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March 3, 2011

Christof Ludwig Knoll — the Kapo who took an interest in a prisoner at Dachau

Filed under: Dachau, Germany, Holocaust — Tags: , , — furtherglory @ 9:59 am

A big “Thank you” to the reader who made a comment on my previous blog post about Holocaust survivor Leslie Schwartz whose memoirs will be out in English soon, with a possible documentary to follow.

This is the comment from Marc:

Christof Ludwig Knoll was the capo who took an interest in Leslie. Knoll was executed in the war crimes trials after the war. No prisoner would have said anything good about him. He was incredibly brutal and a sadistic killer.

Leslie’s book is currently available only in German and I have not read it, so I could only guess the name of the man who took an interest in Leslie when he was a teenager in one of the Dachau sub-camps.  Now that I know that the man’s name was Christof Ludwig Knoll and that he was a capo or Kapo at Dachau, I can provide more information about his conviction and execution as a war criminal.  

Kapo was a term, used in all the Nazi concentration camps, which meant a prisoner who was in charge of supervising the work of his fellow prisoners.  Most of the Kapos were German and they were expected to be loyal to Germany and not take the side of the prisoners.  According to German Wikipedia, Knoll was a political prisoner, who had been sent to Dachau in September 1933, because he was a Communist; he was divorced and the father of two children.

I know, from lots of reading about the camps, that it was common for the privileged prisoners (Kapos) to become interested in the young boys in the camp.  One of the main reasons that Heinrich Himmler set up brothels in the camps was to prevent this kind of behavior.  Homosexual acts had been a crime in Germany since 1871.

Knoll was one of the accused men in the first proceedings of the American Military Tribunal, which were conducted at Dachau against 40 members of the Dachau staff in November 1945.

The courtroom at Dachau where Christof Ludwig Knoll was convicted by an American Military Tribunal

Out of the thousands of SS men and Kapos who had worked at the Dachau camp in the 12 years that the camp was in operation, 40 men were selected to be put on trial, but not because their crimes were the most heinous. Rather, they were selected as a representative group because included among them were staff members from every category of personnel in the concentration camp system. The purpose was to show that anyone connected with a Nazi concentration camp was guilty of a crime, regardless of his personal behavior.

At the American Military Tribunal proceedings, the charges against Dachau Commandant Martin Gottfried Weiss, and 39 other members of the Dachau staff, were based on the theory that all of them had participated in a “common design” to run the concentration camp in a manner which had caused the prisoners great suffering, severe injury or death. The period of time covered by the charges was from January 1, 1942 until April 29, 1945. Although the camp had been in operation since March 22, 1933, this was roughly the period of time that the Dachau camp had been in existence while America was at war with Germany.

The legal basis for the prosecution of staff members of the Nazi concentration camps was that some of the camp inmates had been captured enemy soldiers who were Prisoners of War and consequently they should have been treated according to the rules of the Geneva Convention, including the Russian POWs, although the Soviet Union had not signed the Geneva Convention and had not followed it during the war.

Other inmates in the Nazi camps were political prisoners, partisans, resistance fighters or insurgents from German-occupied countries; they were considered by the American prosecutors to be comparable to Prisoners of War although the 1929 Geneva Convention did not give insurgents the same rights as POWs. In fact, the resistance fighters in German-occupied countries had violated the rules of the 1929 Geneva Convention themselves by continuing to fight after their countries had surrendered.

Witnesses for the prosecution were former prisoners in the Dachau concentration camp; these men were given room and board and a payment of 1,000 Deutschmarks for their testimony, according to Joshua M. Greene, in his book “Justice at Dachau.” They were housed in the SS buildings on the former Avenue of the SS, which was named Tennessee Road by the Americans who were working on the trials.

SS barracks at Dachau where witnesses lived during the AMT

The proceedings against Martin Gottfried Weiss and 39 others at Dachau ended on December 13, 1945, less than a month after they had started. During the 24 days of the trial, the court had heard the oral testimony of over 170 witnesses.

The charge that the accused had participated in a “common design” was central to the prosecution case.

