Wednesday, February 9, 2011
Noemi Ban, An Inspiration
As my husband and I traveled over snow and ice packed roads Monday evening, I knew I would hear a true life account of one woman’s survival of the holocaust. I didn’t know that my braving the elements would result in feeling a genuine contentment of love from a small eighty-eight-year-old woman from Bellingham, Washington.
At the age of twenty-one, the German army marched on Noemi’s home country of Hungry. She told a story filled with fear. The family had their father taken from them to where they had no idea. The rest of them were forced into a ghetto in Budapest. After a short time, many of them marched across the city to stay in a factory until the trains were ready. With only a small box filled with a pillow, one towel, one pair of undergarments, and dried food each, they entered the crowded cattle cars with only two buckets for about eighty-five people per car for sanitary purposes. They traveled for eight days during the month of June in extremely hot conditions. Auschwitz greeted them at the end of their destiny. Noemi at this point was separated from her mother, sister, brother, and grandmother. They went to the gas chamber while she went to the barracks. Months later, Noemi went to an ammunitions factory in Germany to make bombs. The women quietly revolted by sabotaging the bombs so they didn’t explode. As the allies moved into Germany, they were forced to march across the country. Noemi and eleven other young women escaped. Relief filled them when they were discovered by an American soldier and taken to safety. Noemi later found her father. She married and lived in Hungry until the revolution. Once again she found herself in the clutches of a dictator. She, her husband, her six-year-old son, and her eight-year-old son hid in huge balls of yarn on a truck that took them across the border. They made their way from there to the United States.
Of course, this is a completely condensed version of her story. The details she added brought tears to my eyes many times that evening. Noemi mourned for her mother having to die watching her own mother, daughter, and son dying with her. Yet, I was astonished by the humor she wove into the story. While crossing past the border into Austria in deep snow, she didn’t have Julie Andrews to sing for her. Not being a witty person, I marveled at the lightness of her heart she obtains to be able to help us laugh to try to keep our hearts light as well.
Two stories struck me about how four women in her life chose a journey to holiness. 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.
In Germany, Noemi and the women arrived in terrible condition from lack of nourishment and water. They were mere skeletons. 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. I sat in humble silence listening to these two stories of holy acts that could have easily led to martyrdom.
The message Noemi most wanted to leave us with dealt with hate and love. In answering a question at the being of her tours to tell her story, she responded, “No, I don’t [hate]. Hate kills everyone. It makes you a prisoner.” If she were to hate, Hitler would win. What a testimony. She also told all of us that she loved us. We came to help her remember her family that died. When she said she loved us/me, I felt the loving arms of a grandmother wrapped around me. The love could be felt in the entire room.
Blessings to you all.