Gustav Knittel - Trial and Imprisonment

Trial and Imprisonment

In May 1945 Knittel returned to his family in Neu-Ulm but soon decided to hide on a farm near Stuttgart. He returned to his hometown later that year but when he met with his wife on 5 January 1946 he was captured by Counter Intelligence Corps (CIC) agents Michel Thomas and Theodore Kraus. Knittel was imprisoned in the CIC prison in Ulm and interrogated by Thomas. Knittel later claimed that he was physically abused by his guards but Thomas denied this accusation.

In March Knittel was transferred to Schwäbisch Hall where Peiper and the other suspects of the Malmedy Massacre were detained. Knittel and his Schnelle Gruppe had not taken part in the Malmedy Massacre since they had used a more southerly route but he was soon questioned about war crimes in the Stavelot area. Knittel confessed that he ordered the murder of American prisoners of war near Petit-Spai. Like other defendants he complained after his trial that the interrogations included psychological torture. Knittel claimed to have been threatened with being handed over to the Belgians and that his interrogators suggested that signing a confession or not was the choice between fair American justice and Belgian revenge. Knittel also hoped that a false confession would steer the attention of his interrogators away from the civilians the men under his command murdered in Stavelot, Parfondruy and Renardmont and that he could then show during his trial that the murders he confessed to never happened. He intended to use the war diaries of the American units which had opposed his Schnelle Gruppe during the Battle of the Bulge to prove that no Americans were murdered at the date and location he gave in his confession. But during the Malmedy massacre trial his defence lawyers did not get permission to use these war diaries and following his self-incriminating confession he was sentenced to life imprisonment on 16 July 1946.

Knittel and his lawyers immediately filed a request with the War Crimes Board of Review to have his case reopened and in March 1948 the reviewing authority reduced his sentence to 15 years imprisonment. In May 1948 the War Crimes Review Board Nr. 4 rejected the claim that irregularities had occurred during the trial against Knittel but following the Simpson Report and the findings of the United States Senate Committee on Armed Services his sentence was further reduced to 12 years imprisonment. Knittel was released from Landsberg Prison on 7 December 1953 following a Christmas Amnesty.

Knittel worked as a car salesman for Opel in Ulm until health problems including several cardiac arrests forced him to retire in 1970. Gustav Knittel died on 30 June 1976 in Ulm hospital.

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