Channel Islander Imprisoned in Tittmoning Internment Camp
John Max Finkelstein
By Roderick Miller
Only one Channel Islander, John Finkelstein, is known to have been imprisoned in Tittmoning Internment Camp. The camp was located in a medieval fortress in the town of Tittmoning in the Traunstein district of Bavaria, Germany. The camp had the designation Oflag VII-C/Z, a German acronym for Offizierlager or ‘camp for officers’, though the camp was also used to intern allied male civilians.
Tittmoning Fortress (Burg Tittmoning) was built starting in the 1200s and was finished in the form as it is seen today around 1500. The fortress was turned into an interment camp for allied officers and enemy (i.e. non-German) civilians in February 1941. The camp was about 15 miles away from the much larger Laufen Internment Camp, where many Channel Islander were also interned. By 1943, Tittmoning was also being used as an interment camp for Jews who held passports from allied countries or so-called ‘promesas’, letters from consulates guaranteeing that a passport from an allied country was in process. Most of these Jews were Polish and had received temporary foreign passports in the Warsaw Ghetto, which gave them the status of so-called ‘privileged Jews’ (Vorzugsjuden) or ‘exchange Jews’ (Austauschjuden) in the racist jargon of the Third Reich.
These terms came from a plan of SS chief Heinrich Himmler and the SS-WHVA Main Economic and Administrative Office to keep a number of Jews with passports for allied countries not occupied by Nazi Germany alive and in good health in order to trade them for German civilians interned in allied camps. The plans were never fully realized, though it is probable that John Finkelstein, himself a Romanian Jew, was initially considered as part of this plan since he had worked for the British colonial administration for years. The fact that he was not a British citizen, however, may have had grave consequences for him. Finkelstein wrote in his 1964 claim testimonial:
I was arrested by the Gestapo in Jersey and left there on the 13th February 1943 by boat to St. Malo and then to the internment camp at Laufen. After a few days there I, with several other prisoners including four negroes, was sent to a concentration camp at Tittmonie [sic]. I spent several months there…
Prisoners in Tittmoning were, by all accounts, given decent shelter and food. The prisoners – non-Jewish Western European prisoners at least – were allowed to receive Red Cross parcels, although the prisoners suspected that the Germans sometimes withheld the parcels for themselves with the excuse that the deliveries had been held up by allied air raids. American jazz pianist Freddy Johnson, who played regularly with the famed Coleman Hawkins Trio, had been arrested by the Nazis in Amsterdam in 1941 and during his incarceration in Tittmoning was allowed to form a jazz band with several other musicians. This is an indication of the relatively good conditions in the camp, especially considering that jazz music was forbidden by the Nazis.
Whether Jewish prisoners were allowed similar freedoms is not known, but by 1944 most of the Jews in Tittmoning had been transferred to a so-called ‘residence camp’ section of Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp, from which less that 20% (2,560 of 14,700 total) were repatriated to allied countries and most of those remaining would perish. John Finkelstein had arrived in Tittmoning in late February 1943 and was transferred around 8 October of the same year to Munich Gestapo Prison and three weeks later to Buchenwald Concentration Camp.
It’s possible that if Finkelstein had had British citizenship, he would either have been repatriated to the UK before the end of the war or been sent to another internment camp. He managed to survive Buchenwald, perhaps in some part due to relatively good conditions in Tittmoning, and was liberated in Theresienstadt in 1945. Like most survivors, he probably suffered from a variety of chronic physical disabilities and post-traumatic stress disorders for the rest of his life.
Cohen, Frederick E.: The Jews in the Channel Islands during the German Occupation, 1940–1945, Institute of Contemporary History and Wiener Library Limited, 1998, p. 55
Kolb, Eberhard: Bergen-Belsen: Geschichte des “Aufenthaltlagers” 1933–1945, LIT Verlag, Münster, 2011, pp. 38, 45-46.
Lukes, George: emails about his time spent in Tittmoning with references to Red Cross packages being occasionally withheld by the Germans. Link
The National Archives (TNA), Foreign Office (FO):
TNA FO 950/1563 (Finkelstein)
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum: photograph of jazz musician Freddy Johnson playing the piano at Tittmoning Internment camp with jazz guitarist Johnny Mitchell. Link
Another photograph of guitarist Johnny Mitchell playing with Johnson in Tittmoning. Link