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  1. ITV Report

Victims of Nazi persecution reveal harrowing tales of cannibalism and torture in newly released files

Barbed wire surrounding Auschwitz concentation camp Credit: PA

Newly released files have revealed the harrowing stories of Nazi persecution victims in German concentration camps.

Survivors recount stories of "rampant" cannibalism and torture at the hands of the Gestapo as they fought to get compensation for their suffering.

Detailed applications for financial assistance made in the 1960s by UK victims of Nazi persecution and their families have been released by the National Archives for the first time.

In 1964 the Federal Republic of Germany agreed to pay the British Government £1 million - about £17 million in today's money - to those who had suffered, or their dependants if they had died.

The train tracks leading to Auschwitz concentration camp Credit: PA

More than 4,000 people applied and 1,015 awards of compensation were made by the Foreign Office.

For many, filling in the applications marked the first time they had confronted the horrors of their past.

But compensation was far from guaranteed - only those who spent time in a concentration camp or similar and were a British citizen would get payments.

  • Harold Le Druillenec - the only British survivor at Bergen-Belsen
Mr Le Druillenec's account of his experiences of cannibalism and torture Credit: PA

Mr Le Druillenec was arrested in Jersey - the Channel Islands were the only part of Britain occupied during the Second World War - the day before D-Day in 1944 for helping his sister harbour an escaped Russian prisoner of war, having a radio and for "non-co-operation" with German forces.

He was interned in three camps before being the first prisoner liberated from Belsen on April 16, 1945.

Mr Le Druillenec's first-hand account laid bare the horrors endured by prisoners under the Nazi regime.

He recalled that in Neuengamme they lived alongside "hardened" criminals and "laboured to the death for the ultimate benefit of the Greater Reich" while Banter Weg, also in Hamburg, was "a tough camp with torture and punishment the rule day and night. Means of putting inmates to death included beating, drowning, crucifixion, hanging in various stances ..."

But it was Belsen that was "infinitely more uncomfortable - no food, no water, sleep was impossible".

A memorial at Bergen Belsen Credit: PA

All my time here was spent in heaving dead bodies into the mass graves kindly dug for us by 'outside workers' for we no longer had the strength for that type of work which, fortunately, must have been observed by the camp authorities.

Jungle law reigned among the prisoners; at night you killed or were killed; by day cannibalism was rampant.

The bulk of Auschwitz had been transferred to Belsen when I arrived and it was here that I heard the expression 'there is only one way out of here - through the chimney!' (crematorium).

All in all a most unpleasant place, with the liberation of the camp coming not a moment too soon for me, for I had reached the stage of being a 'musselman' (Belsen expression for 'a Gandhi') which, in those circumstances, meant death within hours.

– Mr Le Druillenec's letter

He was freed after 10 months' imprisonment, during which he lost more than half his body weight, and spent almost a year recovering from the dysentery, scabies, malnutrition and septicaemia he suffered.

The Foreign Office eventually agreed to pay him compensation, awarding him £1,835 - around £30,000 today - for the time he spent imprisoned and his disabilities, which were deemed to be "less than 50%".

  • "Great Escape hero" Jimmy James
The reply from the Home Office detailing the compensation he would receive Credit: PA

A hero of the "Great Escape" who spent five months in solitary confinement in a German concentration camp was initially denied compensation by the British government after being told he had not endured enough hardship.

Flight Lieutenant Bertram "Jimmy" James was held prisoner for a year in Sachsenhausen camp after he and Allied officers were recaptured and spared execution following the daring escape from Stalag Luft III in March 1944.

Flt Lt James and his fellow detainees were kept under close guard by SS troops at the camp's Sonderlager A compound, and after trying to escape he was held in solitary confinement and lived under the constant threat of execution.

But 20 years later the government told him he was not entitled to compensation for Nazi persecution because he had not suffered enough.

A copy of an application for financial assistance made in the 1960s by Bertram Credit: PA

Flt Lt James wrote back to express his "disappointment" that the "scale of suffering and degradation" was not sufficient to warrant compensation, and gave a detailed account of how he had been interrogated and tortured, faced the fear of execution and watched as inmates were beaten and worked to death at another concentration camp before "their bodies were burnt in bonfires".

But the government still refused, saying the conditions he endured at Sachsenhausen, the FO said, were "in no way comparable".

It was only after a parliamentary inquiry was held in 1968 that it was decided the Sachsenhausen survivors should be compensated, and he was eventually awarded £1,192 and 15 shillings - around £18,500 today.

Four years before, Flt Lt James - at the time working in the British embassy in Prague - applied along with thousands of others for compensation over Nazi persecution.

  • Survivor Johanna Hill
A copy of an application for financial assistance made in the 1960s by Harold Le Druillenec Credit: PA

The former Austrian national was interrogated, held for six weeks and beaten by the Gestapo after her German Army husband betrayed her after catching her sheltering Allied prisoners of war.

In her application she described how they "hit me with their boot in my stomach, beaten me up, hair cut off, my garment torn to pieces, not much food and water, this went on days on end till I came delirious. After that I do not know what happen".

Found half frozen on a roadside, she eventually moved to Britain and married an Englishman, who did so knowing she could never have children "as the bad treatment which I received in the Gestapo prison has destroyed my body for the rest of my life".

But the government told her she was ineligible and should apply to Austria, where she was again rejected as she had spent 49 days in prison, not the required 90.