You’d be forgiven for thinking that most 97-year-olds wouldn’t have a clue what TikTok is. As of this year, the app is the seventh most used in the world, with the majority of its users being millennial and Gen Z.
But Lily Ebert isn’t your typical 97-year-old. In June, after only joining the platform earlier this year, Ebert reached 1 million followers on TikTok and has now amassed over 1.2 million in total. How? Ebert is a Holocaust survivor and, together with her great-grandson Dov Forman who runs her account, is teaching the internet about her remarkable life and experiences as a survivor of Auschwitz and how she made a life for herself after liberation.
Who is Lily Ebert?
Lily Ebert was born in Hungary, the eldest of six children in a happy and loving family. However, in March 1944, their lives changed forever. Shortly after Germany invaded Hungary, Lily, her mother and her siblings were sent to the ghetto, and soon after were put on a train to Auschwitz-Birkenau when Lily was aged just 14. When they arrived, Lily and her two sisters Renee and Piri were sent in one direction, while her mother Nina, brother Bela and sister Berta were sent in another to the gas chambers. Lily never saw them again.
After a few months in Auschwitz, Lily and her sisters were transferred to work in a factory near Leipzig and eventually, when the Front started closing in on the area, they were forced to leave and sent on a two-day march. After seeing and suffering unimaginable horrors, on the second day of the march, April 13, 1945, they were finally liberated by Allied forces.
In the period following the end of the war, Lily and her sisters sought refuge in Switzerland where they slowly tried to rebuild their lives. Eventually, Lily married and had children, and in 1967, she came to London with her family where she has lived ever since.
Finding viral fame
Despite having now achieved viral TikTok fame, Lily’s introduction to social media came in the wake of yet another life-threatening struggle: COVID-19. In January, she struggled with a brutal bout of the virus, but true to her nature, she fought through. It was then that her great-grandson Dov decided to share a photo of his great-grandmother to Twitter celebrating her miraculous recovery. The response was extraordinary; the photo has since been retweeted over 17,000 times and has received more than a quarter of a million likes, with people from all over the world responding to send their well wishes and express their admiration for Lily’s strength and bravery.
On the back of this unexpected reaction, Dov set up a TikTok account for Lily. At first, their videos mainly consisted of Dov introducing his great-grandmother and encouraging people to follow the account in order to have her story reach as many people as possible. But once they started building up a following, people quickly began expressing an interest in the details of Lily’s extraordinary life.
Soon enough, the account became dedicated to answering followers’ questions about the Holocaust and Lily’s experiences of it, with questions ranging from asking what they ate in the camp, to what happened to babies that were born there, and what the sleeping conditions were like.
Accessible Holocaust education
Society may have come a long way since the liberation of the concentration camps, but unfortunately in 2021 antisemitism is once again on the rise. And with the lack of Holocaust education available, it is sadly unsurprising. Last year, a survey of millennials and Gen Z in the U.S. found that 63% of people did not know that six million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust. It is for this reason that Lily and Dov are so keen to share her story and educate people who have little to no knowledge about what Jewish people endured during the Holocaust and beyond.
It goes without saying that the nature of the content on their account can be harrowing to hear and watch, but when asked by one TikTok user if it is hard for her to answer these questions, Lily said: “Of course it is hard but if I could survive it, I can talk about it. And for the future, to ensure that something similar [to the Holocaust] cannot happen again, I have to talk about it.”
Lily’s most viewed video, now with over 20 million views, shows her answering the question, “How did it feel to get your number in Auschwitz?” Revealing a faded tattoo on her left arm, Lily confidently tells her followers: “My number is A-10572. That is what I was, they did not call us by our name. We were no longer humans. We were only a number and we were treated like numbers.” The video now has over 29,000 comments from people expressing their solidarity with Lily and gratitude for her honesty and strength.
However, despite the overwhelmingly positive reactions and encouraging words of support, like all social media platforms, TikTok comes with its downsides, too. In May, around the time when violence was escalating between Israel and Palestine, Ebert’s account received a slew of hateful antisemitic comments. In one particular instance, under a video of Lily simply wishing her followers “a lovely, peaceful weekend”, comments could be found including ones that held her responsible for the conflict between Israel and Palestine. Another said, “Happy Holocaust,” while another said, “Ask her if she thinks the treatment of Palestinians reminds her [of] the treatment she got in the camp.”
Although these comments were clearly abhorrent, unjustified and unacceptable, like everything else Lily and Dov handled them with the utmost dignity. Posting to Twitter, Dov wrote: “Over the past few days my great Grandmother (Auschwitz survivor) and I have continued to receive messages of hate on Tiktok and Twitter… We will not allow this to stop us from educating about the horrors of the past, and what hatred can lead to. Hate only breeds hate.”
As part of their mission to teach people about the Holocaust and its devastating effects, Lily and Dov have now co-authored a book together called “Lily’s Promise: How I Survived Auschwitz and Found the Strength to Live.”
In the book, which comes out this September, Lily writes about her life from her happy childhood in Hungary, to when she and her family were taken to Auschwitz, to the horrors they endured there and how she eventually built a new life for herself after liberation. It is a story that everyone should hear.