Fonds RA029 - Knoll family fonds

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Knoll family fonds

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  • Textual record
  • Photographic material

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  • Source of title proper: Title based on provenance of fonds.

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  • 1917–[2015] (Creation)
    Knoll family

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Physical description

2 cm of textual records
18 photographs : prints

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Name of creator

Biographical history

Bert Knoll (birth name Berthold Knoll, b. February 8, 1923, in Vienna, Austria) was an Austrian Jew from a family of Polish origin. He was born to Josef Knoll (b. May 11, 1897 in Stanisławów, Poland, now Ivano-Frankivs’k, Ukraine, d. November 19, 1938 in Vienna, Austria) and Regina (or Regine) Knoll (née Schmetterling, b. May 15, 1898 in Zaleszczyki, Poland, now Zalishchyky, Ukraine).

The Knoll family moved from Poland to Austria in 1916. In Vienna, David Knoll, Bert’s grandfather, opened two family businesses. Josef Knoll, Bert’s father, became a partner in the businesses, and operated them until the German Anschluss of Austria in March 1938. Josef and Regina married in 1922 in Vienna. Bert was expelled from high school just before he was set to graduate; the expulsion was a consequence of Anschluss and German racial laws. Thereafter he started to work in the family businesses, in the jute bags sale business as a delivery boy and in an electric motors factory.

Bert’s father, Josef, was arrested and beaten during Kristallnacht. He died a few days later in hospital as a consequence of the beating. On the death certificate the cause of death was attributed to pneumonia. After Josef’s death, in December 1938 Bert tried to escape to Switzerland, but was captured by police in the Swiss border town of Basel and forced back into Austria. Bert tried again to leave Austria for the Netherlands, but he retreated to Vienna when he learned that the Dutch border was even more heavily guarded than the Swiss border, and that Dutch police handed refugees directly to the Gestapo.

Regina moved to Cambridge, England, in April 1939, after she obtained a job as cook and housekeeper with the help of a relative living in England. Bert followed her, in June 1939, after she arranged a permit for him with the help of the Cambridge Refugee Committee. Bert was on the last Kindertransport train out of Vienna bound for England. He reached England and joined Regina in July 1939 and started to work as a cook trainee at Magdalene College, at the University of Cambridge. In May 1940 the English government interned him as enemy alien in a military camp. Enemy aliens, as well as German war prisoners, were transferred to Liverpool, then to the Isle of Man in Scotland and later transported to Canada on the converted Polish army troop carrier Sobieski.

Bert Knoll landed in Quebec City and after few days moved to the camp at Trois-Rivières and then to the Ripples internment camp, near Fredericton, NB. Bert worked in both camps in the kitchen, and for a while as a lumberjack, until an injury forced him back to work as a cook. In the fall of 1941 he was moved to the Sherbrooke internment camp, where he worked as shoemaker and then again in the kitchen and later as a table saw operator, producing ammunition for the Canadian Army. In late 1942 he was transferred to the camp at Ile-aux-Noix, where he fell ill with a collapsed lung. He was moved to Ste. Anne de Bellevue military hospital and stayed there until January 1944 when he was transferred to the Mount Sinai sanatorium in the town of Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts, 100 kilometres northwest of Montréal.

Molly Knoll (birth name Malka Klein, b. 1926, in Palestine) was born to Anne (b. 1904 in Jerusalem, d. May 8, 1993 in Montréal, Canada) and Joseph Klein (b. 1900, Hungary, d. 1957 in Montréal, Canada). Joseph Klein immigrated from Hungary to Haifa (then in Palestine), where he married Anne. In 1930 they moved from Palestine to Canada, following Joseph’s sisters and their families, who moved to Canada a few years earlier. They lived shortly in Belleville, ON, and moved to Montréal in 1932.

Molly worked in the needle business until she contracted tuberculosis in the late 1940s and was hospitalized at the sanitorium in Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts, where she met Bert.

They married on June 25, 1950, in Montréal. After the marriage, Molly earned a master’s degree in early childhood education from Sir George Williams University (a precursor of Concordia University) in Montréal and taught in the Early Childhood Education department at Vanier College in Montréal, eventually becoming head of the department until her retirement in 1995.

Bert worked in several offices in Montréal. In 1954 he was hired at the Canadian branch of a German diesel engine manufacturer where he worked until his retirement in the early 1980s. In the late 1990s, Bert and Molly moved to Ottawa to live closer to family.

Bert spoke at schools, clubs and cultural organizations about his life experience in Vienna, his escape to England on a Kindertransport train and his life as an enemy alien in Canada. He was a committed philanthropist who donated to many charitable organizations. Bert Knoll died March 6, 2015, in Ottawa. Molly Knoll died June 27, 2007, in Ottawa. They are buried in the Mt. Pleasant Cemetery (Young Israel of Chomedey section) in Montée St-François, QC. Bert and Molly had two children, Joel and Jeff.

Custodial history

After the deaths of Molly and Bert, records were maintained by Joel Knoll, until their donation to the VHEC in 2015, with the exception of Bert’s German passport, which Bert donated in 2009.

Scope and content

Fonds consist of personal records, passports, Canadian certificates of citizenship, Bert Knoll’s notes, speeches and drafts of his life writing and photographs taken in Austria, Germany, Israel and Canada. Most of the documents pertain to the Knoll family’s life in Austria until German Anschluss and Bert’s experience as an enemy alien in camps in England and Canada.
Fonds has been arranged into the following three series: Knoll, Klein family photographs series (1922–[2015]), Bert and Molly Knoll documents series (1929–2008) and Josef and Regina Knoll documents series (1917–1939).

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Immediate source of acquisition

Records were donated to the VHEC by Bert Knoll in 2009 and Joel Knoll in 2015 and 2019.


Arrangement into series by provenance and material form by the archivist.

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First accrual by Bert Knoll in 2009. Second and third accruals donated by Joel Knoll to the VHEC on two occasions in 2015 and once in 2019. Accruals from 2009 and 2015 were processed together. A fourth accrual was received in 2019 from Joel Knoll. No further accruals are expected.

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Prepared by Lorenzo Camerini in August 2018. Revised in February 2019 by Shyla Seller. Revised in April 2019 with description of accrual.

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