Noemi Ban: hope in the midst of hatred

by Mark Botzong

Horizon Reporter

It is a rare thing to hear someone talk about the Holocaust when they have actually experienced it. On January 26, Noemi Ban spoke at Whatcom Community College about her experiences during World War II–specifically about her time at the Auschwitz concentration camp.

Ban had three reasons to talk about the Holocaust. The first was to help show what happens when bigotry and hate go uncontrolled. Second, over the past couple of years, Ban has heard various people say the Holocaust didn’t happen. Third, she feels she is honoring the family she lost at Auschwitz.

Ban was born in Budapest, Hungary, in 1922. In 1944, her family had to buy stars to wear on their clothes by Nazi orders. They lived in a ghetto with several other families living in their home. “We became prisoners in our own home,” she said.

The next order required all men age 18 to 55 to report to labor camps. Ban’s father fell into the age bracket so he left the family, causing much distress especially to her mother. Then, everyone was ordered to pack a small bag with one change of underwear.

After marching through the city, Ban recalls climbing up a ladder, looking back, and having a soldier stab her in the back with a bayonet. She and her family hoped that things would get better. “Human beings should have hope,” she said.

They were then put into small cattle cars. There were buckets at the ends used for “sanitary purposes.” After a horrible several days of riding in the cattle cars, they reached a sign that said “Auschwitz,” which didn’t mean anything to them at the time.

When they got out of the cars, a soldier with a horse whip separated them into two groups. As a result, Ban got separated from her family and never saw them again.

They were ordered to undress. They were shaved and put into showers. Dresses of dead women were handed to them, and many didn’t fit.

The barracks they slept in had a dirt floor.

“Everyone was crying and screaming,” Ban recalled. “There was not one quiet night.”

Every meal was one slice of bread and a cup of coffee. She learned later that the bread she had eaten every day was made partly with sawdust. The women had a bowl of soup that they passed from person to person. Ban and a group of women didn’t want to eat the soup. She learned later that the soup stopped  the women’s menstruation. Some of her friends couldn’t have children after they were freed, but Ban has children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. She considers herself lucky.

After four months, they were transferred to the Buchenwald concentration camp to make bombs for the Nazis. For seven months, the group that she was with decided to intentionally make faulty bombs without the guards noticing. She later spoke to an American veteran who saw that when he was fighting, some of the bombs being dropped by the Germans didn’t explode.

After being rescued by American soldiers, Ban met up with her father, who had survived.

Ban still feels thankful for water, because she had none for several months while in Auschwitz. She had a full glass with her on stage.

Ban often has been asked if she hates the people who did horrible things to her and her family. “Hate is killing,” she said. She added that she would never really be free if she hated them.

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