Channel Islanders Imprisoned in Alter Banter Weg Concentration Camp
By Roderick Miller
Harold Le Druillenec  and Francois Le Villio are the only known Channel Islanders to have been imprisoned in the Alter Banter Weg Concentration Camp (Banter Lager IV, Konzentrationslager Wilhelmshaven, Außenlager Wilhelmshaven, Kriegsmarinewerft) in Wilhelmshaven, Lower Saxony, Germany. The camp name comes from the street on which the camp was located  in the Bant district of Wilhelmshaven, near the former location of the Wilhelmshaven Naval Shipyards. These were the most important naval shipyards in the Third Reich, and supplying forced labour for them was the purpose of the camp. A barracks had been built here for 500 shipyard workers in 1938. In 1944, the commandant of Neuengamme Concentration Camp, Max Pauly, requested that the barracks be adapted to accommodate 1000 concentration camp prisoners. In early September 1944, circa 1000 prisoners, around 60% of them French, 20% Russian, and the remaining of various nationalities — including 20 German prisoners who worked as prisoner functionaries (‘capos’) — were transported to the Alter Banter Weg barracks. Harold Le Druillenec and presumably Francois Le Villio were among them. It can only be presumed that Le Villio was in Alter Banter Weg from the fact that he was with Le Druillenec previously in Fort Hatry Prison and Le Druillenec’s post-war testimony that a Briton was with him in Alter Banter Weg.
At first, the unheated barracks could accommodate the prisoners, but by January 1945 up to 2000 prisoners were overcrowding the camp facilities.The prisoners were, after a brief training period, forced to perform labour in the workshops of the naval shipyards. The work included working in machine shops with lathes and welding and in other workshops as tinsmiths and in the fabrication of rope. After severe allied bombing, some prisoners were forced to clear rubble in the shipyard and in the city of Wilhelmshaven. The prisoners worked in two approximate 12 hour shifts, from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., and from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.
The Alter Weg camp was guarded during the first two months by members of the French SS and after that by 200 naval artillery soldiers. Five SS men remained in charge of the prisoners in the camp. The first commandant of the camp was Otto Thümmel, a German Army officer who was replaced after two months, allegedly for being ‘too humane’ to the prisoners. He was replaced for a few days by the non-commissioned SS-Unterscharführer Rudolf Günther from Neuengamme, but nearly immediately replaced, at the insistence of the German Navy, by officers SS-Obersturmführer Arnold Büscher and SS-Hauptsturmführer Schwanke. Other notorious personnel in the camp include the Danish SS deputy commandant Gustav Jepsen and the prisoner capo Heinrich Sürig (spelled Hinrich Sührig in some sources).
The death rate in the camp was high, in part due to the maltreatment of the prisoners from the shipyard managers, Gottfried Drossen and Hans Horstmann, both of whom were witnessed personally beating prisoners. Harold Le Druillenec arrived in the camp on 5 September 1944 as part of the very first transport of prisoners sent there to set the camp up. He wrote a testimonial about his experience in his 1960s application for recognition as a victim of Nazi persecution:
Banter Weg Kz., Wilhelmshaven — Arbeitskommando of Neuengamme as described above. Supplied labour to part of the Kriegsmarinewerke which constructed pocket submarines and was under the direct control of Admiral Doenitz. I learnt at the post-war trial that we were all paid full weekly wages which, however, were diverted in toto to SS funds. This was a tough camp, with torture and punishment the rule day and night. Means of putting inmates to death included beating, drowning, crucifixion, hanging in various stances etc. Food, of bad quality, was quite inadequate in quantity to sustain us in our heavy duties which lasted from 4.30 a.m. to 7 p.m. with thirty minutes off for the mid-day meal. We worked a six and a half day week at the factory, the remaining half day being spent on compulsory camp duties which were even more unpleasant. Attempted suicide was a major crime, for the choice of means of death was not ours, and as there was no privacy at all. I cannot recall a single successful suicide. No-one escaped severe corporal punishment — it had to be sampled by all — strangely enough even by the exalted members of the internal hierarchy… Belsen was not as malicious as Banter Weg…—Harold Le Druillenec, 9 September 1964
Six days a week the prisoners awoke at 4:30 a.m., attended roll call, and were marched down the recently constructed street Banter Weg, over the Rüstringer Brücke bridge to perform forced labour at the Westwerft (‘western shipyard’), which was at that time called the Uto-Werft (U-Boat and torpedo boat shipyard). Harold Le Druillenec worked in an arsenal in the shipyards as an oxy-acetylene welder.
There were still 1129 prisoners left in Alter Banter Weg camp on 25 March 1945. The camp was evacuated between 3 and 5 April, with 400 prisoners placed on a train to Lüneberg. The train was bombed by allied warplanes and at least 250 prisoners were killed. About half of the survivors were transported further to Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp, among them Harold Le Druillenec. The remaining 60 to 80 prisoners who had survived the bombing were murdered on 11 April on the orders of Danish SS guard Gustav Jepsen, who personally testified to having killed six of the prisoners himself.
The circa 700 prisoners left in Wilhelmshaven were force marched on 5 April to a Sandbostel, a sub-camp of Neuengamme. Some of them were evacuated from the catastrophic living conditions in Sandbostel to Kiel, where they were on board a ship when Germany capitulated on 8 May 1945.
