LA CONNER — Ninety-one-year-old Noémi Ban has quite the story to share.
Born in Budapest, Hungary, in 1922, she has gone from a life of normalcy, to a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp, a survivor, an escapee and finally: a free woman.
Ban, who lives in Bellingham, shared her story with students from La Conner Middle and High schools recently, giving them a taste of living history before it disappears forever.
“Her story is unique,” said La Conner history teacher Peter Voorhees. “And becoming more rare all the time.”
Ban celebrates her freedom with the simplest of things; she pauses during her speech to take several drinks of water — a rare commodity during her time at Auschwitz, the prison camp where Germans sent thousands of Jews and minorities to die in World War II.
“Life is precious,” she told the students gathered in the high school’s gymnasium.
“I learned that you cannot give up.” Ban and most of her family were taken to the Nazi concentration camp during WWII.
“In their eyes, we ceased to be human beings,” Ban told the students of her Nazi captors. “We became a number only.”
During her hour-long presentation Tuesday, Ban told the story not only of how she coped, but how she survived.
Ban has traveled around the country, and even internationally, telling her story.
She speaks at Western Washington University once a quarter, and has spoken before to La Conner and Burlington-Edison students.
As a former teacher, Ban said she knows how powerful it is for students to hear the story coming from an actual person, rather than a book.
“I want people to hear somebody who survived,” Ban said.“I know students are going home and telling their parents or relatives.”
Ban was liberated from Nazi imprisonment in April 1945 by a U.S. soldier while marching to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.
Ban believes her experience is a lesson for others. She said she has no hatred.
“You know why? Because I learned in Auschwitz what hate does,” Ban said.“People think that I should have hate, and I told them that hate is wrong. It’s killing.
And if I were to have hate in my heart, I am not free.”
Ban’s story, she said, is about overcoming hardships.
While kids these days don’t find themselves faced with the difficulties of a concentration camp, they, too, have hardships in their lives, and Ban hopes they learn how to overcome them and how not to hate.
“Instead of hating, (they should be) doing something, even small, in their community,” she said.
After being liberated, Ban returned to Hungary, where she was reunited with her father and soon married.
In 1956, she and her husband and their two sons fled the country to escape oppressive Soviet rule.
They came to America in 1957.
La Conner High School senior Anna Carlton, 17, said this was her second time hearing Ban speak, and both times were equally important.
Without people like Ban telling their stories, history could be lost.
“It’s just one of those things that you just can’t forget,” Carlton said.
“It’s one of those things that you wish didn’t happen, but it did. If we didn’t learn about it, we will forget it and history is doomed to repeat itself if we do forget.”
Ban has been back to Auschwitz several times, she said.
She has written a book, “Sharing is Healing: A Holocaust Survivor’s Story,” and has been featured in a documentary title,“My name is Noémi.”