By Gilly Carr
WARNING: DETAILS OF VIOLENCE AND WAR CRIMES IN BUCHENWALD IN FULL COMPENSATION TESTIMONY
Alfred – or Fred – Baker is best known to us as a survivor of Buchenwald Concentration Camp, but he experienced many other Nazi prisons as well.
Baker is the only person on the Frank Falla Archive who was from Sark. He was born there on 15 September 1921, making him 18 years old when the Occupation began. At the time of registration of Islanders in October 1940, which is when we first encounter Baker, he was 19 and working as a greenhouse hand. He was a keen amateur boxer. He lived in States housing in Rougeval Road in St Peter Port with his mother, although it is unknown whether his father and three brothers were with them in Guernsey or not. Alfred’s brothers were William, Cedric and Victor.
Alfred Baker comes to our attention because, on 16 June 1942, he was sentenced in Jersey by the tribunal of Feldkommandtur 515 to two years’ imprisonment for house-breaking and theft. He was deported first to Jersey and then, on 1 July 1942, to France. He was deported with Guernseyman Gordon Brehault, Irishman Philip McCallan, and possibly unrecorded others.
This was not the first time that Baker had been in trouble with the law. There is a record of an earlier sojourn in Guernsey prison from 14-21 October 1940, when he spent 7 days inside for theft. He was in Guernsey prison a second time, arriving on 28 January 1942 and leaving on 13 May 1942, charged on three counts of breaking and entering. For each offence he was given a 6 week sentence of hard labour with a fine of £5, to be paid at a rate of 5 shillings a week. On this second occasion he was brought to prison on the same day as Sidney Ashcroft and convicted of the same crime, which indicates that the two were working together. As Ashcroft, too, was a keen boxer and around the same age as Baker, they quite possibly met through their shared love of the same sport.
As Baker was imprisoned again a month after he was let out of Guernsey prison, we might assume that he committed another offence. However, no record can be found of another entry into Guernsey prison. We can come to one of three conclusions: either he was put in Guernsey prison, in the German-controlled side of the prison, and no record was made of his entry; or he was sent straight to Jersey prison after being caught for the third time; or else there was no third offence and the Germans simply decided to remove him from the Island after his second offence. We have no way of knowing which; all we can observe is that he arrived in Jersey prison on 13 June, was tried on 16 June and deported on 1 July 1942. If there had, indeed, been a third offence, then we might assume that he broke into a house where Germans were billeted and stole from them, and that is why he was charged by a German court.
On 2 July 1942, Fred Baker arrived in Caen Prison; he left the prison on 15 July and was transferred to Troyes Haut-Clos Prison, which he reached on 16 July. On 8 August 1942 he was moved once again to Clairvaux Prison. His Clairvaux prison record states that he was transferred to Germany on 17 May 1943 to Fribourg en Brisgau (Freiburg) Prison.
At this point in Baker’s story we must turn to his compensation testimony to pick up his journey across Nazi-occupied territory given the absence of surviving prison records. He wrote his 20-side hand-written testimony in August 1964 when he was 42 years old. His account is lively and available in full on this website, although abridged here for reasons of length.
In the testimony, Baker sheds light on the conundrum above, stating that he was summoned to see the Germans who accused him of raiding their stores, for which they said he could be shot. This implies that there was no third offence, and simply that the Germans caught up with him after his earlier offence, but we cannot be sure. Baker stated that he was sent to France, landing in Granville. He does not name all his prisons. Caen is omitted but Clairvaux and Troyes are listed. He was sent ‘after a while’ to Landsberg Prison, where he had to work in the fields for ‘a few months’. While in this prison his lower jaw was operated on because, he said, he was ‘run down, lost weight to 52 kilos … the doctor said to me I can’t give you more food as you are my enemy. The day after the operation I had to go straight to work (forced labour). I also had an abscess in my ear a little time after the operation.’
About his time in Metz, he wrote that on one occasion he lined up for dinner and a guard punched him hard on the chin – twice – for holding his bowl in left hand rather than his right. If Baker had a noticeable scar on his chin from his earlier operation, then it is likely that the guard targeted this area. Baker was proud to note that the ‘rode the punch’ each time and did not collapse. He wrote that he headed back to Paris sometime in 1944.
