Osias-Yehoshua and Jetti Knesbach left Poland after the birth of their daughter Fanny in 1914, and settled in Vienna. Osias served in the Austro-Hungarian Army in World War I. Their son Leo-Yehuda was born in 1919 in Vienna. They owned a store selling textile products.
In 1937-8, Fanny studied at the Faculty of Medicine in Vienna University, one of the only female students in her year. She completed her studies shortly after the Anschluss (annexation of Austria to the Third Reich) in March 1938. She passed her final examinations in October, but realized that she would not be able to practice medicine in Austria due to the restrictions imposed on Jews.
The Jews of Vienna suffered greatly in the November Pogrom ("Kristallnacht"), 1938, as did Jews all over the Reich. After the pogrom, Jetti and Osias decided to get their children out of Austria. Leo left Vienna in February 1939 and reached Romania. In June 1939, he boarded the Ma'apilim (illegal immigration) ship "Rim", which left Romania carrying some 600 illegal immigrants.
The ship stopped in Rhodes, where another 260 Jews from Rhodes and other refugees boarded. On 2 July, a fire broke out on board and the passengers were collected by an Italian ship and brought to a transit camp in Rhodes that was set up for them, where they stayed for about six weeks. In August, the Ma'apilim boarded the "Agios Nikolaos". Some 50 km off the shores of Eretz Israel, they were transferred to three smaller ships that were discovered by the British. One of them went aground in Netanya, and the other two were towed to Haifa port, arriving there on 19 August. Leo Knesbach was on one of those ships. The British arrested the Ma'apilim. Leo was detained and was eventually released, and settled in Jerusalem.
Osias, Jetti and Fanny, who had stayed in Vienna, were forced to share their apartment in the 14th district of Vienna with another Jewish family, until the SS confiscated the apartment. In mid-May 1939, they moved to a small apartment in the 2nd district, where Jews were permitted to live. Fanny managed to obtain an entrance permit to England, and left for London in July 1939. Recalling the parting from her parents, she wrote:
The doors had been closed, we crowded the windows. Last-minute shouted messages, tears, reassurances, the final whistle and the steam rushing impatiently from the locomotive. We were moving. I had stuck my head out … I wanted to keep the imprint of my parents' faces. For a few yards they kept up with my window while the train was still moving at a walking pace.
'Don’t cry, Fannerle, we rejoice that you are leaving!' and tears were streaming down mama's cheeks.
'B'shana haba bi-Yrushalayim!' Papa shouted above the hissing steam. 'Next year in Jerusalem!'
The train was gaining on them… I held my handkerchief out of the window at arm's length and caught a last glimpse of them. Two tiny figures. Then tears blinded me completely… 'I may never see them again!' 'Never, Never' went the mocking rhythm of the train.
Fanny Stang, Fräulein Doktor, 1988, p. 216
Osias and Jetti remained in Vienna, planning to immigrate to Eretz Israel in the footsteps of their son. They joined a group of Ma'apilim organized by the Hehalutz movement in Vienna.
In November 1939, the group boarded riverboats that sailed on the Danube on their way to Romania, intending to continue from there to Eretz Israel. Due to the harsh winter, the boats were stranded on the frozen Danube. Unable to continue their journey, the Ma'apilim were anchored in the Yugoslav village of Kladovo. Later on they were transferred to the Yugoslav city of Šabac. During this time, Osias and Jetti corresponded with their children. In a telegram that they sent to Leo via the Red Cross in the fall of 1941, they wrote: "We are alright. Be well and write often". This was the last sign of life from Osias and Jetti.
In November 1939, a group of some 1,000 Ma'apilim – men, women and children – organized by the Hehalutz movement left Vienna with the permission of the German authorities, which encouraged Jewish emigration from the Reich. The Aliyah Bet planned to bring the group to Sulina port in Romania via the Danube, and from there, they would sail to Eretz Israel.
The Ma'apilim stopped in Bratislava, Slovakia. There, they discovered that there was no boat waiting for them in Romania, and that they also couldn't stay in Bratislava itself. Thanks to the efforts of the leaders of the Jewish community in Yugoslavia, three riverboats were hired, and the Ma'apilim departed from Bratislava, and continued along the Danube. Another 200 or so Jews boarded the boats in Bratislava. The riverboats reached the "Iron Gate", (the narrow channel from the Danube to the sea), but ice on the river halted their progress, and they were brought to anchor near Kladovo, a small village in Yugoslavia. There, the group stayed on the riverboats for some 3 months, during a particularly harsh winter. In April, the ice on the river melted, but there was still no boat waiting for them in Sulina, and the Yugloslav shipping company needed its boats back. The Ma'apilim were ferried to Kladovo village, in the hope that later on they would be able to continue their journey. All attempts to obtain a boat were fruitless. In late May 1940, the Ma'apilim were moved to Šabac, in the northeast, where there was a small Jewish community numbering a few dozen. The destination of Eretz Israel seemed ever more remote. The conditions in Šabac were better than those in Kladovo. The Ma'apilim lived in a large flour mill that was adapted for living purposes, and in the homes of the locals. Efforts to get them out continued. Some 200 children and youth, and a few families with "Certificates" left Šabac in March 1941, and reached Eretz Israel.
In April 1941, the Germans invaded Yugoslavia. A popular uprising led by communists erupted in Serbia in July 1941, quashed brutally by the Germans. Understanding that the policy indicated by Berlin was the liquidation of the Jews, the local German regime used the pretext that the Jews were communists who had incited the uprising, and murdered the Jewish men who were incarcerated in concentration camps. The women and children were gathered in the Sajmište camp near Belgrade. This policy was also extended to the Ma'apilim in Šabac. They were transferred to a concentration camp near Šabac, and in October 1941, the men were taken from the camp, shot and thrown into pits near the village of Zasavica. Amongst the murdered were the men from the group of Ma'apilim, the Jewish men from Šabac, a group of Roma and some Serbs.
In January 1942, the remaining members of the Ma'apilim group (the women and children) were moved from Šabac to the Sajmište concentration camp. In March 1942, a gas van was sent from Berlin, and by early May, all the women and children imprisoned in Sajmište had been murdered by gas. Among those murdered at Zasavica and Sajmište were Osias and Jetti Knesbach.
In 1939, Fanny married Maurice Stang. After the war, she redid sections of her studies at the University of Glasgow in Scotland, and was authorized to practice medicine, serving as doctor for many years in England. In 1988, her book "Fräulein Doctor" was published in English, and in 1979, her book "A New Beginning ", telling the story of her life and her struggle as a female doctor, was published in English. Fanny passed away in 2008 in London.
Yehuda Knesbach married Yaffa Tkhorek in Jerusalem. Yaffa had come to Eretz Israel with her family from Poland in the 1920s. Yehuda changed his family name to Ben Yehoshua.
In 1996, Fanny Knesbach-Stang submitted Pages of Testimony to Yad Vashem in memory of her parents, Jetti and Osias Knesbach. In 2019, Herzl Ben Yehoshua, Yehuda's son and Jetti and Yehoshua's grandson, donated documents, photographs and the last letter that his father received from his parents in Šabac, to Yad Vashem as part of the national project "Gathering the Fragments". The letter is displayed in this exhibition.