Auschwitz watchtower
Auschwitz watchtower iStock

Esther Bejarano, a survivor of Auschwitz who played in the death camp’s orchestra and later went on to become an activist against anti-Semitism and racism in Germany, has died at 96.

She passed away early Saturday at the Jewish Hospital in Hamburg, German news agency DPA reported.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas called Bejarano “an important voice in the fight against racism and anti-Semitism.”

Bejarano was born in 1924 in French-occupied Saarlouis. Her father was cantor Rudolf Loewy. Her family moved to Saarbruecken where she had a musical upbringing until the Nazis took over the city in 1935 when it was returned to Germany.

Her parents and sister Ruth were murdered by the Nazis, while she was sent to perform forced labor before finding herself at Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1943.

At the death camp, she became a member of the girls’ orchestra where she played the accordion whenever trains of Jews from all over Europe arrived.

In 2010, she told the Associated Press, "We played with tears in our eyes. The new arrivals came in waving and applauding us, but we knew they would be taken directly to the gas chambers."

After surviving Auschwitz and the Ravensbrueck concentration camp, Bejarano eventually emigrated to Israel where she married Nissim Bejarano. They had two children before going back to Germany in 1960.

In Germany, Bejarano decided to become a campaigner against anti-Semitism and racism after experiencing renewed anti-Semitism. She founded the Auschwitz Committee in 1986 so survivors would have an outlet to share their stories.

She also used music to fight discrimination, teaming up with other like-minded musicians.

She was the recipient of many awards, including the German Order of Merit.