Channel Islanders Imprisoned in La Santé Prison:
By Roderick Miller
At least seven Channel Islanders were imprisoned in La Santé Prison (Maison d’arrêt de la Santé) in the 14th arrondissement of Paris, France. The prison was inaugurated in 1867 with 500 cells, eventually expanding to 1,000 cells designed to accommodate 2,000 prisoners. La Santé was a site of public executions by guillotine until the banning of public executions in 1939, at which point they were carried out in the prison courtyard. After the general mobilisation in September 1939, the French military authorities requisitioned La Santé to incarcerate an ever-increasing number of detained French military personnel, making it a de facto annex of Cherche-Midi Prison. Military prisoners were evacuated from La Santé on 10 June 1940, just four days before Wehrmacht troops entered Paris. After the invasion of France in 1940, the Germans were in charge of the prison, as was standard practice in Nazi-occupied France, but the warders and most of the staff were—again, as usual—French.
All of the Islanders known to have been imprisoned in La Santé spent one or two days there at most between 7 and 9 May 1943, all of them en route from Coutances Prison to Fort d’Hauteville Prison in Dijon. By this date, the Germans had largely stopped using the prison for political prisoners in their custody, favouring Fresnes Prison instead, so the Islanders may have been among the last prisoners of the Germans placed in La Santé. Whether the purpose of their stopover there was simply as a transfer stopover or for security interrogation by the Gestapo is unknown. The cells were probably overcrowded, opening onto dark courtyards far from the outside world, and many of the cells had a humid and unhealthy cellar atmosphere. By March 1943, most of the common criminals had been separated from the political prisoners, so it is likely that the Islanders, if not confined to their own cell, at least shared cells with anti-Nazi political prisoners. At this date there were maximum of three to four prisoners per cell for political prisoners, compared with six to eight per cell for the common criminals. By 1944 the cells of the political prisoners were just as overcrowded. Each cell had two windows, which the prisoners were allowed to open but forbidden from climbing up to or using the window to communicate with prisoners in other cells.
On the evening of 14 July 1944, a mutiny broke out among the circa 3,800 criminal prisoners (the count of non-participating political prisoners at the time was around 550). The criminal element seized the prison and laid waste to it until the late evening arrival of the Milice (French paramilitary collaborators) and the forces of the German Wehrmacht. The mutiny was crushed by the morning of 15 July, with six prisoners killed when the Milice re-took the prison. The Nazis demanded that 100 communist political prisoners, who actually took no part in the mutiny, be executed in reprisal, but instead the Milice organised a summary court-martial later that evening that resulted in the execution by firing squad of 28 alleged mutiny ringleaders from among the criminal prisoners. The Milice officer responsible for the executions, Jean Bassompierre, was himself imprisoned in La Santé in 1945 and executed by firing squad in 1948.
During the duration of the war, 18 political prisoners were executed in La Santé Prison, nine by guillotine in 1941 to 1942, and nine by firing squad on a single day, 30 April 1944. The last execution by guillotine in La Santé occurred with a double execution in 1972. Capital punishment was finally forbidden in France in 1981. Until the year 2000, prisoners were segregated into different prison blocks according to geographic and ethnic origin, a rather surprisingly late date to have ceased such practices, generally recognized as unconstitutional in most western democracies. La Santé Prison was closed for renovations in 2014 and is expected re-open in 2019 with a reduced capacity for 800 prisoners.
The seven Islanders who were imprisoned in La Santé Prison survived the war, but many would suffer the rest of their lives from physical health problems and post-traumatic stress disorder caused by the conditions of their imprisonment.
Anonymes, Justes et Persécutés durant la période Nazie dans les communes de France (in French) LINK
Archives départementales de la Côte-d’Or:
1409 W 1-13, Régistre d’écrou Prison d’Hauteville
Carlier, Christian: 14 Juillet 1944. Bal tragique à la Santé : 34 morts (in French), in Crimino Corpus, Histoire de la justice, 2012. LINK
Tronel, Jacky: Histoire pénitentiaire et Justice militaire (in French): LINK