By Roderick Miller
Four Channel Islanders are known to have been imprisoned in Straubing Prison (Zuchthaus und Sicherungsanstalt Straubing, Justizvollzugsanstalt Straubing) in the city of Straubing in the state of Bavaria in Germany. Straubing Prison was built between 1898 and 1902 for use as the state prison of the then Kingdom of Bavaria. The prison is a large double ‘t’ shaped structure made of plastered brick with a red tile roof. Like all prisons in the Third Reich, Straubing Prison was used to incarcerate criminal as well as political prisoners.
The four Channel Islanders arrived in Straubing in March or early April 1945, a number of them having been forced marched there or packed into cattle trucks.
On leaving Frankfurt early in March following the advance of the Allies – and when the Americans reached Mainz were nearly on top of us – we were taken and transported firstly open trucks, jammed together like sardines on an indescribable journey. Later we were turned out of the trucks and travelling on foot were forced marched all day for several weeks. There were several thousand of us, stretching about three miles along the road. On one occasion when fear among the Nazis was at its height, we were taken into a large, low building which looked like a disused soldiers’ training camp, and all of us were ordered to kneel down facing the wall with the SS parading in the centre flourishing their rifles. Luckily for us, the order to fire never came and we could hardly believe our luck for every one of us thought we were going to be shot in cold blood as we were becoming a handicap to the fleeing Germans. Our march continued the next day and we went four days without food of any kind and later at another camp where we halted 14 prisoners died and their bodies had to be hidden behind the buildings’ black-outs until the prisoners themselves were eventually allowed to take out the bodies and bury them, though, God knows, they hardly had enough strength to dig the graves. Lice, exposure, sore feet, dysentery and other illnesses took their toll. Many were shot trying to escape the column, as were others who reached the stage when they just could not carry on. After a stay of over two weeks at Straubing we were on the march again, this time destined for Dachau. – Norman Dexter, October 1964
The last prison was a very large prison in Straubing, Bavaria. […] I did not work at this prison, I was confined to my cell for my duration there. This prison was administered by the military and SS. Upon arrival we were herded into the prison shower aided by beatings with pieces of wood, the target being the kidneys. My duration at this prison was short, early one morning we left on the march for Dachau. – Gerald Domaille, October 1964
On 25 April 1945, under orders of the SS, around 3000 prisoners in Straubing began a forced march towards Dachau, guarded by around 100 prison guards armed with rifles. The prisoners had only blankets for protection against the cold and only wooden shoes on their feet. On the first day, 400 prisoners were able to escape, as the prison guards did not fire on the prisoners directly but only into the air, as survivors later testified. The prisoners had little or nothing to eat, and soon discarded their blankets as the constant rains made them too heavy to carry. As the days went on, a number of prisoners who were unable to march further due to exhaustion were shot by their guards. As US troops began to encroach near the columns of prisoners, the Nazi guards decided on 28 April to reverse course back to Straubing. Around 250 prisoners were liberated by a US tank division between Freising and Munich.
Sydney Ashcroft, too ill to join the forced march, had been placed in the Straubing Prison hospital.
I was the last known person to see him [Sydney Ashcroft] when we were at prison in Straubing in Germany, where we had arrived after rail transport from Frankfurt. […] I’m sure the authorities concerned will know it. On the morning of 24th April 1945 about 4,800 civil political and criminal prisoners were lined up in the prison yard and the director of the prison picked out the worst cases of illness, weak, or most wretched-looking persons. Sydney Ashcroft was put with them. Although his condition was poor, had he been given the same food as we had to eat – what little he could have eaten as his throat was troubling him – as far аs I can judge he would have lived at least a week. — Walter Lainé, October 1964.
Sydney Ashcroft was liberated in Straubing Prison by troops of the US First Army three days later on 27 April 1945. He did not recover, however, and died in Straubing Prison hospital on 15 May 1945. He was buried in nearby St Michael Cemetery but did not have a marker on his grave until his relative Chris Roberts provided one in 2015.
There are a number of memorials in the region to prisoners who died in the numerous death marches, but as of date (2017) none at Straubing Prison for the many who suffered and died there during the Nazi regime.
Norman Dexter, Charles Domaille and Walter Lainé were liberated from the forced march by US troops on 30 April 1945. Like most survivors, they would probably suffer from a variety of chronic physical disabilities and post-traumatic stress disorders for the rest of their lives.
Carr, Gilly; Sanders, Paul; Willmot, Louise: Protest, Defiance and Resistance in the Channel Islands: German Occupation, 1940-1945, Bloomsbury Academic, London & New York, 2014.
Bund der Strafvollzugsbediensteten (publishers): ‘100 Jahre Landesverband der Bayerischen Justizvollzugsbediensteten Jubiläumsveranstaltung in Straubing: Ausführliche Chronik’ by Anton Bachl in Der Vollzugsdienst, 1 / 2006 February (in German).
International Tracing Service Arolson (publisher), Catalogue of Camps and Prisons in Germany and German-occupied Territories, Arolsen, 1949-1951.
The National Archives (TNA), Foreign Office (FO)
TNA FO 950/2064 (Dexter)
TNA FO 950/2067 (Domaille)
TNA FO HNP/1195 (Lainé)
Wiener Library, London (International Tracing Service):
refs. 11769092/0/1, 11538657/0/1, 70445602/0/1, 70237524/0/1 (Ashcroft)
Wohnout, Helmut: Demokratie und Geschichte, Böhlau Verlag, Vienna 1998, (in German).
Zenker, Karl-Heinz: ‘Todesmärsche durch den Landkreis Freising im April 1945, in Fink Magazin, 23 April 2015 (in German). LINK