It is easy to give up in life when too many challenges are thrown at you, eventually finding yourself hitting the wall. But all of these negative thoughts and traumatic experiences can be dispelled by embracing positivity and hope. Lisa Pezik brings in author Vivianne Knebel to look back on her life full of struggles. Born as an illegitimate child in Nazi Germany, she experienced poverty, hunger, sexual abuse, loneliness, and suicidal thoughts. Vivianne also goes deep on how she overcame all of these roadblocks in life when she met her husband in Canada, learned to find the silver lining even in the most harrowing situations, and realize that her life can inspire other people who are currently facing difficult times. For her, the best is always yet to come, no matter how rocky life may be.
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How To Embrace Challenges With Positivity And Hope With Author, Vivianne Knebel
This is a show that even though it’s named after my name, it has nothing to do with me. It’s about the wonderful guests that I bring on and the conversations that we have about what’s going on in the world, what’s going to move your life and your business forward. I love these stories that you’re going to read about connection, hope, gratitude, owning all parts of your story and connecting with people in the most authentic way. As we’re doing this show, we are still in the thick of the pandemic happening. A lot of uncertainty and craziness going on where we’re missing people, connection and authenticity. I love this story that’s going to be shared around being yourself and hope that life and things can get better. The dark days you can leave behind you and you don’t have to go through things alone.
In this episode, I have with me, Vivianne Knebel. She has a book, and I want to tell you all about her. She was born an illegitimate child in the wake of World War II in Berlin, Nazi, Germany to a single mother. Her options were limited and her future looked bleak. She experienced poverty, cold, hunger and was even driven to the point of committing suicide. To seek out a better life, she immigrated to Canada as a teenager, but her misfortunes didn’t end there. However, in response to a miraculous intervention, she decided to preserve her life and keep moving forward.
After this incident, Vivianne met a fellow German immigrant, Wiland, who eventually became her husband, but even more than that, he became a catalyst for change in her life. His belief in her is what helped her see the true immeasurable value of her life. She went on to play a key role in his business venture, and together, they built a better future for each other. Since then, Vivianne has run a marathon, learn to pilot a plane and even beat cancer. She found a greater sense of spirituality and wants to share her story with the world to remind people that there’s always a reason to keep moving forward. Thank you for being here.
Thank you for having me, Lisa. I’m glad to be here and be able to have a voice, talk about my experiences and the hope I wish for other people.
I’m happy to have you sharing your story. It’s so profound. Take us back to the beginning, what life was like and what started this journey for you of where the change and transformation happened for you?
The very beginning is when I was born in 1943 in Berlin, in the epicenter of Nazi, Germany. I was an illegitimate child, and that was taboo in Nazi Germany and also deemed stateless, in other words, no country would have me. I belong to no country. I have to begin, first of all, my mother was the most loving and devoted mother. Everything was chaotic in our life, but my mother gave us love and instilled the best values. I’m forever grateful for that. She gave me the name Vivianne and that again was taboo because the Nazis hated anything foreign. They were ready to do away with foreigners.
I believe that had Germany won the war and the Nazis stayed in power, I would have been eliminated as well. I’m sure of it because you know the whole history. Nonetheless, I only remember the aftermath of the war because I was too young during the war, and the aftermath was just a constant hunger and cold. It destroyed the city and it was a big struggle especially for my mother with two illegitimate children. My sister, by another father, was also illegitimate. She was a real survivor. She survived by working in the black market striking deals and anything to keep her children afloat. She was brave. As I started school, I struggled terribly in school, even though I wanted to do my best. I could not understand the concept of the teacher. I was condemned to my mother as dumb and had to repeat the first grade. They were brutal. Do you know what that does to a child to hear? You will have low self-esteem.
I have a son and that has been my biggest thing is preserving and protecting his confidence. I am living in the moment of what you’re saying right now.
Despite of my difficulties in school, there’s another thing my mother did. She always believed in her children. She said, “You can do anything. You can be the best.” You believe that as a little child, but as you grow, then you notice, “Maybe it isn’t quite like this.” You have to find your way. I struggled a lot but nonetheless, my mother eventually met up with an old school schoolmate who had returned from Siberia. He had been in prison for five years in Siberia, which was brutal. She connected with him. She brought him home and they stayed together. She said one day, “Now, you have a father.” A little later, he moved in with us. I was glad to have a father because that’s my biggest dream.
Even though I knew who my father was, I never got to meet him. My mother always said he was a fine man. He was Hungarian. He played the piano well and had a Doctorate in Law. He was sent from Budapest to Berlin to go back and forth. That’s how my mother and father met. My biological father was romantic because my mother was in a nightclub. Someone sent a big bunch of roses over and there was a card attached, which said, “To whom have I sent these roses?” He went back to his home country in Budapest because it was the middle of the war.
Budapest was under siege. A good friend of my mother went to Budapest and looked him up at where he worked and informed him that I am on my way. He explained my mother’s condition and he said he would look after us but my mother never heard of him. That’s a sad story. Later on, when I went to Budapest and I looked, I was emotional because I wanted to know about my father. I couldn’t find anything out. It turned out that everything was destroyed. The place where he worked was completely destroyed. There are no records. I was very emotional at that time and I envisioned him walking those streets.
If you don't hope, there's no reason to live.
I finally came to terms that I will never meet my father. Somehow, there is inner strength. I wanted to do the best I could and make the best out of life. I did not want to follow in my mother’s footsteps. I wanted to be on solid ground. I wanted an intact family. I wanted to do everything right, exactly the opposite of my mother. Nonetheless, my mother is a beautiful soul and the values she instilled are what’s important, and I’m forever grateful.
What a beautiful tribute to her. Is she still living?
No, my mother is long gone.
You wanted to have stability. When you came to Canada, you’ve got a stable job and you were working at a dealership.
I left school at the age of fourteen with a special permit because of the Child Labor law. I asked my mother, “I want to go to work and help with the family.” When we lived in Montreal that first winter, we went hungry. My mother had to go to a church and explained in our broken English our plight to the priest. We didn’t know the priest, we just walked in there. He sympathetically gave us $35 to buy staples. That’s how we survived the first winter. I then decided I want to help my family and let me go to work. She came with the special permit and it seemed like I got a dream job. It was at a dentist who was going to train me to become a dental assistant.
I was only fourteen but I did not look my age at all. I was already developed and stepped into my beauty. I had the job of cleaning the office. At first, I always had to clean the whole office, spic and span. By noon, I wore the little white little cap and the white nurse’s uniform. I looked like a professional and I like looking like that. One day, a friend of his walked in when the doctor was not there. He made sexual advances and sexually abused me. Myself being so innocent, I struggled with the thought of telling my boss. It was too embarrassing for me, but I did decide to do that. He was totally on my side and he said, “He will never come in the office again.”
I quit. It was too traumatic. My mother said no. I left. I started working at a store behind the lunch counter, which I liked because I made sandwiches and that was always in me to serve. I always wondered, “What can I do that?” I’ve always been that way. I wanted to improve my station in life so I went to night school and learned to type and stenography. I landed a job at VW, Volkswagen Sales and Service in Montreal. There, I worked up in the accounting department, which I was excited about. We were in one great big room with women, but they’re all over twice my age. There was no camaraderie, no connection and I fell into a deep depression. I thought, “All my efforts are in vain.”
At the age of seventeen, I then decided to end my life. I heard somewhere that you can go into the garage, close the door, start the motor of your car. I had bought a little used car and I had rented a garage in a duplex. It was a small garage. I went in there, closed the garage door, started the motor and waited for my ultimate end. One can say it was a miracle. While I waited to drift off, a little girl stood in front of me, looked at me and she said, “What are you doing?” She was around six years old. I remember her short cropped hair and a short dress. I immediately stopped the motor and opened the garage door. I said, “I want to wash my car,” then she was gone. I was like, “Where did she come from?” She must have come into the side door that I was not aware of. I hung on to a glimmer of hope and continued.
