About the author
In the summer of 1946, Gustav Knittel, a 31-year old former SS-Officer from the Bavarian town of Neu-Ulm, was sentenced to life imprisonment for the murders his battalion, Schnelle Gruppe Knittel, had committed in and around the small Belgian town of Stavelot during the Ardennes Offensive in December 1944.
I probably would never have heard of him if not for the fact that back in the early nineties I was a frequent visitor to the old main public library at the Prinsengracht in Amsterdam during my study. There I would spend hours and hours reading just about every history book I could get my hands on. I suppose it was typical for a boy in his late teens that my focus was soon on military history, with a keen interest in subjects like the Wars of the Roses, the Napoleonic conflicts, the Crimean War, the Russian Civil War, the Great War and the Second World War. One of the books that caught my attention was “Massamoord bij Malmédy, Kampfgruppe Peiper in de Ardennen” (Massacre at Malmédy – battle group Peiper in the Ardennes) by the late Gerd Cuppens. I was intrigued that so much was written about Joachim Peiper and the crimes of his battle group – which became known as the ‘Malmédy Massacre’ – yet so little about the other battle group commanders.
In 1996 I had to write a short paper on a subject of choice and I guess I only picked Knittel because of the well-known photos taken in la Vaulx Richard, a hamlet just east of Stavelot. What intrigued me most was that he looked very different from the stereotypical ‘Hollywoodesque’ SS officers I knew from the movies. The short paper whet my appetite to uncover the facts beyond the easily obtainable information about the beastly behaviour of the SS in Stavelot and the surrounding hamlets and this curiosity snowballed into my posing numerous questions in the early internet forums. Not content with merely reading the published works about those dark times, I felt compelled to visit the Ardennes myself and to further research deeper into the archives followed soon after by contact with veterans of SS-Officer Gustav Knittel’s battalion. It took some time for me to realise that most of them tried to dupe me with their well woven stories about Knittel and his part in the crimes. But in the end this only incited me to keep searching and despite the fact that some pieces of the puzzle have proved impossible to unearth seventy years after the battle, there was enough left to enable me to reconstruct Knittel’s career, personal life and his personal involvement in the grim story of that horrendous week in the Ardennes
This resulting book is aimed at providing all the available pieces of this puzzle to enable you the reader to see through the multiple smoke screens created not only by Knittel, his defence lawyers and his wartime comrades, but also by his captors, his interrogators and the prosecution, all who knowingly fudged, were evasive or downright lied about the facts in order to ensure the success of their own personal motives and political agendas.
Timo R. Worst