JLife’s Elaine Bermitz chats to Noemie Lopian about her parent’s experience of the Holocaust and her experience as a Holocaust educator.
It is almost impossible to understand how Noemie Lopian finds the strength to tell her parents’ story repeatedly to schoolchildren and those who have little knowledge of the Holocaust. A second generation survivor, she has been responsible for translating The Long Night, her father’s story of incarceration in seven different camps, previously only published in German.
“For years,” she said, “the book stood on my shelf, and I was afraid to open it.” Having left Germany
for Manchester at the age of 13, she wanted to bury the memory of the Holocaust but found this impossible. Eventually, after qualifying as a GP, the same profession her father held after the war, she realised she had to share his experience with the world. She felt that being a GP was similar in many ways to being an educator about the Holocaust: “I was healing people’s souls, educating them in the right way of living and it is easier to do that when the people are young. You can layer it then and apply it to the essential value of living.”
Having gotten her father’s book published and established a website in order to reach as many people as possible, she was often asked to speak to classes and organisations. I wondered how constantly retelling her father’s story affected her.
“Very greatly,” she replied. “First of all, I get very nervous. But the questioning and reactions I get when I have finished are so heartening that I am encouraged to continue. I feel I am speaking their language and that is so important. I know that by becoming a doctor after the war my father felt his humanity was returned to him and that is how I feel.”
Recently, while sorting out her mother’s flat she became aware of a second story – that of her French- born mother, who was rescued due to the outstanding bravery of a woman who refused to give in to the Nazis who captured and tortured her as she was leading a group of schoolchildren across the border: “I had always thought my mother’s story was less dramatic than my father’s, but the bravery of that young woman was incredible,” she said.
Noemie has talked about her father’s book and about her mother’s story in the two part programme which was shown on 19th January on BBC 4 and is available to watch on BBC iPlayer. It is well worth watching. After all, her father wanted to tell the world of his wartime experiences for so many reasons: “First to remember, then to teach, then for his brother, who was murdered and whose memory haunted his dreams for the rest of his life. Then again for scientists so that they would come to understand about post-traumatic stress and how it is felt throughout the generations. Still further he wanted to be a witness to events which began with darkness and developed into greater and greater terror, so that minute by minute the fear of death accompanied him.
“I can’t ever fully understand how the Holocaust happened, but I know that it could happen again and the only way we can stop it is to talk about it to the young in the same language as they speak about everything – via online media, video, images, and by memorials to those who perished. That’s why I am in favour of having a Holocaust memorial near the Houses of Parliament, in addition to trips to the camps.”
Noemie says she is still hopeful for the future of Jewish life in the UK. There are those like Dov Forman who tells Lili Ebbert’s story and organisations like the Holocaust Education Trust, Holocaust Memorial Day, the University of London, and the Royal Holloway trust who support this work.
“As for me, I will continue to use education to bring people from the darkness of ignorance into the light.”