Book Review: The woman without a number

The woman without a number by Iby Knill

Featured on the BBC television series ‘My Story’, Auschwitz survivor Iby Knill relates her inspirational true story for the first time in print after sixty years of silence.

The woman without a number is narrated in first person by Iby Knill, who at the age of eighty-seven recalls memories of her childhood and adolescence. Her story takes us to her birthplace in Czechoslovakia, where she was born in 1923 and where she spent her early childhood before her parents, concerned about the persecution of Jews in Germany, arranged to smuggle her over the border to Hungary.

The result is a book of historical interest, in which the author offers a detailed account of how she joined the resistance movement until she was caught by the Security Police, not only for her collaboration with the underground movement, but for being an illegal immigrant and for her Jewish connections. She was imprisoned and tortured and when Germany invaded Hungary in 1944, she was transported to the infamous Auschwitz Birkenau concentration camp.

I found her account of the testimony of a twin experimented on memorable:

You are leaving this place; you are going to live, but we are not. Once they finished experimenting on us twins, they will send us to the gas chamber. Remember what you have seen here and tell the world about it, because we will not be able to do so.”

2011_03_28_Book Review_The woman without a number

The terrible events within the Holocaust have been depicted in several films and fictional novels but Iby’s strengths lie in her clear account of the day-to-day conditions in Auschwitz. She also tells in great detail about her childhood and the years in the underground. Each chapter is linked to historical events, such as when she left the camp after several weeks volunteering to go as a nurse to Lippstadt before being liberated by Allied Forces at Easter in 1945.

Iby Knill’s memoir is inspirational by the courage and resilience she showed in the most adverse circumstances. The woman without a number – Knill was omitted from the normal procedure in Auschwitz of tattooing everybody’s number on their left arm – also contains photographs of the days immediately after the liberation by American forces, so the book is also a work of documentary interest.

What remains is a splendid and inspirational tale in which Iby reaches extraordinary levels of realism in the portrait of one of the most tumultuous period in modern history. Through its pages the reader creates a mental picture of the human dimension of the World War II. We discover the worst and the best side of the human nature, the life – or death- in the concentration camps and the prevalence of human desire of living above all things.

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