“Honey Girl of Auschwitz” bringing message of resilience

A survivor of Auschwitz who travels the country speaking about resilience, tolerance and forgiveness will be in Louisiana next month.

Esther Basch, known as “The Honey Girl of Auschwitz,” says that while she can’t forget what happened to her, she can forgive, because holding a grudge only damages herself.

Basch will speak at the Jefferson Performing Arts Center in Metairie on Sept. 11 at 7 p.m., through Chabad in Metairie.

She will also speak at the BREC Jefferson Highway Park ballroom on Sept. 12 at 6 p.m., through Chabad of Baton Rouge.

Basch was an only child, the daughter of a rabbi in Czechoslovakia, though the town where she grew up was in Hungary when her mother was born — and is now Vinograd, Ukraine.

In 1944, the Germans arrived and forced her family to move to a small area, a Jewish ghetto, where they were starved. Six weeks later, she was forced onto a cattle car to Auschwitz, arriving there on her 16th birthday. By the time she arrived, half of the people in her cattle car were already dead from the five-day journey.

She was selected in one direction, her parents in another — and she never saw them again. She crossed paths with Josef Mengele a few times but was never selected for his medical experiments, instead she was forced to work at an ammunition factory.

In April 1945, she was part of a death march to the Salzwedel concentration camp, where she was liberated by American soldiers three days after arrival.

She received the nickname “honey girl” during liberation. In a nearby town she was offered some honey, but the sudden rush of sugar after a year of starvation was a shock to her system, putting her in the hospital.

She was sent to Prague and Budapest, with the goal being to go to Palestine, led by a 21-year-old named Joe. But they wound up in a displaced persons camp in Germany for six months, where she and Joe married. They eventually went to France to board a ship to Palestine, but were caught in the British blockade and detained in Cyprus.

In late 1946 they were admitted to Palestine, and Joe fought in the War of Independence. They soon moved to Canada, then Brooklyn, having four children.

In 2007, daughter Rachel tracked down Max Lieber, one of Basch’s liberators, who traveled to Phoenix from New Mexico for a reunion. That reunion inspired her to tell her story.

A documentary, “Honey Girl: A Journey of Forgiveness” Is in the works.

In addition to her Louisiana appearances, she was scheduled to speak on Aug. 21 at Chabad in Atlanta, and at the FoCAL Center in Cumming, Ga., on Aug. 23.

In Metairie, tickets are $15 through Sept. 6, higher after. Preferred seating is $32, and student tickets have been subsidized to $5. VIP sponsors are $180 for one person, $250 for a couple, and includes preferred seating and a 6 p.m. meet and greet.

Tickets for Baton Rouge are $20 before Aug. 20, $28 after. Student tickets are $15. Preferred seating is $35. VIP sponsorships are $180, which includes two tickets and a 5 p.m. meet and greet with Basch.