Channel Islander Imprisoned in Stalag X-B / Sandbostel Concentration Camp:
Francois (Frank) Rene Julien Le Villio
Only one Channel Islander is known to have been incarcerated in Stalag X-B / Sandbostel Concentration Camp (Lager Sandbostel) in the town of Sandbostel in the German state of Lower Saxony, about 27 miles north-east of the city of Bremen. Planning for a labour camp for convicts was begun as early as 1926 and the camp was opened in November 1932. The camp was taken over by the Nazis in May 1933 and used by the Reich Labour Service (Reichsarbeitsdienst) until 1938. After the start of the Second World War in September 1939, the camp was turned into a prisoner of war (POW) camp for Polish prisoners and given the appellation Stalag X-B. Civilians from allied nations were also interned in the camp in its early stages as enemy aliens. The word Stalag is a German acronym for Stammlager or ‘main camp’ and was the standard term for German POW camps.
The camp was located, according to a 1944 report of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), on an isolated sand-hill amidst the heather. The area of the camp occupied 500 by 700 metres, or about 86 acres, and consisted primarily of wooden barracks. POWs were separated within the camp by groups, and the treatments given to the different prisoner groups varied drastically. The Red Cross was not given access to Soviet prisoners, but visited the other sections of the camp on twelve occasions between 1940 and 1945 and initially gave the camp a rating of ‘very good’ in terms of its treatment of prisoners, despite the fact that a number of Polish, French, and Belgian prisoners were sleeping in tents on the bare earth from 1941 onwards.
In its early stages, most of the (non-Soviet) POWs lived in heated barracks with running water and could take hot showers once a week. The POWs were given nutritional meals and no complaints were made by them to the ICRC on this account. Later visits recorded complaints from prisoners solely on the poor situation as regards clothing supplies.
In autumn 1941 the enemy alien civilian internees were moved to Milag and Marlag camp in Westertimke, about 18 miles away. The first Soviet prisoners of war were brought to Stalag X-B in October 1941 and more that 3000 of them died from hunger, disease and exposure the following winter. By summer 1942, outbreaks of typhus and tuberculosis had broken out among the remaining Soviet prisoners and had spread to the other sections of the camp and even to the guards. Formerly, de-lousing procedures had kept the vermin to a minimum, but by mid-1942 the entire camp was overrun with lice and bedbugs. The quality and quantity of the food rations too began to diminish and hot showers became less common.
With the capitulation of fascist Italy in September 1943, up to 67,000 Italian ‘military internees’ (the term is a Nazi one not covered by the Geneva Convention) were imprisoned in Sandbostel and a sub-camp in nearby Wietzendorf. Most of them were immediately sent out on work commandos, with only the Italian officers remaining behind in Sandbostel.
By October 1944, the camp’s capacity was severely exceeded and the prisoners began protesting to the ICRC about further reduced rations, activity rooms and libraries being cleared to make way for new prisoners from Warsaw. The ICRC recommended officially that the barracks be burned as they were completely saturated with vermin. By the last ICRC visit in March 1945, rating for Stalag X-B and fallen to ‘bad’ and the ICRC accused the camp’s leaders of doing nothing to improve the conditions for the POWs. Prisoners were sleeping on filthy mattresses on vermin-infested bare wooden floors. The POWs were, in direct violation of the Geneva convention, receiving only one-third of the rations given to the German Army.
A delegation of the British and American Red Cross was able to visit Stalag X-B one last time on 13 April 1945. They reported that of 700 American POWs, most were undernourished, suffering from diarrhoea, sleeping on bare wooden floors without a mattress and only half had blankets. By this point, concentration camp prisoners had already arrived in the camp, but there is no mention of them in the Red Cross report.
By late March 1945 and the encroachment of allied forces, Neuengamme Concentration Camp, about 50 miles distant from Sandbostel, began evacuations of prisoners from its main location and sub-camps. Most of the prisoners were transported to Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp, Wöbbelin Concentration Camp, and Stalag X-B in Sandbostel. The arrival of Neuengamme prisoners at Stalag X-B in late March to late April 1945 turned what was a prisoner of war camp with poor conditions into a the conditions of a full-blown concentration camp.
