My attitude of hope and optimism helped me to overcome fear and perils and was one of the reasons why I survived

- Freddie Knoller

Freddie was born in Vienna 1921. He lived with his mother, whom he described as an easy-going, happy woman, his father and his two brothers, Eric and Otto. Freddie remembers from early childhood being subjected to antisemitism, even being attacked by other children frequently on his way to school.

After Germany annexed Austria, antisemitism towards Jews became even more rampant. Freddie’s parents decided that they would not move but insisted that their children did. Freddie left home at 17 years old, moving illegally to Belgium. Eric followed and immigrated to the USA and his brother Otto was the last, moving illegally to Holland. Freddie found refuge in Antwerp where he lived with two other refugees and eventually joined a camp for Jewish refugees named Merksplas, and then joined Exaarde where he was part of the camp orchestra.

When the Nazis invaded Belgium in May 1940, Freddie decided to travel to France on foot. However, at the border Freddie was arrested and put into a French internment camp for enemy aliens, St.Cyprein. The conditions were awful and endemic disease was rife. In the night, Freddie managed to escape the camp and walked for 10km until he reached his aunt and uncle in Galliac. Despite the safety that unoccupied France offered, and his family's protests, Freddie became bored and decided to venture to Paris.

Freddie found work in Paris guiding German soldiers to cabarets and nightclubs, earning a commission. He was now assuming the false identity of Robert Metz, born in Alsace-Lorraine. Freddie remembers and occasion in which a Gestapo officer stopped him insisting he could identify a Jew by the circumference of his head, and after tracing Freddie’s head determined he was indeed born in Alsace-Lorraine.

In May 1943 Freddie joined the Maquis in south-west France and began a relationship with a girl from the next village. After becoming close, Freddie admitted his true identity to the girl and one day after an argument she betrayed him, and he was arrested by the French police. After being tortured by the Gestapo, Freddie admitted that he was a Jew from Vienna, after which he was taken to Drancy.

In October 1943, Freddie was forced onto a cattle wagon with hundreds of others being deported to the east. After three days of travelling in the horrendously crowded train, he arrived in Auschwitz. The conditions were abhorrent, and Freddie noted that many of the inmates seemed to have given up under the dire circumstances. However, he decided that he must fight and survive. Day in and day out, Freddie had to endure crippling work and maintains that his survival was due to the extra food he was given by a friend in the camp hospital.

In January 1945, the Russians were encroaching towards Auschwitz and the Nazis decided to empty the camp. Freddie joined the other inmates that were forced to stand in lines in the icy January snow. They were told to march and if they stopped, they would be shot. This was the beginning of Freddie’s death march.

Freddie eventually reached a new camp Dora-Nordhausen, where the manufacture of rockets continued under the Harz mountains. Freddie worked here for a while as the health of he and his fellow inmates became dangerously low.

As the American army got closer, Freddie was moved once again to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. By this time the food and water supply into the camp had completely stopped and many were simply dying where they stood.

On the 15th of April 1945 the British army entered Bergen-Belsen and Freddie was liberated. Soon after, Freddie joined a group that was instructed to go to nearby farms and search for food. When they arrived at a farm the group began searching, without the permission of the farmer and his wife. Whilst searching Freddie found a large picture of Adolf Hitler in the back of a wardrobe and destroyed it with a knife. He turned to see the farmer, angry and shouting antisemitic insults at him. After everything he had endured, and the hatred he had received from others, Freddie went into a rage and stabbed the farmer. The group then left the farm.

Freddie returned to France where he was found by his brother, Eric, who was now an American soldier. He learned from Eric that his parents had been deported to Theresienstadt and that his other brother Otto had become a doctor in New York. Freddie moved to the USA in 1947 and became a naturalised citizen. He met his wife, Freda an English woman, and in 1950, after some years in the USA they decided to move to England.

In later life Freddie began telling others about his experiences during the Holocaust. He became a friend and supporter of the National Holocaust Centre and gave his testimony as long as he was able. His memory and his testimony will be protected by the centre for years to come and will continue to educate others about the Holocaust.