It might have made a great movie script, but rejected out of hand as too incredible to be believed—yet it happened. A 13-year-old boy—a Holocaust victim with neither photograph, birth certificate nor any evidence whatsoever that he ever existed, save in the memories of his 99-year-old sister—suddenly provides tangible proof that he lived. And all through the discovery of his battered Book of Exodus that managed to survive the Nazi horror.
Murdered the day he arrived at Auschwitz on July 9, 1944, along with his mother and a sister, Bela Englman left no trace behind. For nearly 80 years, his older sister, Lily Ebert, clung to the forlorn hope that she might one day possess something concrete of her little brother, something of his that might be called a legacy.
Ebert and her great-grandson, Dov Forman, 19, wrote a memoir, Lily’s Promise: Holding On to Hope Through Auschwitz and Beyond, in which she mentioned her brother and his murder. The book became a New York Times bestseller, widely read internationally.
One reader, the son of a Hungarian antique book collector, while browsing through a batch of his father’s books, came across a name he recognized—“Bela Englman”—written again and again among doodles and markings in a timeworn Book of Exodus. The son, Teofil Brauer, reached out to Dov Forman to let him know he discovered his great-uncle’s book.
“He sent me a picture of the book, and straight away, we knew it was Bela’s,” said Forman. “That moment was just incredible.”
When he showed his great-grandmother the photo of Bela’s signature, she was astonished. Finding what was tantamount to a remnant of Bela was beyond serendipitous.
“This is the only link I have to my youngest brother,” she said. “I am so emotional about this book.”
Deciding that the book was too fragile to ship, Dov and his mother elected to travel to Hungary to retrieve it in person.
When Dov returned to London with Bela’s book, his great-grandmother was bed-ridden, hospitalized with a broken hip. Seeing the book, she wept. “Receiving this book from my great-grandson Dov was so surreal,” Lily said. Noting the appropriateness that Bela’s posthumous gift to her was a book from the Old Testament, she remembered her brother as serious and studious, deeply committed to studying Torah and Talmud, and intensely proud of his Jewish heritage.
“The fact that Bela’s name is stamped and is also written in his own handwriting is so special,” she said. “I am so happy to have this, 80 years after the Holocaust — the last time I saw Bela.”
“The Nazis destroyed entire families and entire communities. Not only did they destroy the people, but they also destroyed the books and any sign of Jewish life,” her great-grandson said. “The fact that this has survived almost 80 years since is inconceivable.”
Lily Ebert, in her hospital room, book in hand, surrounded by several generations of family—representing just a small part of an extended Jewish family consisting of 10 grandchildren and 36 great-grandchildren and their families—summed it all up: “The Nazis did not win.”