As a Jewish teenager, Freddie Knoller had to flee the country of his birth due to Nazi aggression in Europe, hide in the brothels of Paris’s red light district, and was sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp.
But 70 years after the end of the Second World War, 94-year-old Mr Knoller re-told his incredible life story to a fascinated crowd in Deddington on Saturday.
And the full story has been published in his book ‘Living with the Enemy’ with the help of Deddington resident John Landaw.
The event was organised as a fundraiser for the village library, and those lucky enough to get a ticket watched a BBC documentary about Mr Knoller’s life before meeting the man himself and hearing first-hand about his experience in wartime Europe.
He then spent a good 30-40 minutes delivering a question and answer session before signing copies of his book.
Jim Flux, Deddington resident and parish councillor, said: “It was a very well-attended event with more than 120 people including quite a lot of children and teenagers which showed there was certainly interest in the younger generation.
“Mr Knoller also sold about 50 copies of ‘Living with the Enemy’ which showed how people responded to it.
“There was even a man at the event who was in one of the British tanks that liberated Bergen-Belsen, where Mr Knoller was.”
It is estimated that 15million Jews were killed during the Second World War, with six million being killed as a result of Nazi Germany’s ‘Final Solution’ which saw millions taken to the concentration camps and either killed or worked to death.
Mr Knoller’s story of escape and survival provides a valuable insight into what life was like for a Jewish man living in Europe at the time, when the thought of being captured and sent to certain death was never far from the mind.
He is one of a number of survivors from the concentration camps, who are keen to pass on their stories to people who were not alive at the time and may not have heard the first-hand experience of people who were there.
Mr Flux added: “Mr Knoller was actually doing really well and was answering questions with stories from his life for nearly 40 minutes.
“The feedback we have had is that he thoroughly enjoyed his visit to Deddington and meeting people who came to hear his story.
“I know everyone who attended was very impressed.”
The event was set up following the village’s celebrations of VE Day.
Alan Collins, chairman of Deddington Parish Council, helped to organise the event and said it went better than he could ever have expected.
He said: “I had already seen the BBC documentary about Freddie on TV and was told he visits a lot of schools and does talks about his life during the Second World War.
“I am also part of the Friends of Deddington Library who organised the event. Freddie gave a passionate insight into what it really means to value life, to be hungry and to survive. He answered many questions with a glint in his eye that belies his 94 years and a humour that ignores his extraordinary life experiences.
“I should never again say I am hungry, or I have been mistreated. I have been humbled by one extraordinary man and I feel the richer for having met him.
“However another heart-warming aspect of this remarkable even was the significant number of young people who not only came along but thought it ‘brilliant’ and ‘awesome’.
“We must remember what happened and what the causes were – or how do we stop it happening again. I’d recommend people at least buy the book and compare this story to the plight of very many thousands today.
“This whole idea is about education. You could see people’s jaws dropping at some of the stories Freddie was telling. He even got to meet Bill Betts from Wellesbourne who was in the audience and was driving a Sherman tank at the time of Freddie’s liberation from Bergen-Belsen.
“These two men meeting was an unexpected bonus as Bill explained he had no idea why he was ordered to give up his tank rations after the camp was liberated and so many inmates were discovered suffering severely from malnutrition. Freddie himself weighed only six stone.”