Channel Islanders imprisoned in Preungesheim Prison:
Clifford John Cohu, Norman Leslie Dexter, Gerald Charles Domaille, Cecil James Duquemin, Francis ‘Frank’ Walter Falla, George James Fox, Joseph John Gillingham, Walter Henry Lainé, Ernest Stanley Legg, William Howard Marsh, Percy William Miller, Frederick William Page, Emile John Paisnel, Clifford Bond Querée, Joseph James Murray Tierney
By Roderick Miller
At least 16 Channel Islanders were imprisoned in Preungesheim Prison in Frankfurt am Main (Strafgefängnis Frankfurt am Main-Preungesheim), a city in the German state of Hessia and the fifth largest city in Germany. Preungesheim Prison was built between 1884 and 1888 and was named after its location in the Frankfurt district of Preungesheim. The men’s prison, as originally built, consisted of a main building of four wings with a fifth wing forming the entry gate, hospital, church and prison administration. The buildings were designed to incarcerate 501 prisoners in an isolated, single-cell layout. The Director of Preungesheim Prison (in 1942) was a prosecuting attorney named Max Riecke.
By December 1943, Preungesheim Prison had become seriously overcrowded, with 697 inmates. Like most common prisons in Nazi Germany, the inmates consisted of common convicted criminals and those who were placed there due to racial ancestry, political activities, religious beliefs, or sexual preference. Domestic arrests for supposed crimes such as desertion, sedition, crimes against ‘public welfare’, so-called ‘racial disgrace’, sabotage, treason and ‘preparation for high treason’ became commonplace, many of them carrying the death penalty. Preungesheim Prison became one of the main places to carry out court mandated executions in the German Reich, with as many as 500 executions taking place here between 1933 and 1945, primarily by means of guillotine. It was additionally used by the Gestapo to incarcerate prisoners in ‘protective custody’ when their own jails became overcrowded, and the prison hospital regularly carried out forced sterilizations.
The first Channel Islanders to be incarcerated in Preungesheim Prison were Norman Dexter, George Fox, Percy Miller, Frederick Page, Clifford Querée and Joseph Tierney, who transferred in from Saarbrücken Prison on 6-7 January 1944. William Marsh arrived on 18 April 1944, Bernard Capron on 21 April 1944, and Emile Paisnel on 23 May 1944, all from Karlsruhe Prison. Gerald Domaille, after spending two days in Frankfurt Military Prison, arrived in Preungesheim on 10 May 1944. By that time, the prison was at nearly double capacity with over 900 prisoners, over three-quarters of them non-Germans. By 7 July 1944, five more Channel Islanders were incarcerated in the prison: Clifford Cohu, Cecil Duquemin, Frank Falla, Joseph Gillingham, and Ernest Legg. These last prisoners had been transported from the islands to St. Malo, France in the hold of German troops carriers, then by train via Paris and Metz to Frankfurt am Main.
According to testimonies of Walter Lainé and Gerald Domaille, the Channel Islanders were watched by SS guards and military and kept in solitary confinement, except when performing forced labour. The prisoners wore uniforms, blue dungarees with the red letters ‘JV’ on the back (for Justizverwaltung or ‘Justice Administration’), and they wore identity discs with personal identification numbers on them around their necks on strings. Norman Dexter testified that he was kept among political prisoners under the supervision of the Gestapo, and witnessed the removal of the bodies of many prisoners who had died or committed suicide. Lainé, Dexter, and Gerald Domaille were forced to work in a shed (‘no work, no food’) in the prison yard, finishing up parts for the construction of military tanks and aeroplanes. The food rations, under constant threat of reduction, initially consisted of ‘a small round of bread morning and a not very large dish of soup at midday’ (Lainé). Domaille testified that the prison was ‘reasonably clean, but quite a few beatings took place. The food was reasonable sometimes, but it really was a starvation diet. Some guards were reasonable, others were brutal, one in particular named Hildebrand.’
Frank Falla described a typical scenario in Preungesheim Prison thus:
It was here, too, that I had my initial introduction into what was to become commonplace: the beating-up of prisoners, especially when they became too noisy; and the noisiest were the French. After coming into their cells for the night from working-parties they would try to talk to their compatriots by shouting out of their shuttered windows… The warders went from cell door to cell door trying to catch them in the act and when they did three or four of them would go into the cell and beat hell out of the hapless victims until their yells echoed through the whole prison.
