Harold Le Druillenec

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Harold Le Druillenec, Belsen survivor


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Harold Le Druillenec returned to Germany in 1946 to give evidence at the Nuremburg war crimes trials


One of only two British men to survive the German concentration camp at Belsen, Harold Le Druilllenec was imprisoned in 1944 after being convicted of listening to an illegally owned radio.


Family

Harold Osmond Le Druillenec was the youngest of nine children of Vincent Le Druillenec and Sainte-Francoise Sangan, and was born in St Ouen on 5 August 1911. His father died when he was only seven.

Harold won a scholarship from Les Landes School to Victoria College and then went to St Luke's College, Exeter, to train as a teacher. Having qualified he obtained a post at New Street School for boys.

He married Phyllis Le Rossignol, a neighbour at Bel Royal, where Harold lived with his mother, in 1937 and their daughter Mary was born the following year.

Occupation

When his sister Louisa Gould gave refuge to an escaped Russian forced worker, Feodor Burrij, in 1942, Harold helped to teach him English, but they were reported to the Germans by an informer and, together with their sister Ivy Forster, tried by a German court marshal for assisting an escaped prisoner. Harold was found not guilty of sheltering a prisoner but sentenced to five months imprisonment for failing to surrender a radio, discovered while the Germans were searching for the labourer.

Ivy Forster, who took in Feodor Burrij for a time and had also sheltered another escapee, was also sentenced to five months, but Louisa was given a two-year sentence for 'prohibited reception of wireless transmissions' and 'aiding and abetting breach of the working peace and unauthorised removal'.

Ivy managed to fake illness to avoid being sent to France with her siblings, who were part of a group of 20 Jersey men and women who were shipped to St Malo on 29 June, as the Allied armies moved towards the coast following the D-Day landings earlier in the month. They landed in St Malo two days after setting out and were taken to Rennes, where the railway station and prison were badly damaged in an Allied bombing raid before Louisa was moved out.

Harold was already on his way to Belfort in north-east France and saw his sister for the last time at the station there when she arrived en route to Ravensbruck, the women's concentration camp near Berlin.

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German camps

Harold was taken first to Neuengamme camp, outside Hamburg, where there were already 12,000 inmates, shortly to be joined by another 13,000 brought from Poland and Hungary. Harold was then sent to Wilhelmshaven, and forced to work as a welder in the naval base. On Good Friday 1945 the camp was evacuated and Harold spent five days and nights on a crowded cattle truck, before being but into a group which was separated from 100 other fellow prisoners who had survived a bombing raid on the train (250 died) and taken to Belsen. He was only there for five days before the camp was liberated by British soldiers, who found him in the last stages of emaciation.

He described what the camp was like during those five days in a BBC radio interview in 1946:

"I do not know if I shall succeed in giving you an idea of what life in Belsen was like on those last five days. I would like to point out that we suffered from, firstly, starvation, absolute starvation; secondly, complete lack of water for some six days; thirdly, lack of sleep, a few minutes sleep near the burial pits was occasionally possible; fourthly, to be covered with lice and delousing onself three or four times a day proving absolutely useless. If one sat inside the hut or outside in the yard one was covered within five or ten minutes. Then the fatalistic attitude among the prisoners towards what the end would certainly be – the crematorium or the pits.
"After this the foul stench and vileness of the place which we saw for the whole daylight day by day, the blows on the head, the hideous work, and in the last three days the Hungarian guards shooting at us just as if we were rabbits, from all directions. If you can picture all this, the sum total as it were, hitting a man all at once, then maybe you will get a remote inkling of what life was like in Belsen those last three days.
"In the two previous camps there was an attempt made at cleanliness, although the atrocities or sadism in the other camps were worse than Belsen. I think I can fairly describe Belsen as probably the foulest and vilest spot that ever soiled the surface of this earth."
This photograph from the Imperial War Museum collection has been widely used and often described as showing Harold Le Druillenc talking to British soldiers after Bergen-Belsen was relieved in 1945. He was originally named as the only British survivor of the camp, but it is now known that this was another British survivor, Louis Bonerguer

Trial

Harold Le Druillenec, who was then believed to be the only surviving British prisoner, gave evidence at the Belsen trial held by a military court in Luneberg in September 1945, when Josef Kramer and 44 other camp guards were accused of war crimes.

Still not restored to full health, he was forced to relive the terrible experience he had undergone only months before.

Recovery

Harold needed prolonged hospital treatment after being freed from Belsen, and at the end of 1945 he was given the honour of introducing the King's Christmas Day broadcast, again recalling his experiences:

"At this very hour last year I, together with thousands of others, was standing on the parade ground of a German concentration camp; we stood there for five hours at a temperature of twenty degrees below zero. When we entered that camp the German commandant told us:'You are entering a new world in which you will have no contact with the world outside. If you have wives and children, forget them! You will ever see them again.' For nearly all my comrades in that camp and for untold thousands who had passed through the gates before us, those words were only too true."

Teaching

Mr Le Druillenec raturned to teaching in Jersey and in 1949 he was appointed headmaster of St John's School, retiring in 1971. He was awarded the French Medaille de la Resistance and he received an inscribed gold watch from the Russian Ambassador, before travelling to Russia with Norman Le Brocq to meet the men they had helped. On his retirement he was made MBE for his services to education. He died at the age of 73 in 1985.
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