Freddie Knoller BEM

Freddie Knoller

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 later deported 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 false papers 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 not suspect 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 Journey and Living with the Enemy, and his testimony can also be found in Survival: Holocaust Survivors Tell Their Story, published by the Holocaust Centre.