Dijon Prison

Country France
GPS 47° 18' 45.27108" N, 5° 3' 0.83016" E
Address 72 bis Rue d’Auxonne, 21000 Dijon, France
Dates Active 1852 – current

Channel Islanders imprisoned in Dijon Prison:

Ronald Beer, Thomas Edwin De La Mare, George Ernest Du Pre, George Albert Ferbrache, Herbert Gallichan, Harold Ira Gallienne, Edgar John Guille, Cyril Hockey, Walter Henry Lainé, John Joseph Le Caer, Alfred Désiré Victor Le Calvez, Alfred Thomas Hilary Le Gallez, Eugene Henri Le Lievre, John Henry Le Maistre, Ernest Le Prevost, Dennis John Alfred Leister, Theodore Lawrence Lowe, Albert Reginald Marie, Percy William Miller, Walter John Nicolle, Frederick William Page, John De Carteret Pinwell, Reginald Eric Pleasants, Henry Yves Rabet, William Edward Smith, Clifford Francis Tostevin


By Roderick Miller

At least 25 Channel Islanders were incarcerated between 1941 and 1943 in Dijon Prison (Maison de arrêt de Dijon, Prison allemande de Dijon) in the city of Dijon in the Côte-d’Or department of France. It was originally built as a county jail in 1852. As with most French prisons in German-occupied France, it was taken over by the Nazis after 1940.

It appears that the primary role of Dijon Prison for the many Channel Islanders incarcerated there was as a short-term transit prison prior to or after imprisonment in Fort d’Hauteville Prison, just outside the city of Dijon. Fort d’Hauteville was run with a minimal German and largely French staff, and as the prison is located in an isolated mountain pass five miles outside of Dijon, with no train connection at all. It is presumed that most prisoners bound for Fort d’Hauteville would have been taken from Dijon in lorries by German guard from Dijon Prison, which in local parlance was called “the German prison” for the fact that it was staffed primarily by German military and that the German (forced) labour recruitment office was located there.

Dijon Prison personnel administrated Fort d’Hauteville after Dijon Prison became too crowded in 1941. The first wave of prisoners incarcerated in Dijon and Fort d’Hauteville were Jews who had been apprehended trying to escape from German-occupied France into the so-called “free zone” of Vichy France. Most of the Jewish prisoners were eventually transferred to Drancy and Pithiviers Transit Camps, from whence they were deported to their deaths in concentration camps, primarily Auschwitz-Birkenau.

In the cases where it is possible to ascertain how long the Islanders were incarcerated in Dijon Prison, the vast majority spent only a single night there as a stopover prior to deportation to prisons and camps in Germany. Notable exceptions are Ronald Beer, who spent three nights in Dijon from 11–14 December 1942, and Walter Lainé and Percy Miller, who were in Dijon prison together from 3–8 September 1943. William Smith was fortunate to have Dijon Prison as his last place of prison incarceration, as he was transferred through Dijon on his way to the relatively good conditions in Saint-Denis Internment Camp. None of the Islanders left any known testimonials about their experiences in Dijon Prison.

American journalist Jay Allen, however, known best for his 1930s reports on the Spanish Civil War, was incarcerated in Dijon Prison in 1941:

I am very glad that I had the opportunity in Dijon to study a prison that the Germans consider correct. Take an average day. At 8 o’clock, boots along the galleries. The ponderous old lock turned up. ‘Aufstehen! (Everybody up.)’ Then you have an hour to wash up and get your coffee. You stand in line for the 10 faucets along a tin trough in the courtyard, stand in line for the coffee, a mixture of malt and barley, and stand in line for the privies in the courtyard, just two for nearly 200 men. This is a merry hour, with much barking and snarling by the guards at the newcomers who hadn’t learned that the secret of success in German prisons is always to go wherever you are going as if there were a fire.

In this hour the cells are cleaned. The ancient toilets which stood in the corner of your cell are innocent of any water pipe connections. Special implements and big kerosene cans are available for this operation. The cans you carry down to the courtyard. Your appetite rarely survives, which is just as well. From 9 to 11 you can roam at will in a walled courtyard 100 feet long and 30 feet wide. When it rains you can crawl into a sort of shed. Between 9 and 11 you inspect the newcomers, 15 to 30 a morning. Every day you see their spirits wane, their cheeks grow thinner. There is no privacy in prison; everybody knows how everybody else is feeling. At 11 we go in again, for soup and our 300 grams of bread that are to last until tomorrow noon. We stand in line and are counted. And then are locked in until 3 in the afternoon. These four hours can be very long. Between 3 and 5 ‘promenade’ (as the guards call it). In the courtyard with the same faces, the same everything. At soup and then cell doors are locked until next morning. Lights are off at 9.

In all you have 20 hours a day in your cell… The food is, of course, inadequate as well as unpalatable. The soup is mostly rutabaga, a very inferior vegetable. Sometimes it is made of chick peas, which are heavy in the stomach, and sometimes lentils. With lentils you have to watch for the maggots. At first the French Red Cross was allowed to bring us bread, dates, cheese and whatever else they could find. But they fell into disfavor with the Germans when in a basket of second-hand books for the women prisoners there was found one with an anti-Nazi cartoon. In March it was very cold. And for weeks the thermometer in the early morning hours hung around 10 above.

