Channel Islanders imprisoned in Bad Dürrenberg Forced Labour Camp:
By Roderick Miller
Bad Dürrenberg is a small city (population 10,000 in 1939) in the Saalekreis region of the state of Saxony-Anhalt in Germany. It had been a spa destination since the mid-19th century, but was located next to what became one of the biggest chemical factories in Germany by the 1920s, the nearby Leuna Works, a synthetic petroleum factory owned by the notorious I. G. Farben company.
One morning at 5.30am a guard came to my cell and hauled me out to go to the Commandant’s Office where he told me that I was going to work in a factory. There were three other foreigners with me and one guard. We went by train to Dürrenberg. We were taken to a large hut close to a factory. In this hut there were between fifty and sixty prisoners of all nationalities. I palled up with a Frenchman who taught me the ropes. I could speak French and got to speak it almost like a native.
Half of us were on day shift for one week and night shift the next from six am to six pm, cutting, cleaning and drilling huge shell cases. My job was to clean up the metal shavings and wheel them outside.
The bombing by Allied planes was severe, they were after Leuna, Europe’s biggest single factory.
I was eventually put on a machine to skim the metal off the shell cases, they had to be very accurate, mine were nowhere near it. I didn’t know whether to be sorry or glad, the latter I think. I was taken to the office and was made to clean toilets; also my bread ration at 9am and 3pm was cut off for two weeks.
At Christmas 1944 the Thousand Bomber Raids started on Leuna, Americans by day and RAF by night. They were dropping land mines. After four raids in twenty-four hours they finally destroyed the factory, it was over two miles long and one mile wide. It had sixty very tall stacks and numerous smaller ones. During that raid they also destroyed our hut. The next day we were taken by road to Halle prison —Cecil Duquemin, unpublished memoirs
It is likely that the only factory in Bad Dürrenberg capable of large scale weapons production at the time was Katzmarek (or Katzmareck) & Co. at Ostrauer Strasse 5, so this was most probably the company that Duquemin had to perform forced labour for. The machine factory originally manufactured pianos and machine parts for the sewing industry. Duquemin further commented in his 1964 Foreign Office restitution application:
I… was forced to work in a factory which was producing shell cases for the Nazi war effort. I had never volunteered for any work under the Germans, least of all anything to do with arms or ammunition, and though I protested strongly that under International Law they were not supposed to do this, they ignored my protests and gave me no option than to do as they told me.
After their hut at the Dürrenberg factory was bombed, Duquemin was transported to Halle Prison, and was later liberated in Saaz (Žatec) in the Czech Republic. Many of those who survived would suffer from a variety of chronic physical disabilities and post-traumatic stress disorders for the rest of their lives.
There are 32 forced labourers buried in cemeteries in Bad Dürrenberg, and in 1959 a memorial was erected for them. There is an additional memorial on the Platz der Opfer der Faschismus (‘Victims of Fascism Square’) in memory of the ‘victims of fascism and imperialist wars’, the phrasing of which serves to remind that Bad Dürrenburg was in the communist German Democratic Republic after the war.
The spa at Bad Dürrenberg was taken out of commission in the early 1960s, but was restored in 2003 and since 2008 the city has been recognised by the state as an official health resort.
Carr, Gilly; Sanders, Paul; Willmot Louise: Protest, Defiance and Resistance in the Channel Islands: German Occupation, 1940-1945, Bloomsbury Academic, London & New York, 2014
Landesarchiv Sachsen-Anhalt, Abteilung Merseburg:
Documents concerning Katzmareck & Co., C 110 Halle, Nr. 840, Bl. 120-232
The National Archives (TNA), Foreign Office (FO):
TNA FO HNP/1234 (Duquemin)