"Difference is valuable"

- Iby Knill

It is with great sadness that we commemorate a truly inspiring woman, and cherished member of our survivor family, Iby Knill BEM. Iby passed away on Easter Sunday, 77 years after her liberation.

Iby was born in 1923 in Czechoslovakia. She lived with her parents and enjoyed her early childhood in Bratislava. When Iby was a teenager she and her family were forced to move out of their apartment and the family business was officially taken over by non-Jewish people. Iby and other Jewish people in Czechoslovakia at this time were also forced to wear a yellow star on their clothing, and Iby remembered being angry about being treated differently and covering her star up with her scarf in defiance.

In February 1942, Iby’s mother decided that it was no longer safe for her to be in Bratislava, and she was sent to her grandparent’s house in a small village. Eventually, Iby decided to escape across the Hungarian border and became an illegal immigrant.  

Arriving with only a small handbag and the clothes on her back, she eventually found refuge with her cousin’s friend. Iby soon learned that he was part of the resistance in Hungary, and she too became involved, helping escaped airmen.

One day, when walking along the street Iby was arrested and after being tortured she was held for three months in prison. After release she was immediately arrested for being an illegal immigrant and was detained inside a detention centre for three months, after which she was transferred to an internment centre in Budapest and then on to a refugee camp in the north.

In February 1944 Iby was let out on parole and worked as a nanny for distant family members in Szekesfehervar, Hungary. In June, Iby was rounded up with thousands of other Hungarian Jews and taken to a brickyard. She helped in an improvised hospital there until cattle wagons arrived. They were forced onto the wagons and made to endure a five day journey to Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Iby was selected with other young women by Dr. Mengele, for hard labour. Iby was not tattooed as many other inmates were at Auschwitz-Birkenau, she suspected this was due to the sheer volume of inmates that had arrived with her.

On the 26th July 1944, Iby volunteered with others to join a slave labour transport to an armaments factory in Lippstadt. Her last night in Auschwitz-Birkenau she was approached by a twin she had known in Szekesfehervar, who told her about the experiments on twins by Dr. Mengele and did not think they would survive. They asked her to promise to tell the world what had happened if she were to survive.

In March 1945, Iby began her death march from Lippstadt towards Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. She and other prisoners walked for days before they could see American tanks coming towards them. Soon the German guards retreated and Iby was liberated by American soldiers. It was Easter Sunday, April 1945.

In September 1946, Iby returned to Bratislava and was reunited with her mother. It was here that Iby met Bert, a British army officer, and they were married in 1946 and moved to England in March 1947.

It took Iby 60 years to tell the harrowing story of what happened to her during the Holocaust, finally fulfilling the promise she had made to the twin all that time ago.

Iby dedicated her later life to educating others about the importance of tolerance and equality, using her testimony to illustrate the dangers of racism. She spoke to thousands of people over the years, captivating and inspiring so many with her story of survival.

You can listen to Iby's testimony here

Iby always emphasised the importance of recognising that our differences are what make us interesting and valuable, but that underneath we are all the same. See below a poem she wrote about this.

‘I Was There’

I am different from you – you are different from me – but that does not make me worth less than you, it just makes me more interesting to you and YOU more interesting to me.

I am not going to flay you

make a lampshade out of your skin

as they did in Auschwitz-Birkenau

to see what’s under the skin

because I know that under the skin

we are all the same.

-Iby Knill

We will endeavour to protect her testimony and carry on her legacy to educate others.