The banknote that changed her life. It was the summer of 1944, July in fact, when the Germans came for fourteen-year-old Lily Ebert and her family.
She was taken from her hometown of Bonyhad in Hungary and herded onto a train bound for Auschwitz. Along with her mother, brother and three sisters she endured the long hot journey crammed into a cattle truck.
When she arrived at the camp, she remembers that ‘everyone was half-dead’ from the privations of the trip. When Lily Ebert left the train, she and her family came face to face with Nazi Dr Mengele who was to become known as the notorious Angel of Death for his appalling treatment of inmates at the camp.
Lily and two of her sisters, Renee and Piri were sent to the camp while her mother Nina, sister Berta and brother Bela were sent directly to the gas chambers.
After four months in Auschwitz Lily and her sisters were transferred to Leipzig where they were put to work in a munitions factory.
The US 69th Infantry Division arrived in Leipzig in April 1945 liberating the women from the forced labour camp at Leipzig-Thekla on the 19th.
The SS had torched the men’s prison barracks the day before, killing hundreds, but were routed before they could carry out a similar atrocity at the women’s prison.
Shortly after being freed Lily met a Jewish American soldier who gave her an Alliierte Militärbehördeten (Allied military authorities’) ten mark note and wrote on it a short message that read ‘A start to a new life. Good luck and happiness’.
Rather than spend the money Lily held on to it as a souvenir and a reminder of the kindness of strangers after her terrible ordeal.
Lily Ebert and her sisters travelled to Switzerland to restart their lives after the war. In 1953 she was reunited with a brother, Imre, who had survived the labour camps. Eventually she came to London, England in 1967 along with her husband and three children. The banknote came too.
Mrs Ebert is now ninety years old and still lives in Brent Cross, north London, where her great grandson, sixteen-year-old Dov Forman recently posted photographs of the banknote on social media.
The message of hope was signed, ‘Assistant to Chaplain Schachter,’ and Dov wanted to know more about who this person was.
Incredibly, within 24 hours he had his answer. The social media post had been ‘liked’ more than 15,000 times and shared by another 2,000 people, leading to the positive identification of Private Hyman Schulman of Brooklyn, New York. The chaplain he assisted was Rabbi Herschel Schacter.
Schacter had been the first Rabbi to enter the camps at Buchenwald following their liberation and was a driving force for the relocation and settlement of Holocaust survivors, one of whom was the Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel.
Sadly, Hyman Schulman died in 2013 at 91, too late for a reunion, however, Dov was able to arrange an online video meeting for his great-grandmother and Schulman’s wider family.
Lily was able to express her gratitude across the years, as well as the North Atlantic, for the first kind words she had heard since her imprisonment and forced labour.
The post showed three photographs. One black and white image from the time of Mrs Ebert’s liberation, standing with Hyman Schulman in his GI uniform, and two more of the banknote showing the message of hope written in neat handwriting in English along one side.
Dr Mengele fled the scene and managed to escape to Argentina where he is said to have lived for many years after the War.
Despite attempts to extradite him by the governments of West Germany and Israel, supported by Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal, Mengele eventually suffered a stroke and drowned while swimming off the coast of Bertioga in Brazil in 1979.