There is no evidence that Sandbostel was ever an official sub-camp of Neuengamme, and it appears rather to have involved a desperate, improvised move by the Nazis to house prisoners who had been ordered to be evacuated from Neuengamme camps: Stalag X-B was simply a camp that happened to be nearby. The ITS Catalogue of Camps and Prisons (see Sources below) calls Sandbostel an Evakuierungslager or ‘evacuation camp’ of Neuengamme, the term itself suggesting its improvised nature.
19-year-old Channel Islander Frank Le Villio was transported or force marched from Neuengamme to Sandbostel sometime between late March and late April 1945. He was in the concentration camp prisoners’ section of the camp, which was divided from the POW sections of the camp with barbed wire fences. On 19 April, the concentration camp prisoners organised a hunger revolt and in retribution the remaining camp guards killed over 300 of them. Le Villio eventually managed to make contact with some British POWs, who sneaked him into their section of the camp on 24 April, put him in a mixed army uniform and managed to keep him hidden in their barracks from German guards. His appearance as a soldier, despite his youth, apparently went unnoticed by a German officer who struck him in the hand with the butt of his revolver at some point to get him to move out of the way.
Stalag X-B / Sandbostel Concentration Camp was liberated by British troops on 29 April 1945. The British troops were quick to nickname Sandbostel ‘a miniature Belsen’: what greeted them were scenes of half-naked skeletal corpses sprawled in random heaps in the barracks and mud-filled streets of the camp. Of the estimated 9500 concentration camp prisoners who arrived in April 1945, by 29 April only 6800 were still alive, and many more would die from the results of disease, hunger and exposure over the coming months. Many of the barracks were burnt to the ground in an effort to stem the spread of typhus.
The British military led an investigation into war crimes committed at Sandbostel, but it appears that no members of the camp’s staff were ever charged with any crimes.
After the war, Sandbostel was used by the British Army as a civilian internment camp and to imprison suspected Nazi war criminals. Later the German government used the camp as a penal camp for criminal offenders, lastly as a displaced persons camp for young male refugees from communist East Germany, and then as a storage depot for the West German Army. A memorial erected by the Soviets after the war that claimed 46,000 Soviet dead was demolished in 1956 because the Lower Saxony Ministry of the Interior thought the count too high and considered the memorial to be Soviet propaganda. Thousands of Soviets did, however, die in the camp. In 1974, the camp was privatised and sold to local business interests.
In late 2004, a non-profit group called Gedenkstätte Lager Sandbostel was founded, and in 2007 a temporary memorial was erected. About one third of the original camp exists today, with 22 historical buildings intact in the former Soviet section of the camp. The memorial is open to the public for most of the year and has an informative website in nine languages, including English.
Channel Islander Frank Le Villio survived liberation and moved to Nottingham, England. He had contracted tuberculosis during his time in Nazi camps and died in September 1946, less than two weeks after his 21st birthday. He was buried with six others in an unmarked grave in Nottingham and the whereabouts of his grave, previously unknown to his family, was only discovered by researchers in spring 2017. His remains may someday be returned to his native Jersey.
Carr, Gilly; Sanders, Paul; Willmot, Louise: Protest, Defiance and Resistance in the Channel Islands: German Occupation, 1940-1945, Bloomsbury Academic, London & New York, 2014.
Engels, Dörthe: Lebenssituationen unterschiedlicher Gefangenengruppen im Kriegsgefangenen- und KZ-Auffanglager Sandbostel – Probleme im Umgang mit historischen Quellen, 14 January 2012 (in German) Link
Imperial War Museum, No. 5 Army Film and Photo Section, Secret Caption Sheet No. 4/1: Caption sheet from a British Army film crew dated 1. May 1945, with details of Le Villio’s biography in Sandbostel.
International Tracing Service Arolson, Catalogue of Camps and Prisons in Germany and German-occupied Territories, 1949-1951, pp. 71, 1070.
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, p. 1081
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 Wiener Archive, International Tracing Service:
Documents on Frank Le Villio:, reference numbers 31818654, 31818655, 31818656, 4395280, 4395286, 108322168, and 108322154.