Holocaust survivor Lily Ebert faced the worst humanity could throw at her when she was taken from her home in Hungary and transported to Auschwitz. When she and other survivors were liberated in 1945, she experienced the hope and encouragement small acts of kindness can instil upon someone.
Transport to Auschwitz
Lily Ebert was born on December 29, 1923 in Bonyhád, Hungary. In the early months of 1944, the Nazis invaded the town and began to enact the antisemitic policies being experienced by Jewish individuals across Europe. What began as curfews and wearing yellow stars soon resulted in Ebert and her family being moved to a ghetto.
In May 1944, Ebert’s family was put on a train to Pécs and sent to a transit camp. Three months later, she, her mother, her brother and her three sisters were put into cattle cars and forced to endure the long trip to Auschwitz. Upon arrival, the occupants of the transport were lined up in front of SS officer Josef Mengele. Ebert and two of her sisters were chosen to work in the camp, while her mother, brother and other sister were sent to the crematorium.
Ebert and her sisters were imprisoned at Auschwitz for four months. Unbeknownst to the guards, she kept in her possession a gold pendant her mother had given to her when she was a young child. It remained hidden in the heel of her shoe until it wore down, after which she hid it in her bread rations. It’s a pendant she still wears to this day.
Liberation at Leipzig
Four months after arriving at Auschwitz, the three sisters were transferred to the Altenburg work camp near Leipzig, where they worked in an ammunition factory. Months later, in April 1945, the Allies were continuing to chip away at German strongholds across Eastern Europe, forcing the Nazis to resort to even more extreme and dehumanizing measures.
Ebert and her sisters were liberated while on a death march near Pfaffroda, five kilometers from the Czech border. For weeks, they and other survivors were taken care of by American soldiers, before being billeted by a German family. They were then transferred to Buchenwald, which had been turned into a place to accommodate Jewish survivors.
An small act of kindness
While at Buchenwald, the Ebert sisters learnt the Swiss government was offering shelter to hundreds of Jewish children. Despite being young adults, the three were given permission by a Swiss Red Cross nurse to relocate to the country. According to Ebert, this was likely due to their malnourishment, which made them look younger than they were.
As they were getting ready to depart, a Rabbi’s assistant approached Ebert. The young American GI from New York bid Ebert farewell, for which she thanked him. It was then he did something she would never forget: he took out an Alliierte Militärbehörde 10-mark note from his pocket.
He’d intended to pull out a spare sheet of paper, but instead grabbed the military currency. On it, he wrote the following words: “A start to a new life. Good luck and happiness.” He then signed it “Assistant to Chaplain Schacter,” and attempted to write out his name in Hebrew.
He handed it to her and they parted ways. Ebert vowed to keep the banknote forever, to ensure she never forgot the GI.
Mission to identify the unknown GI
In 2020, Ebert’s great-grandson, Dov Forman, found the banknote in her family photo album. Not long after, he set to work tracking down the soldier who gave his great-grandmother hope all those years ago.
On July 5, 2020, he tweeted out a message, informing his followers of the banknote. The tweet was shared by the Auschwitz Memorial Museum and quickly went viral. Just eight hours later, Forman was sent a message, which contained an image of a young man in uniform. It read, “The assistant to Rabbi Schacter.”
Yesterday my great Grandma (Lily Ebert – an Auschwitz survivor) showed me this bank note- given to her as a gift by a soldier who liberated her. Inscribed, it says “a start to a new life. Good luck and happiness”. Later on, she met up with those who freed her (third photo). pic.twitter.com/LAx2ZGFCnH
— Dov Forman (@DovForman) July 5, 2020
After translating the Hebrew on the banknote – “Hi Yom Shul Man” – and comparing the handwriting, a positive identification was made. The GI’s name was Private Hyman Schulman, who passed away in 2013. While she couldn’t thank him personally, she was able to set up video calls with his living relatives.
Keeping awareness alive
After residing in Switzerland for awhile, Ebert moved to Israel, where she got married and had three children. She moved to London, England in 1967, where she has dedicated her life to speaking about her experiences during World War II. For her efforts, she was awarded the British Empire Medal (BEM) in 2015.
“I promised myself that if I survived by some miracle, I would tell the world what happened there,” she told NBC News in 2020. “The next generation and next generations should know the story, so that something like that should not be repeated to any human being ever.”
Inspired by the efforts of those on social media to locate Hyman Schulman, Ebert allowed her great-grandson to create an account for her on the short-form video platform, TikTok. She uses her videos to answer questions about the Holocaust, and her efforts have since gained her over one million followers.
She has also written a book, titled Lily’s Promise: How I Survived Auschwitz and Found the Strength to Live. Set for release on September 2, 2021 via Pan Macmillan, she tells the story of her childhood, her time at Auschwitz, and her determination to keep herself and her sisters safe.