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About the Film
Filmed over the course of a year from June 2006 through June 2007, My Name is Noémi follows teacher and Holocaust survivor Noémi Ban as she shares her story with audiences of all ages. Noémi opens her home, introduces us to her family, and revisits the Buchenwald sub-camp, Münchmühle. Sharing her story for the first time in the Hungarian language, Noémi returns home to Debrecen, Hungary. This is the city she called home in 1944, from which she was taken to Auschwitz II: Birkenau where she was a prisoner from July through October of 1944.
Devised as a legacy for Noémi’s family, the film gives a poignant portrait of a remarkable woman. My Name is Noémi reflects the strength, passion, love and commitment Noémi personifies. It is a chance to witness for yourself elements of her remarkable story of survival. It is a reflection of her “Love of Life.”
Jim Lortz, on the film:
When Noémi Ban tells her survival story she has the uncanny ability to make you believe she is talking directly to you. The thing is…she is talking right to you. I marvel at the power she possesses. She can inspire and challenge with a simple flick of her most elegant hands. She can disarm with a smile and get the toughest kid in school to be the first in line for one of her most generous hugs.
My Name is Noémi represents three years of both of our lives. From the moment I initially asked her permission to the final edit, when she sat at my side, editing. I found the experience satisfying, even life changing. I am reminded I am responsible to tell this survivor’s story. Three years have flown by as we have both striven to find the right balance of visual images to convey and honor her story.
In my attempts to understand that story, I made two trips with Noémi to the memorial at Auschwitz II: Birkenau. It is holy ground. It is immense. My mind still cannot wrap itself around the enormity of it and the operation it was designed for.
I feel confident in saying I know Noémi Ban. She is as simple as she is complex; loving, caring, generous, driven and most private. She is still a remarkable teacher. She is a survivor who has enriched my life. I am grateful to be able to say she is my friend. I am honored and lucky that she has spoken right to me many, many times.
Anyu (Hungarian for “mother”) Productions honors both of our mothers, Juliska and Eleanor. I feel they would approve.
Noémi Ban, on the film:
“. . . a work which depicts an actual event, era, or life story accurately. . . ” is the “dry” definition [of a documentary]. This documentary is an exciting, living story of part of my life. After looking at the tapes Jim Lortz made of our trips, I told him that “Seeing myself on the film, I felt I was being introduced to myself.” It was fascinating to see myself as I visited the place where my dear ones were killed, the places where I was a prisoner. It was powerful to see my own reaction; every movement of my face, eyes, hands, clearly showing my feelings even if I didn’t say a word. This masterpiece of talent and caring is a gift for my family and me. But above and beyond merely a gift to my family, this is a gift to future generations to be used as a teaching tool to ensure that we never forget how prejudice, bigotry, and hate killed millions of people. I hope it will serve as a reminder that there is life after survival, that life is precious and that we should not take it for granted.
Audience members had the opportunity to ask Noémi questions during the premiere of "My Name is Noémi," held at Western Washington University on January 20th, 2009. Here are Noémi's words:
Q: What was it like not hearing music for so long?
Noemi: I love music. I do. I even play a little, but you know, we were so dehydrated and tired that many times in Auschwitz was the question: when is the next slice of bread coming? However, we had an orchestra in Auschwitz out of prisoners. And once in a while we had to march to that place, sitting down on the dirt floor, and listen to music; what we heard, [songs] we heard at home, some parts of them would be played. This was the only time we were able to cry. We couldn’t cry anymore in Auschwitz. But when we heard the music, we cried. And we missed it then. It’s almost we woke up, we felt we are human beings again.
Q: What questions did the Hungarians have for you when you were in Debrecen?
Noemi: For me it was a very unique experience to speak Hungarian. We first went to Auschwitz and then to Debrecen, because what happened before [during the Holocaust] was they took me from Debrecen to Auschwitz. So going from Auschwitz to Debrecen as a free woman, I felt six feet tall. Then, to speak Hungarian, I had to have a very strong will to be able to – I speak Hungarian, but not to make speeches! I had to look for words, and in one part there was a word, I did not remember, in Hungarian, so I asked the students: who speaks English? They spoke English and they told me, and then I went on. They had wonderful questions and they were really... it was in what I always say, don’t feel guilty. These kids were not alive then. Even their parents were not; my own sons were born after the war. They wanted to know more, but many of them told me that even now, even then, they were very happy to hear the real details. Because somehow they never got from Hungary what really happened. They had many, many questions, they wanted to know more, they wanted to be explained to what their grandma and grandpa did or what they didn’t do. It was not easy. Maybe for them, but not for me.
Q: Noémi, you once said, that if you ever gave into hating the Nazis that they’d win. Is there a moment that you realized this? And did you ever hate them?
Noemi: I always say when I speak that I don’t hate anymore, because I learned the lesson in Auschwitz. I learned that hate destroys not only the ones whom we hate, but also those who hate. And I knew that if I would have hate in my heart, right now, I would not be free. I would be the prisoner of my own hate. It won’t work with me anymore. It is a selfish thing that I was selecting this road, because I know that if I would still hate, I would not be free. However, many people ask me, so then what do you do if you don’t hate? What I’m doing right now. What I did with Jim in the film. What I do when I go to schools, churches, everywhere to speak – to teach that prejudice, bigotry and hate are wrong. Then people ask me: do you forgive the Nazis? My answer is, I am working on it. I’m not done with that.
