Harrowing tales of Nazi persecution uncovered in UK National Archives

Some 900 applications for compensation have been released

Nazis, World War II, British, National Archives, compensation, Foreign Office, Harold Le Druillenec

About 5,000 persons gathered at the site of the former Nazi extermination camp in a ceremony commemorating the 20th anniversary of the liberation of the camp by Allied Armies in Bergen-Belsen, West Germany | Image: Lohm / AP/Press Association Images

First-hand accounts of the horrors suffered by British victims of Nazi persecution have been made available to the public for the first time.

Harrowing tales of "rampant" cannibalism and "jungle law" in Nazi concentration camps have been uncovered in hundreds of records released by the British National Archives.

Some 900 applications for compensation, filed by the victims and their families in the 1960s, have been released so far, with 3,000 more to come by spring 2017.

The documents include an application from Harold Le Druillenec, the only British survivor found at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp who went on to give evidence at the Belsen Trials.

He wrote: "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)".

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

During his 10 months in the camp he lost more than half his body weight and was "hours" from death when the camp was liberated in April 1945.

He spent almost a year recovering from the dysentery, scabies, malnutrition and septicaemia he suffered.

He was awarded stg£1,835 (€2,324) - around €40,000 today - as a result of his application.

In 1964 the Federal Republic of Germany agreed to pay the British government stg£1m - about stg£17m (€21.5m) today - to give to British citizens who had suffered as a result of Nazi persecution.

In total, the UK Foreign Office paid 1,015 victims compensation, following more than 4,000 applications.

Among the recipients were:

  • Marsen Bronislaw

He was imprisoned in various camps including Buchenwald and Dachau. He claimed for concussion, kidney damage, bronchitis, thyroid trouble and renal colic.

The concussion was due to a heavy blow he received in Buchenwald which left him with permanent headaches.

The kidney damage was due to beatings during interrogations in Gestapo prison.

He recounted "continuous beating and killing" by the Germans and wrote: "I realised then that I was condemned to die".

He received just over stg£2,000 in compensation.

  • Molly Burgess Dessy 

She was arrested in 1943 for harbouring two American airmen in a flat in Brussels and taken to St Gilles prison where she was subjected to six months solitary confinement.

On February 9th 1945, she was sent to Ravensbruck concentration camp where she was told her name no longer existed and she was "as good as dead".

She was taken to be gassed on several occasions, sometimes waiting for 12 to 14 hours, but managed to escape death.

She left the concentration camp and was sent to an isolation hospital in Sweden with typhus.

She received stg£1,468 in compensation.

  • Frank Herbert Tuck

He was held in concentration camps for just over three years.

In his application he said he had suffered a back injury after being hit across the spine by a German guard. He also claimed for starvation, privation and excessive forced labour.

The UK Foreign Office eventually agreed to pay him the maximum amount of stg£4,000 compensation.