Rebecca Yomtov was only 20 in 1944 when German soldiers arrived in her hometown of Ioannina, Greece, rounding up every Jewish person in the community and shipped them off to concentration camps in German territory.
She was the only member of her family who survived the year-long stay in two of Germany’s most notorious prisons: Bergen-Belsen and Auschwitz.
After Allied soldiers freed prisoners at the end of World War II, Yomtov emigrated to the United States. She married a man named Manny Hauser and had a family, but she didn’t keep quiet about her experiences in the prison camps.
Rebecca Hauser died in 2018 at the age of 95, but she had made a name for herself as part of a speakers bureau made up of Triangle area Holocaust survivors.
Accompanied by her daughter, Bonnie Hauser, Rebecca Hauser spoke to tens of thousands of people over the years, describing her experiences and expressing her belief that people ought not to stand by and watch atrocities take place without doing something about them.
Though her mother passed away last year, Bonnie Hauser has continued working with the speaker’s bureau and, on May 11, she will speak at the Person County Public Library. The event begins at 2 p.m. It’s free and open to the public.
Over the years, Bonnie Hauser has collected photos and other mementos of her mother and she uses a video interview done with her mother before her death to let her mother continue to tell her own story.
“I like to set things up and give them some context and then let her tell her own story. I think it just means so much more when people hear theses stories from someone who lived them,” Bonnie Hauser said.
In the videos, Rebecca Hauser recalls the day soldiers first came to her hometown and took everyone away. She relates many of her experiences in the concentration camps and she remembers the day soldiers liberated the camps.
The often poignant stories are interspersed with pictures of her family and black and white video footage taken in the prison camps.
Bonnie Hauser says she’s happy that she can continue to help share her mother’s story. “I give a little bit of background and let her tell the story. We’re tag-teaming. It works really, really nicely. It’s an honor for me to do this,” Bonnie Hauser said.
Bonnie Hauser admits that telling her mother’s story on her own can be kind of grueling. But her mother was never uncomfortable talking about it. “She always had a smile on her face and its hard to imagine that she was subjected to that. That was a level of humanity that we can’t imagine. It was pretty unbelievable what they went through,” Bonnie Hauser said.
Bonnie Hauser’s appearance coincides with the Person County Library’s Community Read project which, this year, considers a book titled The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, which tells the story of a boy who meets another boy whose life and circumstances are different from his own. The two strike up a friendship that has devastating consequences. Copies of the book are available at the Person County Library.