27 May 1911|
|Died||21 January 1949
|Service number||NSDAP #157,016
|Commands held||SS Division Totenkopf
SS Division Reichsführer-SS
|Battles/wars||World War II|
|Awards||Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross|
Fritz Knöchlein (27 May 1911, Munich – 21 January 1949) was a SS commander during the Nazi era who was convicted and executed in 1949 for committing war crimes during World War II, specifically, his responsibility for the Le Paradis massacre.
It was in his capacity as a company commander that he gained notoriety, being responsible for the 27 May 1940 massacre of British prisoners-of-war at Le Paradis in the Pas-de-Calais. Ninety-nine members of the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Norfolk Regiment who had surrendered to his unit in a cattle shed were stood in front of the barn wall, and Knöchlein ordered two machine-guns turned on them, followed by bayoneting and shooting any apparent survivors. Two of the prisoners, privates Albert Pooley and William O'Callaghan, managed to escape the massacre, but the remaining 97 were hastily buried along the barn wall. According to the historians Murray and Millet: "The company commander, Obersturmführer Fritz Knochlein, lined the prisoners up against a barn wall and machinegunned the lot. Any survivors were bayoneted and shot. German military authorities brought no charges against Knochlein."
In 1942, the bodies were exhumed by the French authorities and reburied in a local cemetery which eventually became the Le Paradis War Cemetery. During this time, Albert Pooley made it a personal mission to hunt down Knöchlein and bring him up on charges of war crimes after the war.
Trial and execution
In August 1948, he was formally arraigned on charges of war crimes, to which he pleaded not guilty.
- "The accused Fritz Knöchlein, a German national, in the charge of the Hamburg Garrison Unit, pursuant to Regulation 4 of the Regulations for the Trial of War Criminals, is charged with committing a war crime in that he in the vicinity of Paradis, Pas-de-Calais, France, on or about 27 May 1940, in violation of the laws and usages of war, was concerned in the killing of about ninety prisoners-of-war, members of The Royal Norfolk Regiment and other British Units."
His trial began on Monday 11 October 1948 in Rotherbaum, and both Albert Pooley and William O'Callaghan were called to testify against him. Knöchlein's defence attorney claimed that Knöchlein had not been present on the day of the battle, as well as that the British forces had used illegal dumdum bullets during the battle.
At his war trial Knöchlein claimed that he was tortured during his detention in the "London Cage", which the head of the "London Cage" Alexander Scotland dismisses in London Cage as a "lame allegation". According to Knöchlein, he was stripped, deprived of sleep, kicked by guards and starved. He said that he was compelled to walk in a tight circle for four hours. After complaining to Alexander Scotland, Knöchlein alleges that he was doused in cold water, pushed down stairs, and beaten. He claimed he was forced to stand beside a hot gas stove before being showered with cold water. He claimed that he and another prisoner were forced to run in circles while carrying heavy logs.
"Since these tortures were the consequences of my personal complaint, any further complaint would have been senseless," Knöchlein wrote. "One of the guards who had a somewhat humane feeling advised me not to make any more complaints, otherwise things would turn worse for me." Other prisoners, he alleged, were beaten until they begged to be killed, while some were told that they could be made to disappear.
Scotland said in his memoirs that Knöchlein was not interrogated at all at the London Cage because there was sufficient evidence to convict him, and he wanted "no confusing documents with the aid of which he might try to wriggle from the net." During his last nights at the cage, Scotland states, Knöchlein "began shrieking in a half-crazed fashion, so that the guards at the London Cage were at a loss to know how to control him. At one stage the local police called in to enquire why such a din was emanating from sedate Kensington Palace Gardens." Upon being found guilty, Knöchlein applied for clemency, arguing that he had a wife and four children that depended on him. He was sentenced to be hanged, a verdict that was carried out on 21 January 1949.
- Westemeier 2013, p. 662.
- Murray & Millett 2000, p. 90.
- "Le Paradis War Cemetery, Lestrem." Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Retrieved 7 November 2015
- London Cage, p. 81.
- Cobain, Ian (2005-11-12). "The secrets of the London Cage". The Guardian. Retrieved 2009-01-17.
- Christopher J. Moran, Christopher R. Moran, Christopher John Murphy Intelligence Studies in Britain and the US: Historiography Since 1945 - Page 252 2013 "While influential in Britain's war crimes convictions, operations at the Cage were blemished by persistent allegations of maltreatment and torture made by several former prisoners.8 One of these, Fritz Knochlein - an ... alleged sleep deprivation and physical abuse"
- Michael Parrish The Lesser Terror: Soviet State Security, 1939-1953 1996- Page 128 "It is interesting to compare their fate with what happened to SS Obersturmbannführer Fritz Knöchlein, Commander of 3 Company 1 Battalion 2 Regiment of Totenkopf, whose troops on 27 May 1940, near Le Paradis, France, had gunned down ...Knöchlein was hanged in January 1949 after being sentenced by a British military court in a trial that was no less perfunctory than that faced by his camrades in Poltava."
- Patzwall & Scherzer 2001, p. 238.
- Scherzer 2007, p. 454.
- Murray, Williamson; Millett, Allan R. (2000). A War To Be Won: Fighting the Second World War (3rd ed.). Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. ISBN 978-0-674-04130-1. Retrieved 7 November 2015 – via books.google.com.au.
- Patzwall, Klaus D.; Scherzer, Veit (2001). Das Deutsche Kreuz 1941 – 1945 Geschichte und Inhaber Band II [The German Cross 1941 – 1945 History and Recipients Volume 2] (in German). Norderstedt, Germany: Verlag Klaus D. Patzwall. ISBN 978-3-931533-45-8.
- Scherzer, Veit (2007). Die Ritterkreuzträger 1939–1945 Die Inhaber des Ritterkreuzes des Eisernen Kreuzes 1939 von Heer, Luftwaffe, Kriegsmarine, Waffen-SS, Volkssturm sowie mit Deutschland verbündeter Streitkräfte nach den Unterlagen des Bundesarchives [The Knight's Cross Bearers 1939–1945 The Holders of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross 1939 by Army, Air Force, Navy, Waffen-SS, Volkssturm and Allied Forces with Germany According to the Documents of the Federal Archives] (in German). Jena, Germany: Scherzers Militaer-Verlag. ISBN 978-3-938845-17-2.
- Westemeier, Jens (2013). Himmlers Krieger: Joachim Peiper und die Waffen-SS in Krieg und Nachkriegszeit [Himmler's Warriors: Joachim Peiper and the Waffen-SS during the War and Post-War Period]. Paderborn, Germany: Ferdinand Schöningh. ISBN 978-3-506-77241-1.