Lily Ebert is 97 years old, a Holocaust survivor, and now a TikTok sensation, as she and her great-grandson Dov Forman share her stories of surviving Auschwitz with millions of followers.
In her new autobiography (written with 17-year-old Forman and with a foreword from Prince Charles) titled “Lily’s Promise,” Ebert describes how she made a vow on Yom Kippur in 1944 in Auschwitz.
“If I ever came out of that place, I was determined to do something that would change everything. I had to make sure that nothing like this could ever happen again to anybody. So, I promised myself I would tell the world what had happened. Not just to me, but to all the people who could not tell their stories.”
Ebert had an “idyllic childhood,” growing up in Hungary with three sisters and two brothers. However, the “happiest of childhoods” ended when her father passed away from pneumonia in 1942, and the Nazis rolled into Hungary two years later in 1944.
Her nightmare worsened as her family was moved to a ghetto, and her older brother was forced into a labor battalion. It wasn’t long before her family was transported to Auschwitz, one of the last transports to the death camp (by then, most Hungarian Jews had already been murdered).
Upon arrival, Ebert and two of her sisters were separated from their mother and a younger brother and sister. They never saw them again.
“I realize that at this point, we simply went numb. I felt, yet I could not feel. I thought, yet I could not think. In the face of such brutality, nothing worked as it should. You can not fear the worst if you cannot imagine it.”
Ebert looked out for the welfare of her sisters throughout their ordeal as they fought to survive. The girls were moved to Altenburg, a sub-camp of the notorious Buchenwald. In April 1945, the three sisters were suddenly liberated when on a death march, the SS guards abandoned them near the Czech border.
Like many Holocaust survivors, figuring out how to begin life again was difficult. Ebert quickly realized that no one wanted to hear about the horrors she had experienced. Everyone wanted to just move on and forget. She and her sisters found refuge in Switzerland and then ultimately immigrated to Palestine in 1946. Two years later, just 12 days after Israel became a nation, she married her husband, Shmuel, as the sirens screamed, and the bombs exploded.
Despite the promise Ebert made to herself in Auschwitz to share her story with the world, it proved to be too painful to speak of for decades. It wasn’t until after her husband passed in the mid-1980s that Ebert was able to grieve (both the loss of her husband and the hellish time in Auschwitz and Altenburg) and begin to open up about her experiences in the Holocaust.
By then, Ebert was living in London, and the world seemed ready to hear her stories as well.
“I was ready, and the world seemed more ready to listen.” It was “the beginning of a whole new life for me,” Ebert said.
Since then, Ebert has shared her stories numerous times with the British parliament, school children, educators, other survivors, and multiple generations of her own family.
Ebert’s advancing age, along with the fragileness of life because of the pandemic over the last two years, and a rise in antisemitism, prompted her and her great-grandson Forman to write her story and get it out to a wider audience.
“I don’t want these stories to disappear. I want to find a way to hold on to all that Lily’s given us, forever,” Forman said. “I’ve learned so much from her.” He thinks the four-generation gap between the two made it easier for her to share the painful memories.
In addition to the book, Forman started to explore new ways to communicate Lily’s story. He began to post pictures, and videos of Ebert on Twitter, Twitch, and TikTok live talks. Their posts average about a million views each on Twitter and have up to 5,000 viewers for the TikTok talks.
“It’s insane. I think it shows there is a space for good on social media. Of course, we have to be wary of the dangers, but just as easily as hate can spread, positivity and education and good messages can too.”
Great-grandma Ebert—the “queen of the family” as Forman affectionately calls her—agrees. “You can see I am not a youngster anymore. I learn from young people, and I am so happy. I was afraid that (this work) would finish with our generation, but luckily I see it won’t finish. The youngsters will take over, and they will, I hope, learn from it.”