A 90-year-old Holocaust survivor was finally able to thank the family of an American soldier who gave her hope upon being liberated from a Nazi death camp in World War II, 75 years on.
Lily Ebert was connected with the children of the soldier over a Zoom call coordinated by her great-grandson, Dov Forman, on Sunday.
"It is unbelievable. I never knew something like this could happen. It was a fantastic feeling," Ebert told NBC News by phone from her home in London.
Their meeting was made possible by a tweet Forman sent that went viral.
The 16-year-old said he took it upon himself to start documenting Ebert's stories of the war once coronavirus lockdown restrictions were eased and he could visit.
"My great-grandma obviously isn't going to be around forever and her story will eventually become my whole family's responsibility to carry on," Forman said.
During one of his recent visits, Forman said he noticed a German banknote preserved in one of Ebert's old photo albums.
Ebert explained that a few weeks after being liberated in the German town of Pfaffroda, she met an American soldier. Without anything else to write on, she said the soldier used a banknote to put down his words of encouragement to her.
Yesterday my great Grandma (Lily Ebert - an Auschwitz survivor) showed me this bank note- given to her as a gift by a soldier who liberated her. Inscribed, it says “a start to a new life. Good luck and happiness”. Later on, she met up with those who freed her (third photo). pic.twitter.com/LAx2ZGFCnH
— Dov Forman (@DovForman) July 5, 2020
"The start to a new life. Good luck and happiness," he wrote.
While it was a simple gesture, it was life-changing for young Ebert.
"This soldier was the first human being who was kind to us," she said. "It was the first time after this terrible life that somebody was kind and I knew that somebody wants to help."
Touched by the story, Forman decided to share images of the banknote on Twitter. To his surprise, he said it went viral within hours, gaining over a million views.
A Twitter user who saw it sent him a suggestion that the mystery soldier may be American Pvt. Hyman Schulman. Although he died in 2013, Schulman's story of the war was well documented in many letters he sent back to his wife that have since been rediscovered by his family.
With some research, Forman said he was able to locate Schulman's children in New York and bring the families together digitally.
"It was really special. It felt like we were family, we just clicked," Forman said.
For Ebert, it was also a special moment to speak to people who had a deep understanding of the horrors of the past.
"I know that this soldier told his family, he wrote to his family every day the stories that he saw," she said. "With that, I feel some connection to them."
Ebert, who was born in Hungary, has always been vocal about her experience, sharing it with not just her family but also speaking to schools, businesses and community groups.
She had been taken to Auschwitz at the age of 14 and separated from her mother, brother and sister who were all killed there. Ebert and her two other younger sisters — one of whom is still alive — were sent to a munitions factory where they endured slave labor for four months.
"They dehumanized us," she said. They were forced to work grueling, long hours, deprived of food and sleep.
It was the responsibility of having to look out for her younger sisters that helped keep her going, she said. And she also made a vow to herself.
"I promised myself that if I survived by some miracle, I would tell the world what happened there," Ebert said. "The next generation and next generations should know the story so that something like that should not be repeated to any human being ever."
And Ebert has been able to keep to her promise.
The families are planning another Zoom call next week, Forman said, and are even discussing an in-person meeting once coronavirus-related travel restrictions are lifted.
"I hope one day that I will meet them personally, I would very much like to have that," Ebert said.