Q: This one is from a Naomi, age 7, who asks – how did you get clothes, food, and a house after you escaped?
Noémi: Where is Naomi? Hello! Hi! Good question, you know why? Because when I decided to escape from Hungary and come to the United States, I wanted to go. Steve, my oldest son, even said here in the film that I wanted to go! My husband wanted to go home but what was his question, all the time when I talked about it, what did we give the boys to eat? When we put them down to sleep, that was his problem; and I said, we will do it! And so, we had on ourselves about four or five layers of clothing. This is the only thing we could keep. And because it was cold, nobody noticed so badly. So that was what we had, nothing more. We had a little food, and before we started to cross the border between Hungary and Austria we finished the food. So when we were walking, walking, I don’t know if my son remembers or not, but they started asking, “Mom, we are hungry!” I said look, I know this is snow, but why don’t we say, this is ice cream, have some! “But mom, I am thirsty. I know this is snow!” That could be water! And then, excuse me Steve, the two boys were saying, “Ahh! I have to go to the bathroom!” and I said, “go for it but don’t mess up my dinner!” And that’s how we made it. It was not easy. We were hungry, and tired, but we made it.
Q: How did the family photos survive, and at what point did you begin to talk openly about your experience?
Noémi: First, the pictures. My father got home earlier than I did. And he went to the house, saying that it was bombed and nothing was there. But he started looking in the rubble, and he found pictures. And then he found that they were all scratched, and bent. He turned around and he wrote on those pictures when he found it, and second, what he remembered when he looked at that picture. And for a while, these pictures were with my father. He lived in Budapest, and when he passed away from natural causes, I got the pictures. I took them to an artist in Bellingham. He worked on it, and, that’s how we have the pictures. The other source was that my mom’s brother was able to come to the United States with his family a month before the second World War broke out, and they lived in New York. They were the ones who helped us to come out; they had a lot of pictures with them. And now, do you remember that you did see my mom’s earring in the film? I have it on right now. And this is the only thing I have from her. Why? Because when my uncle came to the United States, my grandma was – smart lady – she gave this pair of earrings to her son to take on to America – we called it United States. And when we arrived in New York, the first thing my uncle said was, Noémi, I have something for you: it was the pair of earrings from my mother.
The following questions were unable to answered during the event due to time constraints. Jamie Daniels and Dave Morrin interviewed Noémi at a later date. These are her answers:
Q: How did your husband spend the war years?
Noémi: I got married after the war, but Earnest was in a force labor camp. They had to follow the fighting and had to “clear” the territory. They carried food and ammunition as well as picking up dead people.
Q: What was your relationship with God like during those months? Did you ever lose faith?
Noémi: I never lost my faith while in Auschwitz, or while escaping to Austria. I know that I never gave up. I never wanted to change my religion to save myself during the war. I will never lose my faith.
Q: What did you do to sabotage the bombs?
Noémi: In the factories, we were ordered to make part of the bombs. We had to handle poisonous explosives, which was color-coded. We had to attach the colored wires to the same color of explosives together in order for the bomb to work. So, to sabotage it, we would connect the yellow wire with the red explosive.
Q: What gave you the strength to run and escape?
Noémi: What gave me the strength to run and escape was the will to survive. I was young and I still believed that my father was alive, which later I learned that he was alive and survived.
Q: How did you know what to do and where to go?
Noémi: We escaped into a forest. We were hiding in that forest and an American soldier found us who helped us greatly.
Q: What was it like in your town when you went home? Did you see people you had known before you went to Auschwitz?
Noémi: In September I wasn’t able to go back to my town. I arrived in Budapest. My father lived in our hometown and when he met me in Budapest he told me that our house had been bombed. He only found pictures in the rubles. I have not met anyone I knew before from my town since they were taken away to Auschwitz.
Q: Did you and your family get numbered (tattoo)?
Noémi: No, I didn’t get tattooed. We arrive to Auschwitz in July 1st, 1944. We were the last transport into Auschwitz. They painted us with yellow paint from the tops of our heads down to our backs.
Q: What happened to the other eleven girls that escaped?
Noémi: One of them lives in Budapest and whenever I go back to Hungary I visit her. Another two of the girls lives in another city in Hungary but we keep in touch via phone.
Q: When did you first start talking to your relatives about your Holocaust experience?
Noémi: I talked to my husband very soon after we got married. I didn’t have a lot of relatives directly after the war because they were killed in Auschwitz.
Q: What did you do after liberation? Did you return to Hungary? Did you want to go to the U.S.?
Noémi: I got liberated in April 1944. I was able to return to Hungary after liberation. However, when the Soviet Union (Russia) occupied Hungary, the Revolution broke out. In 1956, my husband and my two young sons, and I escaped to Austria and later in 1957 we were able to come to the U.S.