Holocaust Survivor's Message to Boys
Monday, 27 June 2011
Holocaust Survivor Iby Knill visited Bolton School to tell her story of how she survived a Nazi concentration camp and the effect it had on her life.
Her visit was an invaluable opportunity for Year 9 pupils in the Boys' Division to hear a first hand account from one of three survivors of Auschwitz still alive in the UK. Iby's is a powerful message about never labelling groups and always having the courage to address individuals and their actions.
For 60 years, Iby kept secret the fact that she had survived the horrors of the Nazi concentration camps - even from her children, but she finally decided to tell her story in a book to keep a promise she made many years ago. When she came to England following her marriage to a British army officer in 1947, she firmly closed a door on the past. Like many of that generation, she refused to talk about her experiences during the war as a matter of 'self-preservation'. However in 2002, Iby began privately to write down her account, which is now published as 'The Woman Without A Number'. In October she was featured in the BBC One programme My Story, which featured ordinary people with extraordinary personal histories, and following that, a publishing firm in Yorkshire, where she has settled, brought out her autobiography. She now visits schools to tell the stories of the past in the hope that this will influence decisions of the future.
Iby spoke to the boys about how at age 18 she was smuggled out of her native Czechoslovakia across the border to Hungary to stay with her Aunt, but on arrival was turned away. In her journey that followed, Iby joined the Hungarian resistance until June 1942 when she was arrested, interrogated and tortured before being placed in a series of refugee centres and camps. When Germany enforced direct control by marching into the country in March 1944, she was classified as a political prisoner and herded on to a cattle truck bound for Auschwitz. Iby said: "I think the secret of survival is maintaining internal integrity. They could strip me, shave me, dehumanise me, but inside I was still me."
Speaking of her reaction on hearing the news that American tanks had taken over the camp Iby said: "I didn't feel euphoric. The aftermath of all these years is that your emotions don't really operate. That stays with you for a very long time - years. To release emotion seems a dangerous thing. You're afraid that if you do so now, it will take your mind back to what you want to forget."
Her decision to break her silence was down to a promise she made while in Auschwitz. One night a pair of twins crawled over to whisper to her. They had seen their parents enter the gas chamber and they were now being used in gruesome experiments in the camp. 'Once they have finished, they will send us to the gas chamber,' they told her. 'Remember what you have seen and tell the world, because we will not be able to'. Iby said: "I made a promise to them and promises have to be kept. However long and however late, eventually you have to fulfil your promise."
History teacher Miss Louise Dickinson, who organised the visit, said: "Iby Knill's visit provided boys with a unique opportunity to learn about history through the eyes of someone who experienced it first hand. Iby's story was so extraordinary and its message so powerful and I hope that the boys learnt the important lessons from her experiences and will remember them for the rest of their lives."
At the end of the talk the boys got to ask Iby questions and she left them with the message that ethnicity, colour, religion are not important and that above all they must accept and respect difference.
To read more of Iby's story follow the link