Survivor’s Resilience: 101-year-old Ella Blumenthal shares her Holocaust journey from Auschwitz to Africa

In a world where encounters with Holocaust survivors are few, and most have surpassed their 90s or 100s, Ella Blumenthal stands out as an extraordinary individual. Her journey that she penned in her book, “I am Ella” with author Joanne Jowell, goes beyond mere survival, for she carries within her a remarkable absence of hatred and refusal to be defined by her suffering. At 101 years old, Ella, who lives in Cape Town, exudes a fiery, humorous and curious spirit, at times even taking on the role of the interviewer. In an exclusive BizNews interview with Ella and Jowell, her captivating presence makes this a must-encounter, hosted by Linda van Tilburg

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Excerpts from the interview

Why Ella decided to share her story

Because now is the right time, because we find that people don’t agree with each other and they’re trying to resort to violence. Therefore, I want to show them, I want to tell them, I want to remind them that things are not as they should be, that people should speak to each other, exchange their views, and share their feelings, instead of resorting to violence. That is why I feel this is the time to show the world that this is the wrong way.

Ella being carried aloft on a chair at her granddaughter Dani’s wedding to Brandon: Cape Town, 2017

No time for hate

I don’t know what it means to hate. I simply don’t know. Perhaps you can explain it to me. These people didn’t know what they were doing. They were following a madman. I don’t blame the people, the followers. I don’t blame them because they were blinded, and their ears didn’t function properly. They simply followed blindly.

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Leaving the curtains open

I am happy that I am alive. When I get up in the morning, of course, my curtains are always open, of course. I never close them. I can see a new day coming in, with beautiful sunlight. From my room, where I am now, I can see the sky, the clouds, I can see the sea, and all the trees. It’s such a beautiful world. I say today is going to be another beautiful, happy day for all of us.

Ella in Paris after her release. 1946

There are only a few Holocaust survivors left

I want you to remember that there are, unfortunately, not many survivors. So it happens very seldom that we get together. And when we do, there are so many other happy things to discuss. Why talk about those terrible times that we lived through?

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Ella’s message

My message is that we must talk to each other. We must not resort to arms right away. We must express our feelings. We mustn’t hate each other. The word ‘hate’ should be out of the vocabulary. Talk to each other. Say what you feel, say how the world is so beautiful. Don’t hate. It is such an ugly, terrible word. Why use it? Why feel it? Why? Be positive. Know that life is beautiful. Carry on. Move forward. Forget about the bitterness. You know that the world is so beautiful. I wouldn’t say ‘love each other.’ It’s not true, but at least we understand each other. Don’t hate. understand each other and you’ll see that there will be a beautiful life in the world.

Four generations of Blumenthal women speaking at the Yom Hashoah commemoration event in Cape Town, 2018. L–R: Ella, daughter Evelyn, granddaughter Jade, great-granddaughter Deena.

Ella never allowed the Holocaust to define her – Evelyn Kaplan, Ella’s daughter

I can just tell you she never let the Holocaust define her life. She was not defined by her past. On the contrary, she had no place in her heart for hate and I’ve never seen it growing up. There’s never been any moment that I could say, “Oh, there it came out,” never.

She looked after her children like a lioness over her cubs. She dedicated herself in total to her entire life to her children, and she was always a warm, caring, loving mother despite what she went through. And that’s why she was able to do that because she let the hate go right away. It was never, never a feature in her life at all, ever. And… It doesn’t exist. And that’s why she’s able to be what you see now, as she is. She’s happy, she’s full of life, and she loves every single moment of every single day. She takes life by the scruff of its neck and she lives it. 

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Meeting Ella is such a welcome surprise – Author Joanna Jowell

I think people approach Ella and a story about the Holocaust or they come to one of our events and they think it’s going to be very sombre and very difficult and very sad and very much rooted in the trauma of Ella’s past, which of course it is, that is absolutely formative to who she is. But, they leave the event or they finish reading the book and they are so surprised by the sense of upliftment that they feel and the energy that they feel and the kind of sense of life and vitality because meeting Ella and seeing her in person… It’s such a welcome surprise, but it’s such an unexpected response…

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