By Gilly Carr
Albert Durand was born on 23 January 1916 in Jersey. He began his education at De La Salle College and was ordained as a Catholic priest in 1942. He was at a seminary in France when the Germans arrived in 1940.
Durand’s presence on this website is an anomaly, but a deliberate one: he was not deported from Jersey during the Occupation, but within and from France, where he was living and working. His parents remained in Jersey during the Occupation. Because Durand was registered in France, the usual documents, such as his occupation registration card complete with photograph, are not available to us for study.
Durand’s story is best told in his own words; extracts have been reproduced here from his testimony written to claim compensation for Nazi persecution in the mid-1960s, and from the write-up in the Jersey Evening Post of a lecture he gave in September 1945.
Durand was arrested on 3 August 1943 whilst travelling by train using false papers; he was illegally crossing the border (which border, we do not know), according to his records. He was arrested by the German secret police who questioned him before handing him over to the Gestapo. They thought he was an English spy and so he was treated as an NN (Nacht und Nebel) prisoner, i.e., he was given no contact with the outside world, nor it with him – the aim was for him to disappear and be untraceable.
He was first held in Montluc Prison in Lyons from August to September 1943, which he described as ‘simply filthy: full of bugs, no water, and very little food. We were allowed out in the yard once a day for exercise and also for washing’. He was then taken to the notorious Fresnes Prison in Paris from September to 6 December 1943, which he described as ‘much better than the one at Lyons. At least there were washing facilities in the cell. Whilst here I was questioned twice by the Gestapo, Avenue Foch, Paris. We were six then eight in the one cell.’
From here he was taken, in a packed cattle truck, to Neue Bremm Gestapo Camp from 7 to 12 December, which was ‘A kind of sorting centre, where convoys were made up for transfer to different camps in Germany … [it was] only a small camp [but] it was terrible’.
From here, Durand was taken to Dachau Concentration Camp from 12 December 1943 to 7 June 1944, where he was given prisoner number 60556. About this place he wrote:
I was first in block 15, Stube 2, so-called quarantine block. Then I was transferred to block 24, Stube 4. This was only for priests of every nationality, except Poles, who were in block 28. We were fortunate enough to have a chapel, but only for us and not for the lay folk. In my room, we were from all nations in Europe: French priests, Belgian, Dutch, Italian, Hungarian, Czech, Greek, Yugoslavian, etc. The regime was as bad as it has been said. Just enough food to hold oneself together, no hygiene, no medicine. If it hadn’t been for the generous help given to me by German priests who were permitted to receive parcels, I don’t think I would be alive today. It was here, in Dachau, that I found out that I was in a special category: N.N. … On 7 June 1944 I was transferred to a camp in France, where all the NNs were to be grouped.
Later on, Durand was to report that although he was struck with a spade and kicked, this hardly registered as ill-treatment compared to what he witnessed in Dachau, where people were hung by the neck or the thumbs or the wrists, and the guard dogs fed on human flesh. He also heard about medical experimentation in the camp. Hunger was the real problem: he saw Russian prisoners eat human flesh and on one occasion saw a Pole eating human excrement.
On 8 June 1944, Durand arrived in Natzweiller-Struthof Concentration Camp in the Vosges, France, and given prisoner number 17064:
A real Hell! Everything was done to make our life as terrible as possible. What food there was didn’t go far. It was here that I met three other Englishmen … they were all Intelligence Service. I was there when a small convoy of women were brought to the camp … and were executed during the night. They were women who had been parachuted into occupied France and were arrested. Some of them were Englishwomen. The last few weeks were terrible: the allied advance made the Germans evacuate the prisons, and they were all brought here till they were transferred to different camps in Germany. We were lucky if we got our bowl of soup once a day. Then we were all transferred to Dachau.
On 8 September 1944, Durand had the misfortune to be returned to Dachau Concentration Camp, where he was given prisoner number 101245.
The situation was distinctly worse, as camps from the east were being brought here. Then we had an epidemic of typhus, which brought the end for hundreds every day. We were lucky to still be alive when the Americans freed us on 29 April 1945.
Durand was ‘returned to civilisation’, as he put it, in Paris on 10 May 1945. By September of that year, no doubt after a long recuperation, he was back in Jersey to visit his parents. The Jersey Evening Press noted that he celebrated his first High Mass after his ordeal in the Catholic Church of St Thomas in St Helier with his family and friends. His visit was an extended one: a few weeks later he gave a two-and-a-half hour lecture on his experiences to the Playhouse Theatre in St Helier, an event that was repeated a few days later.
Twenty years later, at the time he applied for compensation, Durand was suffering from a condition called ‘asthenia’, a term used to refer to weakness, a psychopathological condition characterised by extreme acute or chronic loss of strength. His memory, he wrote, was also bad, and caused problems while preaching. Before PTSD was recognised, asthenia was a symptom related to what used to be called ‘concentration camp disease’.
Durand received compensation for his experiences, but not for his mental ill-health. Such things were not recognised as worthy of compensation in the scheme.
He died in France in November 1973, in his parish of Notre-Dame de Sion and is buried in Vaudemont, where he was village priest, in accordance with his wishes.
Albert Durand’s compensation claim for Nazi persecution, The National Archives ref. FO 950/1698.
Albert Durand’s records, International Tracing Service, Wiener Library refs. 9956693, 3163678, 10028270.
Jersey Evening Post, 29 September 1945. “I was at Dachau’, Jersey priest tells of his experiences.’
Jersey Evening Post, 4 September 1945. ‘Young Jersey priest re-united with family after Dachau’.