Channel Islanders imprisoned in Rollberg Penal Camp:
Flavien Emile Barbier, Ronald Beer, Brian John O’Meara
By Roderick Miller
Rollwald Penal Camp (Strafgefangenlager Rollwald, Lager Rollwald, Stammlager II, Gefangenenlager Rodgau-Dieburg) was founded in 1938 in the Nieder-Roden suburb of the town of Rodgau in Hessia, Germany for the purpose of using convicts as forced labourers for agricultural work in the region. The camp was 47,000 square metres in size and consisted of 15 large wooden barracks for housing prisoners, as well as a kitchen, dining hall, and sick bay. It was surrounded by a double 3.5-metre high fence with barbed wire and had two tall watchtowers. There was also a building built of concrete or stone with cells for the special punishment of camp prisoners as well as a number buildings to house the prison guards and staff. The camp was staffed by officials of the German justice system, some of whom were members of the Nazi Party and other Nazi organisations. Rollwald Penal Camp was administered by Rodgau-Dieburg Penal Camp (Stammlager I, Strafanstalt Dieburg) in the nearby town of Dieburg.
Rollwald had the capacity for 1500 prisoners and 200 guard and staff personnel. The prisoners were from Germany and other parts of Nazi-occupied Europe. The prisoners were supposed to be primarily from other prisons and were not supposed to include political prisoners, but evidence from German survivors — and the presence of political prisoners from the Channel Islands, France, Netherlands and Norway —shows that the Nazis did not follow the original plans. The camp was subordinate to a central camp administration in the city of Dieburg.
Channel Islanders Ronald Beer and Flavien Barbier were transferred from Fort d’Hauteville prison near Dijon to Rollwald Camp on 11 May1943.
The conditions were very strict & mentally cruel with great suffering among the prisoners. Men died with boils because the body was so undernourished, even the Polish doctor who was in chard of the First Aid had no medical supplies, though he did try to comfort everybody he looked after. Everybody had to get up & be out in the compound very early in the morning, of course we had no idea of time, but it must of been four o’clock, because after being split up in groups we were marched out through the villages to work under armed guard, summer and winter alike. Some were taken to factories, others to fields & forest, to fell trees & work the ground. On our return at night we were searched and locked in the huts for the night… On different occasions, Barbier and myself tried to get on transfer parties of men being sent away, mostly Poles & Czechs, with Slavs. But as we were the only two British subjects in the camp they would not let us go… Although my brother-in-law had wrote to the Red Cross and sent money, they found the place I had been sent to, but I was not allowed to receive parcels or anything. — Ronald Beer, 20 January 1965
I understand that my brother went from one prison to another in France, then was eventually transferred in turn to (2) two Concentration Camps; one being Rollwald/Darmstadt, and subsequently released by the American Army, he then became attached to an American Unit as an Interpreter… As my brother is temporarily, we hope, in a mental hospital at St. Saviour, Jersey, С.I. and his condition mainly due to his wartime experiences, it has been considered unwise to question him too much as to the correct name and address of the concentration camp from which he was released, but no doubt the American Intelligence Services would have records of his release and his employment. When found, he was unable to stand without aid, this being due to weakness induced by illness, malnutrition and ill-treatment. It is known that he was repeatedly beaten by the guards, knocked down an iron staircase and all-together badly ill-treated. —Marcel C. Barbier, 20 July 1965
He [Flavien Barbier] only recently started talking about the horrors of his experiences while in prison camps, and only then did his wife learn of his illnesses which were: Sinus operation to base of spine; Operation for Hernia; Diphtheria + another illness Lapses of memory. Also had an operation for repair of Hernia January 1957 in Jersey. —Marion Moore, Mental Health Social Worker, General Hospital, Jersey, Channel Islands, 3 October 1963
Ronald Beer suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after the war because of his experience in the Nazi prisons and camps. Flavien Barbier was so disabled by PTSD by the mid-1960s that he was institutionalised under psychiatric care and was unable to write his own testimonial for compensation. Ronald Beer and Flavien Barbier were imprisoned in Rollwald Camp and forced to perform forced labour for nearly two years.
Channel Islander Brian O’Meara was in Rollwald for an unknown period, probably in late 1944. He would go on to survive Buchenwald Concentration Camp.
Over 200 prisoners died in Rollwald Camp and were buried nearby. The cause of death in over 50% of the cases was ‘cardiac failure’, ‘cardiac paralysis’, or ‘heart attack’ (Herzschwäche, Herzlähmung or Herzschlag), terms that are often found in Nazi prison, camp, and euthanasia centre death certificates, and are often fictitious euphemisms for people who had been overworked, underfed, given insufficient shelter and/or medical care, or even beaten to death. 57 of the Rollwald prisoners died from stomach-intestinal illnesses with diarrhoea as a primary symptom—probably Typhoid fever.
Rollwald Camp was liberated by American troops with no resistance on 26 March 1945. Ronald Beer and Flavien Barbier were among the freed prisoners, and Barbier was appointed one of the camp leaders by the US Army on 1 April 1945. A surviving Norwegian prisoner named Viggo Widerøe went on to fame as the founder of one of Norway’s prominent commercial airlines.
From July 1942, the commandant of Rollwald Camp was Justice Chief Inspector Karl Ludwig Stumpf (born 1891). After the war he worked in Rockenberg Juvenile Prison. No staff members of Rollwald Camp were ever brought to justice after the war for their possible roles in the deaths of the prisoners under their supervision, and most of them continued their careers in the justice system of post-war West Germany.
In 1956, the camp graveyard was declared as not falling under the protection of the German War Graves Commission since, according to then-District President Wilhelm Arnoul ‘all of the people buried in this cemetery were imprisoned for criminal offences’. This point of view is considered invalid in Germany today, as Nazi sentencing for so-called ‘criminal offences’ would be largely viewed today as cruel and unusual punishment, and many of the ‘offences’ deemed political by the standards of a constitutional state. By 1965, the community did not want to bear the continued financial burden of maintaining the graves—which they quite correctly believed should, as war graves, be maintained by the state and federal governments—and all of the grave markers were removed and the cemetery levelled.
After the war, the barracks were used to house German POWs and refugees from what was to become Poland in the former eastern parts of Germany. After that, the barracks part of the camp was torn down and the area used to build residential housing. Much of the guard and staff housing built for the camp is still in use as residential housing. A kindergarten currently stands near the spot of the original punishment cells. A stone memorial marks the location of the camp’s mass grave (former cemetery) and there is a yearly memorial service in remembrance of the suffering of the prisoners in Rollwald Camp, sponsored by the memorial group ‘Arbeitsgruppe Rollwald’. This memorial group is quite active and published a book in 2004 about the camp (see Sources below).
Carr, Gilly; Sanders, Paul; Willmot Louise: Protest, Defiance and Resistance in the Channel Islands: German Occupation, 1940-1945, Bloomsbury Academic, London & New York, 2014.
Fogel, Heidi: Das Lager Rollwald. Strafvollzug und Zwangsarbeit 1938 bis 1945 (in German). Forderverein für die historische Aufarbeitung der Geschichte des Lagers Rollwald, 2004.
The National Archives (TNA), Foreign Office (FO):
TNA FO 950/ 1744 (Barbier)
TNA FO 950/1767 (Beer)
The Wiener Library, London (International Tracing Service).
Record 44768335_0_1, card record of workbook from Gefangenenlager Rodgau-Dieburg (O’Meara)