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 there are records to show his presence in Germany on two separate occasions during the Occupation. No court records survive from his first brush with the Germans and no record of either of his deportations exist in the political prisoner log book of the island; this is because he was one of many Irish citizens in Jersey who voluntarily went to work in Germany from 30 June 1941, returning to Jersey on 20 January 1943. Records show that 68 Irish people travelled to Germany, including Bonass’ friend and his brother, Arthur Purtill and Niall Bonass; the three young men had all been recently living and working together.
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.
It is quite possible that the men were not actually in the prison as such. The Irish worked at the Reichswerke Hermann Goering, a steelworks conglomerate in Braunschweig, which eventually employed up to 10,000 workers, with foreign workers living in 70 makeshift camps. It is possible that Bonass was in one of these camps rather than in the prison per se, although it is also possible that he was sent to the prison for a short sojourn for misbehaviour while a foreign labourer.
After his return to Jersey, Bonass was unlucky enough to be sent away again. Of his 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. It is quite possible that he was among the 20 people deported on 30 June 1944 from Jersey Prison, alongside Harold Le Druillenec. 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