Channel Islanders imprisoned in Fort de Romainville Internment and Transit Camp:
By Roderick Miller
At least five Channel Islanders were incarcerated between 1942 and 1944 in Fort de Romainville in Les Lilas, just northeast of Paris in the Seine-Saint-Denis department of France. The fort was built between 1844 and 1848. It was requisitioned by the occupying Nazi forces in October 1940, and watchtowers and fences were built around the fort’s walled walkways. The camp was primarily for hostages taken by the Gestapo for reprisals against acts of French resistance. Many of the Jewish prisoners of the camp were subsequently deported to extermination camps such as Auschwitz-Birkenau. Throughout the occupation, a total 3900 women and 3100 men were imprisoned in Fort de Romainville, and 152 people were shot there in reprisal actions.
Anthony Faramus was deported to Romainville with suspected English burglar Eddie Chapman, who had wound up stranded in a Jersey prison when the Germans arrived, and they spent around three months imprisoned there. The exact dates of Chapman’s and the four Channel Islanders’ imprisonment in Fort de Romainville are not known, but William Symes and Anthony Faramus later described their experiences there.
I was taken to a hostage camp at Romainville, Les Lilas, a fort. This, too, was a hostage camp which proved, possibly, an even greater strain than a concentration camp. This was a reprisal unit. Here the camp officials were good within their limits, but the Gestapo and police were brutal at every given opportunity. –William Symes, October 1964
Confined at hostage camp of FORT de ROMAINVILLE, Les Lilas, Paris. Number was 441. Food ration was limited to 1 BOWL of soup and 8 oz. of bread daily. –Charles Faramus, 24 April 1965
Faramus and Chapman later claimed in their memoirs that they had sexual liaisons with women prisoners in the camp, but this, like many claims in their biographies, is difficult to verify.
The fort was run throughout the period of the occupation by a commandant named Bickenbach and an SS-Untersturmführer named Trappe (or Trapp). More details as to their identity and fate after the war have not been published. 152 Résistance hostages were shot when the Nazis abandoned the camp (see video below). Suspected burglar Eddie Chapman got out of Romainville by offering his services as a spy to the Germans, and wound up working as a double agent for the MI5.
Fort de Romainville reverted to a French military compound almost immediately after the liberation on 22 August 1944. A 141-metre tall television tower now stands within the fort’s walls, and sections of the fort are occupied by the French Military Archives.
There are two memorial plaques about the events of the German occupation at the gate Fort de Romainville. Plans are in place to eventually make the fort open to the public as a memorial.
All of the Channel Islanders imprisoned in Fort de Romainville survived the war — Faramus and Symes were in Buchenwald Concentration Camp and Barry in Ravensbrück Concentration Camp — but like 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.
Carr, Gilly; Sanders, Paul; Willmot Louise: Protest, Defiance and Resistance in the Channel Islands: German Occupation, 1940-1945, Bloomsbury Academic, London & New York, 2014.
Chapman, Eddie and Owen, Frank: The Eddie Chapman Story. Messner, New York City, 1953.
Faramus, Anthony: Journey into Darkness. Grafton, 1990.
The National Archives (TNA), Foreign Office (FO):
TNA FO 950/999 (Brichta, later Barry/Chapman)
TNA FO 950/1381, TNA FO HNP 1901 (Faramus)
TNA FO HNP/1193 (Symes)