I heard Noemi Ban speak about her Holocaust experience tonight in Bellingham, WA where she resides.
Tonight marks the 74th anniversary of the Krystallnacht, the night when about 1400 synagogues and prayer rooms were burned or destroyed. Thousands of windows in apartments, offices, stores, schools, and institutions owned by Jews were shattered. More than 30,000 Jewish men were rounded up and placed in concentration camps, over 300 Jews were murdered, and countless more were wounded. One report mentioned that there were 680 cases of suicide among German Jews in the aftermath of the Krystallnacht.
Noemi is 90 years old. She was 21 going on 22 when the Holocaust occurred. She was born in Hungary. She lost her mother, grandmother, sister and brother to the horrors of the death camps.
Noemi said that in years the Holocaust happened a long time ago, but in terms of history it happened like it was yesterday. Noemi told her story from start to finnish. In 1944 the Nazi’s occupied Hungary. The first law was that all Jewish people had to wear yellow stars. She said that all Jews had to spend their own money to buy a yellow star to stitch onto their clothing. She said that she felt embarrassed when wearing the star. Then there was an order for Jews ages 18-55 years old to pack their bags to leave for a labor camp the next morning. They were told that they couldn’t bring valuables. 85 people were crammed into 1 cattle car. There were 2 empty buckets with no lids for people to relieve themselves. Noemi said that if she closes her eyes she can still smell the stench. There was no ventilation and it was the middle of the summer. They traveled for eight days. They were so relieved when the door finally opened and fresh air came into the car. They were told to leave their bags, or packages as Noemi calls them in the car.
Once off the cattle car, they were divided. She was separated from her mother and 6 month old baby brother. That was the last time she saw them. She found out later that her mother, grandmother, sister and brother died that night or the next morning in the gas chambers. Noemi was now in Auschwitz and would be there for four months. They were told to undress and that they could only keep their shoes. Their heads were shaved. “My hair looked like my palm.” They were next given dresses to wear from those who were already dead. It didn’t matter what size you got. There were no exchanges. They were then taken to the barracks, which had a dirt floor and was very cramped. For breakfast and dinner they had 1 cup of coffee and a slice of bread. She found out later that an ingredient in the bread was saw dust. For lunch they had soup. She said that it smelled horrible and that she didn’t eat it the first time. One guard said, “You don’t have the right to say no. If you say no, we kill you.” She decided to eat the soup every day after that in order to survive. Noemi found out later that there was medicine in the soup to stop the women’s periods. She knows of women who couldn’t have babies after the war due to this medicine. However, it did not affect her. She has two sons. Noemi never had a drop of water when she was at the camp. Since they didn’t have water they would sometimes wash their faces with coffee. While in Auschwitz, she saw people pass out from lack of nourishment. These people would be loaded onto a truck and put to death. Noemi became very sick. While standing in formation with hundreds of other people, she fainted and remained unconscious for three hours. The soldiers never saw because the woman behind her, the one on her left, and the one on her right held her up in a standing position for the entire three hours. If a guard would have noticed, Noemi would not have been the only one to die that day. Later she met one of the women in Hungry after the war. They celebrated life.
Noemi was then transferred to Buchenwald to work at a bomb factory. The women quietly revolted by sabotaging the bombs so they didn’t explode. The women were malnourished. One day, one of the women discovered a bucket of potato skins outside the kitchen that looked like it had been forgotten. They feasted. Years later at a conference, Noemi started talking to the woman sitting next to her and they shared their stories. The other woman, a Jewish prisoner in Germany, worked in the Nazi kitchen where Noemi stayed. She left the skins out to help nourish the women. If discovered, she would have been put to death.
On April 15, 1945, the campmates of Buchenwald were forced to march to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. On the way, Ban and eleven of her campmates escaped and were discovered by the U.S. Army, who had just liberated the Bergen-Belsen camp. Ban returned to Budapest, Hungary in September 1945, where she reunited with her father, Samu. Noemi got married, became a teacher, and had two sons. The family came to the United States in 1957.
She has not been able to forgive the Nazi’s.
“I love life. I don’t hate. Hate is wrong. If I had hate I would not be free. I would be a prisoner of my own hate. I want to be free and I am. Killing is not a hero.” These are the words she kept repeating throughout her speech. She said that she feels like the luckiest person in the world.
*Information from The Northwest Center for Holocaust, Genocide and Ethnocide Education, Noemi Ban, Wikipedia, and http://ajourneytoholiness.blogspot.com