Channel Islanders imprisoned in Blechhammer Forced Labour / Re-Education Camp:
By Roderick Miller
Blechhammer Camp (Arbeitserziehungslager Blechhammer, AEL Blechhammer) was founded in April 1942, originally as a sub-camp of Auschwitz Concentration Camp for Jewish prisoners, near the village of the same name. Blechhammer was an extensive camp complex and different forced labour sections were administered by various Nazi prison and industrial bureaucracies. Forced labourers had already begun building heavy industry in the area with the construction of synthetic gasoline plants run by the company Oberschlesische Hydrierwerke AG in late 1939. This single camp eventually expanded into a large camp system consisting of prisoner of war camps, camps for political prisoners, forced labour camps, punishment camps (Straflager) and concentration camps. At its peak, the camp contained 48,000 forced labourers, included 2000 British prisoners of war.
The Blechhammer Forced Labour / Re-Education Camp — the name deriving from the idea that political dissidents could be ‘re-educated’ through punishment and forced labour to be brought around to agreeing with Nazi ideology — was located 700 meters due west of the much larger Jewish camp. The precise location can be seen by entering the GPS coordinates (50.359397, 18.310805) into an online map.
At least two Channel Islanders, Jean Rossi and his son Marcel, were incarcerated in the Work / Re-Education (Arbeitserziehungslager or AEL) section of Blechhammer in early 1944 after having been deported from the relatively humane conditions of Kreuzburg Internment Camp due to their dual nationality as Italians. The Nazis imprisoned their former allies as traitors after the fall of Italy to allied forces in 1943. The Rossis were such a special case that they were specifically discussed by the German military high command, as shown in documents uncovered by historian Paul Sanders.
Jean Rossi left a compensation testimony for himself and his son, preserved in the National Archives, but unfortunately gave little descriptive detail of the camps. A Polish survivor of the Jewish section of Blechhammer, however, recorded the following:
On the way to our working place, we noticed other marching groups of prisoners — British POWs, Russian POWs, Czechs, German communists, German deserters, wayward German citizens, gypsies, Poles, Ukrainians, Serbs, members of the AEL Arbeitserziehungslager (Work Education Camp), Politische Häftlinge (political prisoners) Bibelforscher (Jehovah’s Witnesses), Homosexuelle (homosexuals), and many others. In all, there were perhaps twenty to thirty groups from different nations. Each ethnic group was housed in a separate camp. Most faces of the marching prisoners were ashen and fear-ridden. They were dragging their feet. Every prisoner wore a distinguishing triangle or badge. Criminals wore green triangles, political prisoners wore red ones, homosexuals wore pink ones, Jehovah’s Witnesses wore lavender ones, and Jews wore a yellow Star of David. Many times, I could see how those marching men were beaten, sometimes to death by their guards. —Alter Wiener, author and Blechhammer survivor.
It is likely that the Rossis were also forced to work building bunkers for the Nazis after the allies started bombing the Blechhammer industrial sites in June 1944. Eventually, in the third week of January 1945, Jean and his son Marcel were marched to Gross Rosen Concentration Camp, then to Hersbruck Concentration Camp, a sub-camp of Flossenbürg Concentration Camp, but were separated when Jean was placed on a death march to Dachau Concentration Camp.
My son Marcel Fortuné Rossi, born in Sutton Bridge, Lincolnshire, December 14th, 1927… last time I saw him was in Hersbruck Concentration Camp. Feb. 1945 he fell ill with pneumonia. We were in the same camp till this camp was evacuated, we were then parted. By what I have gathered, he was sent to Flossenbürg with other sick. I have made many enquiries but without results. —Jean Rossi, 12 July 1965
With the approach of the Soviets, the SS sent the camp inmates on a series of death marches which many did not survive. When Blechhammer was liberated by Soviet troops on 26 January 1945, they found 200 survivors who had managed to hide from the SS. Most of the heavy industry was taken by the Soviets as war booty back to Russia. Today all that survives of the extensive camp complex are bunkers and the remains of the Jewish camp’s guard tower, parade ground and crematorium. There are extensive memorials today at Blechhammer (see Links below), marked with signs in many languages, including English. The city built a monument on the site in 2004.
Like most camp survivors, Jean Rossi probably suffered from a variety of chronic physical disabilities and post-traumatic stress disorders for the rest of his life.
Carr, Gilly; Sanders, Paul; Willmot Louise: Protest, Defiance and Resistance in the Channel Islands: German Occupation, 1940-1945, Bloomsbury Academic, London & New York, 2014.
Sanders, Paul: The Ultimate Sacrifice. The Jersey islanders who died in German prisons and concentration camps during the Occupation 1940 – 1945. Jersey, 2004. Pages 90-93 detail the Rossi case.
Wiener, Alter: 64735: From a Name to a Number, AuthorHouse, 2007. Pages 37-44 describe his experience in Blechhammer.
The National Archives (TNA), Foreign Office (FO):
TNA FO HNP/3237 (Rossi, Jean)
TNA FO 950/1767 (Rossi, Marcel)