COLUMBUS, Ohio –
The Holocaust impacted many lives across the world and the story of a local survivor within the Central Ohio community is the focus of this year’s Holocaust Remembrance by the Defense Logistics Agency Land and Maritime Equal Employment Opportunity and Diversity Office’s European American Special Emphasis Program committee.
Local survivor Murray Ebner lived ‘a noble and meaningful life’ in his adopted hometown of Columbus, Ohio, until he passed away on Nov. 8, 2015, at the age of 87 years old. The EAP committee recently spoke with Ebner's son, Mark, to share his story of survival and the legacy that lives on in Ebner's descendants - many of whom remain in Central Ohio.
Ebner was born Moinyak Ebner in Wischniz Nowy, Poland, in 1928. Moinyak is Yiddish for the Hebrew name Moishe. Even though Murray’s family were Orthodox Jews, they lived in a primarily non-Jewish neighborhood outside the center of town. Mark Ebner recalled memories his father shared of going to school together as a child with his non-Jewish neighbors, playing together in the neighborhood and participating in sports alongside one another.
Years after surviving the Holocaust, Mark visited Poland with his father, and they had the opportunity to visit neighbors who were still living there. Ebner and the neighbors both recalled the good times they shared, throwing the ball to each other across the fence between their houses, Mark said.
Mark said that his father didn’t recall experiencing any notable acts of anti-Semitism prior to the Nazi invasion of Poland; there were minor acts, such as neighborhood kids calling Ebner a “dirty Jew,” but he didn’t think it was a serious concern.
As the Nazis began their rise to power, the non-Jewish members of Ebner’s community were neither for nor against the Nazis and Ebner viewed the people who lived close to him as being neutral about the Nazi party, his son said. After the Nazis invaded Poland, they accepted the Nazis and their attitudes as the new normal.
Although Ebner’s neighbors were quite friendly before the Nazi invasion, they became noticeably ‘cool’ after the invasion. Mark shared that his father didn’t believe their neighbors tried to persecute his family but they clearly felt the need to distance themselves from their Jewish neighbors. The Jewish community members accepted the fact that things had changed for them, he explained. They understood the reality and the risks their neighbors faced by being friends with Jews and any hint of being too friendly could have grave consequences for their non-Jewish neighbors.
Ebner’s life forever changed at the age of 13 when he was taken off the streets of a Jewish ghetto in Krakow by German soldiers. He and his family had successfully hidden from soldiers until that point. Ebner would never see his family again. He was tattooed with the identification number B2922 and sent on to the first of four camps he would eventually live in, including Auschwitz. Ebner would later learn that his parents, Herschel Tzvi and Feigel Ebner, and his brothers Avrom, Zeisha, and Nuta, all died during the Holocaust. Ebner also lost his two grandfathers and 13 aunts and uncles.
At the age of 16, Ebner escaped when the Germans were moving prisoners from Poland to Germany in March of 1945. He ended up in a camp for displaced people in Bavaria before coming to the United States in 1947. He lived with distant relatives in Springfield, Ohio, for a time before ultimately settling in Columbus and raising three children with his wife, Sylvia. He served during the Korean War, returning to Europe to protect the Germans from the Soviets.
Later in life, Ebner was a successful Columbus businessman and community leader known for his generosity with both his time and resources. He and his family donated the Holocaust exhibit to the building that bears his family’s name, The Ebner Building, in downtown Columbus. The building currently houses Jewish Family Services.
During his lifetime, Ebner wrote the book “Chosen for Reasons Unknown: A Holocaust Survivor’s Journey” and was featured in an Emmy-award winning documentary chronicling his life.
At his memorial service in 2015, Ebner was remembered as a family patriarch and role model. He frequently visited local schools to share his Holocaust experience with schoolchildren learning about the topic.
According to former Columbus Mayor Michael B. Coleman, Ebner lit a candle every spring during the city’s Holocaust Remembrance prior to his death. Coleman told the gathering who attended Ebner’s memorial service, “Our community is better off because of his life”.
Despite the horrors of his teenage years, Ebner’s son Mark said his father held onto the belief that people were fundamentally good.
“The war broke out when my father was 11,” Mark explained. “He’d had a wonderful home and childhood upbringing. He was taught certain fundamental values as a kid.
He was always taught, in his school and in his home, that people were fundamentally good. He never gave up on that belief system. He was taught that God was a merciful God and that humans were born in his image and that no mad man nor his twisted beliefs could ever change that.”
“He said he always accepted the fact that evil was never far away and that if the right set of circumstances came together to unleash it, bad things could happen,” Mark said. “Though it does not change the fact that he believed people were naturally good. He always said that, at the end of the day, light prevails over darkness and good over evil because that is what our merciful God naturally seeks, and our Torah teaches us.”
Ebner left a significant legacy in the Central Ohio community through his efforts to educate others and honor the lives lost in the Holocaust – and, for that, his impact will be felt for years to come.
Note: Special thanks to the European American Program committee for their contributions to this year’s observance.