Noemie Lopian’s father wrote a book called, The Long Night, that sat on a shelf by itself in their house. It was a constant, living in the background of her childhood. When Noemie read its contents, she was 36 years old. What she found out changed the course of her life.
It was her father’s story of surviving the Holocaust.
“When I closed the book, my first reaction — and I’m only now able to say this — but I wish I had never known. I’m ashamed of [that thought],” she explained. “I wish I’d never known what bestiality man is able to do to fellow man. Then I thought, ‘How can I close [the book]?’ If I close it, I’m suffocating the souls in it, I have to give them a voice.”
Let’s backtrack. Noemie and her two siblings grew up in Germany — her parents continued to raise their family there. The first time she heard about the Holocaust was right before her Bat Mitzvah. When she was in secondary school, if you weren’t Catholic, you had to go to ethics lessons while the other kids went to religious education.
One week, they focused on the Holocaust. “All I remember from that are three pictures — a crater of bones, a crater of hair and a crater of glasses,” Noemie revealed. “I was the only Jewish girl in the class and I looked at these other German classmates of mine and they looked at me. None of us had known. I went home and asked my mom, ‘Is it true?’ She said it was. Then we stopped talking about it.”
Shortly after that, right after her Bat Mitzvah, her father passed away. “It was probably too much to talk about it then,” she said. “I also wasn’t pushed into it. They let me come to it on my own.”
So, for Noemie’s childhood and young adult life, she didn’t know any details about the Holocaust. It just wasn’t spoken about. So, it was at 36 years old, after the birth of her youngest daughter that she finally read her father’s book and the real horrors were uncovered. It was even later than that, that she learned her mother’s story.
Discovering the Truth
Both her parents grew up in religious homes. Her father was from a Zionist family and would wake up at 4 a.m. to learn before school started. Her mother was traditional but they kept Shabbat and her maternal great-grandmother even more a wig made from horse’s hair.
Her father was 17 when he went into hiding and 19 when he was “ripped away from his home in Poland.” He was put in seven different concentration camps over the course of 4.5 years. They were smaller camps — not ones that many have heard of — which also goes to show the “breadth that the Germans went to in order to do this bloody deed.”
Her mother was put on a boat at age 10 from France (where she was living) with her siblings to Switzerland in an attempt to save them. The boat was intercepted by the Gestapo and the children were taken to a convent. They were questioned daily at gunpoint by the Nazis about if they were Jewish, where they were from, what their parents’ whereabouts were and more. They would stop at nothing. “The nuns would also take each child aside alone and say, ‘When you die,’ — not if, but when — ‘you will go to hell. If you convert, you will go to heaven.’”
She and her siblings went through the motions, but resisted doing the actual conversion in their own way. Even so young, they knew who they were and who they wanted to be.
In total, 52 members of Noemie’s family were killed in the Shoah.
Protecting the Future
Once Noemie learned about the horrors her own father had gone through, she set off on a mission. Even though she was a General Practitioner, she couldn’t just put it down and back on the shelf.
First, she worked to translate the book over the course of five years. It was written in Yiddish and then translated into German. Noemie translated it into English.
It was officially published in 2016 and launched more widely in 2017. During the book launch in England, the book was accepted by the British Parliament and placed into the House of Lords, where it was promoted by British government officials. “It’s very prestigious to have it in there.” It wasn’t just about the prestige though.
“I felt a book like this should be at the heart of a democracy. Hitler took away the democracy that was supposed to protect every citizen,” she explained. “We weren’t humans, but we were. That is the message I want to get out to youngsters. We belong to one race and that is the human race.”
Noemie admits that biologically, we may feel prejudice to those who are different from us. “It’s a biological safety device but we have to overcome it.”
Now, Noemie goes on speaking engagements to educate anyone and everyone about the horrors of the Holocaust so it’s never repeated. On many occasions, she speaks with the grandson of a Nazi. His grandfather was in charge of slave labor camps such as Auschwitz and Bergen Belsen.
When they speak, he shows a photograph of his grandparents celebrating Christmas in 1939. Then, he shares, six weeks earlier the Jews experienced Kristallnacht, the night in November where Jews were beaten, murdered and taken from their homes. Their businesses were smashed and destroyed. He shows the contrast. Together, they educate on the utmost necessity of understanding what happened so it can actually never happen again.
“We have to create the bridge of empathy. Why should someone else care? We have to make them understand to care. If you see somebody hurt in the street, you would care. So why do they make the Jew into a vermin or something where they don’t care? Why is that? [We have to get to humanity about it.]”
Today, it feels like antisemitism is getting worse. We hear of new attacks daily. Noemie agrees. She has felt roadblocks of her own with her work. After she speaks, people will come up to her sharing stories of antisemitic comments they’ve received. She’s received messages on LinkedIn from people sharing about their kids receiving antisemitic comments at school and on the bus.
“I’ve tried to organize talks in these schools and the heads are stalling,” she shared. “They say they can’t find a room big enough for the kids. I’ve said I can come back multiple times and they’ve said it’s not that simple. It’s frightening. We each have to do our part and I really feel like that education is [a big part of it.]”
Noemie is pushing forward. She created animated clips of her father’s book that she shares widely. She’s also working on a narrative game to meet kids where they are and get them more invested. Further, she’s working on an animated Disney-style movie of The Long Night. “We want to show it in bright colors — it wasn’t a hidden thing. It can happen to anybody and it never ends with the Jews. It starts there, but they went for others…don’t underestimate kindness and how much it can bring.”