International Holocaust Remembrance Day
Peter Painter OV
11 April 1924 – 27 November 1944
On International Holocaust Remembrance Day, 27 January, we remember the six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust, and the millions of other victims of Nazi persecution. The date marks the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi death camp, in 1945.
During the Occupation of Jersey from 1940 to 1945, dozens of Islanders were deported to Germany for offences against the occupying forces. Many of these offences were trivial, others highly significant. Of these Islanders, 21 perished in Hitler’s prisons and concentration camps, among them some who had committed no offence at all. One of them was an Old Victorian.
Peter Painter was born in St Helier, Jersey, on 11 April 1924. He lived with his parents, Dorothy and Clarence Painter, and had three siblings: Joan, John (also an OV) and Dorothy on New Zealand Avenue, just the other side of College Field. Peter was variously described as a ‘generous and unassuming’ young man, ‘wise beyond his years’ and destined ‘to succeed in life’. He joined Victoria College in the Christmas term of 1935 and would stay until early 1943. Described as “a first-class sportsman” he had gained his colours for Cricket and Hockey and his name can be found on the relevant Sports shield in the school’s main corridor.
Appointed as a Prefect, he was also made Bruce House Captain. He was actively involved with the Scouts and held illegal meetings of the troop in his house during the Occupation. Peter had planned to serve in the Royal Navy after leaving College, but the advent of the Second World War and Occupation of Jersey, unfortunately put pay to those plans. His brother, John would join the RAF and survive the war.
He was frustrated by the wasted years under German occupation and, with friends, took photos of German planes and assembled a map of German fortifications. He was a courageous young man who wanted to defy the occupiers.
His father, Clarence, owned a wireless set and ‘used to carry the news to many people as well as allowing some to come to listen when there was something of importance.’ However, an informer tipped off the Germans and, on 6 November 1943, the German military police came to the Painter house when Clarence Painter was out and searched it. They found a wireless, spare parts, and a camera, but not Peter’s maps. They also found a Mauser pistol hidden in the wardrobe – a souvenir of the First World War which had been moved by Peter from his uncle’s house before it was requisitioned. Upon finding the gun, the policeman told Peter ‘This is most serious. I fear it will go hard with you over this. It is much too serious for me to overlook it.’
Peter and Clarence Painter were told to present themselves to the German Military Police on Bagatelle Road the next morning, where Peter tried to take responsibility for the wireless set, saying that his mother knew nothing about it, and swore that they had never spread the news. Clarence was held responsible for the gun as he fitted the Germans’ assumed profile of a resistance activist.
His father was immediately arrested and then on 10 November, Peter was taken to prison. Initially put in solitary confinement, although later placed in a cell with his father, family members were allowed to visit twice a week with blankets and food.
However, on 21 December 1943 the family were refused visits to the prison and discovered that orders had been received to send Clarence and Peter to France ‘without knowledge of the family’. They were deported on 21 or 22 December.
The pair arrived in Cherche-Midi Prison in Paris, on 23 December 1943. This was their first destination before they were sent to Natzweiler-Struthof Concentration Camp, arriving on 7 January 1944, As the only British subjects in the camp, they were not sent out to work because of their nationality, but were ‘confined daily … Bad food and rough treatment gradually lowered the Painters’ physical condition.’
On 19 April 1944, the Painters were transferred to Dietzdorf Forced Labour Camp and Wohlau Prison in Silesia, now in Poland, for ten days. On 2 May 1944 they were transferred from the prison itself to a work commando at Dietzdorf from which they were sent to work in a munitions factory making armoured turrets for planes, and where they were ‘well enough fed.’ On 20 August 1944 they were sent on another forced labour commando. A witness testified later that they worked ‘the on the verges of a canal where we levelled the sand which was there. The work was not too hard, the food clean and sufficient, and we were treated as prisoners of war and had almost forgotten our stay at the camp.’
On October 27 1944, the Painters arrived at Gross-Rosen concentration camp from the working commando near Dietzdorf. They worked during the day in a quarry carrying heavy stones. Here the treatment was really bad. The Germans had dogs and whoever didn’t work fast enough was bitten; they also had foreigners (mostly Poles and Czechs) in that S.S. camp whose job it was to ‘liven up’ the prisoners, using fists, feet and clubs. They only had light soup once a day for food. They were put in barrack rooms where they had to sit to sleep.
Owing to his light clothing, Peter caught a cold and was transferred to No. 5 Block Medical Infirmary Room. There he slept on the floor naked and on a filthy straw mattress and was treated only with aspirin. He developed pneumonia and died in his father’s arms due to lack of treatment, the only doctors being themselves prisoners. Peter’s body was then burned.
Peter Painter died on 27 November 1944. His father died in 16 February 1945 of malnourishment. They were two of 40,000 deaths at Gross Rosen
Clarence and Peter Painter are known to us as two of the ‘Jersey 21’ whose names have been engraved on the Lighthouse Memorial as Islanders who did not return from camps and prisons after the war.
International Red Cross records confirm that Clarence and Peter Painter were classed as NN (Nacht und Nebel – Night and Fog) prisoners, a decree aimed at deterring resisters, whereby prisoners were held cut off from any contact with the outside world, including their families and friends. Their whereabouts were kept secret, and they were also separated from other prisoners who might either share news with them, carry messages to the outside world, or testify to their presence. Their next of kin were not allowed to be informed about their fate or place of death, and NN prisoners were not allowed any medical treatment. The NN decree was officially classified as a war crime at the Nuremberg Trials.
Peter Edward Painter is also remembered on the Second World War memorial in the main College building, and recorded in the Book of Remembrance. In particular, we remember him today.