Holocaust survivor’s daughter: ‘It bothers me that man can do this to fellow man’

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Holocaust survivor’s daughter: ‘It bothers me that man can do this to fellow man’

Noemie Lopian, whose father wrote Holocaust memoir, Die Lange Nacht, is using his experiences to help combat anti-Semitism

Caron Kemp is a freelance journalist

Noemie Lopian translated her father's memoir, Die Lange Nacht, into English and now hopes to use his experiences to combat anti-Semitism
Noemie Lopian translated her father's memoir, Die Lange Nacht, into English and now hopes to use his experiences to combat anti-Semitism

For years it remained perched on the bookcase of their Munich home, cutting a solitary shape amid an expanse of empty shelving.

Written with a gutsy determination to never forget the truth, the little book emphatically recalled the events of the Holocaust, yet was barely explored by hand or eye.

Chronicling the seven concentration camps and five transit camps he endured for four gruelling years, Ernst Israel Bornstein’s Die Lange Nacht revealed the indiscriminate brutality and death at the hands of the Nazis and was penned almost immediately after his liberation in 1945.

But it was not until long after his premature death in 1978, aged just 55, that daughter Noemie really poured over its contents for the first time.

“We knew very little about my father’s experiences of the Holocaust during his lifetime, only that he’d documented everything in the sole book to grace the shelves of our living room,” recalls the married mother-of -four.

“I was just 12 when he passed away and so while I did eventually dip into his book, along with my mother Renee, brother Alain and sister Muriel, we focused on starting our new life in Manchester together, in the hope that it would offer us a fresh start.”

Indeed Noemie, 50, did not turn to the book again until she was 36, following the birth of her youngest child.

“In order to delve into a subject like this that is so terrifyingly close and gruesome I needed stability in my mind,” admits Noemie, who remains in Manchester today.

“In the interim years I had been so focused on my career and family and was juggling so many balls. Finally I found the inner strength to endure it and relive it again.”

Hailing from a loving family and living a cossetted life in the Polish town of Zawiercie, Ernst was just 17 when he was conscripted into forced labour.

His parents and two of his siblings were gassed at Auschwitz.

After four years of relentless torture, Ernst was eventually liberated in Bavaria by American soldiers on April 30, 1945. He was one of only six members of his extended family to survive.

Ernst went on to qualify as a dentist and a doctor, married Renee and set up home and practice in Munich, where he also made it his mission to work tirelessly on behalf of fellow survivors and speak out about his experiences.

Die Lange Nacht served a variety of purposes for Ernst. A type of therapy charged with trying to heal his mind, he also felt strongly about the need to battle ignorance and ensure that future generations fully appreciated the devastation the Holocaust brought.

Ernst and Renee with Noemie, her brother Alain and sister Muriel

But he was also haunted by his little brother’s voice, which he claimed still rang in his ears long after he had perished.

“For you dear brother, with your innocent eyes which were barbarically extinguished in Auschwitz. You look at me in the darkness when I lie awake and your eyes warn me, ‘Don’t forget!’

“For you I will have sleepless nights, my little brother. For you I will tell the story of the long, bloody night,” Ernst wrote in his introduction.

Published in Germany in 1967, Noemie not only felt compelled to absorb the book’s every detail, but to finally translate it into English to share his story with a wider audience.

The process, undertaken in collaboration with Holocaust educator David Arnold, took four years and many a tear shed to complete.

“Of course it was a cathartic experience, because I was able to see him from the perspective of one adult to another,” recalls Noemie, who trained and worked for many years as a GP, in an affectionate nod to her father’s legacy.

“But there was also incredible pain, which I cannot reconcile and even now each time I reread it, it bothers me more and more that man can do this to fellow man.”

This pain has driven Noemie – now a full-time mother and grandmother of three – to dedicate much of her own time to Holocaust education, hoping to use her father’s experiences to combat ignorance and prejudice in all forms.

Ernst, who penned Die Lange Nacht, with his wife Renee

Her latest project involves the launch of a free, interactive website, holocaustmatters.org, on Holocaust Memorial Day this year.

The site aims to bring themes from The Long Night to life for a new audience, who will not benefit from hearing survivors’ testimonies first-hand.

“Anti-Semitism never really went away and my fear is that people want to forget the past, which becomes easier to do as time goes on and survivors get older and fewer,” she concludes.

“We all have a duty to be proactive in this world, to lead by example and to see the good in humanity and harness it.

“Good can only lead to greater good. It’s our job to spread this message and influence the next generation for the better, so that we actively honour the mantra to never forget.”

The Long Night by Ernst Israel Bornstein is published by Toby Press, price £10.99. Available now.


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