the accordion while David Mermelstein overcame a lifelong reluctance to speak about the atrocities

Tributes have been paid in Europe and the United States to Esther Bejarano and David Mermelstein, survivors of Auschwitz who died last week within days of each other.

Bejarano, who was 96, passed away on Saturday in a Jewish hospital in the German city of Hamburg.

She lost both her parents and her sister at the hands of the Nazis in 1943.

Mermelstein, who was 92 and based in the Miami area since the 1950s, became known for his efforts to help other Holocaust survivors get restitution.

He was born in Czechoslovakia and was deported with his family to the death camp in 1944. He was the only survivor.

Bejarano was just 18 when she was sent to Auschwitz and survived by pretending to play the accordion and joining the Auschwitz Girls’ Orchestra.

She was eventually transferred to the Ravensbrück concentration camp for women, from which she managed to escape before the Soviet forces arrived.

She later emigrated to Israel but returned to Germany 15 years later with her husband and children.

A resident of Hamburg, she was president and co-founder of the International Committee of Auschwitz and has made it her lifelong mission for the world not to forget the atrocities of the Holocaust.

Bejarano also toured as a musician in later life.

She said she had hope that today’s young people will carry on the message of her generation of survivors.

Mermelstein overcame a reluctance to speak about the Holocaust to make communication his forte.

He often spoke to schoolchildren about the Second World War and testified before Congress to extract what he believed to be more equitable restitution for survivors.

“In the 1950s, soon after we moved to Miami,” Mermelstein said of himself and his wife, Irene.

“We became part of a group of survivors called the New American Jewish Club.

“We started the group because it was very difficult for survivors, especially in the early years, to make close friendships and socialise with others who didn’t live through what we did.

“So we found and spent our time with each other.”

He also became an outspoken advocate for restitution, and Dubbin helped lead the successful legal battle to force the US government to pay $25 million in 2005 in restitution for a train full of Hungarian Jewish property looted by the Nazis in 1945 and confiscated by American troops.

The US government had made no effort to return the loot to its owners.

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