By Roderick Miller
At least six Channel Islanders were imprisoned in Neuoffingen Forced Labour Camp, (Zwangsarbeiterlager Neuoffingen, Strafgefangenenlager Neuoffingen, Lager Gundelfingen) a sub-camp administered from 1942 to 1945 by Augsburg Gestapo Prison ‘Katzenstadel’ as Kommando 982 (a work squad) of Dachau Concentration Camp. Neuoffingen Camp was technically in the jurisdiction of the town of Gundelfingen an der Donau, in the Günzburg district of the German state of Bavaria, but physically it was much closer to the village of Offingen. The camp was about 60 metres from the banks of the Donau River at the intersection of a train track and a street, Neuoffinger Strasse, and at the northwest edge of the Neuoffingen Junction Railway Station. It consisted of two barracks, surrounded by barbed wire, and was intended for around 80 forced labourers.
In French priest Abbé Raymond David’s autiobiography, he describes the labour camp thus:
It consisted of two barracks, still part of the Gundelfingen commons. Between the barracks was a driveway. They were on the edge of a pine forest. The barracks were originally build for soldiers… A grid of barbed wire surrounded the entire area… To oversee us, members of the train police were living here. They accompanied us during our work, every one armed with a gun. The lager commandant was a complete fool, who hated the French would have preferred to have killed them all, if he hadn’t feared the consequences. He had complete power over life and death…
In 1942, four of the policemen sentenced in the Guernsey police trial and Paul Gourdan from Jersey were deported to a series of prisons in France , and then to Landsberg Prison in Germany, followed by Augsburg Gestapo Prison. After a presumably brief time in Augsburg Gestapo Prison in August 1942, they and around 60 French political prisoners were taken to perform forced labour at Neuoffingen.
In August 1943, Paul Gourdan and Jack Harper escaped from Neuoffingen, an escape that was witnessed by a fellow prisoner, French priest Abbé Raymund David, who describes their escape in detail and mentions them by name in his autobiography. Harper was caught after five days living on the land and returned to Augsburg Gestapo Prison to serve 28 days of solitary confinement on bread and water rations. Gourdan was captured a few days later, having made it as far as the Belgian border before being betrayed by a farmer to the police. Harper was returned to spend two more years performing forced labour at Neuoffingen, but Gourdan went on to survive a series of German prisons. Philip Ozard was sent to Neuoffingen from Kaisheim Prison on 9 May 1944, but was sent back to Kaisheim some weeks later with Jack Harper on 12 June 1944.
In August 1945, Frank Tuck wrote a testimonial about his treatment in Neuoffingen for the British Red Cross:
In common with all of us, [Percival] Smith was badly shod and his feet were sore and bleeding. He was deprived of food and clothes when it was terribly cold, pronged with a fork, made to carry heavy sleepers [wooden rails], constantly tormented, beaten with a shovel and a pick-axe in the stomach. This last treatment produced some kind of stomach or kidney disorder which confined him to bed. He was at the camp in this condition for some time on restricted food (water) and even this he could not keep down. He was made to get out of bed and walk to the doctor with a man on each side of him, too weak to walk alone. He was periodically carried from his bed whilst in fever and placed under a cold shower bath. This treatment was to cool down his temperature… Later he was taken to Augsburg and left to die in a cell and refused treatment by the doctor there.
I have been kicked and knocked down and beaten with a pick handle and flogged with the butt of a rifle, and on one occasion I can remember being weeks that I could hardly walk through, having been beaten across the kidneys, but chased to work just the same. The so-called food was often stopped as “punishment” for the least thing. The cruelty was so persistent and our mental condition so lowered through undernourishment and hard work, that we suffered from a certain loss of memory so that a lot of the acts of cruelty have slipped my memory. A cloak of “protective amnesia”, as it were, cast itself about us and at least helped us to retain some flickering flames of life within our weakened shell. I look back on those days with horror and I shudder at the thought of them. The atmosphere was such that cannot be imagined or adequately described; to live in that for weeks and months and years is itself a special torture, weak, demoralized and wretched, and cut off from the world. Only the babble of foreign languages around you from people as wretched as yourselves. Constantly tormented by the Commander and several of the guards, even the railway engineers at work were fanatical Nazis and made our lives a hell.
Jack Harper continues the narrative in a 1965 testimonial:
At one time when I was working on the railroad track there had been a severe frost during the night and early in the morning I had to pick up a metal plaque and this stuck to my fingers and it tore away the skin from my finger-tips on my right hand. I was in severe pain and I showed my fingers to the labour master and he simply beat them with a pronged stick which he was carrying and ordered me back to work. The fingers healed without treatment but the little finger was split open and itchy. I showed it to the camp commandant on Sunday morning at the camp and he picked up a pair of scissors and cut the top of my little finger off. I have the scar to prove this. I collapsed on the floor and he kicked me in the stomach and called me an English swinehund. On another occasion I was carrying some metal plaques down the track with my both hands. I had to pass the labour master who was peeling an apple with his bayonet and, as I passed him, for his own sadistic pleasure he jabbed the bayonet about an inch deep into my left buttock and I lost a considerable amount of blood by his action. I remained in this camp at Neoffingen for a period of about two years, during which time I was starved and beaten so many times that my mentality became impaired and my health was broken…
Luckily for the Neuoffingen prisoners, a small group of German civilians around Anna Stadler, her sister Mrs. Sailer and Stadler’s niece Anna Sailer (later Paule) at the Sailer family’s sawmill were able to smuggle them food and, under the guise of using them to work, offer them a much-needed respite from the torments of their Nazi captors. Many of the prisoners later testified that it was this extra food and care that enabled them to survive the war.
