Auschwitz survivor, Turkish rapper fight racism

This rap music video is called Microphone Mafia – Bella Ciao.

From Associated Press:

15:56 26/01/2010

Auschwitz survivor and Turkish rapper team up to fight racism

Esther Bejarano credits music with keeping her alive and is now using it to fight racism in Germany

Esther Bejarano says music helped keep her alive as a Jewish prisoner in Auschwitz and in the years that followed.

Now, 65 years after the liberation of the Nazi death camp, the 85-year-old has teamed up with a hip-hop band to spread her anti-racism message to German youth.

“It’s a clash of everything: age, culture, style,” Bejarano, a petite lady with an amiable chuckle, told The Associated Press ahead of Auschwitz Liberation Day on Wednesday. “But we all love music and share a common goal: we’re fighting against racism and discrimination.”

The daughter of a Jewish cantor from Saarbruecken in western Germany, Bejarano grew up in a musical home studying piano until the Nazis came to power and tore her family apart. Bejarano was deported to Auschwitz, where she became a member of the girls’ orchestra, playing the accordion every time trains full of Jews from across Europe arrived at the death camp.

“We played with tears in our eyes,” Bejarano remembered. “The new arrivals came in waving and applauding us, but we knew they would be taken directly to the gas chambers”.

Bejarano survived, but her parents and sister Ruth were killed by the Nazis.

For the past 20 years Bejarano has played music mostly from the past – Yiddish melodies, tunes from the ghetto and Jewish resistance songs – with her children Edna and Yoram in a Hamburg-based band called Coincidence. About two years ago, Kutlu Yurtseven, a Turkish immigrant rapper from the Cologne-based Microphone Mafia, got in touch with the band to see if they’d team up with them.

“Our band wanted to do something against the growing racism and anti-Semitism in Germany,” Yurtseven said in a phone interview Tuesday. “Yoram told me that first of all he had to ask his mother Esther what she thought about a crossover project with a bunch of young rappers”.

Bejarano, it turned out, thought hip-hop music was really a bit too loud, but also said she saw it as a good way to reach out to Germany’s youth.

“We want to keep the memories of the Holocaust alive, but at the same time look into the future and encourage young people to take a stand against new Nazis,” said Bejarano. “I know what racism can lead to and the members of Microphone Mafia are immigrants and have experienced their share of discrimination as well.”

The crossover of modern hip-hop and traditional Jewish folklore turned out to be quite a hit. The rappers have mixed Jewish songs with stomping hip-hop beats and also created new lyrics for some of the songs that are more accessible for a younger audience.

Last summer, the two bands released a CD called Per La Vita and a documentary about the band that was initially scheduled for the Auschwitz liberation anniversary is now supposed to be ready later this year to be shown at high schools across Germany. The CD was released on a small, independent label and it was not clear how many copies were sold.

Currently, the troupe is touring through Germany. Their audiences range from teenage immigrants at metropolitan youth centers to a more established, older crowd that usually favors Bejarano’s classic approach to music.

“They all love it,” said Bejarano. “Even some of the older guests sometimes climb on the chairs and dance.”

Ms Bejarano, after her 1960 return to (then West) Germany, joined the VVN, the Association of People Persecuted by the Nazis. This organization has a history of being attacked by the political Right and often by governments as “communist”.

The trial of the alleged SS guard John Demjanjuk has shed further light on Nazi crimes: here.

Those Germans who were expelled from Eastern Europe following World War II have long sought recognition of their plight. With a museum in sight, however, some associated with the project have been accused of historical revisionism. Germany, says one deputy board member, wasn’t solely responsible for starting the war: here.

18 thoughts on “Auschwitz survivor, Turkish rapper fight racism

  1. 20:26 26/01/2010

    Arab MK’s Auschwitz visit draws fire from Jewish, Arab critics

    By The Associated Press

    An Israeli Arab lawmaker’s plan to attend a Holocaust memorial ceremony at Auschwitz on Wednesday has drawn fierce criticism from both Arabs and some Jews, underscoring the deep divisions between the two sides over the legacy of the Nazi genocide.

    The uproar of Mohammed Barakeh’s visit highlights the deep reluctance among many Arabs to acknowledge the Holocaust for fear of diminishing their own narrative of suffering at Israel’s hands.

    Barakeh has come under criticism from Israeli Arabs who say his visit is inappropriate at a time of heightened Israeli-Palestinian tensions – particularly amid Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip.

    The lawmaker’s visit is a rare Arab commemoration of the Holocaust, a step Israel has long encouraged. But Barakeh also says he intends to condemn Israel’s policies toward Palestinians during the visit to Poland, striking a profoundly sensitive chord. Many Jews say any attempt to equate the Palestinians’ plight to the genocide is offensive.

    Barakeh is a member of an Israeli delegation, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, attending a ceremony Wednesday marking the 65th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz and Birkenau camps in Nazi-occupied Poland. More than 1 million of the 6 million Jews killed by the Nazis and their collaborators during World War II died at the two camps.

    Barakeh frequently calls on his Arab brethren to recognize the Holocaust and understand its importance to Jews. Still, he is also deeply critical of Israel.

    “The Jews, who are the victims of the Nazis, are now practicing oppression against the Palestinians,” Barakeh told The Associated Press. “I want to tell them: You must learn the real lesson, you must fight oppression and repression in all places and times.”

    Israel’s Arabs minority has an often tense relationship with the Jewish majority. Arabs make up about one-fifth of Israel’s 7 million citizens, and there are 13 Arab legislators in the 120-seat parliament.

    Despite holding citizenship, Israeli Arabs face widespread discrimination and identify strongly with their Palestinian brethren in the neighboring West Bank and Gaza Strip.

    The conflict over the Holocaust dates back to the founding of Israel in 1948.

    About 200,000 Holocaust survivors live in Israel among hundreds of thousands of their children and grandchildren. Israel provided a new home for the survivors and a measure of insurance that no future attempt to wipe out the Jewish people would succeed.

    But in the war surrounding Israel’s creation, about 700,000 Palestinians fled or were driven from their homes, leading to a widespread feeling that they were forced to pay the price of the Nazis’ persecution of the Jews in Europe.

    That perception makes many Arabs in Israel and the territories hesitate to acknowledge the genocide, fearing it gives justification for their own suffering.

    Palestinian officials in the West Bank shut down a children’s orchestra and banished its conductor in March after they performed for elderly Holocaust survivors. In August, Palestinian officials in Gaza angrily reacted against UN officials who suggested including information about the Holocaust at their schools.

    Views toward the Holocaust among Palestinians – and around the Arab world – range from outright denial to diminishing the full extent of the genocide.

    Two right-wing Israeli Jewish parliamentarians have demanded Barakeh withdraw from the trip.

    “I am sure he will use this visit to attack Israel,” said Likud MK Danny Danon. “The fact that he is making (an) analogy between the Jewish Holocaust and the Palestinians is outrageous.”

    Amnon Beeri-Sulitzeanu – co-director of the Abraham Fund, a Jewish-Arab organization that tries to promote coexistence – acknowledges the sensitivities over drawing parallels.

    But, he says he hopes the visit will “encourage Jewish leaders in Israel … to at least understand and learn more about Palestinian history. Obviously there is no comparison or parallel, but I believe it’s an important step to trust building between Jews and Arabs in Israel.”

    Few, if any, prominent Arabs from Mideast nations have made publicized visits to Auschwitz – but Israel’s Arab community is an exception. Two other Arab-Israeli lawmakers previously visited the camp in an effort to build bridges, as did a group of about 100 Arab-Israeli writers and clerics in 2003.

    Barakeh is the most prominent public figure yet to do so. He comes from a family forced to flee their village during the 1948 Mideast war, and his parliament speeches often sharply criticize Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. He belongs to Hadash, Israel’s communist party, which traditionally gathers both Arab and Jewish voters.

    For the past two weeks, Barakeh’s visit has prompted unusually heated debate in the Arab-Israeli press.

    His detractors argue that Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip, which is meant to punish Gaza’s Hamas rulers but has created severe hardships for its 1.5 million residents, make his visit inappropriate.

    “There’s a contradiction in morality between continuing the siege on Gaza and this visit. The Knesset members going to Auschwitz are the ones who demand this siege continue,” said Abdel-Hakim Mufid of the radical Northern Islamic Movement.

    Prominent Arab writer Zuhair Andraous called it “a slap in the face.”
    Adding to anger is that members of Netanyahu’s coalition have tried – so far unsuccessfully – to criminalize commemorations of the “nakba” that Arabs hold every year to mourn the consequences of their defeat in 1948 war.

    “We cannot participate in an Israeli formal delegation that includes right-wing legislators who are trying to pass laws preventing us from commemorating our own catastrophe,” Andraous said.


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