I will continue to talk to people who are willing to listen as long as I am able to do so.
- Iby Knill

Iby was born in 1923 in Czechoslovakia. She had a happy childhood living with her parents in Bratislava. Her first memory of anti-Jewish restrictions was when her mother told her she had to transfer from her German Grammar school to a Czech one because she was Jewish. She also recalled other instances of people treating her differently, such as an old school friend crossing the street to avoid her. 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. Czechoslovakian Jews were ordered to wear a Star of David, and Iby remembered being angry about being treated differently and covering her star with her scarf in defiance.

In February 1942, her mother decided that it was no longer safe for Iby to be in Bratislava and sent her to her grandparent’s house in a small village. It quickly became clear she still wasn’t safe and Iby was hidden in another 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, Iby found refuge with her cousin in Budapest who had offered to hide her. Shortly after, he was called to the Labour Battalion, and she was forced to hide 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 released on parole and worked as a nanny for distant family members in Szekesfehervar, Hungary. However, after the Nazis invaded Hungary, anti-Jewish laws became increasingly restrictive. In June 1944, 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 an unknown destination. When the train finally stopped, the doors were opened at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Men in striped uniforms helped them off the wagons, insisting that the old, sick and children were to be left behind. Iby did not know then that they would all be taken to the gas chambers.

After being separated into different lines, Iby was selected with other young women by Dr. Mengele, for hard labour.  She was then forced to strip naked and have all her hair shaved before being showered. 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. After being given some mis-matching clothes she was taken to a hut. Iby remembered vividly the incredible thirst she felt during the hot summer days at Auschwitz-Birkenau, with her only water being in the small ration of soup she was given.

On the 26th of 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.

When Iby arrived in Lippstadt she was put in charge of setting up a hospital. She cared for many different people coming into the camp, even volunteering to help those with typhoid in isolation. In mid-March 1945 the hospital was cleared with those unable to walk put on wagons and transported to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. A week later Iby began her death march towards the same location. 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 on Easter Sunday, April 1945.

In September 1946, Iby returned to Bratislava and was reunited with her mother. She later learned that her father had been deported to Auschwitz where he was gassed upon arrival in October 1944.

Iby met Bert, a British army officer, and they were married in 1946 in Bratislava. They moved to England in March 1947. It took Iby 60 years to talk about what had happened to her during the Holocaust, fulfilling the promise she had made to the twin in Auschwitz decades before.

In later life Iby became a dear friend and supporter of the National Holocaust Centre and Museum, giving her testimony as long as she was able. She dedicated her later life to educating others about the importance of tolerance and equality, using her testimony to illustrate the dangers of racism. We endeavour to protect the testimony she has donated to our museum and carry on her legacy to educate others.

You can listen to Iby's testimony here