By Gilly Carr
WARNING: CONTAINS DISTRESSING DETAIL OF TORTURE AND ILL-TREATMENT
Emile Du Bois, known as ‘Harry’ to his friends, was born in Jersey on 2 October 1899. In July 1917 he enlisted in the Royal Guernsey Light Infantry as a private; he was transferred to the second battalion of the Black Watch where, on 8 January 1919, he was sent to France as a private. He was demobilised on 31 March 1921.
On 8 July 1923, Du Bois married Lilia Ann Coutanche in St Helier; he was a crane driver and she was a shop assistant at this date.
At the time of the registration of Islanders in January 1941, Emile was still working as a crane driver and Lilia’s occupation card indicates that she worked at home on ‘household duties’.
We know that during the German occupation, Emile Du Bois was deported. However, he has no court records in his name, and neither does his name appear in the prison register or political prisoner logbook. However, archival records show that he left the Island on 1 March 1944, quite probably indicating deportation without trial.
In order to learn more of Du Bois’ story, we must turn now to his claim for compensation as a victim of Nazi persecution, written in 1965. He stated that, in the course of his job as a crane driver, he was unloading wood and ‘a set of wood fell from its sling on to a number of Germans passing the crane … All the pieces seemed to hit one German who was removed with some others to hospital. On 1 March 1944 I was arrested and deported from Jersey to a French prison called Le Cher Midi [Cherche-Midi]. Then during the Allied advance into Normandy I was evacuated to Buchenwald. I believe the timely invasion of France interrupted my trial and sentence.’
Records show that Du Bois was transferred by order of the Reich Main Security Office in Paris from Cherche-Midi prison on 15 August 1944, arriving in Buchenwald Concentration Camp on 20 August. He described the transfer as follows:
When the SS came to fetch us from French prisons we rode through the streets of Paris in public buses. The conductor had us covered with machine guns all the way to the railway station. We were herded like cattle into goods wagons. 70 to each wagon. When the door was shut the only ventilation was through the hole cut in the top corner, 9 by 9 inches. There was a large old tub in the centre for sanitary purposes. During the journey our wagon and the next were involved in an escape bid. The train was stopped and we from both wagons were forced to remove our clothing and which was placed in the escape wagon which had a hole in the floor. We were lined up naked in front of machine guns, then the officer in charge told us that if we tried to escape again four prisoners from each wagon would be shot. We were ordered to get into our wagon, so 140 of us crammed in and were helped in with a burst of machine gun fire. Three of us were hurt in the legs and today I still have my bullet in my leg. So we travelled right through France and into Germany naked without food or water, and only the hole 9 ins by 9 ins for ventilation and the horrible tub which gave us good reason to be sick from the smell. Five days and five nights we endured this barbaric treatment …
We can only imagine the pain which Du Bois endured without medical attention from his injury during this time, with no space in the carriage to tend to his wound.
Du Bois’ description of Buchenwald can be read in full from his compensation testimony provided on this webpage. It starts with a description of the camp, the barbed wire, the watch towers, the SS guards and the crematoria. He also provided a detailed description of the methods used for the torture and murder of prisoners.
Upon his arrival in Buchenwald he was given prisoner number 78263 and he quickly located other Islanders and people who shared his language:
James Quick, Freddy Baker, Stanley Green and myself teamed up with 180 English and American soldiers or airmen. Together we slept out in the little lager [camp] with only a blanket each for cover and the earth for our bed. They called me Pop because I was old enough to be their father.
… We remained together until the Americans and British airmen went to another camp. We got some clogs and a coat and were sent to the big lager, to Block D, where we were put to work with a commando [i.e. a working party]. Prisoners were drafted to work outside the camp in factories …
Du Bois worked in stone quarries and clay pits. He also helped to build railways and shovelled snow from the train station’s lines. Such work indicates that the prisoners must surely have been seen by local people, providing indication that the condition of concentration camp prisoners was not always hidden from the general public.
Dubois’ leg was swollen and painful because of the bullets lodged inside it, but he had to hide this from the guards as ‘they did not want cripples. They just disappeared.’ Despite this, his medical card from Buchenwald records the bullet in his knee. The camp guards also liked to set their dogs on the prisoners and Du Bois also had to contend with such leg injuries as well. A Russian doctor in the camp removed one of the bullets with the aid of:
… a pen-knife which was sterilised in the flame of a cigarette lighter. There were no anaesthetics, no medicines or ointments in the camp. My foot healed after six month’s treatment with the only cure being water, one bandage which I had to wash and replace every day. The other bullet is still in my leg … I had my leg x-rayed at the hospital and my doctor informed me it is better to be left in the leg as it would do more harm than good if it were removed. My legs were never free from bruises, scars, and today I am still suffering with bronchitis and skin disease, which has never left me since I left the camp.
Du Bois was liberated by the Americans. He had lost four stone (56 pounds) in weight. For twelve months he recuperated, only able to eat ‘baby food’, as he put it, during this period, gradually increasing to solid food.
He applied for compensation for disablement as well as for imprisonment. In this form he cited the bullet in his left knee, his on-going bronchitis and his skin disease, which began in the camp and had not yet been eliminated. We might ask whether the condition was triggered by the stress suffered by this concentration camp survivor. We also learn from his disability form that the SS threw a hand-grenade into his cattle truck carriage in addition to shooting at the prisoners. Du Bois testified that after this attack upon prisoners by the SS, he was unconscious for about five hours.
After his repatriation to the UK, Du Bois applied on 7 June 1945, with the aid of the Channel Islands Refugees Committee, to come back to Jersey. We do not know when he actually returned.
Emile Du Bois received compensation as a victim of Nazi persecution, both for his period of imprisonment in Buchenwald (but not Cherche-Midi), and for disability.
Emile Dubois’ family are invited to contact the Frank Falla Archive to contribute memories, photos or documents relating to Emile Dubois.
Emile Dubois’s occupation records, Jersey Archives ref. D/S/A/2/A120a & B120a.
Emile Du Bois’ marriage record, Jersey Archives ref. G/C/03/A3/24/30.
Emile Du Bois’ application to return to the Island after the war, Jersey Archives ref. B/A/L42/4/206.
Emile Du Bois’ compensation claim for Nazi Persecution, TNA ref. FO 950/1777.
Emile Du Bois’ International Tracing Service records, Wiener Library, refs. 5387387, 5787616, 63500319, 108314378.
Deportation memorial website records: