By Roderick Miller
At least three Channel Islanders were incarcerated in Neuengamme Concentration Camp (Konzentrationslager Neuengamme, KZ Neuengamme) in Neuengamme, a sub-district of the southeast Hamburg district of Bergedorf. The main Neuengamme camp was the command centre for a vast system of 84 sub-concentration camps and among the largest in the Nazi concentration camp system. The camp was started in 1938 as a sub-camp of Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp. The Neuengamme site was initially chosen because of the profits the SS could make in manufacturing bricks for the Nazi-envisaged transformation of the city of Hamburg. The camp expanded drastically after the outbreak of war in September 1939 and the subsequent increased number of political prisoners from German-occupied territories.
Prisoners in Neuengamme were beaten and given arbitrary punishments on a daily basis, and the guards and kapos (prisoner functionaries) could and did mistreat and kill prisoners without any fear of justice or retribution. Hygiene in the camp was next to nonexistent and epidemics of typhus broke out regularly. Communicable diseases such as tuberculosis were also common in the camp.
By the time Harold le Druillenec and Frank Le Villio arrived in Neuengamme in September 1944 from Fort Hatry Prison in France, Neuengamme had begun to resemble an extermination camp. By the end of 1944, most of the prisoners in the camp were in such terrible physical condition from the conditions of their imprisonment that they were incapable of performing forced labour. Le Druillenec was only in Neuengamme for 5 days before being sent to perform forced labour constructing Alter Banter Weg Concentration Camp in Wilhemshaven. Although Frank Le Villio was probably in Neuengamme until being placed on a forced march to Sandbostel Transit Camp at the end of March 1945, he did not live long enough to leave any testimonials about his experience in captivity. The 17-year-old American Phillip Jackson, also a prisoner in Neuengamme, testified at the allied war crimes trials:
We were taken out in batches of a hundred and taken to some showers where we were deprived of our clothes and everything else we wore or carried… Our heads and the remainder of our bodies were completely shaved. Then we had a bath, after which a most minute search was made of our naked bodies with lamps. Then we received a most miscellaneous collection of very old clothes, not even fit for a beggar to wear, and a pair of wooden shoes.
[Food consisted of] about one quarter of a 3 lb. loaf of black bread and one litre of cabbage or swede soup per person. … Normally we had 500 men sleeping in one block, two to a bed, but often this would increase to 700. Conditions of living were absolutely foul — the stench was awful at night when all the windows were closed.
[SS-Obersturmführer Anton Thumann] was constantly going round the camp beating and whipping the prisoners and letting his large unmuzzled dogs loose on the prisoners. I saw this happen many times. One day when we were marching back to the camp I saw him punch my Kapo, namely 7083 Fritz Schon, a German political prisoner, several times in the face because he said our column was not marching in step. He always attended the hanging of people and read the sentences and gave the order to hang.
SS-Oberscharführer Willy Dreimann was in charge of the blocks where the prisoners were housed. His hobby was riding around the camp on a bicycle with a leather whip beating the prisoners as he went. He was a sadist in every respect. He always attended all the hangings. On these occasions the prisoners were made to take their clothes off before they were hanged, and he used to shout ‘Get a move on — the quicker you are, the quicker you will be dead’ or words to that effect. I heard that sometimes these people were not killed outright, and afterwards Dreimann would go to the mortuary and strangle the bodies with his own hands.
Phillip Jackson was one of the few survivors of the prison ship Cap Arcona, which British Royal Air Force aeroplanes attacked and sank, not knowing that 7,000 former Neuengamme prisoners were on board, including Phillip’s father Sumner Jackson, who he never saw again. Only around 450 survived.
It remains unknown as to when James Houillebecq arrived in Neuengamme from Fresnes Prison, but Houillebecq’s sister later testified that a friend of his who survived the war had last seen him entering the Neuengamme camp hospital. He died on 20 January 1945. The cause of death was officially listed as ‘blood poisoning’, but the Nazis were notorious for writing false causes of death on death certificates of prisoners who died from a variety of maltreatments including starvation, exposure, and execution, so his true cause of death may never be known. He was cremated and his ashes scattered.
Twelve Neuengamme SS personnel, including camp commander Max Pauly and the above-named Thumann and Dreimann, were given the death penalty at the 1946 Neuengamme War Crimes Trial in Hamburg and executed by hanging in Hamelin Prison. Of the estimated 4,000 SS personnel who worked in Neuengamme, only a small handful ever faced justice for their crimes against humanity.
Harold Le Druillenec was liberated in Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp and became a key witness in the allied war crimes trials against the Nazis. Frank Le Villio was pwas liberated by British troops in Neuengamme on 29 April 1945 and transferred a week later to a displaced persons’ camp at Sandbostel. He died at the age of 21 as a result of the tuberculosis he had contracted during his incarceration and was buried in an unmarked grave in Nottingham. Le Villio was deported to Nazi concentration camps and ultimately died for the crime of stealing a bicycle.
The Neuengamme Memorial Centre was opened in 2005 and is open to the public.
Carr, Gilly; Sanders, Paul; Willmot Louise: Protest, Defiance and Resistance in the Channel Islands: German Occupation, 1940-1945, Bloomsbury Academic, London & New York, 2014.
Cottrell, Leonard: ‘The Man from Belsen’, from B.B.C. Features, Gilliam, Lawrence (editor), Evans Brothers Ltd., Aylesbury and London, 1950, pp. 97-110.
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. 1074-1078.
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, pp. 83-85
The National Archives (TNA), Foreign Office (FO) and War Office (WO):
TNA FO 950/1100 (Le Druillenec)
TNA WO 235 / 162-163 Neuengamme concentration camp case
The Wiener Archive, International Tracing Service:
Documents on Frank Le Villio:, reference numbers 31818654, 31818655, 31818656, 4395280, 4395286, 108322168, and 108322154.