By Gilly Carr
Flavien Emile Barbier was born on 28 June 1909 in St Helier, Jersey, to French parents. Our first record of him dates to 1925 when, aged 16, he registered as a French ‘alien’, working as a waiter. On 17 July 1937, aged 28, he claimed British nationality.
By the time that islanders were required to register in the early days of the Occupation, Barbier was working as a restaurateur at the Corner House Restaurant at Charing Cross in St Helier. He was married to Gladys Lydia Barbier née Lucas. The couple moved out to 3 Don Terrace, St Helier, later in the Occupation.
Barbier comes to our attention through his actions at one of the most important acts of protest in Jersey during the Occupation. In September 1942, Islanders born in the UK were deported to civilian internment camps in Germany. On 16, 18 and 29 September, Islanders gathered in ever-increasing numbers to sing patriotic songs in locations (Pier Road, South Hill and Mount Bingham) overlooking the deportation vessels in the harbour in St Helier. Those being deported also joined in the singing.
The situation during the protests on 29 September became ugly. Larger crowds were involved this time, with numbers estimated by those who were there at between one thousand and five thousand people. Things got out of hand and the demonstration became an out-of-control riot in some places, with people getting hurt. The Germans managed to arrest only some of the fleeing demonstrators in the confusion. Flavien Barbier was among those arrested.
All of the 19 people arrested were given sentences of one or two months except Flavien Barbier, who was 33 years old and deemed to be the ringleader by virtue of being the eldest; the rest were of school age. Barbier was thrown into prison on 2 October 1942.
On 12 October 1942, Barbier was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment for ‘organising a public meeting with anti-German manifestation.’ While he was in prison, he was sentenced a second time, on 22 October 1942, to two months’ imprisonment for ‘concealing stolen goods’. It seems likely that his home was searched in his absence and the goods discovered then. Because by then Barbier had been in prison for a short period, his combined sentence was declared to be three years and six weeks’ imprisonment.
Barbier began his sentence in Jersey Jail. However, on 22 January 1943, he was deported to France. We find him first in Fort d’Hauteville Prison in Dijon on 28 January 1943, indicating a brief sojourn at another prison first. On 11 May 1943 he was transferred to Germany.
From this point onwards we have two sources of information which allow us to track Barbier’s movements. The first is the International Tracing Service (ITS), which has records of Nazi prisons and camps; the second is Barbier’s application for compensation for Nazi persecution, written in the mid-1960s.
From the ITS we have a post-war record from Dieburg Prison (which administered Rollwald Penal Camp) recording the presence of Flavian Barbier at an undated point in time. There are also other, later, records from the 1960s which are replicated in Barbier’s compensation application; the contents of the ITS file was triggered by Barbier’s application.
In examining Barbier’s application for compensation, we see that it was made for him by his brother Marcel, who had been given power of attorney over him since February 1964. By this date, Flavien Barbier was living in St Saviour’s Hospital, known locally as an asylum for the mentally ill. His doctor, a mental health social worker, wrote a report as part of the application in which she stated that when Flavien’s mother, to whom he was devoted, died in 1958, he ‘collapsed with a breakdown’. Flavien was being treated by a doctor and had his own nurse and housekeeper. He had sacked the male nurse, believing that ‘he was in a concentration camp and the nurse was a male guard’.
The doctor stated that Marcel Barbier had informed him that, after the war, the Barbier brothers had gone to London because Flavien had returned to find his restaurant destroyed. During this period, Flavien had nightmares from which he had to be wakened. He returned to Jersey and began a photography business. After this became a landlord but retired from this work in 1961, and began to spend his time in public houses.
‘In 1961’, wrote the doctor, ‘he started drinking gin and beer, was unsteady and confused and had memory loss, was … drinking in the mornings ….’ We can surmise that Barbier had turned to alcohol to cope with the flashbacks caused by Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
The doctor also wrote that Barbier –
‘was one who loved to be in on any excitement from an early age. During the Occupation, when a group of English people were being deported, the patient was with a group of College boys who demonstrated, and he was the eldest of the group; he was picked out and deported; when at last the camp was liberated by the Americans he was made commandant of the camp which was of mixed nationalities. He only recently started talking about the horrors of his experience while in prison camps, and only then did his wife learn of his illnesses [in the camp] which were: – Sinus operation to base of spine; operation for hernia; Diphtheria and another illness; lapses of memory. Also had an operation for repair of hernia January 1957 in Jersey.’
Marcel Barbier wrote a testimony for Flavien, stating that his brother had been in a prison in France followed by two concentration camps, one of which was ‘Rollwald/Darmstadt.’ He was then released by the American army and became attached to them as an interpreter.
‘As my brother is temporarily, we hope, in a mental hospital in St Saviour, Jersey, CI, and his condition mainly due to his wartime experiences, it had been considered unwise to question him too much as to the correct name and address of the concentration camp from which he was released, but no doubt the American Intelligence Services would have records of his release and his employment. When found, he was unable to stand without aid, this being due to weakness induced by illness, malnutrition and ill-treatment. It is know that he was repeatedly beaten by the guards, knocked down an iron staircase and all-together badly ill-treated.’
Also in Barbier’s file is a letter from the International Committee of the Red Cross, which states that Barbier was, on 12 October 1943, in ‘Lager Rodgau, Dieburg Prison’, which they later refer to as ‘Prisoners’ Camp Rodgau-Dieburg, Camp II’. He was still there on 1 April 1944 and in August 1944. This camp is named in the Frank Falla Archive is as the Rollwald Penal Camp, but it is one and the same place as Lager Rodgau and Rodgau-Dieburg Camp.
It seems very likely, therefore, that Flavien Barbier was in Rollwald (after Fort d’Hauteville in Dijon) for the rest of the war. Further records have been found which confirm that Flavien Barbier was, after its liberation on 26 March 1945 by American forces and despite his weakened state, part of the prisoner-run administration of the displaced persons camp and one its leaders.
Although Flavien Barbier survived the war, it is clear that his mental health was fragile and he had turned to alcohol to cope. His mother’s death triggered a major and lasting relapse. We do not know whether he regained his mental health after this.
The Frank Falla Archive would like to invite members of the Barbier family to get in touch to share more information on Flavien Barbier.
Flavien Barbier, Occupation registration card and forms, Jersey Archives ref. St. H/4/8001, 8002, 8003.
Flavien Barbier, Aliens registration form, Jersey Archives ref. D/S/B8/3.
Flavien Barbier, court records, Jersey Archives ref. D/Z/H6/4/36.
Flavien Barbier’s entry in the logbook for Jersey Political Prisoners, Jersey Archives ref. D/AG/B7/7.
Flavien Barbier’s compensation claim for Nazi persecution, The National Archives ref. FO 950/1744.
Mrs Barbier’s compensation claim for Nazi persecution, The National Archives ref. FO 950/1521.
Flavien Barbier’s records at Fort D’Hauteville Prison, Archives Départementales, Côte d’Or, ref. 1409W.
Flavien Barbier’s records at Dieburg, The Wiener Library, International Tracing Service ref. 92822942.