Eventually, I got the job as a secretary for the service manager in the service department where the customer service was. I enjoyed that because I liked people. I wanted to be around people. I saw customers coming and going, and there was life. I worked there. One day I was twenty, a man walked in. He bought a Porsche and he became my husband. That’s how it was. It was kismet. We got married. Since I did not have a lot of traditional or conventional schooling, I knew I had a lot to learn and I was eager to learn. My husband instilled in me that desire more so even and he always encouraged me to learn and grow. I followed him and I believed in him. This is where I am now.
I’m immensely grateful for that because when I turned 75, I decided I’m going to write a book, and I’m going to honor my husband. It was as a gift for his 80th birthday for all that he has done for me. It is truly a beautiful love story. We are very happy. We’ve been married now for many years. Our life and our relationship have gotten more and more beautiful. Love has many facets. It’s not just physical love. It’s also the sense of responsibility, nurturing, caring and all this he has. I have that as well.
We always pulled in the same direction and that brings strengths in a marriage. You go in the same direction, not one wants to go here, the other one wants to go there. I learned and advanced, and then I was challenged one more time at the age of 70 when I stepped into my own power. My most beautiful life began when I turned 70. This has been the most beautiful decade of my life. When I step into my power, the understanding, that incredible wisdom that you have after having lived long, you understand how to manage your life, how to manage situations and you become strong in your sense of self and all that.
With the right mindset, anyone can go beyond what they are.
All that taboo of, “You’re too old.”
We need to stop that because I’m on my next book and I’m going to write about the aging process. I have been one of those fortunate people that have a sharp mind, sick body and strong. I overcame that cancer that was found at the early stage. I had the operation and the radiation for six weeks and the whole thing. I overcame that because I had a mindset. I don’t see myself as a victim. I’m going to fight this disease with positivity and hope. I became even more grateful. I was immensely grateful that they found it at the early stage, so I got stronger and stronger.
I love that you said that you did fight it with positivity and hope. How would people’s lives change if they looked at a challenge or they looked at a situation that they found themselves in and they chose positivity and hope as their tools and their way to look at things? That was such a profound statement that you said.
If you don’t hope, there’s no reason to live. We need hope. Hope, determination and perseverance are all important. You have to also do your part. You have to use the power that you have within you. We all have it. God is inside all of us. The question is, are you connected? You have to connect.
Is there a piece of you that believes that she must have been sent or an angel from above?
It seems like. I did think about her many times. I didn’t even know her name, but I say there must have been a reason. You do wonder. Do you come into this world at a certain time and leave it on another? Are we coded? I don’t know. You wonder about these things, but I believe that little girl was sent to me to spread the message of hope. This book that I had written, From Rubble to Champagne, as a gift to my husband, is also a book that I’ve written for other people as well. I want to help those that feel suppressed and defeated because I’ve been there. I can help a lot, that with the right mindset, anyone can go beyond there from where they are. They can grow further.
You are more than your circumstances.
You have to dig deep inside, “What am I good at? What can I do?” The answer is the true you. The answer is the authentic you. I’ve always been a seeker and a searcher. These difficult times with the pandemic, many people are in despair. We all encompassed trying moments at difficult times, and it encourages us to reflect on those powerful qualities that help us survive and prosper. You cannot just say it because talk is cheap. You have to do it.
Is there anything on the bucket list like run a marathon or pilot a plane?
My next book is the next thing on the bucket list. I’m excited about it because I think it can help people. I’m out to help people. I want to make the world a better place. If one book has a passage or an idea that can change a person’s life, it’s worth reading it. A book can change your life. It has changed my life because I’ve read books from the great minds. My whole life, I follow the wisdom of great minds. They help you understand the world and I live it. My next book would be called Lessons Learned, and pass on my life experiences and the wisdom that evolved with the guidance of these great minds and my gratitude toward them. My first book and my second book will be all about gratitude. I believe gratitude is everything.
I love that you wrote that the idea or the inspiration of From Rubble To Champagne was a gratitude, a thank you to your husband.
Vulnerable people are necessary and beautiful.
He deserves it.
What did he think about that? Did you go to him and say, “I want to write a book as a thank you to you?”
