Channel Islanders Imprisoned in Siegburg Prison:
By Roderick Miller
At least three Channel Islanders were imprisoned in Siegburg, a city in the German state of North Rhine-Wesphalia. Siegburg Prison (German: Gerichtsgefängnis Siegburg, Justizvollzugsanstalt Siegburg) was opened in 1896, a building in a typical X-formation of prisons of that era, with a capacity for 520 male and 204 female prisoners. Like all prisons in Nazi Germany, the prison was used after 1933 to incarcerate convicted criminals as well as political prisoners. The Cologne Prison administration and the Cologne Gestapo were responsible for the relegation of prisoners to Siegburg Prison, Rheinbach Prison, and Wittlich Prison. In 1941, all of the Jewish prisoners in Siegburg Prison were deported to concentration camps, from which only a very few survived. In 1942 and 1943, all prisoners who were ill with tuberculosis were deported to unknown destinations and likely gassed as part of the Nazi ‘T4’ euthanasia action.
Siegburg Prison was also used to incarcerate a number of Nacht und Nebel (‘Night and Fog’, or NN) prisoners. These NN prisoners were used as hostages and their whereabouts kept secret as a means of controlling the civilian populations in Nazi-occupied territories. At the post-war Nuremburg Trials, the Nacht und Nebel program was declared to be a crime against humanity. Most of the Gestapo prisoners in Siegburg in 1944 were from Nazi-occupied Belgium, France, Luxembourg and the Netherlands — and among them a single known Channel Islander.
By 1943, Siegburg Prison was one of the largest sources of forced labour in the region, and was described by a contemporary as appearing more like a factory than a prison, as it had two 1100 square metre halls dedicated to the exploitation of forced prisoner labour for companies like Dynamit Nobel AG and Rheinische Zellwolle. Such use of prisoner labour to construct military munitions was in direct violation of the Geneva Conventions. The prison doctor reported a steady stream of cases of carbon disulfate poisoning, kidney and eye infections, and transitory mental illness among the prisoners, a direct result of exposure to toxic substances in the workplace and malnutrition.
Channel Islander Nelson Breton was in Siegburg from 2 March 1944 until liberation in May 1945, but did not apply in the 1960s for compensation as a British victim of Nazi persecution, nor did he leave any known testimonials about his experiences as a prisoner of the Nazis. Frederick Duquemin was in Siegburg Prison the longest of the three islanders, from 6 October 1943 until liberation in May 1945. By the time his wife applied for compensation, he was already dead – an early death brought on as a direct result of his time in Nazi captivity, according to her testimonial. Edward Muels was in Siegburg for about five weeks, from 13 August 1944 until 19 September 1944. Muels died in Nazi captivity in Kassel-Wehlheiden Prison.
German photographer Erich Sander had been incarcerated in Siegburg since 1935 for anti-Nazi political activities, and wrote in a letter to his parents on 5 July 1944:
We are noticing the general worsening of the situation here. Despite this, I am holding out and not starving. Still, I am wishing it the prison sentence was finished. It’s really unnerving… the possibility that I will be released is less than likely. Heaven knows what’s going to happen with the prison when this becomes a war zone… I am unable to sleep at nights because of the poor food. 
Erich Sander contracted appendicitis in March 1944, and despite weeks of extreme physical agony, was given no medical treatment in the prison. He died on 23 March 1944.
The prisoner count in Siegburg reached a high point in the last phases of the war, with over 3000 prisoners living in a space designed for 724. At least 104 prisoners died in Siegburg prison under the Nazi Regime. On 23 August 1944, 3 young men from Luxembourg —whose male citizens were drafted into the German Army after the Nazis had occupied their country — were taken from Siegburg Prison to some nearby ruins and shot. A Luxembourg fascist leader had been killed by the Résistance in Luxembourg, and the Nazis ordered that ten Luxembourg men who had evaded Wehrmacht conscription be shot in reprisal. To their credit, several Siegburg prison guards refused to participate in the execution, which they saw as unlawful.
According to post-war trial testimonials, hundreds of mostly non-German prisoners in Rheinbach and Siegburg Prisons had been ordered to be shot by the Cologne Gestapo, who saw the prisoners as a danger to the ‘Old Reich’ in light of the ever-nearing allied forces. When the Gestapo arrived with the intention of executing these prisoners, they discovered that the prisoners had been transported to prisons further from the encroaching allied front lines only hours earlier, narrowly escaping death.
There were still 2600 prisoners incarcerated in Siegburg Prison, including Islander Nelson Breton, when the US Army liberated the city on 12 April 1945. It is unknown if any of the prison staff, including prison director Carl Heider, ever served any prison time for their actions under the Nazi Regime, but state prosecutor Otto Schulz, upon whose orders the ten Luxembourg men were shot, was sentenced by a military tribunal in Hamburg to 3 years’ imprisonment in 1948. Nelson Breton and Frederick Duquemin survived the war, but like many of those who survived, probably suffered from a variety of chronic physical disabilities and post-traumatic stress disorders for the rest of their lives. Duquemin’s widow testified that his early death was a direct result of his time in Nazi captivity.
Siegburg Prison is still in active operation as a prison today with a capacity for 551 prisoners. There is no memorial on the site for the many political prisoners who suffered there under the Nazi Regime. A memorial plaque was installed in 1984 at the ruins of the Ulrather Hof, located 600 metres northwest of the prison, for the three young Luxembourg men who were executed there.
Carr, Gilly; Sanders, Paul; Willmot Louise: Protest, Defiance and Resistance in the Channel Islands: German Occupation, 1940-1945, Bloomsbury Academic, London & New York, 2014.
Herbers, Matthias: Organisationen im Krieg: Die Justizverwaltung im Oberlandesgerichtsbezirk Köln 1939-1945, Mohr Siebeck, 2012.
Sander, Erich: Gefängnisbriefe 1935-1944, Metropol Verlag, Berlin, 2016, p. 337 (in German).
The National Archives (TNA), Foreign Office (FO): TNA FO HNP/400 (Duquemin)
Wiener Archives, London
11362550 (Breton, Duquemin, Muels)