Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

Noemi Engel Ebenstein - July 22, 1996


Could you tell me please your name? And where you were born?

My name is Noemi Ebenstein. My maiden name is Engel. So Noemi Engel Ebenstein. And I was born in Subotica, uh, which is Yugoslavia. The borders in Europe change. At the time it was under Hungarian occupation, on July 2, 1941.

So you don't have much recollection then of life before the war, I would guess.

No, not really. But...

What do you know about your family before the war? Maybe from your mother or from relatives that you've spoken to.

Well, mostly from my mother and my father, but growing up it was my mother who told the stories and she was a terrific reconnoiter, a good story teller. And she, she told us many, many stories. Um, she came from a family, uh, she grew up in Budapest, was the youngest of four children, the only girl. Her parents came from Munkacs, uh, which was part of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy, but it also went from hand to hand. Uh, Austro-Hungarian monarchy, I think Czechoslovakia, then the Soviet Union. But, uh, it was a town that, uh, had a very large Jewish population. And, um, her mother came from a big Hasidish family. Her father was not, uh, from a Hasidish family and, um, in fact...

Was he also from Munkacs?

He was also from Munkacs, yes. Um, I'll tell the story. It's a cute story about their, their, my grandparents' marriage. My, uh, grandmother was among the older kids of eleven children and she went to work in a business to help support the family. Her mother, uh, was very, um, apparently domineering and very intelligent woman and the townspeople called her Reb Charna. Like Rabbi, for a woman. And, uh, anyway, uh, folks were talking about, um, her daughter being seen with this man. Efriam Fishel Goldberger. And so Reb Charna called her daughter and said to her, "People are talking that they saw you with Ephraim Fishel walking and holding hands." And she protested and she said, "No, that's not true!" And she said, uh, "It's," Reb Charna said to her daughter, "It's not enough that they are talking, it should be true too!" So they went to the Munkacser Rebbe to ask what to do because of the family. So they said, "If this is what people are saying, you might as well get married. Put them under the chuppah right away." So in 1900 they got married. They were both in business and, um, they decided to leave Munkacs. And first they went to Vienna. Tried to establish themselves in business. They did not succeed and then they moved to Budapest and there they succeeded. Uh, they, um, they opened a business where they sold embroidery. Embroidery is even today big in Hungary. And they sold patterns and tablecloths and things like that. They exported. They had four children. And, uh, each one of the children was born in Munkacs because my grandmother went to Munkacs to deliver each one of her children, and then brought them back to Budapest. And they were quite successful. Like my grandmother when she would go to Munkacs to her family she would put on, uh, a sheitel, a, a wig to cover her hair. But in Budapest she didn't. They were quite modern and somewhat assimilated. And, uh, they had a pretty good life, um...

There must have been quite a readjustment, coming from a very Orthodox religious community to a, into a modern, assimilated one.

Ah, I would imagine so. I don't know much about that. The only thing that I know is that my mother said that when her parents didn't want the kids to understand something they would speak in Ukrainian, or in Yiddish amongst themselves. But at home they spoke Hungarian. Uh, the kids were educated but my mother was not allowed to go, uh, beyond the compulsory education, which was actually only four grades. But she had a lot of tutoring. She took French and, uh, uh, she was involved in sports. So she was, she was, had a modern upbringing on the surface. But when she said that she wanted to go and study medicine, her father said, "Oh no, I'm going to give you enough dowry to last a lifetime." Which was, huh, she lost everything twice. Once in the Depression and then second time with a second husband in the, in the Holocaust. Uh, so she was not allowed to really get formal education and be a liberated woman, if you, if you will. She also became a Zionist with her first husband. Uh, but she was not allowed, she wanted to go to Palestine. And again the family didn't want her to do that. So, all in all they had a modern life, but with some old values and all.

Was the family anti-Zionist?

I don't think anti-Zionist ideologically. My grandfather just didn't want his only daughter, his princess, to leave home and go to the desert, you know. So that was the family background on my mother's side.

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