Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

Noemi Engel Ebenstein - July 22, 1996

Songs in the Camps


Um, there was one other, I would like to share with you another incident that, that left a mark and, and even touched me deeply when I was interviewing my mother. Um, the prisoners, the, the inmates, we, uh, organized different things in the camp and one time there was, they were singing Zionist songs. There was a girl from Debrecen, my mother told me, a, a city in Hungary. And my brother and my mother, and there were probably others. And there was a Hungarian song, which was, in Hungarian, but the scene was about the land of Israel and the Maccabees who fought for freedom. And when she was talking about it in the interview she and I started singing it, I remembered the song. And the guard came and asked my mother, who spoke German, "What are you singing?" And she said, "We are singing our national anthem." And she said even he was touched by the fervor in their--what they put into singing that song. The reason I want to tell you this is because my parents were Zionists. And after the war there was a decision to go to Israel. In fact, we tried to go to Palestine illegally and we were captured and my parents were in communist, um, prison in Yugoslavia afterwards. But then they let us go and in December 1948 we arrived on the shores of Haifa. But the Zionism was so important, it was like survival. Like another one of the components of what kept my mother going is that there was this homeland, there was this place where we would be free.

Do you remember the song?

Yeah, it would be too hard to sing.


I would just cry. It's, it's playing in my head.

You sang such songs with your mother in the camps then?

Yes. We were a musical family. We sang then and afterwards too. We were a singing family. Uh, yeah, but...

And did that keep you going? Keep your mother going, do you think?

I think so. And my brother. Um, again that spiritual survival was extremely important. And it affected us. It, it, it kept us going I think.

Do you think that this was widespread in Strasshof? That many saved?

I don't know. I really have no idea. But I know that it was so central to my family's survival, spiritual survival. Because when we were in Yugoslavia as I said, you know, then it was prison and then finally when we got to Israel, um, we had nothing. We were extremely poor, just all other survival, survivors. And there was something of spiritual faith, emuna in Hebrew, that kept us going and kept us, eased the hardship, the struggle. My parents had to eke out a living in Israel. It was extremely difficult. We really had nothing and they had no skills. And, um, and nobody had anything, so it was not like it stood out. The poverty did not stand out. But it was still, never, never for a moment, there were people who left, uh, in the '50s left Israel, went to Canada, went to Australia, came to the U.S. It never entered my parents' mind. Uh, actually after the war I had an aunt, a quite wealthy aunt in Uruguay, South America. Through her we had relatives in the United States. And we could have gone to either one of those places. But it was, it was not even considered. I mean it was considered not to go there because never again are we going to go to a place which would be not our country, now that we have our own. How I ended up here is another story.

When you were in Strasshof or in Moosbierbaum, do you recollect or did your mother tell you about any other time that your life as a child was in even more serious danger than it was as a rule? Like the time the guard threw you out in the cold.

Um, she said many times when I was growing up that when we came back from the camps, people would point at us because my father came back as well. That's a whole different part, of how he survived. Um, but he came back the first night of Hanukkah in 1945. Um, and then later on we went back to Yugoslavia. And she, she said that people used to point at us in Europe. Here is a family that survived. Like we were unusual because a mother and a father and children came back. Um, so I was made to feel special in that way. A child survivor of my age was something unusual. And I was a very sickly child in Israel. And my, and, and she used to constantly worry about me. When we got to Israel I had rheumatic fever and all the childhood illnesses that you can think of and she, she was always worried about me and my health. Um, my brother later on went to Aliyah tanor, he came to Israel separately. Um, and he being nine years older later on, while we were in prison. That's a long story.

You were also in prison?

Eight days. Both of us were. Just eight days. Let me, let me go, maybe should we do a little chronological?

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