Blog: The niece of a political prisoner reflects on her journey to find the truth about his death
In June 1943, George Fox from Jersey was sentenced by the court of the Field Command 515 to two years’ imprisonment for ‘continual larceny’. He stole bread from the Germans to feed his family of eight during the Occupation.
He paid the ultimate price for his crime and died in Naumburg Prison in Germany in 1945, just weeks before the prison was liberated.
In this personal diary account, George's niece, Sandra Wakeham, reflects on her journey to France and Germany, where she learnt of the horrors her Uncle George endured in some of the harshest Nazi prisons in Europe.
Tuesday April 19th:
4am alarm, and 5.30am taxi.
So starts a trip like no other. Sophie Dulson and Greg Banner (the reporter and camera operator) meet me at Jersey airport for the red eye flight to Heathrow, and what had seemed an unlikely suggestion from them a couple of months ago, that we might retrace the awful journey of my Uncle George, is really happening. His fateful journey from Jersey to France, and then onto Germany, started on the 23rd June 1943 when he was sentenced by the German court to two years in prison for repeatedly stealing bread from the Germans food store. George and his wife Cecilia had seven children ranging in age from the eldest at 20 to the youngest who was only seven years old.
Historian, Dr Gilly Carr joined us at Heathrow, and then we flew on to Lyon, picked up a hire car, and two hours or so later arrived in Dijon, where we would find out more about George’s one way journey. It was strange for me being in such good company, yet I felt almost guilty as throughout, I constantly thought of George and his family. I almost wanted to halt time so that the terrible inevitable end could be changed, and history re written.
Wednesday April 20th:
Arrangements had been made for us to visit the archives at Dijon where original documents listing the inmates at Fort d’Hauteville prison had miraculously survived the seventy or so years. Seeing George’s name, along with others from Jersey was very emotional, and took a bit of lip biting. George had been sentenced with Clifford Queree, and there were also Canon Clifford Cohu, Frederick Page, and Joseph Tierney. All decent men sentenced for minor offences, but they were being made an example of to others.
We visited Fort d’Hauteville prison that afternoon to actually see how and where George had spent time. It seemed to have changed very little over the years, originally an army barracks, and then used by the Germans as a prison camp. George had been able to write a few letters home from here, but the icy coldness, even on a warm day, brought home to me how desperately he must have missed his family. He had put on a brave face in those letters, but Frank Falla’s first hand account in his book of the casual cruelty, and meagre rations in this place were in my thoughts.
George had fought at Guillemont, the Somme, and Passchendaele, and here he was at the mercy of an old enemy. It was very difficult to be where my uncle had been, remembering my parents happy memories of George in Jersey, and me standing on the same floor that George had walked along in this awful place. I went out into the warm sunshine, grateful for my life, and angry for George’s fate.
Thursday April 21st:
We leave Dijon. A busy day of flying from Lyon to Berlin, via Frankfurt. So many emotions, from gratitude for the exceptional research and hard work done by Sophie, Greg and Gilly, to feeling that George’s story, sad as it is, must be told and remembered.
Friday April 22nd:
We're in Berlin, it's a two hour or so drive to Naumburg Prison. It's due to be demolished and re-developed quite soon, so we are just in time to see the prison as it was, a building that had hardly changed since George arrived. He would have been shackled by hand and foot, and had to try and survive in a tiny cell, just over a metre wide. The cold is unbelievable, within five minutes my hands are freezing.
There is a tiny window high up in the cell, too high to see anything, and the door is about four inches thick, made of metal and wood with a peephole and a small hatch for food. This place is evil. Gilly tells me that George would have been subjected to hard labour which included bomb removals, and it was a wound he got on his thumb whilst doing this that resulted in an infection and ultimately his death on the 11 March 1945.
His friend Clifford Queree died on the 1st May 1945, Emile Paisnel died on the 29 August 1944, and Fredrick Page died on the 5th January 1945.
During the afternoon we have access to Naumburg Archives, with records of George’s time there. Details are written in ledgers for all to see and show the cruelty, starvation, and disregard for life. I am grateful to have seen these, and to know the truth, but I don't want to understand the people or system that had so little sympathy or imagination as to the suffering of their fellow human beings.
Saturday April 23rd:
The sun is shining, we bought beautiful, long stemmed red and white roses for the graves, and drove to the Berlin War Cemetery. It’s a lovely setting, well kept, birds singing and rows of white headstones clearly naming each person, mainly men, a few women. We find the grave of George James Fox with Clifford Queree beside him, Emile Paisnel, and Frederick Page there too, all in a line. They are surrounded by RAF men, mostly Bomber Command, that is strangely reassuring.
Writing this has brought tears to my eyes.
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