The vermin problem was serious. About the bedbugs and fleas, there for nearly a century, there was little to be done. But the lice we kept more or less under control by washing our clothes repeatedly, washing down our cells with creosote and by scrubbing any comrades who seemed to be harboring guests.

There were real beatings, of course. In Chalons prison occasionally, and more often in Dijon, we would hear boots in the corridors at night. The Gestapo usually. We would hear a lock turn, a door swung open, harsh voices and then the smack, smack of fists on flesh. Then the lock turned again. The noise of boots receded down the corridor. —Jay Allen, 1941

Allen was eventually escorted to Portugal and released. However bad the conditions at Dijon Prison may have been in the brief time the Channel Islanders were incarcerated there, for many of them things would get much worse as they were transferred to German prisons and concentration camps. Some of the luckier ones were able, after serving their sentences, to be reunited with their families in internment camps in Germany, where they received relatively good treatment.

A German Army officer named Josef Grumbir was the commandant of Dijon Prison until 1944 and was thus also responsible for administering Fort d’Hauteville Prison. A syndicated article was published in a number of US newspapers in 1954 discussing how Grumbir returned that year to Dijon as ‘the honored guest of his former prisoners’. According to this article, Grumbir had, against prison rules, allowed some French prisoners to communicate with their families and even warn their resistance comrades of imminent arrest. The newspaper article alleges that Grumbir was later imprisoned by the SS for his actions and sent to the Russian front for punishment duty, where he lost ‘lost most of his left hand in battle.’ Although Grumbir does appear to have engaged in acts of anti-Nazi resistance to some degree, it is certain that he was never prosecuted for his role in the deportations and eventual murders of hundreds of Jewish people who were imprisoned during his tenure as commandant of the prison. Grumbir was listed in the Hamburg address books until 1966.

Dijon Prison was liberated by the US Army on 11 September 1944. A few months later, in February 1945, a mob pulled the collaborationist former Dijon police chief Jacques Marsac from his cell and beat him to death before impaling his corpse on the gates of Dijon city hall at the Place de la Libération.

None of the Channel Islanders imprisoned in Dijon Prison died there, but Frederick Page and Percy Miller died from poor conditions and ill treatment in prisons in Germany. Many of the Channel Islanders who survived would suffer from a variety of chronic physical disabilities and post-traumatic stress disorders for the rest of their lives.

Dijon Prison was ceded from the department to the state after the Second World War. It is currently used to incarcerate up to 155 prisoners awaiting trial and those with sentences not exceeding one year. In April 1996, prisoners rioted due to overcrowding and the prison was gutted by fire.

On 6 June 2014, a conference was held in Dijon Prison to mark the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landing and to pay tribute to the resistants imprisoned in Dijon Prison, A commemorative ceremony took place and a wreath was laid at the ‘Monument to the Martyrs of the Deportation’ memorial site near the prison.

Further Reading

Carr, Gilly; Sanders, Paul; Willmot Louise: Protest, Defiance and Resistance in the Channel Islands: German Occupation, 1940-1945, Bloomsbury Academic, London & New York, 2014.

Sources

Allen, Jay: ‘Dreary Routine in Dijon Prison’, in The Spokesman-Review, Spokane, Washington, USA, 15 August 1941, p. 2.

Archives départementales de la Côte-d’Or:
1409 W 1-13, Régistre d’écrou Prison d’Hauteville, direct references to transfers to Dijon Prison (De La Mare, Du Pre, Gallichan, Guille, Le Calvez, Le Gallez, Le Lievre, Le Maistre, Le Prevost, Lowe, Marie, Nicole, Page, Pleasants, Rabet, Smith)
1568 W 36-40, Régistre d’écrou des autorités allemandes, 1568 W 58, 60, Répertoires de la prison de Dijon (Beer, Lainé, Miller)

Caen Service Historique de la Defense, Caen, France:
A 3-page register of prisoners transferred from Dijon Prison to Germany on 24 August 1944 (Ferbrache, Gallienne, Hockey, Le Caer, Pinwell, Tostevin)

The National Archives (TNA), Foreign Office (FO):
TNA FO 950/1767 (Beer)
TNA FO 950/1773 (Ferbrache)
TNA FO HNP/423 (Guille)
TNA FO HNP/1195 (Lainé)
TNA FO HNP/3156 (Le Gallez)
TNA FO HNP/2163 (Le Lievre)
TNA FO HNP/3209 (Le Prevost)
TNA FO HNP/1237 (Miller)
TNA FO HNP/4335 (Nicolle, Walter)
TNA FO 950/1400 (Page)
TNA FO 950/1161 (Smith)

The Times-News, ‘War-Time Jailer Honored by Ex-Prisoners’, Hendersonville, North Carolina, 11 August 1954, p. 4 (access via news.google.com, see Links above)

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