On Wednesday, the Duke of Cambridge visited the War Imperial Museum in London where he met World War II veterans and Holocaust survivors. William is the president of the institution’s foundation. He heard WWII stories of survival from the veterans there. One such brave man was a 96-year-old former French Resistance fighter, Freddie Knoller was a Jew imprisoned at Auschwitz. He managed to escape execution by stealing the armband of a dead French soldier.
While at the museum, Mr Knoller presented the Duke with a copy of his book, Living With the Enemy. The Duke also told the concentration camp survivor of his visit earlier this year to Stutthof, a Polish concentration camp where 28,000 Jews were killed and more than 60,000 people were murdered before being liberated by the allies in 1945.
“Catherine and I were in Poland earlier this year; we had a very eye-opening tour around the camp – it was very eye-opening, very sobering.”
Mr Knoller showed His Royal Highness the badge he wore that saved his life while on a death march from Auschwitz in early 1945. The badge is now part of the museum’s exhibition.
William asked: “How did you get it off – you tore it off?” The Prince was told he did. Mr Knoller said later: “I showed him my striped uniform. This saved my life because it doesn’t show the number of a Jew, but of a French political prisoner.
“When I put it on, they thought I was a French political prisoner. It saved my life.
“I don’t want the world ever to forget what happened during the Second World War.
“I don’t want the world to forget that six million Jews were murdered by the Nazis. This is why I tell the story.”
Mr Knoller survived internment at the Dora-Mittelbau concentration camp. He was used as slave labour. He found himself at Bergen-Belsen, where he was liberated by the British.
The Duke also met two other veterans, Ted Cordery, 94, and 103-year-old John Harrison whom both served on the HMS Belfast. This is the largest object in the museum.
On the HMS Belfast, Mr Cordery served as a leading torpedo man during the final large naval battle between large gun warships. During the Battle of North Cape in 1943, Mr Harrison worked as a Petty Officer on the ship.
Mr Harrison was injured by a magnetic mine. He told the Duke about the blast: “I got blown up 16ft, and the following morning my head was stiff, my neck was stiff.
“I went to the medical room and was told ‘that’s because you got blown up John – three aspirins and report in the morning.”
The primary purpose of the Duke’s visit to the IWM London was to be updated on the progress of the second phase of the £33.5 million transformation of the museum. Anticipated to be completed in 2020, new combined Second World War and Holocaust galleries and a learning suite are being built.
The museum’s Director General Diane Lees said of the renovations: “These ground-breaking new galleries will enable IWM to transform the way we present the Second World War and the Holocaust and, through our new narrative, enable visitors to engage with those parts of the story that may be less well understood and known to them.”