I didn’t. The reason why I thought about writing a book, for many years, I have to pinch myself and say, “Is this me? Am I living this kind of life?” Because it is truly a life From Rubble To Champagne. It depends on how you define rubble. For me, it was the rubble, the destruction in Berlin, but you could also define it from when I went with the little metal pail to a department store that had been rebuilt and asked for scraps so my mother could make soup, went to the market, and got wooden boxes so she could make a fire for us to keep warm, and that you could also see as rubble. This is where I came from. These were the circumstances and now I live a life of luxury, and I feel I want to give back.
There’s this profound sense of gratitude. It’s been such a tumultuous life, the first many years and now it’s all stabilized and beautiful. I’m grateful. I think this is almost like a movie in my life. I wrote the book and I had the blank pages in front of me. As I reflected and I’ve always realized that and I thank my husband many times for how much he’s done for me and how he believed in me. For someone to believe in you, the best comes out. That is what you’re doing with your child. You build them up, “You can do this.” Nothing is ever easy. We have to make an effort. You’re doing something tremendous for your child’s future in the way you are thinking.
I had the blank pages in front of me and I said, “How do you write a book? How do you start?” I reflected from the beginning on and it rolled. When it came out, it was freeing. I felt free. Also, I faced this vulnerability because you expose yourself. You wonder, “Is it all right?” I have a certain standing in society, I would think and, “Should I reveal everything?” I felt we are all connected. People need to be more open. In order to connect, when we expand that connectedness, we become kinder, gentler people. It builds bridges and people will know, “I’m not alone. I’m not the only one that’s struggling.” She has the same problems. No one is better or worse. We’re all one. Connecting is important. It builds bridges and brings people together. Vulnerability is courage. It’s, “I’m not afraid to say something.” You’re not afraid to make a mistake because there is no effort without error when you think about it. That is for all of us. Vulnerable people are necessary and beautiful.
There’s actual physiology that happens in the brain. When you tell your stories, you heal yourself in the process. That makes complete sense when you said it was freeing to get back and write on the paper. I love that you said that connectedness and that story. That is exactly what we need more of in the world.
In this pandemic, I let people know, “I had my share of troubles.” The future is still in place, no matter how bleak things look. There’s always hope and life is not static. It changes even when we don’t want it to. For instance, I’m going through a hard time. My husband, the love of my life, is going to be 82. He had open-heart surgery many years ago and he survived that. He did not have the same lifestyle because he was always an athlete and had a passion for tennis. All of a sudden, he couldn’t play at that level anymore. He had to play much slower. He had felt a sense of loss at that time. Now he has new heart problems, which look serious. I also want to write this in my chronicle, this development in my book, how to deal with this. Many people have to deal with this. There are many ways. We can still have a meaningful and beautiful life even though we have lost a lot, but whatever you lose, you gain something else. There’s always beautiful wisdom in your family. This is my philosophy, look for the good. When everything looks bleak, where can I find a little bit crumb of good? I find that little crumb of good and build on it. That’s a mindset.
We are challenged many times and all those challenges fortify us. As hard as it was for me, I’m glad I went through these challenges because they made me what I am now. I'm the most grateful and mature person. I can give back through all my hardship that I’ve learned and I can help others. I hope that in this next book, I will be able to do that. The process of aging, for me, I’m one of the fortunate ones to be healthy in mind and body, but I also believe that our body is a sacred garment. We need to take care of it. Sometimes you don’t have the power to do that because there are higher forces. There’s a higher power that decides if you are going to be ill.
My husband had lived a very healthy life, but it’s hereditary. It’s one of those things. That’s why I say the whole process of aging that when people say, “I’m old.” Some people even see it as a disease and we treat it, but there’s so much emerging energy to do something new that you haven’t done before. You have to be inspired. When you are inspired, the dormant force is awakened, and then age speaks forcefully. I see this so well because I’ve always been a seeker, searcher and I pay attention. When we pay attention, we enter into a full report with life. That’s very important. I’m always ahead. I enjoy the present. We need to say yes to the present.
