Channel Islanders imprisoned in Dietzdorf Forced Labour Camp & Wohlau Prison:
By Roderick Miller
At least two Channel Islanders were imprisoned in Wohlau Prison in Wohlau, Lower Silesia, Germany (Jugendgefängnis Wohlau, Strafanstalt Wohlau, Zuchthaus Wohlau) (now Wołów, Poland) and Dietzdorf Forced Labour Camp in Dietzdorf, Lower Silesia, Germany (now Ciechów, Poland) (Außenkommando des Jugendgefängnisses Wohlau in Dietzdorf, after 1945: Zakład Karny Wołów, Poland).
Wohlau Prison was built between 1892 and 1895 in a cruciform plan, with separate buildings for the prison administration. The buildings were constructed on 5.8 hectares of land in what was then still countryside outside of the town of Wohlau. The main prison is 4 stories tall and could accommodate 564 prisoners with a hospital for 10 prisoners. Noted prisoners in Wohlau Prison included Albrecht Höhler, the alleged murderer of Nazi propaganda icon Horst Wessel. Höhler was later shot by the Nazis during a prisoner transport in September 1933. In 1940, the prison began incarcerating Polish youths, who in the course of forced labour in Germany had been sentenced by German courts. From 1944, participants in the Warsaw Uprising were also imprisoned in Wohlau, where many were shot and buried in mass graves in the city graveyard.
When the Krupp factories in Essen, Germany were heavily bombed on 5 and 13 March 1943 by the British Royal Air Force, many of the factories were re-located to rural Lower Silesia. Wohlau Prison supplied forced labourers to a number of forced labour projects in the region, including a Krupp aeroplane armour factory in Dietzdorf. The exact location of the factory and where the prisoners resided remains unknown.
French prisoner Roger Hardy survived the war and left an affidavit about Clarence Painter and his son Peter. He first met them in Cherche-Midi Prison in Paris in December 1943, and was transferred with them to Wohlau Prison on 22 April 1944, where they stayed for ten days and received ‘fair treatment’. On 2 May 1944 they were transferred again to Dietzdorf Forced Labour Camp where again ‘the treatment was fair’ and they ‘were well enough fed for prisoners like us’. In Dietzdorf, they performed forced labour making armoured turrets for airplanes in a factory owned by Krupp. On 20 August 1944 they were transferred to an unknown location about 10 miles from Dietzdorf, where they performed forced labour levelling sand for the building of a canal. Hardy writes: ‘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 in the camp’, the latter a reference to their earlier incarceration in Natzweiler Concentration Camp. At this point, Clarence Painter was separated from his son Peter and sent to Breslau Prison. On 27 October 1944, the Painters were transferred to Gross Rosen Concentration Camp, where Roger Hardy joined them in December.
Peter Painter died in Gross-Rosen and his father Clarence died in Mittelbau-Dora Concentration Camp. It is only thanks to the testimony of their friend Roger Hardy that we know the details of their fates. Like most survivors, Hardy probably suffered from a variety of chronic physical disabilities and post-traumatic stress disorders for the rest of his life.
Wohlau was occupied by the Soviet Army in January 1945 and the prison was used by the Russian communist police (NKVD) to incarcerate members of the Russian forces who served under German command during the war, the Russian Liberation Army or ‘Vlasov Army’. Most of them were tried by the Russians as traitors and many of them sentenced to death. Former Wohlau Prison guard Josef Klehr later participated directly in crimes against humanity in Buchenwald, Dachau, and Auschwitz Concentration Camps and was sentenced in 1965 to life in prison by a court in West Germany. Wohlau Prison was taken over by Polish authorities in 1953, but not used again as a prison until 1957. It is currently active and one of the ten largest prisons in prisons in Poland.
Carr, Gilly; Sanders, Paul; Willmot Louise: Protest, Defiance and Resistance in the Channel Islands: German Occupation, 1940-1945, Bloomsbury Academic, London & New York, 2014.
International Tracing Service Arolsen, Catalogue of Camps and Prisons in Germany and German-occupied Territories, 1949-1951.
Levine, Alan J.: The Strategic Bombing of Germany, 1940-1945. Praeger, Westport Connecticut, London, 1992, pp. 51-53.
The National Archives (TNA), Foreign Office (FO), War Office (WO)
TNA FO 950/1073 (Painter, Clarence & Peter)
TNA WO 311/105 (Hardy)
Records of the German External Assets Branch of the US Allied Commission for Austria (USACA) Section, 1945-1950, Microfilm Publication M1928, Roll 94, 2-271 Krupp Complex. No. 60, List of evacuated departments of Krupp Essen, p. 71.