It was a call Lily Ebert had waited almost 80 years to make.
Earlier this month the 90-year-old Auschwitz survivor’s great-grandson, Dov Forman,16, found a German banknote in Lily’s possession carrying a brief handwritten message from an American soldier who liberated her from the Nazis in April 1945. It read: ‘A start to a new life… good luck and happiness.’
Following a swift and successful search on Twitter to discover the identity of his great-grandmother’s liberator, last weekend Lily and Dov held an emotional Zoom call with the children of her liberator, Private Hayman Shulman, who died seven years ago.
Lily’s message to Jason Shulman and his wife Arlene was simple and profound: “Your father showed me that there was good in humanity and gave me hope for a better future.”
75 years on from my liberation by American troops, I am overwhelmed that my great-grandson has been able to reunite me with Private Shulman’s family. It is the ultimate proof that the Nazis did not win.”
Dov added: “As Lily’s great-grandson, I know that eventually the responsibility to share her story will lie with me and my generation.”
We must do all we can to ensure that those who witnessed the murder of six million Jews live on throughout history.”
The experience of virtually meeting with the family was incredible. It is amazing that we were able to use social media in a positive way to connect two dots from opposite sides of the world. The only word to describe the connection is that it’s a miracle.”
Private Shulman’s family said during their first meeting that “it brought tears to our eyes and it’s a shame we could not meet in person.”
They added that “it would have been wonderful to have my father here to meet your mother again in such different circumstances”.
Arlene Shulman, wife of the soldier’s son Jason, said the liberator “wrote back to his wife” about freeing Jewish prisoners, including from Buchenwald.
“He used a tiny little tiny camera and he had pictures of when he entered” camps, and many of them are “very disturbing.”
Lily’s granddaughter also showed Jason and Arlene a tiny mezuzah the survivor was given by an American Jewish soldier upon liberation.
Speaking about the impact of liberating camps on Hayman, Arlene said: “It affected him. A lot of people didn’t talk about it. It was not something to talk about. But it affected him deeply. It affected how he was in the world and how he was with his family, as with all of us”, she said.
During the Zoom conversation, Jason, who is based in New Jersey, said his family discovered 6,000 pages of letter correspondents between Private Shulman and his wife, Sandy, while serving in the army. He said all the letters were scanned and archived, and were picked up by the New York Times, who wrote an extensive piece about them. These include “letters about the Holocaust and Buchenwald” he added.
He said, he’ll “go through these letters to see if we can find anything”, about meeting Lily upon liberation.
Jason said his father was traumatised by fighting in the war, but “when he came into Buchenwald he definitely was shaken. He wouldn’t talk about it ever. I had to pry it out of him”.
Speaking about Hayman’s life before and after the war, Jason said his father was a talented singer, and could have been professional “but he didn’t think he could make a living out of it.”
After retiring from his jewellery business aged 55, he went back to performing and “became pretty well known” before showing Dov and Lily a clip of Hayman singing, under the stage name Howard Shaw, aged 78, in a synagogue.
Karen Pollock, Chief Executive, Holocaust Educational Trust said: “75 years on from Lily’s liberation, this reunion is nothing short of remarkable. With thanks to her wonderful great grandson, Lily has been able to express her thanks to the family of Private Hayman Shulman who she remembers still today”.