Channel Islanders imprisoned in Gross-Rosen Concentration Camp:
Clarence Claude Painter, Peter Edward Painter, Jean Marie Rossi, Marcel Fortuné Rossi
By Roderick Miller
At least four Channel Islanders were imprisoned in Gross-Rosen Concentration Camp (Konzentrationslager Groß-Rosen, Arbeitslager Groß-Rosen) near the town of the same name in Lower Silesia, Germany (since 1945 Rogoźnica, Poland). With a total of over 120,000 prisoners throughout the camp’s existence, Gross-Rosen was one of the largest camps in the Nazi concentration camp system, but is lesser known today, perhaps in part because it was behind the Iron Curtain after 1945 and was overshadowed by massive extermination camps like Auschwitz-Birkenau.
There was a medium-sized stone quarry about 36 miles west of Breslau (today Wroclaw) that was purchased in 1940 by Deutsche Erd- und Steinwerke, a company owned by the SS. Both Flossenbürg Concentration Camp and Mauthausen Concentration Camp were already exploiting forced labour in stone quarries, and in June and July 1940 the first barracks and a barbed-wire fence were built at Gross-Rosen. On 1 May 1941, the ‘labour camp’ was designated a fully fledged concentration camp.
The camp fit the standard concentration camp pattern of brutal work (either in the stone quarry or in war production), poor food and water rations, inadequate clothing for extreme weather conditions, vermin, communicable diseases, and constant brutality on the part of the SS guards and collaborating prisoner guards. This led to a high rate of prisoner mortality from a wide variety of causes, including suicide. Ten percent of the camp’s prisoners had already died by the winter of 1940-1941, and the mortality rate increased as the war went on. There was a typhus epidemic in Gross-Rosen as early as June 1941, something that most of the camps would not experience until late 1944 or 1945. A fully functional crematorium was constructed in 1942 to deal with the demand from the high mortality rate.
Gross-Rosen had a reputation among the prisoners of other camps as a murderous camp, prisoners noting that even Dachau, Krakau-Plaszów, and Auschwitz camps  were preferable to Gross-Rosen. Channel Islander Peter Hassall apparently knew from other prisoners in Breslau Prison in 1944 that to be sent to Gross-Rosen was ‘a fate worse than a death sentence… we knew that there would be no survival from Gross-Rosen.’
Prisoners of all nationalities and Nazi categories of persecution were deported to Gross-Rosen from other camps throughout the German Reich and Nazi-occupied territories. It was also a major deportation destination for at least 1,730 Nacht und Nebel or ‘Night and Fog’ (NN) prisoners. These NN prisoners were part of a secret hostage program devised by the Nazis as a means of controlling potential resistance in occupied territory. Fellow French prisoner Roger Hardy left this testimonial for Channel Islanders Clarence Painter and his son Peter, themselves NN prisoners:
On October 27th  the Painters arrived at Gross-Rosen concentration camp from the ‘working commando’ near Dietzdorf… There was only the father left and he had lost 20 kilogrammes in weight by this date. When the father and son first arrived at Gross-Rosen they were in Block 9. They stayed in Block 9 for a month. They worked during the day in a quarry carrying heavy stones. Here the treatment was really bad. The Germans had dogs and whoever didn’t work fast enough was bitten; they also had foreigners (mostly Poles and Czechs) in that S.S. camp whose job it was to ‘liven up’ the prisoners, using fists, feet and clubs. They only had light soup once a day. They were put in barrack rooms where they had to sit to sleep.
Owing to his light clothing, Painter’s son [Peter] caught a cold and was transferred to No. 5 Block M.I. [Medical Infirmary] Room. He slept on the floor naked and on a filthy palliasse [straw mattress] and was treated only with Aspros [aspirin]. He developed pneumonia and died in his father’s arms due to no treatment, the only doctors being themselves prisoners… Peter’s body was burned in the crematorium at Gross-Rosen…
In the beginning of January 45, Mr. Painter’s face began to swell and he was sent to the M.I. Room. I also joined him, being too weak to work. Neither of us received any treatment and we only had soup occasionally. Then, owing to the Russian advance, Gross-Rosen was evacuated. We had to march to the railway station (Gross-Rosen) on 3rd of February … on the 3rd day, Mr. [Clarence] Painter died of under-nourishment and of swelling of the face. —Roger Hardy, Paris, 12 June 1945
Channel Islander Jean Rossi later wrote a testimonial about himself and his son Marcel:
…we were transferred from Blechhammer AEL [Labour Camp] to Gross-Rosen Concentration Camp. As far as I can remember we arrived there the third week of January 1945, having walked the whole distance [over 120 miles] under terrible conditions. We entered this camp at 9pm Sunday evening. Next day we were numbered, mine being 96096, my son Marcel being 96095. —Jean Rossi, 12 July 1965
Jean Rossi last saw his son, ill with pneumonia but still alive, in Hersbruck Concentration Camp in Bavaria. Marcel Rossi died between February and April 1945, either in Hersbruck or on a forced march in the direction of Dachau. Of the four Channel Islanders deported to Gross-Rosen, only Jean Rossi survived. Like most survivors, he probably suffered from a variety of chronic physical disabilities and post-traumatic stress disorders for the rest of his life.
