Holocaust survivor, Freddie Knoller – what a man, what a legacy, what a life! Sadly, Freddie died yesterday, 26 January, at the age of 100. Those of us who work in the field of Holocaust Education adored him, admired him and respected him in equal measure. We all fell hopelessly under his charm and effervescence – a gift which he undoubtedly used to help save his life during the Holocaust. While living under German occupation in Paris, Freddie managed to convince German officers and gestapo into thinking he was a local ‘guide’, willing to fix-it for them to indulge in the racy Parisian night life, while off duty. Freddie, who was born in 1921 into a Jewish family in Vienna, was a man who did what he had to do, in order to survive.
He had left Vienna for Belgium, then subsequently for France, in search of relative safety after the Kristallnacht pogrom. In 1943, things got too perilous to continue with his identity pretence, and so he left Paris for Figeac, in south-west France, where he joined the French resistance and participated in many operations. This continued until he was betrayed by the French girlfriend he had at the time, who held a grudge against him. Freddie was arrested and tortured. Rather than denounce his comrades, Freddie confessed that he was a Jew. He was sent to Drancy camp then to Auschwitz. Once there, he faced brutality, starvation, and slave labour. He survived the death march and was finally taken to Bergen Belsen before being liberated in April 1945.
After the war Freddie met Freda who he was married to for 71 blissful years (they celebrated their platinum wedding anniversary on New Year’s eve, 2020). The couple built a life together in London and had two daughters. In 2016, Freddie was awarded the British Empire Medal for services to Holocaust education. He spoke to thousands of teachers and students about what happened to him and his family during the Holocaust.
Freddie once commented that when he was eventually able to start speaking about his experiences – at first with his daughters and subsequently with students in schools across the country, including at Beacon Schools like Royal Wootton Bassett Academy – that the nightmares that used to plague him finally abated. May his memory be a blessing.
Professor Stuart Foster, the Centre’s Executive Director, said of Freddie:
“Holocaust survivor Freddie Knoller, who poignantly died on the eve of Holocaust Memorial Day at the age of 100, was a truly inspirational and charismatic man with a remarkable story. I first had the pleasure of meeting him at one of our UCL Beacon Schools, Royal Wootton Bassett Academy, where he captured the attention of hundreds of young people as he recounted dramatic tales of his incredible life. Through his engaging talks over many years he inspired thousands of teachers and students in school across England. I read his book, Living With the Enemy with fascination and admiration. It provides a searing account of his life. Born in Vienna he fled from the Nazis and his desperate journey took him to Paris where he worked for the resistance until he was betrayed and transported to Auschwitz. Against, all odds he survived. During his life he showed incredible resilience, fortitude and strength. He was also a charming and colourful man with an indomitable spirit. He will be missed by all of us and our condolences and gratitude go out to his family, friends and the many, many people who knew and loved him.
Associate Professor (Teaching) and Programme Director