Noémi Ban: Biography

Noemi standing in front of old family pictures smiling

“Noémi Schönberger Ban was an award-winning teacher and public speaker, respected and beloved mother, grandmother and great-grandmother, and synagogue senior. She was a native of Szeged, Hungary who lived in Bellingham from 1982 until her death in June, 2019.

Noémi Ban was 21 when the Nazis marched into Debrecen, Hungary on March 19, 1944. Her father was sent to a forced labor camp and she and her family (grandmother Nina, mother Juliska, sister Erzsebet and baby brother Gabor) were sent on a transport to Auschwitz, arriving on July 1, 1944. She was immediately separated from her family, where they became victims of the Nazi genocide. Noémi spent nearly four months in Auschwitz before being picked by Dr. Joseph Mengele to be transferred to a sub-camp of Buchenwald to work at a bomb factory. She and eleven other women escaped during the forced march to Bergen Belsen in April of 1945. An American soldier from Patton’s army found them and informed them of their freedom. She arrived in Budapest in September of 1945 and reunited with her father, who also survived. Noémi married Earnest Ban in October of the same year and they settled in Budapest where Earnest was a teacher. A few years later, Noémi became a middle school teacher as well.

Noémi and her family arrived in the United States in February of 1957 and relocated to St. Louis, Missouri. Both she and Earnest went back to school to learn English and then pursued American college degrees. Earnest taught math and Noémi became a sixth-grade teacher. Upon Earnest’s retirement, they came to Bellingham, Washington to be close to their son, Steven, a pediatrician. Earnest developed Alzheimer’s and passed away in 1994. Shortly thereafter, Noémi began to speak publicly about her Holocaust experience. During her years as a public speaker, Noémi spoke across the United States and the world, from Taiwan to Washington state. Notably, on a trip to Hungary, she was asked to speak in Hungarian in Debrecen, the same place where she had been taken in 1944.

The Soviets came to power in Budapest in 1948. Life continued under the Communist regime, but Noémi and her family feared the growing antisemitism in Hungary. A few years later, Noémi, her husband, and two sons attempted to escape via train to Austria. They were tricked, caught at the border and forced to return to Budapest. However, less than a month after the first attempt, she and her family tried again. With a friend’s help, they hid in giant balls of yarn shipped in the back of a truck from Budapest. They arrived in Sopron, Austria on December 29, 1956.

Noémi is the author of Sharing is Healing (with Prof. Emeritus Ray Wolpow) which is available for download (PDF) on Western Libraries CEDAR site as part of the Noémi Ban Memorial Collection. Sharing Is Healing details Noémi’s experience during the Holocaust and is written at a 5th-grade reading level to accommodate young readers.

Noémi’s experiences are also documented in the 2007 DVD “My Name is Noémi.” Access these items – and more – online for free on the WWU Libraries site. This documentary follows Noémi as she returned to Hungary and Poland with 30 Washington state teachers to share firsthand her story of survival. Noémi was featured in numerous publications, including The Bellingham Herald, The Skagit Valley Herald, The Western Front, and Evening Magazine (a Seattle-based television program).”

Source: WWU Woodring College of Education, “NWCHGEE/noémi-ban,” unpublished 2016