Thursday, January 27, is International Holocaust Memorial Day, 80 years after the notorious Nazi death camp and slave labor complex of Auschwitz-Birkenau was liberated. And this day, survivor Lily Ebert, now 98, will see her portrait unveiled by Prince Charles in Buckingham Palace along with six others who endured the Holocaust and survived. It will be one more day she honors the promise she made to herself in 1944 amid unimaginable horrors:

“I would tell the world what had happened. Not just to me, but to all the people who could not tell their stories. And on the day I made that promise, I thought the world would listen,” she has written in Lily’s Promise: Holding on to Hope Through Auschwitz and Beyond — A Story for All Generations. A bestseller from Pan Macmillan in England in 2021, HarperOne will release it in the U.S. on May 10 with a foreword by Prince Charles. Nearly 2 million people already follow Ebert on TikTok posts created with her by the book's co-author Dov Forman, her social-media-savvy 18-year-old great-grandson.

Lily's Promise details a life of fierce determination and unflagging faith: Ripped from a comfortable family life in a small Hungarian town. Crammed in a transport and unloaded days later, filthy, famished, and terrified, at Auschwitz. Witness to murderous brutality, disease, and death. Shuttled to be a slave laborer at a munitions factory. Lily and her teenage sisters, Rene and Piri, whom she guarded and supported through the worst of times, were staggering on a death march toward an unknown destination when American forces rumbled up the road and rescued them.

Yet, once she finally had space, time, peace, and freedom, she writes, she was tormented with “whys,” alone in a strange land with a wall of horror between her and the world. “To have suffered what we had, to have been so determined to tell the world about the inhumanity we had experienced... and then to discover that the world did not want to know. This was very, very hard to bear,” she writes.

But decades later, Ebert, a widow and a great grandmother, finally felt empowered to keep her promise by speaking to thousands of British schoolchildren and giving her testimony at Holocaust museums and memorials. But her grandson was hungry to know more: What was her childhood like? How did she manage to live amid the brutal treatment? How did the three sisters make it to Switzerland, on to Israel, and, for Ebert, eventually England make new families and lives?

One Sabbath, during the early days of the pandemic lockdown in London, Forman discovered when hope entered his great-grandmother's story. She was showing him the few things she had clung to through the Holocaust and the aftermath, including a scrap of Allied Military Currency, issued only during the war, with a message on it. An American rabbi had helped get the sisters out of Germany to safe harbor in Switzerland and as she left, a serviceman gave her the note. It read: “A start to a new life. Good Luck and Happiness.” It was signed “assistant to chaplain Schacter.”

Ebert described it as a tiny act of kindness she would remember forever. “Human kindness is what keeps you alive,” she writes. “If you gave up your humanity, the Nazis had won.” Forman photographed the note and posted it on Twitter, hoping to learn the name of the “assistant.” In less than a day, the world flew open: They connected with the family of the soldier who recognized his writing, and also with the descendants of the chaplain.

Soon, Forman recounts in the book, they were getting messages from people familiar with documentation such as transport lists of names (Nazis were great list makers) drawn from museums and archives. Forman and Ebert were able to pinpoint dates, places, and, most valuable of all, names. Numbers, says Ebert, are “unfathomable.” Six million of 11 million European Jews were systematically eradicated. Yet, the sight of hundreds of shoes or suitcases or piles of human hair heaped up in a museum are not as powerful, she writes, as “one person. One life.” Her book is dedicated to those she can name—her mother, Nina, and little brother and sister, Bela and Berta, who were consigned by Nazi doctor Joseph Mengele to the gas chambers at Auschwitz, the victims of Nazi murder in her extended family, and “to all those who have no one to remember them.”

Ebert tells PW: “I have shared my pain and difficulties to the best of my ability. I am aware however that there is a deeper level I do not wish to visit and also that the effects on my children, grandchildren, and even great-grandchildren are bigger than I ever could know and acknowledge because I hoped I could shield them sufficiently.”

Forman says, “Her story has so much impact precisely because she doesn’t tell you so much that you are forced to turn away from it. In a public situation, surrounded by other people, a listener can only take so much horror. And you can’t help but listen to Lily.” He’ll be by her side at Buckingham palace when the portrait exhibition opens in the Queen's Gallery. That same day, the BBC will show a documentary of the survivors telling their stories as they were painted by the artists.

They both know that one day Dov will be carrying out her promise—something he considers a “great privilege,” not a burden, he tells PW. “Everyone has a platform to make change. It is all of our responsibility to foster respect and kindness and confront racism of all kinds.” He and his great-grandmother both cite the alarmingly steep rise of anti-Semitism worldwide.

Because he’s seen it. He’s heard it: Walking down the street in London, wearing his yarmulke as an Orthodox Jew, strangers have screamed at him “Dirty Jew!”