By Roderick Miller
At least six Channel Islanders were imprisoned in Bamberg Prison (Gefängnis Bamberg, Justizvollzugsanstalt Bamberg). Bamberg Prison is located in the central district of Bamberg, in the Upper Franconia region of the state of Bavaria in Germany. The building which houses the prison was originally a medieval hospital, and it was first converted to use as a prison in 1753.
Niall Bonass and Arthur Purtill we transferred from Ebrach Prison to Bamberg on 10 December 1944. By March 1945, Gerald Domaille and Norman Dexter had been already been incarcerated for ten months in Preungesheim Prison in Frankfurt am Main. As the US Army approached Frankfurt, many political prisoners were transported deeper into the Reich, and on 21 March Domaille and Dexter were placed on a train to Bamberg.
The journey from Frankfurt to Bamberg, which was in sealed cattle trucks, took four days. At the outset of the journey, we were given a piece of bread the size of the usual square loaf, and a small piece of sausage. The trucks were well sealed, no light, no air, no water and no sanitation. We were crammed about sixty prisoners to a truck.
Stage two was from where we left the truck to be herded along like cattle and treated like cattle, rifle butts and sticks were used to urge us on. We eventually arrived at Bamberg prison in the early hours of the morning.
We were lodged in an old prison in Bamberg, Bavaria, the name and address I never knew. Conditions here were extremely bad, sanitation terrible, food very little, mainly potato peelings in hot water. To my knowledge the administration was the same as at Frankfurt. No work was done by me at this prison. —Gerald Domaille, 2 December 1963
As of the date of writing (2016), there has not yet been any other documentary evidence found naming the Bamberg prison Domaille and Dexter were incarcerated in, but the ‘old prison’ he describes must, in practical terms, be Bamburg Prison, as it was the only prison proper in Bamburg — the other prison-like facility being the state court jail or Landesgerichtsgefängnis. Domaille’s comment regarding the Frankfurt ‘administration’ probably refers to the guards being the same as those who accompanied them from Frankfurt, which would have been usual at this late period in the war.
The Channel Islanders may only have stayed in Bamberg Prison for a few days or even hours. Domaille writes of meeting Sidney Ashcroft and Walter Lainé in the prison. The remaining nine days that Domaille and Dexter spent in Bamberg were in even worse conditions in the Bamberg Military Riding School. With the US Army approaching Bamberg, Ashcroft, Dexter, Domaille, and Lainé were transported deeper into Bavaria on 2 April to Straubing Prison, always kept just a few days ahead of the American troops and liberation.
Bamberg was liberated by US troops on 13 April 1945, but Niall Bonass and Arthur Purtill were released from Bamberg Prison only ten days later. It is possible that their status as Irish citizens, a country that remained neutral in the war, may have delayed their release. Domaille, Dexter and Lainé were finally liberated during a forced march to Dachau Concentration Camp on 30 April 1945. Sidney Ashcroft survived to see liberation but died in Straubing Prison hospital in May 1945. 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.
Bamberg Prison currently houses 185 male and 25 female prisoners. News reports from 2015 state that the city of Bamberg is currently looking for a new location for a prison that is further away from the city centre, but as of 2016 no firm plans have been announced to close the prison.
Carr, Gilly; Sanders, Paul; Willmot Louise: Protest, Defiance and Resistance in the Channel Islands: German Occupation, 1940-1945, Bloomsbury Academic, London & New York, 2014
Hessisches Hauptarchiv, Wiesbaden, Germany:
hhstaw 409/4; hhstaw 461/18524. Prisoner records from Frankfurt-Preungesheim Prison.
The National Archives (TNA), Foreign Office (FO):
TNA FO 950/2064 (Dexter)
TNA FO HNP/1238 (Domaille)
TNA FO HNP/1195 (Lainé)