Northwest Center for Holocaust, Genocide and Ethnocide Education
- VTV Interview with Noémi Ban
- Noémi's Lecture Schedule
- Entertainment Weekly NW's Nov. 2008 review of Noémi's presentation at WWU
- Noémi's 2004 Excellence in Holocaust Education award
On April 28, 2003, Western Washington University recognized Holocaust survivors Noémi Ban, Magda Dorman, and Fred Fragner for their contributions to education. Kunle Ojikutu, Special Assistant to the President for Diversity, presented Mrs. Ban with a plaque which read:
For her willingness to bear witness to the unfathomable events of the Holocaust, her dedication to the pursuit of truth, her contributions to dissemination of knowledge, and her service to our academic community.
Noémi Shoënberger Ban is an award winning teacher and public speaker, respected and beloved mother, grandmother and synagogue senior who has lived in Bellingham since 1982. A native of Szeged, Hungary, Noémi Ban was 21 when the Nazis marched into Debrecen, Hungary on March 19, 1944. Ultimately her father was sent to a forced labor camp and she and her family (grandmother- Nina, Mother- Juliska, sister- Erzsebet, and baby brother- Gabor) were sent on a transport to Auschwitz arriving on July 1, 1944. Immediately separated from her family (where they became victims of the Nazi genocide) Noémi spent nearly four months in Auschwitz before being picked by Dr. Joseph Mengele to be transferred to a sub-camp of Buchenwald to work at a bomb factory. Escaping during the forced march to Bergen Belsen in April of 1945, Noémi and eleven of her campmates were found by a soldier from Patton’s army who informed them of their freedom. Finally arriving in Budapest in September of 1945, Noémi reunited with her father who also survived. Noémi was marred to Earnest Ban in October and they settled in Budapest where Earnest was a teacher.
The Soviets came into power in 1948. While living under Communist rule and control, Noémi herself became a seventh and eighth grade teacher. Reaching the point were she could no longer live under the dictates of the Communist regime Noémi, her husband, and two sons tried to escape via train to Austria. Thwarted at the border Noémi did not give up or give in. With a friend’s help she and her family, less than a month after the first attempt, finally made it to freedom in Austria by hiding in giant balls of yarn being shipped by truck from Budapest to Sopron on December 29, 1956.
Noémi and her family arrived in the United States in February of 1957 and were relocated to St .Louis, Missouri. Both she and Earnest went back to school to learn English and then pursued American college degree-Earnest teaching math, Noémi becoming a sixth grade teacher. Upon Earnest’s retirement (he was ten years older than Noémi) they came to Bellingham, Washington to be close to their son, Steven, a pediatrician. Earnest developed Alzheimer’s and passed away in 1994.
Shortly thereafter Noémi began to speak publicly about her Holocaust experience and now speaks throughout Washington state as well as traveling nationally and internationally- on her most recent trip back to Hungary she gave her talk, in Hungarian, in Debrecen where she had been taken in 1944. Noémi received an honorary Doctorate of Law in 1999 from Gonzaga University.
In the summer of 2006 Noémi returned to Hungary and Poland with 30 Washington State teachers to share with them, firsthand, her story of survival. In May of 2007 she was able to return to Poland and Hungary with her youngest son, George. Now both sons have shared with their mother by seeing first-hand where she had been imprisoned.
Noémi is also the author of Sharing is Healing written with Dr. Ray Wolpow. Autobiographical, the short book covers her camp experiences. Noémi was recently featured on Evening Magazine, a Seattle television program.
Copies of her book, Sharing is Healing, are available through her website, http://SharingIsHealing.com.
(Click here, on the image above, to view Noemi's family tree)
There is a quaint myth that I was raised with. It’s called journalistic objectivity. It is a myth because journalists are human beings and incapable of objectivity unless they have lost touch with what makes them human. In an age when objective journalism is a laughable oxymoron, it comforts me to know that I don’t have to pretend to pay homage to that standard. Trying to do so after hearing a talk by Holocaust survivor Noémi Ban would be an exercise in futility and a waste of words.
The immensely talented German filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl is best remembered for what has been cited as the greatest propaganda film of all time, The Triumph of the Will. The cosmic irony is that the real triumph of the will is demonstrated by survivors of the Holocaust Riefenstahl helped create. Noémi Ban exemplifies that triumph. The triumph of love over hate.
Tonight, she brought that triumph home to a standing-room-only audience at Western Washington University. I cannot begin to imagine the strength it takes for one who has survived such horrors to refuse the temptation to return the hate. Ban not only does that, but uses her immense talents as a teacher to bring it to an audience that only knows the Holocaust through history books. I am one of them. I was born after World War II. It is an immense and very moving privilege to hear history from one who experienced it firsthand. There are very few Holocaust survivors left and it behooves us listen to those who are still here, reminding us of the consequences of hate and how Holocausts still happen. Ban’s presentation was sponsored by the Northwest Center for Holocaust, Genocide and Ethnocide Education.
The presentation began with a trailer from the upcoming movie “My Name is Noémi,” directed by the immensely talented WWU professor Jim Lortz. That film will debut on January 20, 2009, surely not a coincidence given the significance of that date.
A native of Szeged, Hungary, Noémi Ban was 21 when the Nazis marched into Debrecen, Hungary, on March 19, 1944. Ultimately her father was sent to a forced labor camp and she and her family were sent on a transport to Auschwitz arriving on July 1, 1944. Immediately separated from her family (where they became victims of the Nazi genocide) Noémi spent nearly four months in Auschwitz before being picked by Dr. Joseph Mengele to be transferred to a sub-camp of Buchenwald to work at a bomb factory. Escaping during the forced march to Bergen-Belsen in April of 1945, Noémi and eleven of her campmates were found by a soldier from Patton’s army who informed them of their freedom.
Her story tonight ended at that point, but there’s a lot more to tell. She went back to Hungary after the war only to see the invasion of her country by the USSR in the 1950s. Once again, she escaped tyranny in rather dramatic fashion and once again she refused to hate those who made her life a continuing torment.
That triumph of the will caused tonight’s audience to break into spontaneous applause at many points and resulted in a standing ovation at the end. That’s gratifying because our society continues to live in denial of genocide. We deny that it can happen in America, but it did. Just ask any Native American. We deny that it can happen now, but it does, in Uganda, in Iraq, in Darfur.
Leni Riefenstahl died in 2003 at the age of 101. Her undeniable gifts as a cinematographer were overshadowed by how she used those talents to create the fear that is the basis of hatred. Those twisted gifts live on in the right-wing media that poisons our political and social dialogue in America today.
My companion for the evening was a dear friend who grew up during World War II and vividly remembers being called a “dirty Jew” on the streets of her hometown. Ban’s presentation had her in tears and provoked my own tears at how badly we treat each other. But Ban’s message is one of hope, one of forgiveness and redemption.
I asked my companion how I could possibly write about this. “Oh, my God,” I said.
“Precisely,” she said.