Iby Knill

I would like to introduce you to Iby Knill. Iby is a Jewish Czechoslovakian national who survived Nazi Germany. In her adult life Iby became an active public speaker on her experience and advocates the need to encourage tolerance and acceptance of others.

  • Iby, originally from Bratislava, Czechoslovakia, grew up in a well off and by all accounts happy family. She speaks six languages. To speak to the innocence of children, when Iby was forced to wear a golden star as a child to identify that she was Jewish, she didn’t understand the uselessness of the act.
  • Following a tip off from a friend to her mother in 1942, Iby was able to escape being put into sex trafficking by German soldiers. While she was saved one type of horror, the various other trials she pushed through can be read at depth here or here.
  • In summary, Iby suffered torture, terror, starvation and more during different periods of detention, including six weeks at the infamous Auschwitz, before taking an offer to attend as a nurse at a hospital in the Ruhr. She had no idea upon putting her hand up if this would be a journey straight to the gas chamber, or if it were a genuine offer. To take that gamble speaks volumes for her experience at the time.
  • She worked as a nurse at various German hospitals and eventually returned to Bratislava and her mother in 1946. Iby met and married a British Army Officer named Bert. She moved to England in 1947.
  • To quote Iby directly: “For fifty years I lived the life of an Army Officer’s wife. I made his family and its history mine. It was only after his death and after my children had left home and made their own lives that I felt the need – and the duty – to recall my own past and to record my own history. ” (link)

It’s hard to know where to start when reflecting on an experience such as Iby’s. Her experience could have easily been yours or mine given another time. I think it is the lack of control that those such as Iby had in those times that makes us shut down around this topic. But I would like to focus on how exceptional it is that Iby has gone on to have a life in which she had children, a husband, and has gone on to pursue activism in a way that she was able to create and define on her own terms. She goes to speak at schools about her experience, agreeing to interviews in which she talks through her experience, and engages with people about positive engagement of minorities and a need to reduce and hopefully remove discrimination.

  • Despite long-term fear, suffering and trial a human being can still rise to be something. We can build from our experiences, learn from our experiences, but we are not defined by our experiences.
  • We do not feel the need to become something GREAT. We do not need to write books. We do not need to become public figures. We do not need to rally groups of people and gather followings and inspire greatness in any one way. We can inspire others by our kindness. We can gather followings by building strong family connections and linking our friendships to build communities.
  • You do not need to feel overwhelmed by stories such as Iby’s. She survived. She moved through her experience and speaks freely and openly about it. Of course she grieves the loss of family, friends, and a life that never was for herself. She feels fear and holds memories that undoubtedly haunt her. But she does not allow this to cripple her life experience and we need not feel crippled by the sadness and negativity out there in the world.
  • We need to continue injecting the world with happiness, laughter and kindness wherever possible, whilst acknowledging our sadness or trials in a calm and freeing way. If we do become overwhelmed we need to seek professional help.

For those who prefer the video version check out this YouTube clip of an animated video put to an audio interview with Iby (animation by Zane Whittingham). Her father’s watch chain really hits home to me (see the featured image to this article for a closer look). Even in this man’s what must have been paralysing fear and distress he thought to give his son something not only of monetary worth, but also something of such huge sentimental value should he be in a position to keep it.

If you do have any extra time today I would encourage you to scroll through the Holocaust Learning website and be inspired by all of the incredible human beings featured on the website who have survived the horrors of the Holocaust and engaged positively in their life in the aftermath.

If you are becoming overwhelmed

Lifeline or BeyondBlue are just some of the many resources we can (and should!) draw on if we need help. Nearly every organisation has some form of Employee Assistance Program for you to access and in Australia we can of course access our Medicare Mental Health Plans. This gives you a referral to a mental health professional through your GP where you will receive treatment covered up to $80 per session for 5 sessions (a total of 10 can be accessed per year following a review at the 5 session point). If your practitioner costs more than $80 per session you can discuss bulk billing options or alternatively you can choose to pay the gap.

Thank you to the following sources:

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