BELLINGHAM, Wash. – She’s been called a teacher, an icon and a survivor; 96-year-old Noémi Ban survived the Holocaust and eventually settled in the North Sound with her family.
After decades of sharing her story of survival and legacy of acceptance and love winning over hate, Ban died earlier this month.
Her friends and family gathered Tuesday to remember the impact Ban had not only on the people of Western Washington, but also the inspiration she left in others around the world.
Hundreds packed into Congregation Beth Israel Synagogue to pay tribute to a woman who survived one of the worst crimes against humanity.
“It’s unimaginable what she endured and on the other side was a champion of life and love and education,” said WWU Professor Steven Garfinkle.
“She gave us a message and a task,” said Sandra Alfers, founding director of The Ray Wolpow Institute. “We have to be responsible to be carry on that message and light and not let hate win.”
In her early 20’s, Noémi Ban, her mother and siblings were forced by Nazis into a world of horrors where her family was sent to the gas chambers at Auschwitz. Noémi would be forced to work in a factory until nearly the end of World War II.
“At the end of the war she was on one of the death marches, one of the euphemisms for the death marches was evacuation,” said Alfers.
Ban and several other survivors were liberated during that evacuation. She later married after being reunited with her father and eventually settled in Bellingham. That’s where her incredible story of survival was channeled into an opportunity to teach others the depths of hate and the redemption of love.
“She was an inspiration to so many of us just because of the way she broke her silence and shared her story and her message of love and being the change in the world you wanted to see,” said Alfers.
Noémi shared her story with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and kept telling of her incredible journey of survival which helped build a curriculum at Western Washington University to study the Holocaust, genocide and crimes against humanity.
It’s that study on campus, and in the re-telling of her story, where Noémi’s friends and colleagues say the rest of us are now burdened with making sure history never repeats.
“Confront hate, confront racism, confront anti-Semitism; when we see it, call it out and make sure it won’t happen again,” said Alfers.