Holocaust survivor’s grim warning on refugees’ plight

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A Holocaust survivor, for whom Easter Sunday marks the anniversary of her liberation from Nazi persecution, has called on a new generation to work towards respect and tolerance.

Iby Knill, 92, who survived 40 days in Auschwitz-Berkenau concentration camp, told students at Ripon Grammar School that she was “exceedingly worried” about the rise of neo-Nazism in parts of Europe.

Czech-born Iby said: “People don’t seem to have learned anything. The future lies in the hands of young people and they must respond in the right way. We have to learn from the past so that we do not make the same mistakes in the future.”

With her second book, The Woman with Nine Lives, which takes up her story as an immigrant in post-war Britain, published this month, Iby also said she was terrified by the plight of refugees coming to Europe from the Middle East.

“It terrifies me because I have been there and done it. It’s frightening. If no one had taken me in and helped me, what would have happened to me?” she said.

“The numbers are overpowering but we can do more. We’re talking about 20,000. What’s that? I know many local communities who will take people in; at ground level people want to help but at government level they seem to have deaf ears.”

Iby’s first book The Woman Without a Number has been reprinted ten times.

In it she tells of her early, middle class childhood in Czechoslovakia and of how her parents – alarmed at the persecution of Jews in Germany – smuggled her over the border to Hungary.

It also reveals how she was caught by the security police and then imprisoned and tortured, not only as a result of her Jewish connections but also for having entered Hungary illegally and for aiding the resistance movement.

On Easter Sunday 1945, Iby was among hundreds of women being marched to Bergen-Belsen, after the hospital unit where she was working was evacuated, when American tanks appeared in the distance.

After the war she became a government interpreter. Her mother survived Auschwitz but her father was gassed there on the last occasion the gas chambers were used by the Nazis.

Iby later married a British Army officer and came to England in 1947, living first n Bristol and moving to Leeds in 1964.

As a member of the Holocaust Survivors’ Friendship Association, Iby spoke to a packed hall of students at Ripon Grammar School, which is a Beacon School for Holocaust Education overseen by University College London.

History teacher David Bruce explained: “We teach the Holocaust in every year of key stage three, we have a trip to Berlin every year and we collaborate with the Centre for Holocaust Education, which has asked us to trial some new schemes of work. We also have a role reaching out to other schools to share our experience.”

Student Georgina Watkiss, 17, of Northallerton, said: “I wanted to thank Iby for her sentiment that everyone should realise they can make a difference.

“We can’t even contemplate what she went through. The message from Iby’s talk is that it isn’t what happened, it’s that we can’t let it happen again.”