In his closing argument on December 12th, the chief prosecutor, Lt. Col. William Denson, JAGD, Trial Judge Advocate, said the following:

If there is no such common design then every man in this dock should walk free because that is the essential allegation in the particulars that the court is trying. As to examination of the specific conduct of each one of the accused, the test to be applied is not did he kill or beat or torture or starve but did he by his conduct, aid or abet the execution of this common design and participate in it?

I would like to call the court’s attention and wish to emphasize the fact that the offense with which these 40 men stand charged is not killing, beating, and torturing these prisoners but the offense is aiding, abetting, encouraging and participating in a common design to kill, to beat, to torture, and to subject these persons to starvation.

It may be, because of the testimony submitted here, that this court may be inclined to determine the guilt or innocence of these forty men by the number of men they killed, or by the number of men they beat, or the number they tortured. That is not the test that is to be applied in this case.

We are not trying these men for specific acts of misconduct. We are trying these men for participation in this common design… as a matter of fact, this case could have been established without showing that a single man over in that dock at any time killed a man. It would be sufficient, may it please the court, to show that there was in fact a common design, and that these individuals participated in it, and that the purpose of this common design was the killings, the beatings, and the tortures and the subjection to starvation.

The prosecution did not claim that the accused had participated in a conspiracy. Nor did they present evidence that any two or more of the accused had ever gotten together and agreed to put into effect a policy of mistreating and killing a large number of the inmates. Instead, the prosecution proved that, although the accused did not all know each other and they were not all at Dachau at the same time, the system remained the same, and as each of them undertook the duties of his position, he adhered to the system.

The charges against all the accused at Dachau was that there was a general system of cruelty and murder in the camp and that this system was practiced with the knowledge and active participation of the accused, including the Kapos who were considered members of the Dachau staff.  Notice that I am calling them “the accused,” not “the defendants.”  A defendant is a person who is considered innocent until proven guilty.  In the “Dachau trials” the men on trial were guilty until proven innocent.

All of the Kapos in the first AMT proceedings (Emil Erwin Mahl, Willy Tempel, Fritz Becher and Christof Ludwig Knoll) were found guilty of participating in the “common design” to violate the Laws and Usages of War under the Geneva Convention of 1929 and the Hague Convention of 1907.

How does one prove that he is innocent of a charge of “participating in a common design” when the definition of “participating in a common design” is that the person was a member of the staff at a concentration camp?

To prove its case, the prosecution had only to show that (1) the accused had held a position in the camp in which his duties involved the administration of the camp system or that (2) the accused had used his position of authority to mistreat the prisoners.

With regard to the Kapos, the prosecution contended that anyone who was engaged in any administrative or supervisory capacity was a member of the camp “staff” because they had been appointed by and had taken their orders from the SS.

If the accused held the title of Commandant or Deputy Commandant or SS Doctor, his position alone was enough to prove his guilt under the “common design” charge. The guards were found guilty of aiding and abetting the common design because they had prevented the prisoners from escaping the system.

Marc wrote in his comment:  “No prisoner would have said anything good about him. He was incredibly brutal and a sadistic killer.”

The job of the witnesses, who were given free room and board and paid for their testimony, was to say that the staff members at Dachau were brutal and sadistic killers.  If they had said anything good about any of the accused, they would have been kicked out and replaced by a new witness who would have been paid to give the testimony that the American prosecutors wanted to hear.

At the end of the proceedings, Arthur Haulot, one of the political prisoners, asked if he could say something in defense of Martin Gottfried Weiss; his request was denied and he was not allowed to put in a good word for Weiss.  The same thing would have happened if one of the paid witnesses had dared to say anything good about Christof Ludwig Knoll.  The witness would have been silenced and his comments would have been stricken from the record.

I am not defending Knoll; for all I know, he was in fact an incredibly brutal and sadistic killer.  When he testified in his own defense at the AMT, Knoll said that he had slapped prisoners, instead of reporting their bad behavior, which would have caused the prisoner to receive a severe punishment.

In the Nazi concentration camp system, when a prisoner was “reported,” the report was sent to the central office in Oranienburg where all punishments had to be approved before being carried out. Punishments for women had to be approved by Heinrich Himmler himself.