The highest number of prisoners in Gross-Rosen, a total of 97,414, was reached at the end of 1944. At least 40,000 prisoners died in Gross-Rosen, about one-third of the total prisoners ever incarcerated there. When Heinrich Himmler ordered the camp’s evacuation in January 1945, there were 3,222 SS personnel in Gross-Rosen. The camp was evacuated in overcrowded open freight cars and forced marches under freezing weather conditions and brutal treatment from the SS guards, from which many prisoners did not survive. The camp staff began to evacuate Gross-Rosen in the first week of February 1945 and it was liberated by the Red Army on 13 February.
There was never a proper trial for those who committed crimes against humanity in Gross-Rosen. Commandant Anton Thumann was sentenced to death by a British military tribunal for his role in Neuengamme Concentration Camp and hanged in 1946. The legal proceedings against Commandant Wilhelm Gideon were dismissed in 1962 and he died in 1977, having given initially cooperative interviews in 1975 about his role in the camp, and then suddenly claiming he was a different person and denying his role in Gross-Rosen. Commandant Johannes Hassebroek was sentenced to death by a British Military Tribunal in 1948 for his role in murdering a British officer, but the sentence was never carried out and he was released in 1954. In 1967 Hassebroek was brought to trial for the murder of two prisoners in Gross-Rosen, but after sentencing him for manslaughter he was released in 1970 on time served. Hassebroek died in 1977. SS doctors Friedrich Entress and Wilhelm Jobst were sentenced to death by a US military court for their crimes in various other concentration camps, and both were hanged in Landsberg Prison in 1947. Most of the staff of Gross-Rosen responsible for the over 40,000 deaths that occurred there were never brought to justice for their crimes.
Gross-Rosen was used by the NKVD Soviet secret police as a prison for two years after the war. Two buildings, some minor ruins and the foundations of the barracks were all that remained by the time that Gross-Rosen was declared an historic monument in 1963. In the 1950s the first museum was founded, led by the State Museum Auschwitz-Birkenau and later by the Breslau Museum. Parts of the camp ruins were rebuilt in 1978-1982. The Gross-Rosen Museum, in its current incarnation, was founded in 1983. Since then, than half of the prisoners’ identities have been established, a difficult task given that most of the records were destroyed by the SS upon evacuation. The quarry continued to be active after the war, but the property was finally transferred into the museum’s possession in 2005.
 The reference is to the forced labour camp Auschwitz, not to Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp.
Berler, Willy: Journey through Darkness: Monowitz, Auschwitz, Gross-Rosen, Buchenwald. Vallentine Mitchell & Co. Ltd., 2003.
Carr, Gilly; Sanders, Paul; Willmot Louise: Protest, Defiance and Resistance in the Channel Islands: German Occupation, 1940-1945, Bloomsbury Academic, London & New York, 2014.
Guttermann, Bella: Narrow Bridge to Life: Jewish Forced Labor and Survival in the Gross-Rosen Camp System, 1940-1945. Berghahn Books, 2008.
Benz, Wolfgang & Distel, Barbara (editors): Der Ort des Terrors. Geschichte der nationalsozialistischen Konzentrationslager, Volume 6: Stutthof, Groß-Rosen, Natzweiler. C. H. Beck, 2007, pp. 195-221 (in German).
Hassall, Peter D.: Night and Fog Prisoners, self-published testimonial, Canada, 1997. Available online as a PDF document.
International Tracing Service Arolsen, Catalogue of Camps and Prisons in Germany and German-occupied Territories, 1949-1951.
Megargee, Geoffrey P. (editor): Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos, 1933–1945, Vol. 1 , Part B. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum , Indiana University Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis, 2009, pp. 694-701.
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, revised and updated edition, 2004.
The National Archives (TNA), Foreign Office (FO), War Office (WO)
TNA WO 311/105 (Hardy, Roger)
TNA FO 950/1073 (Clarence & Peter Painter)
TNA FO HNP/3237 (Rossi, Jean)
TNA FO 950/1767 (Rossi, Marcel)