On 15 August 1944, the French website of the Fondation pour la Mémoire de la Deportation show that Baker was deported from Paris to Buchenwald Concentration Camp. It seems likely that he was sent from Fresnes Prison, as the other Islanders he travelled with left from here. He named the other islanders as Harry Du Bois, James Quick and Stanley Green. Also in his cattle truck of around 80 people were ‘several airmen, British and American’. They arrived in the camp on 20 August 1944. Baker was given prisoner number 78441.
The British and American group of airmen in Buchenwald are well-documented, and they were forced to sleep outside rather than in a hut. The Channel Islanders naturally gravitated towards them, and Baker stated that he also ‘slept under the sky’ and that he wore a red triangle on his clothing, marked with an E for Englander: ‘the Nazis called us Englanders, but believe you me, we were damned proud of it’.
Baker’s experience of Buchenwald was as terrible as might be expected: ‘the ways of this camp were abominable, dissentry [sic], the way of living was unhealthy, especially in the huts (later we were transferred to a hut).’ Baker referred to various events that were known to have taken place in Buchenwald: he referred to the time the camp was bombed and American and British prisoners were called to the gate to fight the fire. He wrote about the interminable roll calls that lasted for hours where missing prisoners were shot when located, and he gave monthly death rates for the camp. He recalled seeing carts loaded with skeletal – but living – bodies, who were hit with a stick by a guard every time they moaned. He mentioned the crematoriums and the mass graves.
Baker gave many anecdotes about his time in the camp, such as being ill with ‘rheumatics and losing weight’, and being treated by a Dutch student doctor in the hospital in the lower camp (the date of this is given as 4-16 September 1944 on his prisoner card; he was in hospital again a second time with flu on 3 February 1945). He said that his job was just outside the camp, and involved ‘banging stones under the sleepers of the railway lines. He also wrote about the time he swore at a guard who told him to work, and was lucky to get away with being kicked ‘right in the pants’.
Baker also encountered a Roma or Sinti man in Buchenwald: ‘In our hut we had a sort of locker affair to keep our bread in, however a particular prisoner what they called a (CIGOINIA) Gipsy [Zigeuner, German for ‘gypsy’] I believe, however two or three guys on our table said he pinched some bread, I asked Jimmy Quick what it was about as he could speak more German than I could, although I can speak it a bit, however they took him in the washing room. Three of them got stuck into him, he was only a weedy guy, nothing on him, more or less skinny, Harry Dubois, Jimmy Quick and I were watching along with the other prisoners, I said to Harry, sod this I’m stopping them, of course Harry says no Fred don’t interfere, they might have a go at you, anyway underneath his two eyes were lumps as big as pigeon eggs, ready to burst, that done me, I got stuck into the 3 of them, I shouted out, lay off, he’s had enough, I was ready for them, always they walked off, the gipsy guy came up to me and thanked me, I said to the other 3 I don’t mind one against one but 3 of you, the next time I see that happen you’ll be sorry all three of you.’
Alfred Baker finally recounted the events of the liberation of the camp and the brutal murder by guards of a British prisoner about a week beforehand. Baker was proud to state that he was the prisoner who showed an American officer around the camp, starting with the crematorium, and showing him wagons filled with skeletal bodies.
Alfred Baker wrote that he arrived back in Southampton in April 1945 and came back to Guernsey in July 1945. Nothing further is known about him other than that he was living in Rochester in Kent by the mid-1960s and worked as a painter and decorator. Later in life he lived in Milton Keynes. He died in March 2000 in Milton Keynes General Hospital aged 79 in the presence of his daughter.
Alfred Baker occupation registration card, copyright Island Archives, Guernsey.
Alfred Baker’s charge sheet, copyright Guernsey Archives, ref. CC14-05/132.
Alfred Baker, documents related to request for remission of sentence, copyright Guernsey Archives, ref. CC14-05/224
Political prisoner logbook, Jersey Archives ref. D/AG//B7/1.
Entry for Alfred Baker, Fondation pour la Memoire de la Deportation, http://www.bddm.org/liv/details.php?id=I.264.#BAKER, accessed 21 July 2000.
Alfred Baker, International Tracing Service records, Wiener Library refs. 5387417#1, 5465084.
Alfred Baker, application for compensation for Nazi persecution, TNA ref. FO 950/943
Alfred Baker’s death certificate, Government Record Office.
Alfred Baker’s records from Caen Prison, copyright Calvados Archives ref. 1664 w 34.