Survivor’s Experience of the Holocaust
Wednesday, 20 March 2019
Holocaust survivor Iby Knill visited the Boys’ Division to speak about her experiences prior to and during the Second World War. All Senior Boys in Years 9 and 10 attended the talk, along with some students in Years 11 to 13.
Iby began with a brief history and geography lesson to give the audience the appropriate background knowledge they would need to see the implications of her talk. She gave a clear overview of how Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party rose to power after the First World War and explained that Jewish people were an easy target, before moving on to her personal experiences.
She spoke about her childhood in Bratislava, in particular focusing on the changes that occurred when the Nazis rose to power: she was forced to change schools, could not attend academic institutions beyond the age of 16, her family’s business was ‘aryanised’ and taken over by non-Jews, the family were forced to leave their apartment, and they had to wear yellow stars on their clothes to mark them as Jewish.
She described in some detail her escape to Hungary in 1941, her experiences hiding in Budapest, her involvement with the resistance movement and her arrest as an illegal immigrant. In June 1944, she was in the wrong place at the wrong time and was sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau alongside 3,000 Hungarian Jews.
Iby described her arrival at Auschwitz, where everyone was stripped, shaved, showered in cold water, given rags to wear and registered. There were so many people that they ran out of ink and so she does not have a tattoo. This inspired the name of her first book, ‘The Woman Without A Number’. She had decided to assist the doctors and nurses with looking after Jewish patients during their evacuation from Hungary, and therefore was listed on her registration papers as a nurse: she said that this and the red triangle designating her as a political prisoner probably saved her life.
She went on to talk about the terrible conditions in Birkenau and the daily routine which, she said, was designed to keep everyone under control. Eventually, she volunteered as a nurse on a labour transport and therefore escaped Auschwitz-Birkenau. She survived 40 days and nights in the camp and was eventually liberated on Easter Sunday 1945.
She talked briefly about her life after the war, working as an interpreter for the German government, meeting her husband Bert who was British army officer and marrying him in three ceremonies to satisfy the Czech, British and British Army laws and regulations. Finally, she spoke about returning to Hungary and Germany with a BBC film crew in 2010 to retrace her journey for a film, sharing pictures of some locations that were key to her story. She ended her talk with the image of Shoes on the Danube Bank, which is a memorial in Budapest for the victims who were shot into the river, and reminded the audience: “You had people … who were only too pleased to kill people who were different to them, and today you have those dangers all over Europe, all over the world again.”
The boys were invited to ask questions at the end of this thought-provoking and deeply personal address.
Iby’s address is available to watch in full here.
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