Page last updated at 20:58 GMT, Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Auschwitz survivor tells of her 'guardian angel'

By Margaret Ryan
BBC News

Lilly Ebert
Lilly attended a service at the London's Guildhall

As commemorations were held for the millions killed in the Nazi Holocaust, one survivor of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp remembered how her family was divided up into two groups - those who would live and those who would die.

Lilly Ebert was just 14 when she, her three sisters, brother and mother were herded into cattle trucks and taken from their home in Hungary to Auschwitz-Birkenau.

The journey in the hot summer of 1944 took five days.

"We had little food and a little water. Men, women and children were together - about 70 or 80 people. We had no idea where we were going, " says the 79-year-old.

At this moment it was life or death but we didn't know it
Lilly Ebert

By that July, the Germans had lost the war she says.

"There were not enough trucks to take the soldiers to the front but they had enough to take the Jews to the camps."

"We were so traumatised we could not even think."

When the family finally arrived on a Sunday, they were glad to see the sunshine after so many days of being stuck in cramped conditions. But that happiness was short-lived.

The new arrivals were ordered to line up in rows of five.

Lilly Ebert, now a great-grandmother, recalls how there was a man there with a stick gesturing people to go left or right. She did not know it at the time but this was Dr Josef Mengele, the infamous physician who carried out experiments on inmates.

"At this moment it was life or death, but we didn't know it," she says.

"My mother, younger sister and brother were sent to the left and taken to the crematorium. I and my two other sisters were taken to the right," she continues.

She never saw her mother Nina, brother Bela and sister Berta again.

Hiding place

Lilly and her sisters Renee and Piri had been chosen to survive. They were among the young, fit and healthy and Lilly was put to work sewing.

Lilly Ebert and her granddaughter Nina
Lilly Ebert has told her story to the younger generation

She and her sisters were ordered to shower and left with nothing but their shoes.

But it was in a shoe that Lilly had her most treasured possession - a gold necklace given to her by her mother when she was four or five.

She smiles as she recalls how her brother had hidden it there when they were still in Hungary.

And she managed to hide it throughout her time in Auschwitz, even when the heel wore down on the shoe and she had to find a new hiding place in pieces of stale bread.

After four months, she and her sisters were moved to an ammunition factory near Leipzig. The city was liberated the following year.

She found her liberation something of a shock: "We couldn't take it in. That was our biggest battle."

Mrs Ebert, who now lives in Golders Green, north London, fled with her sisters to Switzerland and from there she came to London in the 1960s with her husband and three children.

She will never forget her time spent in the largest Nazi concentration camp, but she retells her story when she goes into schools and is keen that others learn from what happened to her and the millions like her.

"The most important thing is to be alive.

"It's important to be tolerant with each other. It makes no difference what religion you are or the colour of your skin."

As for her necklace, Mrs Ebert wore it as she joined 200 Holocaust survivors, dignitaries and her family, including her granddaughter Nina - for Wednesday's Holocaust Memorial Day service, on the 65th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.

The necklace still bears the indents from the nails in her shoe.

On the necklace is a little angel. Mrs Ebert says that this piece of jewellery was "her own guardian angel".



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