Frankfurt am Main was severely bombed in allied air raids. The prisoners were required to stay in their cells unprotected, whilst the prison guards and staff went into an onsite air raid shelter. Emil Schmidt, a German political prisoner, describes a raid similar to those the Channel Islanders would have personally witnessed:
During the air attack many bombs came down near Preungesheim Prison, breaking out many windows. We prisoners sat crouched together full of fear in our cells. The guards had not opened the cell doors and had fled to the bomb shelters when the air raid alarm sounded. In contrast, we prisoners were left unprotected at the mercy of the bombs.
Percy Miller was the first of the Channel Islanders in Preungesheim Prison to die. He had been placed under internal arrest in the prison for attempting to pass a note to another prisoner and was placed into a cell ‘composed only of bars and a small wooden bench as a bed’ (Lainé). Miller had been given only bread and water as rations for two weeks and had been irrational for several days before he died on 16 July 1944. By late July 1944, the remaining Channel Islanders had all been transferred out of Preungesheim Prison except for Gerald Domaille, who was transferred to another prison on 20 March 1945, just days before American troops arrived.
Emile Paisnel died in Naumburg Prison on 29 August 1944. Clifford Cohu had been taken to Naumburg Prison and in August 1944 to Zöschen Forced Labour Camp, where he died on 20 September 1944. Frederick Page’s death followed on 4 March 1945, and a week later George Fox died, also in Naumburg. Joseph Gillingham was taken from Preungesheim to Naumburg Prison and and died in Halle (Saale) on 2 February 1945. William Marsh died on 14 March 1945 in Gleina, Saxony-Anhalt. Joseph Tierney had been discharged from Naumburg Prison on 25 March 1945, but died in Kaštice (formerly called Kaschitz, Sudetenland, now in the Czech Republic) in early May 1945, still in German custody.
On 20 March 1945 the Nazis ordered the complete evacuation of the civilian population of Frankfurt am Main, an order that was largely ignored by the residents of Preungesheim, who remained in air raid shelters and basements, coming out only when necessary to to scavenge food. On 29 March the US Army occupied the Preungesheim district of Frankfurt am Main, freeing any political prisoners who remained in the prison.
Of the 16 Channel Islanders imprisoned in Preungesheim Prison, only seven survived: Bernard Capron, Norman Dexter, Gerald Domaille, Cecil Duquemin, Frank Falla, Walter Lainé, and Ernest Legg. 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.
A memorial to the victims of the Nazis in Preungesheim Prison was built in 1962 at the behest of Frankfurt prosecutor Fritz Bauer, who is famed for his role in tracking down Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann and for seeking justice for the victims of the Nazis. It was not until the 1990s, however, that the memorial included the actual names of the hundreds of victims of the Nazis who died in Preungesheim Prison. Channel Islander Percy Miller is, however, not listed. Preungesheim Prison continues to operate today with the official title ‘Justizvollzugsanstalt Frankfurt am Main IV’.
Sources and Literature
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 Heritage Trust, Jersey, 2004.
Architekten & Ingenieur-Verein (publishers): Frankfurt am Main und seine Bauten, Frankfurt am Main, 1886 (in German).
Herge Harnischfeger, Ina: “Preungesheim, du schönes Städtchen. Strafgefangenakten der Anstalt Frankfurt am Main-Preungesheim bis 1945 in Hessische Staatsarchive (publisher): ARCHIVnachrichten aus Hessen, Heft 11/2, Wiesbaden, 2001, pp. 13-17. Available here as a PDF file (in German).
Köppe, Ingrid: Preungesheim: 40 Jahre danach, erinnern oder vergessen? SPD Preungesheim, Frankfurt am Main, 1985. (In German; quote from Erich Schmidt translated to English by Roderick Miller).
The National Archives (TNA), Foreign Office (FO):
TNA FO HNP/1235 (Dexter)
TNA FO HNP/1238 (Domaille)
TNA FO HNP/1234 (Duquemin)
TNA FO 950/978 (Falla)
TNA FO HNP/1402 (Fox)
TNA FO HNP/1196 (Gillingham)
TNA FO HNP/1195 (Lainé)
TNA FO HNP/1197 (Legg)
TNA FO HNP/1533 (Marsh)
TNA FO HNP/1407 (Querée)
TNA FO 950/1400 (Page)
TNA FO 950/1260 (Paisnel)
TNA FO HNP/1237 (Miller)
TNA FO 950/1254 (Tierney)
Hessisches Hauptarchiv, Wiesbaden, Germany, Prisoner records from Frankfurt-Preungesheim Prison:
The German War Graves Commission, available online here.