War criminals convicted by the AMT were hanged at Landsberg

Christof Ludwig Knoll was one of the men who was hanged at Landsberg prison on May 29, 1946.  The gallows faced the prison cell which had been occupied by Hitler in 1923.

Update, 12:35 p.m.

I looked up Knoll in Joshua M. Greene’s book “Justice at Dachau” and found that he was mentioned only once, on page 51.  On that page, he was included in the 12 men that Dr. Blaha identified in the courtroom at Dachau.

Marc included this link to the German Wikipedia in his comment.

Here is a quote from the German Wikipedia:

First, as a prisoner Knoll Schneider [1] used, and served 1938-1939 as head Capo on the “plantation”, where medicinal herbs were planted. From February 1941 he was employed as an elder of the barrack block and Jewish prisoners in the penal block.  There he was feared for its brutality, because he killed several prisoners. From July 1944 he was a capo in the external storage box, Karl, and was then in the external storage Mühldorf transferred. [2]

“The floor is polished, we could not work at all with the shoes in the room. The Knoll has shouted at once: Go, punitive to the yard!  And the room service was beaten with truncheons, and we had to run fast […] and so we ran out barefoot and was full of mud. And then we came back and of course the whole dirty […] licking!  So we lick the mud with the tongues.  And they have beaten, and some people have been killed there.  [3] That was the Knoll Dressage. ” [3]

Here is the same quote in the original German:

Ab Februar 1941 war er als Blockältester der Baracke jüdischer Häftlinge und auch im Strafblock eingesetzt. Dort war er wegen seiner Brutalität gefürchtet, da er mehrere Häftlinge erschlug.  Ab Juli 1944 war er Kapo im Außenlager Karlsfeld und wurde von dort in das Außenlager Mühldorf überstellt. [2]

„Der Fußboden ist poliert, wir durften überhaupt nicht mit den Schuhen in das Zimmer. Der Knoll hat auf einmal gebrüllt: Los, strafexerzieren auf den Hof! Und der Stubendienst hat mit den Knüppeln geschlagen, und wir mussten schnell laufen […] und so lief man barfuß hinaus und war voll Dreck. Und dann ist man zurückgekommen und hat selbstverständlich das ganze verdreckt […] Ablecken! So lecken wir den Kot mit den Zungen.  Und sie haben geprügelt, und einige Leute wurden dabei erschlagen.  Das war diese Knoll-Dressur.“


  1. furtherglory
    Reading your German text of (revised at 12.35),the word Dreck in German means Dirt.
    The expression Kot is very rarely used and has two meanings
    1. Schmutz,Schlamm=dirt or mud
    2. Stuhl(latin faeces),die ueber den After ausgeschiedenen Nahrungsreste.= that through the anus secreting rest of food.

    Comment by Herbert Stolpmann — March 13, 2011 @ 4:07 pm

  2. I put the sentence “So lecken wir den Kot mit den Zungen.” into Google Translate and got this translation:
    So we lick the mud with the tongues

    Comment by furtherglory — March 5, 2011 @ 6:58 am

    • The translation of the Erich Kulka´s statement in Wikipedia is pretty bad.
      I would translate it like this:
      “The Floor is polished, we were not allowed to enter the room with our shoes on.
      Knoll suddenly shouted: “Come on, punitive drill in the Yard!”
      And the barrack guards were beating [us] with cudgels, and we had to run fast […] and so we ran outside barefoot and [our feet] got dirty. And then we came back and of course we soiled the whole floor[…] Lick it off! So we licked off the dirt/feces with our tongues. And they were battering [us], and some people were thus beaten to death. That was the Knoll-Dressage.”

      “Kot” is indeed the german word for feces. But I guess the guy referred to all the kinds of dirt you would expect from a muddy yard – feces might be part of it.

      Comment by Monika — March 5, 2011 @ 9:15 pm

  3. Didn’t they have toilets for the prisoners?

    “So lecken wir den Kot mit den Zungen” actually translates as “So we lick the feces with the tongues.”

    If the prisoners ran barefoot from their clean room to the yard, how did they get feces on their feet?

    Comment by Rachel — March 5, 2011 @ 1:38 am

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