By Gilly Carr
WARNING: CONTAINS DISTURBING DETAILS.
Peter Painter was born in St Helier, Jersey, on 11 April 1924. He lived with his parents, Dorothy and Clarence Claude Painter, and had three siblings: Joan, John and Dorothy. According to private family papers published in The Ultimate Sacrifice by Paul Sanders, Peter was variously described as a ‘generous and unassuming’ young man, ‘wise beyond his years’ and destined ‘to succeed in life’. At the time of his arrest, he had already left school, was a first-class sportsman, and took part in illegal Boy Scout meetings in his own home. He was also frustrated by the wasted years under German occupation and, with friends, took photos of German planes and assembled a map of German fortifications. He was a courageous young man who wanted to defy the occupiers.
Clarence and Peter Painter are known to us as two of the ‘Jersey 21’ whose names have been engraved on the Lighthouse Memorial as Islanders who did not return from camps and prisons after the war.
The main details of the Painters’ pre-deportation actions come to us through a post-war affidavit that Peter’s mother, Dorothy Painter, gave to the British Intelligence Service. Supplementary details have also collected by Paul Sanders in The Ultimate Sacrifice, and readers are referred there for more information.
In her affidavit, which can be read here, Dorothy Painter testified that Clarence Painter owned a wireless set and ‘used to carry the news to many people as well as allowing some to come to listen when there was something of importance.’ However, an informer tipped off the Germans and, on 6 November 1943, the Feldgendarmerie (German military poice) came to the Painter house when Clarence Painter was out, and searched it, having earlier received information that Peter Painter had a wireless set, a camera, and photos of military importance. NCO Soltan found a wireless, spare parts, and a camera, but not Peter’s maps. They also found a Mauser pistol hidden in the wardrobe – a souvenir of WWI which had been moved by Peter from his uncle’s house before it was requisitioned. Upon finding the gun, the gendarme told Peter ‘This is most serious. I fear it will go hard with you over this. It is much too serious for me to overlook it.’
Peter and Clarence Painter were told to present themselves to the Feldgendarmerie on Bagatelle Road in St Helier the next morning, where Peter tried to take responsibility for the wireless set, saying that Dorothy knew nothing about it, and swore that they had never spread the news. Clarence was held responsible for the gun as he fitted the Germans’ assumed profile of a resistance activist.
The two men were allowed home for a few hours but had to return later with the second oldest son John, aged 17. Peter and John were allowed to return home at the end of the day and Clarence was detained in prison. On 10 November, Peter was also taken to prison and initially put in solitary confinement, although later he was placed in a cell with his father. Family members were allowed to visit twice a week with blankets and food.
Meanwhile, the German administration had been carrying out urgent background checks on the Painters before their court martial and subsequent deportation. Paul Sanders believes that FK 515 was eager not to pass a death sentence on an Islander for possession of a firearm, and so they were deported under the NN decree.
International Red Cross records confirm that Clarence and Peter Painter were classed as NN (Nacht und Nebel – Night and Fog) prisoners, a decree aimed at deterring resisters, whereby prisoners were held incommunicado and cut off from any contact with the outside world, including their families and friends. Their whereabouts were kept secret, and they were also separated from other prisoners who might either share news with them, carry messages to the outside world, or testify to their presence. Their next of kin were not allowed to be informed about their fate or place of death, and NN prisoners were not allowed any medical treatment. The NN decree was officially classified as a war crime at the Nuremberg Trials.
On 21 December 1943 the family were refused visits to the prison and discovered that orders had been received to send Clarence and Peter to France ‘without knowledge of the family’. They were deported on 21 or 22 December.
Our knowledge of the Painters’ experiences after deportation comes only from International Tracing Service records and also from the letters to Dorothy from Roger Hardy, who was imprisoned with the Painters. Hardy also gave an affidavit to intelligence officers from his hospital bed after his repatriation and it seems unlikely that this was shared with Dorothy given its graphic and distressing details, which were not alluded to in Dorothy’s affidavit to the intelligence officers. Selected information from the letter and affidavit are presented here, although the affidavit has not been reproduced on this website for ethical reasons, because of its graphic and highly disturbing nature.
Hardy had met the pair in Cherche-Midi Prison in Paris, where they arrived on 23 December 1943. This was their first destination before they were sent to Natzweiler-Struthof Concentration Camp, arriving on 7 January 1944, where Roger Hardy joined them a week later. Hardy was able to testify that Clarence and Peter were the only British subjects in the camp and they were not sent out to work because of their nationality, but were ‘confined daily … Bad food and rough treatment gradually lowered the Painters’ physical condition.’
On 19 April 1944, the Painters and Hardy were transferred to Dietzdorf Forced Labour Camp and Wohlau Prison in Silesia, now in Poland, for ten days. On 2 May 1944 they were transferred from the prison itself to a work commando at Dietzdorf from which they were sent to work in a Krupp munitions factory making armoured turrets for planes, and where they were ‘well enough fed.’ On 20 August 1944 they were sent on another forced labour commando, ‘on the verges of a canal where we levelled the sand which was there. The work was not too hard, the food clean and sufficient and we were treated as prisoners of war and had almost forgotten our stay at the camp,’ as Hardy testified later.
On 27 October 1944, the Painters arrived at Gross-Rosen Concentration Camp. They were placed in block 9 for a month and worked in the quarry, carrying heavy stones, where the treatment was
… really bad. The Germans had dogs and whoever didn’t work fast enough was bitten; they also had foreigners (mostly Poles and Czechs) in that SS camp whose job it was to ‘liven up’ the prisoners, using fists and clubs. They [the prisoners] had only light soup once a day. They were put into barrack rooms where they had to sit up to sleep. Owing to his light clothing, Painter’s son caught a cold and was transferred to No.5 block MI room … he developed pneumonia and died in his father’s arms due to no treatment … his body was burnt.
Peter Painter died on 27 November 1944. By the time Roger Hardy arrived in Gross-Rosen on 23 December 1944, he observed that Clarence had lost 20kg in weight. ‘Later on’, wrote Hardy to Dorothy Painter,
… your husband, when he had mastered his grief, improved in health. He came back to the hut I occupied; we were glad to be together again, when he complained of erysipelas [acute skin infection]. He left for the hospital [in early January 1945] but as the Russians were getting near we were evacuated [on 13 February 1945] in open carriages, and for five days and five nights we were in the rain and the snow without food. Mr Painter was unable to last out more than three days. As soon as we reached our new camp [Dora-Mittelbau Concentration Camp], his body was incinerated, as was the custom in German camps.’
Roger Hardy died in August 1945. In 1965, Dorothy Painter was successful in getting compensation for the loss of her husband and son.
Affidavit of Dorothy Painter, The National Archives ref. WO 311/11.
Affidavit of Roger Hardy, The National Archives ref. WO 311/105.
Collaborators in the Channel Islands, The National Archives ref. KV/4/78
Nazi persecution compensation claim, Dorothy Painter, TNA ref. FO 950/1073.
Occupation registration card and forms, Jersey Archives ref. St/S/11/152 – 154.
Sanders, P. 2004. The Ultimate Sacrifice. Jersey: Jersey Heritage Trust.
‘Tragic News for Jersey Family’, Jersey Evening Post, 2 June 1945.