Esther Bejarano is dead. The dismay was great – even at the head of the state. Economics Minister Peter Altmaier (CDU) paid tribute to the “memory work” of the Holocaust survivors. Foreign Minister Heiko Maas (SPD) called her an “important voice in the fight against racism and anti-Semitism”. And for Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier (SPD) Bejarano’s death was a “great loss”.
The condolences sounded honest. And at the same time strange, if you consider how anti-fascists like Bejarano were and are dealt with in this country. For example with the association of those persecuted by the Nazi regime – Association of Antifascists (VVN-BdA), of which Bejarano was honorary chairman. In 2019, the non-profit association, founded by survivors and resistance fighters, was revoked. Bejarano fought against it, she wrote a letter to Finance Minister Olaf Scholz: “The house is on fire – and you lock out the fire brigade!” Even if the VVN-BdA has recently been considered non-profit again: It remains a scandal that Bejarano is at the end of her life also had to fight this fight.
The incident confirmed Bejarano’s repeated warnings that one should not rely on the state when it comes to anti-fascism. This became clear to her at the latest by the late 1970s, when an NPD stand was set up near her boutique in Hamburg. The police came – and did not act against the Nazis, but against protesting counter-demonstrators. Since then, Bejarano has been involved with the VVN-BdA. She later co-founded the Auschwitz Committee and organized demos against racism and fascism. But she also protested against the policies of Israel, where she had lived from the end of the war until 1960.
She was not intimidated when the police attacked her for several minutes with a water cannon during a demonstration in 2004 where she was sitting in the loudspeaker van. And she spoke at the large demonstration against the G20 summit in Hamburg. There was little to be read about the activist Bejarano in the official condolences.
Not even that she was a staunch communist who kept getting into trouble with those who claim to protect the constitution. Since it was founded in 1947, the VVN-BdA has been observed by the Office for the Protection of the Constitution as a “left-wing extremist organization”. Just like the German Communist Party (DKP), of which Bejarano was a member for decades.
Not only that: Esther Bejarano herself was suspected of the protection of the constitution. In 2012, an appeal was mentioned in a paper commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Baden-Württemberg Office for the Protection of the Constitution, which she had written together with Peter Gingold at the end of the 1990s. In it, the following generations are called upon to stand up for a “permanent, anti-fascist, humane, liberal community”. Apparently suspect for the protection of the constitution. Not only that: The fact that Bejarano was an Auschwitz survivor is put in quotation marks.
Anyone who dares not only to report on the atrocities of the Nazis, but also to name continuities between the NS and the FRG, who consistently fights for peace and against inequality of all kinds, can be targeted, even as Holocaust survivors. Bejarano is right: you can’t rely on the state when it comes to anti-fascism.