By the time the Allies were nearing in 1945, the remaining Channel Island prisoners had been transferred back to Landsberg Prison, where they were liberated on 27 April 1945. Meanwhile the Neuoffingen railway bridge, a mere 150 metres from the camp, had been blown up by a sapper-commando from Dillingen/Danube. After the war the prisoners’ barracks were used for a short time to host dances for young people.
Percival Smith was buried in Block 11, Row 1, Grave 3 of the Westfriedhof (West Cemetery) in Augsburg. His grave is tended to by the German War Graves Commission. The remaining Channel Islanders imprisoned in Neuoffingen survived the war, but many of them would suffer from a variety of chronic physical disabilities and post-traumatic stress disorders for the rest of their lives.
The camp commandant of Neuoffingen, who was employed by Augsburg Gestapo Prison, was identified in writings of Frank Tuck and a number of French prisoners as a senior prison guard (Gefängnis-Oberwachtmeister) named Franz Sellmeir, who lived at Sedanstr. 51/0 in Augsburg. One of the chief guards was named Weishaupt (or Weisshaupt), but little beyond that of their identities and post-war fates is known. Sellmeir continued to work as a prison guard after the war, living from at least 1950 at Leonhard-Hausmann-Str. 51 in Augsburg. As of 1955, the Augsburg address book lists the ‘widow of senior prison guard’ Maria Sellmeir at this address, so presumably Franz Sellmeir died around 1953-1954. Frank Tuck and a number of eyewitness French prisoners held Sellmeir and Weishaupt directly responsible for the murder of Percival Smith.
In 1958, Anna Stadler received the Cross of the Legion of Honour from the French Consulate General in Munich, M. le Baron de Nerciat, for helping to save the lives of the 80 prisoners of Neuoffingen Camp. This is the highest French order awarded for military and civil merits. Anna Stadler and her sister Mrs. Stadler were each awarded a Chevalier de Saint-Michel medal on 1 May 1963 by Louis-Jean Guyot, who was later made the archbishop of Toulouse. Anna Stadler passed away in 1970. The French priests Abbé Raymond David and Louis Dutot, who were imprisoned in Neuoffingen, both published memoirs in the 1970s about their experiences that were released in several translations. Guernseyman Frank Tuck published the English edition of Dutot’s book.
By the late 1980s, all that remained of the camp were the foundations of the barracks. On 21 July 1989, a memorial was dedicated near the site of the camp with a large cross and a memorial stone. Former prisoners Frank Tuck from Guernsey and the French priest Raymond David attended the ceremony. The memorial was completely restored in 2013 and is now part of an 800-metre long ‘path of reconciliation’ between the Neuoffingen station and the former camp location. Anna Paule (née Sailer) died, in Gundelfingen, in the summer of 2016.
Carr, Gilly; Sanders, Paul; Willmot Louise: Protest, Defiance and Resistance in the Channel Islands: German Occupation, 1940-1945, Bloomsbury Academic, London & New York, 2014.
Dutot, Louis: Bread Between the Rails. F. H. Tuck, Liverpool, 1974.
Dutot, Louis: Brot zwischen den Schienen, Anna Stradler, eine Deutschin im Dienste der Deportierten. Coutances, 1975 (in German).
Dutot, Louis: Du Pain entre les rails, Anna Stadler, une Allemande au secours des déportés. Coutances, 1988 (in French).
David, Abbé Raimund (Raymond): In französicher und Nazi-Haft 1941-1945, durch Leiden zur Versöhnung!, Verlage Andreas Thoma, 1989 (in German).
David, Raymond (Abbé David): Du bagne français au bagne nazi (1941-1945), 3e éd., Montsurs, Résiac, 1974 (in French).
Hieber, Robert: Schwere Jahre: Ein historischer Rückblick auf die Zeit von 1930-1950 in Offingen und Schnuttenbach; in: Unser Offingen, Heft 3 / 2011; Markt Offingen (in German).
Horbach, Michael: So überlebten sie den Holocaust. Zeugnisse der Menschlichkeit 1933-1945 (in German). 4th edition, Munich, 1995, pp. 201-221.
Adreßbuchverlag der Industrie- und Handelskammer (publisher), Einwohnerbuch der Stadt Augsburg, 1940.
Adreßbuch Verlag Konrad Arnold (publisher), Einwohnerbuch der Stadt Augsburg for the years 1950, 1951-52, 1953, 1954, 1955.
The German War Graves Commission. Available online here.
The National Archives (TNA), Foreign Office (FO):
TNA FO 950/1748 (Friend)
TNA FO 950/1263 (Gourdan)
TNA FO HNP/1358 (Harper)
TNA FO 950/1161 (Smith)
TNA FO 950/962 (Tuck)
Rau, Andreas M: Die Zwangslager: Der Umgang mit den Orten der Gewalt „vor unserer Haustüre”; Strafgefangenlager Neuoffingen. Dissertation for Augsburg University, 2016 (in German).
Tuck, Frank: in Bailey, K. G.: Dachau, 1958. Reprinted May, 1979. C. I. Marine Ltd., Guernsey, C. I. pp. 46–63, testimonial about Neuoffingen (Gundelfingen).
Tuck, Frank: Personal papers in the estate of Frank Tuck, courtesy of the Tuck family.