Written By: Lily Ebert and Dov Forman
Published By: HarperOne
Reviewed By: Melissa Minners
When I first heard of Lily Ebert and Dov Forman, the world was at an all time low. The pandemic was raging and our President was a hateful man whose propaganda campaign was reminiscent of that of Adolf Hitler. Worst yet, antisemitism was at an all-time high and Holocaust deniers seemed to be everywhere. Hope seemed to be a rarity at that time. And then Good Morning America featured a piece on a survivor who was getting her message about the Holocaust out to millions of people, thanks to some social media help from her great-grandson. Lily Ebert had survived Auschwitz and she had vowed to tell others what had happened to her and her people. Dov Forman helped her spread those words to more people than she could have ever imagined. They had recently published a book and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it.
Lily’s promise began on the high holy day of Yom Kippur, when Lily Ebert was a young woman struggling to survive in Auschwitz after the Nazis killed her mother and young brother and sister: she would survive and tell the world what happened to her and her family. Together with her two sisters, Lily did somehow survive. She even was able to find another brother who had been sent to a work camp before she and her family were taken and placed in cattle cars on their long journey to the concentration camp. She moved to Israel, married and had children, but she still hadn’t made good on her promise.
Why? Simply because the world wasn’t ready to hear it. Those who hadn’t suffered in the camps were not very receptive to hear about that suffering. Those who had experienced it really didn’t want to talk about it anymore. And Lily was suffering from PTSD, often unable to relive the horrific experiences she witnessed in the camps. Thus, she went years before she discussed losing her home in Hungary, her family, her friends, her hair, everything that made her innocent, until she moved to London with her ailing husband and found a survivors’ support group.
By now, many people wanted to know about the Holocaust and not just a polished overview, but what really happened in those concentration camps. And now, at last, Lily was finally able to tell her story. She was horrified at those who would deny what happened at the hands of the Nazis and she was determined to educate everyone by talking about her own experience. She traveled to schools and memorials, even to Auschwitz itself, to tell her tale. But the pandemic put a damper on her travels and she could only get the message to so many people this way.
Then her eighteen-year-old great-grandson Dov had a wonderful idea, creating social media pages for his safta and making Lily a TikTok sensation. Now, Lily could reach millions more people than she ever could on the road, at a time when spreading the word about what happened during the Holocaust was more important than ever. With many survivors having passed away, Lily, no spring chicken herself, didn’t want the horrors of those years to be lost on the living.
Lily’s Promise tells us the tale of a determined young woman who somehow managed to survive such horrors many people today could not even fathom, each day, wondering if it would be her turn to die or if she might have to watch her surviving sisters be led off to die as she had her mother and two youngest siblings. It tells us the tale of the woman who, once freed, still had trials to endure and a constant reminder of her ordeal in the visible form of a tattooed number on her arm and the less visible emotional strife that befalls survivors of great tragedies. But it also tells of a woman who was courageous enough to rise up and tell her story in the face of some great skepticism and antisemitism so that others should know the truth, hoping to prevent such genocide from ever happening again. Hers is a lofty goal, one not easily met in these days of denial and hate.
In my opinion, Lily’s Promise may be the most important book you read all year. When you do get the chance to read this incredibly captivating story of survival and perseverance (and my hope is you don’t wait), I challenge you not to just put it down when you’re done. Instead, gain inspiration from the story as I did and tell others about it. Spreading the word about the Holocaust and the genocide committed by the Nazis is the only way we can prevent history from being lost. Without the knowledge of what has happened in the past, history will be doomed to repeat itself.