Many people nowadays live such a hectic life with computers, cell phones, commitments, deadlines and all that. They have no time to pause and get back to themselves. It is important that we get back to ourselves. I think ahead also, even though I enjoy the present. I live the moment because if we don’t, many people live like the present is an obstacle they need to overcome to get to the next month. That’s how they live. Not me. I do think of the future. We do somehow have to look at the future and see what’s ahead of us and be prepared for it. Even in aging, even when you have enough financial security, there are other things, “How do I want to age? I don’t want to get old. I want to age well. Make the best of that.” It’s like retirement. Some people retire, they have great jobs or high positions, even at times, and they don’t put care for retirement. They have no leg to stand on and then it comes depression because there’s this emptiness, this void. We need to prepare. We need to think ahead but live the moment.
I love some of the rules to live by that you have.
Nothing is done overnight. But with determination and perseverance, you'll get there.
Being a seeker, a searcher, looking for the crumb of good, fighting with positivity and hope, and having gratitude.
Think good thoughts because thoughts increase. I’m at this stage where I have always wanted to be a kind, good and compassionate person. When you’re young though, you don’t seek quite so deep. I had such a much better understanding now. I won’t allow any unloving thoughts to emanate from my consciousness. They’re not empty words that you are what you think, that gets bigger and bigger. If you think positive thoughts, you become a positive person. It’s almost like the good things attract, the bad things attract. You have two energy fields. You decide, “Which one do I want to be on, the negative or the positive?” For me, there’s only positive. I live like every moment is that special moment. You don’t need big things. The small things are very often the big things.
Where can people get this lovely book, From Rubble to Champagne?
People can get it on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Goodreads. I also have a website which is www.VivianneKnebel.com. I’m on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. I’m everywhere.
It’s funny because people always say to me that I’m like this dose of positivity and energy that makes you want to get out and do something. You’ve been such a dose of positivity and energy to me on this show.
You’re the same for me. I see a smiling and radiant face. I see that positively come through. If you are that way, you will attract that. It’s a natural law.
Thank you for spreading that positivity and hope, and such a vulnerable, true, real, raw, beautiful story with my readers.
These are all good advice, but it’s important that you live it because it’s like having a philosophy. Philosophy is useless to you if it’s merely the awareness and teachings of the masters and teachers. In order for it to work for you, it has to become an energy pattern that you use every day of your life. You have to do it. I say to people, “Don’t give up. Nothing is done overnight, but with determination and perseverance, you’ll get there, anyone can.” If I can, having been the weakest link, then I think anyone can. I wish everyone a life of peacefulness and gratitude. That is the beauty of life to have that. A fully lived peaceful and appreciated life is what everyone wants.
You are the perfect picture to say that the best is yet to come. Keep going and live all of that. Thank you for being here with me. Readers, thank you so much for being here and tuning in. I hope Vivianne’s story inspired you. I’m glad that you’re here and tuned in.
Thank you so much, Lisa. Thank you for allowing me to have a voice.
Thank you for using your voice and your story for good.
- From Rubble to Champagne
- Barnes & Noble - From Rubble to Champagne
- Goodreads - From Rubble to Champagne
- Facebook - Vivianne Knebel
- Twitter – Vivianne Knebel
About Vivianne Knebel
Born an illegitimate child in the wake of WWII in Berlin, Nazi Germany to a single mother, Vivianne Knebel’s options were limited and her future looked bleak.
She experienced poverty, cold, and hunger, and was even driven to the point of committing suicide. To seek out a better life, Vivianne immigrated to Canada as a teenager, but her misfortunes did not end there. However, in response to a miraculous intervention, she decided to preserve her life and keep moving forward.
After this incident, Vivianne met a fellow German immigrant, Wiland, who eventually became her husband. But even more than that, he became a catalyst for change in her life. His belief in her is what helped her see the true, immeasurable value of her life.
She went on to play a key role in Wiland’s business venture and together they built a better future for each other.
Since then, Vivianne has run a marathon, learned to pilot a plane, and even beat cancer. She’s found a greater sense of spirituality and wants to share her story with the world, to remind people that there is always a reason to keep moving forward.