Evelyn Diamont Banko (b. 1936)

Evelyn Diamont Banko was born January 21, 1936 in Vienna, Austria. Her father, Joseph, was an engineer and her mother, Frieda, a housewife. In March 1938, when the Nazi’s annexed Austria and enacted numerous anti-Jewish laws, it became increasingly clear to Evelyn’s family that they could not remain in Austria. In August 1938, a Nazi who sympathized with Evelyn’s father warned him not to return to his home one night, or else he would be arrested and likely deported to a concentration camp. Five days later he gathered up two year old Evie and Frieda and fled to Riga, Latvia, where they lived until the Russian invasion in June 1940. Evelyn and her parents were three out of 1500 people granted permission to leave the country. Through the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, Evelyn’s father was put in charge of 24 of these refugees: the only Jews granted permission to leave. Evelyn’s family and the other refugees took the Trans-Siberian Railroad across Russia to Manchuria, China and on to Kobe, Japan, where they boarded one of the last ships to leave Japan for the United States before the attack on Pearl Harbor. 

The trip to America took about six weeks, and eventually the refugees arrived in Seattle, Washington. They were given the choice of going to Portland, Oregon or San Francisco, California; they chose Portland. Her mother found work as a seamstress at Hirsch-Weis and her father became a janitor until he was able to open a Texaco service station in SE Portland. Evie attended preschool through high school in Portland and graduated from the University of Oregon with a degree in elementary education; she taught in Portland for 33 years. She is the mother of two children and grandmother of two and has been speaking about her experiences as a child refugee for many years.

Although Evie and her immediate family survived the war and the arduous trip to the United States, her uncle, aunt and grandparents were murdered by the Nazis. Those members of her extended family lucky enough to have escaped were scattered across the world, but in time Evie was able to reconnect with a few of them.