Channel Islanders Imprisoned in Marlag-Milag Nord Camp:
By Roderick Miller
Six Channel Islanders are known to have been incarcerated in Marlag & Milag Nord Camp (Marlag und Milag Nord) located outside of the village of Westertimke in the state of Lower Saxony in northern Germany. Marlag is an acronym for Marinelager (naval prisoner of war camp), Milag is short for Marine-Internierten-Lager (naval internment camp), and Nord is German for ‘north’. The camp started out as naval prisoner of war and internment camps Stalag X-B and Ilag X-B near the town of Sandbostel, Germany, but under international pressure from United States, the Swiss government and the International Committee of the Red Cross to improve conditions, the camp was moved to a former Luftwaffe (German Air Force) barracks near Westertimke between May and July of 1942.
The camp was administered by the Luftwaffe and actually consisted of a number of separate camps: Marlag was two prisoner of war camps, one for officers and their orderlies, and one for non-commissioned officers and enlisted men. Milag was primarily for members of the merchant marines who had been captured aboard ships carrying allied ordnance or military-related supplies, as well as an array of western European civilian internees. There was also a third camp, called a Dulag or Durchgangslager (transit camp), that was especially constructed to house up to 630 civilian merchant marines from countries as diverse as India, China, Burma, and Aden.
The Milag Nord Camp was about 300 metres northeast of Marlag and had 36 buildings. The hospital for the collected camps was also located in Milag. The command building for the Milag-Marlag complex was just in front of the Milag entrance gate, along with some supply depots. Milag held up to 4,200 internees, most of whom came from Great Britain. Channel Islanders George Ferbrache and Ernest Le Prevost arrived in Milag from Fort d’Hauteville Prison in Dijon, France in late August 1944. Le Prevost mentions Milag in his application for registration as a victim of Nazi persecution:
At this time the Allied Forces were pressing through France and giving immense hope to all, when we British subjects were hastily removed from France to Germany to Milag Marlag, Westertimke, near Bremen. This move may have saved the lives of some of us, for we were extremely weak not having been permitted Red Cross help as yet. The camp doctors (who had themselves been captured on various fronts) took care of us and restored most of us to health and strength as we waited for Field Marshall Montgomery’s Guards Armoured Divisions to release us, which they did on the day the war ended in Europe. — Ernest Le Prevost, 8 July 1965
The conditions in these camps were Spartan but overall better than many of the prisons in Germany, and far better than the brutal conditions in most forced labour and concentration camps. Several tunnels were constructed by Milag inmates and a number of escape attempts were made, but in every case the prisoners were re-captured and returned to camp.
The camp guards fled Marlag & Milag Nord on 9 April 1945 and were replaced by elderly civilian guards — probably Volkssturm, a group of untrained and poorly-armed civilians thrown together by the Nazis in the last hour as a desperate attempt to defend the homeland. It was announced that the allied officers in Marlag were going to be moved to Lübeck, so many of them fled into the nearby woods or concealed themselves in the Milag camp. Only 200 of the Marlag officers were left when the forced march to Lübeck started the next day. As the allies approached, more and more prisoners arrived from other locations in Germany. On 16 April, some 2,000 French and Polish POWs arrived in the camp and soon thereafter 1,600 US POWs. Nearly 8,000 prisoners were in the camp by the time of its liberation by units of the British 11th Armoured Division on 28 April 1945.
After the war, the camp was used by the allies as an internment camp to imprison suspected Nazi war criminals, including (for one day) former SS-Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler and former Dachau commander Alexander Piorkowski, who was later hanged at Landsberg Prison. From 1952, the camp was used to house youths who had fled the communist regime in East Germany. Marlag was last used in a camp capacity by the German military from 1963 to 1993. The former Marlag is now used for commercial purposes.
Only a few buildings are left standing of the original Milag camp and trees now cover most of the original site. A memorial was dedicated at the site in 2005 with a plaque in English and German (see photographs, above). The online memorial for Marlag and Milag Nord is maintained by the Sandbostel Memorial Site (Stiftung Sandbostel Lager).
Carr, Gilly; Sanders, Paul; Willmot Louise: Protest, Defiance and Resistance in the Channel Islands: German Occupation, 1940-1945, Bloomsbury Academic, London & New York, 2014.
The British Red Cross Society (publisher): The Prisoner of War, published from May 1942 until July 1945. For pages directly related to Marlag-Milag see PDF below.
The National Archives (TNA), Foreign Office (FO):
TNA FO 950/1773 (Ferbrache)
TNA FO 950/4880 (Hockey)
TNA FO 950/4038 (Le Prevost)