Stories of Dachau Survivors

Joseph Knoll

According to his own account, which was quoted by Sam Dann in "Dachau 29 April 1945," Joseph Knoll was one of the 1,300 survivors of the Death Train that reached Dachau on April 27, 1945 after a three-week journey from the Buchenwald concentration camp near Weimar. Knoll had been sent initially to the infamous Auschwitz death camp in June 1944 at the age of 19. Knoll told Dann that "Always, good luck was needed for survival." For Knoll, his lucky break came as a result of his ability to speak German fluently. Although his parents were sent immediately to the gas chamber, Knoll says he was chosen to serve as the personal servant to the Chief of the SS guards, which saved him from certain death. In September of 1944, Knoll was among the Auschwitz prisoners who were sent to Ohrdruf. According to Knoll, "Ohrdruf was a cruel, forced labor camp. We would get our whole day's rations early in the morning. Then, we would have to march to and from the work-place, which required almost two and a half hours." Knoll says that "It was little short of a miracle (luck again) that I survived."

When the Ohrdruf camp was evacuated just before the arrival of American troops, Knoll was one of those who were sent on a forced march to Buchenwald. A few days later, he was one of those placed on the "Death Train" on April 8, 1945 in Weimar. In his account of the trip, as told to Dann in "Dachau 29 April 1945," Knoll said, "We never left the wagon during this seemingly interminable journey. I believe we were deprived of food for about three weeks until we arrived in Dachau. The wagon was packed with corpses." Knoll says that he had lost 73 pounds, over half of his normal weight, in the 11 months that he was in the hands of the Nazis and was down to 70 pounds by the time he was rescued by American troops at Dachau. His feet were frostbitten because of the unseasonable cold weather in April 1945.

Knoll finally returned to his native city of Budapest in September 1945. He says that it took him a year to recover from his ordeal and it took four years to fully recover from the frostbite. Knoll became a Doctor, earning his M.D. from the University of Budapest in 1951. Later, Dr. Knoll became a professor and the head of the Department of Pharmacology at the Semmelweiss University of Medicine in Budapest; he is internationally known for his research in brain activity.