At least 256 prisoners died in Alter Banter Weg camp and at least 300 died or were murdered during the evacuation. The post-war prosecutions of the Banter Weg staff by a British Military Tribunal were fairly thorough: Heinrich Sürig, 18 months imprisonment; Ernst Hoffmann, 4 years’ imprisonment; Otto Thümmel and Rudolf Günther, 5 years’ imprisonment each; Gottfried Drossen and Hans Horstmann, 15 years’ imprisonment each; Gustav Jepsen received the death penalty from a British Military Tribunal and was executed by hanging in Hameln in 1947. Of the remaining staff, Arnold Büscher was sentenced to death in Krakow, Poland for his crimes in Płaszów Concentration Camp and hanged in 1949. Prisoner capo chief Walter Besch, whom witnesses testified had killed other prisoners, was apparently never brought to justice. The exact identity of camp commandant SS-Hauptsturmführer Schwanke yet to be ascertained. 
Francois Le Villio was deported to Stalag X-B / Sandbostel Concentration Camp in April 1945 and was liberated there by British troops on 29 April. He died a year later from TB contracted during his imprisonment. Harold Le Druillenec survived Bergen-Belsen and became a key witness in a number of post-war trials of Nazis for crimes against humanity, including the British Military Tribunal trials of the Alter Banter Weg camp staff. It is probable that he, like many survivors, suffered from a variety of chronic physical disabilities and post-traumatic stress disorders for the rest of his life.
By 1946, a number of the barracks had been torn down, some used for business purposes, and some by the allied forces of occupation. By 1947, most of the barracks had been torn down and the site made available for commercial industrial use.
 One of the major camp reference works, the multi-volume Ort des Terrors (‘Place of Terror’), edited by Wolfgang Benz and Barbara Distel, misidentifies Le Druillenec (Volume 5, p. 537) as a French national, when he was in fact British.
 The camp is commonly referred to as the Banter Weg camp (without the word ‘Alter’) before it, but Banter Weg is a different street, located several hundred metres east of the camp. When a new street was constructed circa 1940 and named ‘Banter Weg’, the original street, where the camp was located, was re-named Alter (‘Old’) Banter Weg. English sources often write it as Banterweg (sic). A 1950 publication (see ‘BBC Features’ PDF below) mis-translates the camp name as ‘Bandit’s Way’, when in fact ‘Banter’ derives from the nearby Wilhelmshaven sub-district Bant.
 The fact that the German Navy preferred ‘injured soldiers’ as camp commandants (ref. Megargee) suggests that Schwanke may well have been recruited from the Waffen-SS, the fighting unit of the SS, rather than the ‘regular’ Allgemeine-SS or SS-Totenkopfverbände, who administered the concentration camps. Some likely candidates include: Alfred Schwanke, date of birth unknown, 2nd SS Panzer Division, wounded in action on 11 July 1943 in Kursk, Russia; Heinz Schwanke, born on 27 December 1920, 14th SS Panzer Division, wounded in action on 11 July 1943; Hermann Karl Franz Schwanke, born on 3 April 1884 in Stettin, NSDAP no. 168028, SS nr. 24705, rank of SS-Obersturmführer in the Waffen-SS on 20 April 1943; Oskar Schwanke, born on 23. December.1894, rank of SS-Hauptsturmführers in the Waffen-SS Reserves, active in Stutthof Concentration Camp.
Carr, Gilly; Sanders, Paul; Willmot Louise: Protest, Defiance and Resistance in the Channel Islands: German Occupation, 1940-1945, Bloomsbury Academic, London & New York, 2014.
Benz, Wolfgang & Distel, Barbara (editors): Der Ort des Terrors. Geschichte der nationalsozialistischen Konzentrationslager, Volume 5: Hinzert, Auschwitz, Neuengamme. C. H. Beck, 2007, pp. 533-537 (in German).
Cottrell, Leonard: ‘The Man from Belsen’, from B.B.C. Features, Gilliam, Lawrence (editor), Evans Brothers Ltd., Aylesbury and London, 1950, pp. 97-110.
Graul, Jens & Räcker-Wellnitz, Ulrich: Das Lager ist wichtiger als der Lohn. Arbeiterunterkünfte in Wilhelmshaven 1933 bis 1945, Stadt Wilhelmshaven Stadtarchiv, Wilhelmshaven, 2010, pp. 47-51 (in German).
International Tracing Service Arolsen, Catalogue of Camps and Prisons in Germany and German-occupied Territories, 1949-1951.
Megargee, Geoffrey P. (editor): Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos, 1933–1945, Vol. 1 , Part B. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum , Indiana University Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis, 2009, pp. 1180-1182.
Räcker-Wellnitz, Ulrich: 100 Jahre Rüstringer Brücke, Geringe Traglast für Jahrzehnte ein Problem, in Heimat am Meer, 31 July 2010 (in German).
SS-Personalhauptamt (publisher): Dienstalterliste der Schutzstaffel der NSDAP. Various editions from 1938-1944 (in German).
The National Archives (TNA), Foreign Office (FO), War Office (WO)
TNA FO 950/1100 (Le Druillenec)
TNA WO 235/296-300, 517; WO 309/400, 654, 879, 1613 (British Military Trial documents relevant to Alter Banter Weg Concentration Camp)