Freddie Knoller BEM 1921-2022

The Holocaust Educational Trust is deeply saddened to hear of the passing of our dear friend Freddie Knoller BEM.

Karen Pollock CBE, Chief Executive, Holocaust Educational Trust said:

Freddie Knoller BEM was a teenager when he left his family in Vienna and fled to France to escape the Nazis. He went on to join the Resistance, where he was betrayed, and was subsequently deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau. After enduring a death march and the Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp he was evacuated to Bergen-Belsen where he was liberated by British troops on 15th April 1945.

Despite everything that he endured, Freddie was one of the most positive people any of us could hope to meet. He always had a joke and a smile, and he lit up the room. Charisma does not even come close to describe his electric personality.

He lived to 100, dedicating his life to ensuring that the world would know what happened during the Holocaust, and was awarded a BEM in recognition of his services. He told his story in two books and a highly acclaimed TV documentary. In 2017 he accompanied HRH The Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall on their visit to Vienna, and shared his memories of his birthplace, leaving a huge impression on them both.

Freddie will be sorely missed and our thoughts are with his wife Freda who he was absolutely devoted to, and his daughters Susie and Marcia and all the family. May his memory be a blessing.

Freddie Knoller BEM 1921-2022

Freddie was born in Vienna in 1921, where he lived with his parents and two brothers.From early childhood, Freddie and his family were subjected to antisemitism. Following the Anschluss in March 1938, this became worse,causing Freddie and his brothers to leave Vienna. Freddie went first, and travelled illegally to Antwerp, Belgium. Freddie’s mother and father, at 53 and 56, believed that they were too old for anything to happen to them, and so they stayed and were laterdeported to Terezín (Theresienstadt) and from there to Auschwitz-Birkenau.In Antwerp, the Jewish community provided Freddie with living quarters, which he shared with two other refugees. However, he picked up bad habits here, and the Jewish community gave him the choice of either joining a camp for Jewish refugees or being without further assistance from them. Freddie joined the camp at Merksplas and later another at Eksaarde, where he joined the camp orchestra.In May 1940, Germany invaded Belgium and everyone in the camp fled. Like most refugees, Freddie tried to escape to France but he was arrested at the border and detained as an enemy alien in an internment camp. He was able to escape in the middle of the night, and made it to Gaillac, in the unoccupied area of France, where his aunt, uncle and cousins lived.Freddie quickly became bored with the life in Gaillac and decided to visit Paris, a city he had always dreamed of going to. While there, he became fascinated by the nightlife. He obtained falsepapers and earned money by taking German soldiers to the nightclubs, brothels and cabarets, where he earned a percentage of anything that they spent once inside. In May 1943 while working, he was arrested by a Gestapo officer. Although the officer did notsuspect that he was Jewish and using false papers, he did tell him not to continue working where he was and to instead work for the German Reich. Freddie knew that he could no longer risk staying in Paris. Through his contacts, Freddie joined a French Resistance group at Figeac in south-west France. A broken love affair led to his betrayal and arrest by the Vichy Police. After being tortured, he admitted to being a Jew, and he was then sent to Drancy transit camp.In October 1943, Freddie was sent on a transport to Auschwitz-Birkenau. During the journey, he looked after a middle-aged Frenchman called Robert, who was a doctor. Robert went on to be put in charge of the camp hospital barracks, and in gratitude for Freddie helping him on the journey, he gave him extra food every day, which he believes was the reason for his survival.On January 18th 1945, Freddie was sent on a death march, and ended up at Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp, where V2 rockets were made. As the Americans got closer, they were evacuated from there to Bergen-Belsen where Freddie was liberated on April 15th 1945.
After the liberation, Freddie went with a British officer to a nearby farm to find food. In the wardrobe, he found a picture of Hitler which he cut up. The farmer, a supporter of Hitler, shouted antisemitic abuse at Freddie, who reacted by stabbing him. Soon after this incident, Freddie left for France, where he was reunited with his brothers who had survived in the US.In 1947, Freddie emigrated to the US where he met and married an English woman. After two years of marriage, she became homesick so they moved to Britain, where Freddie continues to live. He regularly talks to students about his experiences. Freddie’s has also written two books about his experiences, Desperate Journeyand Living with the Enemy, and his testimony can also be found in Survival: Holocaust Survivors Tell Their Story, published by the Holocaust Centre.