Channel Islanders Imprisoned in Karlsruhe Prison:
Alfred William Baker, Niall Hubert Bonass, Nelson Breton, Charles Albert Friend, Jack Harper, Alfred William Howlett, William Howard Marsh, Brian John O’Meara, Emile John Paisnel, Herbert Percival Smith, Frank Hubert Tuck
By Roderick Miller
11 Channel Islanders are known to have been imprisoned in Karlsruhe (Untersuchungshaftanstalt Karlsruhe, Justizvollzugsanstalt Karlsruhe), now in the German state of Baden-Württemberg. Karlsruhe Prison was designed after a remand prison in St. Petersburg, Russia, and was considered to be progressive in its day. The prison has 124 single cells, ten hospital cells and four work chambers. It was originally designed to hold up to 162 prisoners, but more humanitarian standards today limit the allowed number of prisoners to 111. As with all prisons in the Third Reich, Karlsruhe Prison was used to incarcerate standard criminal convicts as well as political prisoners. Until the mid-1930s, a scaffold in the prison courtyard was used to impose the death penalty by guillotine. By the time the Channel Islanders began arriving in Karlsruhe in 1943, the prison had been turned into a remand prison or Untersuchungshaftanstalt, for prisoners awaiting trial and as a short-term place of imprisonment for those awaiting placement in other prisons.
Karlsruhe Prison was used to incarcerate number of Nacht und Nebel (‘Night and Fog’, NN) prisoners, a Nazi program that was declared to be a crime against humanity at the Nuremberg Trials. Odette Sansom Hallowes, an agent of the British SOE (Special Operations Executive), was incarcerated in Karlsruhe Prison under the pseudonym Odette Churchill in 1944 before being transported to Ravensbrück Concentration Camp. She was one of the few British secret agents to survive Nazi imprisonment. Seven other female SOE agents imprisoned in Karlsruhe (Andrée Borrel, Diana Rowden, Madeleine Damerment, Yolande Beekman, Sonya Olschanezky, Vera Leigh and Eliane Plewman) were murdered by the Nazis shortly thereafter in Natzweiler-Struthof and Dachau Concentration Camps. A file in the National Archives on Plewman (as reported in the Leicester Mercury) states that ‘Whilst the long months spent in prison in Karlsruhe were certainly hard… the girls were in no way ill-treated.’ It is probable that the Channel Islanders in Karlsruhe Prison received treatment that was no worse.
Nelson Breton was transferred from Frankfurt am Main-Bockenheim on 25 January 1944, and soon thereafter on 2 February 1944 was sent on to Rheinbach Prison. Islanders Alfred Baker and Alfred Howlett were transported together from Clairvaux Prison to Karlsruhe Prison on 17 May 1943. They both mention Karlsruhe Prison in their 1960s compensation applications, but give no details of the conditions there. Howlett was incarcerated in Karlsruhe for only 3 days before being transported on to Bernau Prison, and it is likely that Baker spent a similarly short time in Karlsruhe before going on to Bruchsal Prison Hospital. Niall Bonass spent just a week in Karlsruhe from 18 July 1944 before being transferred to Bruchsal. Jack Harper, Percival Smith and Frank Tuck were tranferred from Fort de Villeneuve Prison to Karlsruhe on 7 August 1942, manacled in lorries, but were only briefly imprisoned in Karlsruhe prior to going on to further camps and prisons in Germany. Harper and Tuck were liberated in Landsberg in 1945, but Smith died in 1943 in an Augsburg Gestapo prison. Baker and Brian O’Meara write mostly about their later experiences in Buchenwald Concentration Camp, and O’Meara does not mention Karlsruhe at all in his post-war testimonial. Charles Friend survived a death march in the direction of Dachau Concentration Camp. Neither William Marsh nor Emile Paisnel survived Nazi captivity: Paisnel died in Naumburg in August 1944 and Marsh near the end of the war, on 9 March 1945, in Gleina, Saxony-Anhalt.
Karlsruhe was liberated from the Nazis by French troops on 4 April 1945. The roof of Karlsruhe Prison had been heavily damaged by allied bombardment during the war and required replacement. The building was later given protection as an historical monument. In 2016, it was revealed that the prison’s capacity for 110 prisoners had been exceeded on a number of occasion, leading to questions as to whether the conditions there were acceptable.
Six of the nine Channel Islanders imprisoned in Karlsruhe survived the war. Like most survivors, they probably suffered 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.
Imperial War Museums, ‘Gestapo Papers relating to Odette Churchill, Second World War’, online here.
Justiz in Baden-Württemberg (publisher): Overview of the history of Karlsruhe Prison, 2014 (in German). Link.
Leicester Mercury (publisher): ‘Tortured by the Nazis and shot as a spy’, 12 June 2003. Link.
The National Archives, Foreign Office, Claims Department: Correspondence and Claims Files. Link.
The National Archives (TNA), Foreign Office (FO), War Office (WO):
TNA FO 950/943 (Baker)
TNA WO 311/11 (Howlett)
TNA FO 950/2362 (Marsh)
TNA FO 950/4466 (O’Meara)
TNA FO 950/1260 (Paisnel)