By Gilly Carr
Dermot Bonass was born in Clare Castle, Ireland, and was 17 years old and single at the start of the German occupation. He described himself as a labourer on his occupation registration card (although this was later changed to ‘waiter’) and, like other Irish men in the island at this time, he was initially in Jersey as seasonal labour to help with the potato harvest, as confirmed by his niece.
Bonass comes to our attention during the occupation because he had the great misfortune to have been deported to Germany on two occasions. However, no court records survive from his first brush with the Germans (if they ever existed) and no record of either of his deportations exist in the political prisoner log book of the island. This indicates either a possible deportation without trial the first time around, or a simple loss of records (which seems unlikely given the survival of what appears to be an almost complete set of duplicates of court records given to the local authorities for their records). Deportation without trial and without notification to the local authorities was not without precedence in the Channel Islands, and perhaps easier to do if the people concerned were less likely to be missed.
Turning to his first conviction, the only evidence we have for this comes from his occupation registration card, which states that he left for Germany on 30 June 1941 and returned on 20 January 1943 – the exact same dates as Arthur Purtill’s first deportation. We can safely assume that they were working together at this earlier stage of the occupation as well.
Within these dates, records from the International Tracing Service (ITS) note that Bonass was in Braunschweig Prison (i.e. Brunswick Prison) from 23 April 1942 to 14 May 1942 (during which Arthur Purtill was also imprisoned in the same place with him). No evidence has been found to suggest where else Bonass might have been during this first period of deportation.
Of Bonass’ second deportation, documents from Jersey Archives record that on 11 May 1944 he was court martialled by the Troop Court of the German Army. He was charged, with the same two men, of ‘serious larceny in complicity with one another’ and given a sentence of one year and six months of imprisonment with hard labour. He was now 21 years old.
As his name and date of deportation was not recorded in Jersey’s political prisoner log book, we cannot know when he was deported, although we know that it was after 11 May and before 25 July 1944, the date at which we have evidence of his presence in Germany. Given the severity of his sentence and the fact that it was fairly late in the war, Bonass couldn’t hope to be sent anywhere other than Germany even if he had a brief sojourn in France beforehand.
The first prison record of his second deportation we have for him is in Bruchsal Prison in Germany on 25 July 1944, where he stayed until 25 November 1944. After this he was deported to Ludwigsburg Prison, also in Germany, until 8 December 1944. From here he was sent to Württemberg Workhouse for Men in Vaihingen-Enz. On 4 April 1945, he and the other inmates in Vaihingen were placed on a forced march to Ulm, and those who were too ill to march were killed by the Vaihingen guards. In Ulm, Bonass was incarcerated in Ulm Court Prison and the city was liberated by US troops on 24 April 1945. He was probably freed from prison in Ulm sometime between May and July 1945. After this, no more is known, although two years after the war, records show that Dermot and Niall Bonass lived at the same address in London, demonstrating that both survived their experience.
Jersey occupation registration documents, Jersey Archives ref Irish/1/50, Irish/1/51, Irish/1/52.
Court records relating to Dermot Bonas, Jersey Archives ref. D/Z/H6/7/83.
Records from the International Tracing Service (consulted at the Wiener Library for the study of the Holocaust and Genocide) refs: 11698487, 15787211, 15787212, 15787213, 15787214, 15787215, 15787216, 15787217, 15787218.
Sommer, Jasmin & Steffen, Nils: ‘1944–1945: Ein Tod auf Schloss Kaltenstein – Das Arbeitshaus für Männer in Vaihingen/Enz’ in Aus Gründen der inneren Sicherheit des Staates: Ausweisung, Verfolgung und Ermordung des Bremer Arbeiters Johann Geusendam (1886–1945), published by Sigrid Dauks and Eva Schöck-Quinteros, Bremen 2009, pp. 205–222 (in German). LINK