8th April 1909

Occupation prisoner Paul Desire Gourdan is born

Paul Gourdan was one of the many unfortunate islanders who was transported to mainland Europe to serve a prison sentence during the Occupation. He was found guilty of larceny – effectively theft – and sentenced to three years and three months in prison.

At the end of the Occupation, the Jersey Evening Post printed an extensive interview with Gourdan who described in detail his experiences in mainland Europe, although according to the Frank Falla Archive, some of the statements have been called into question.

Horrific sights

He claimed to have seen 2000 Jewish people burned alive, and women and children hanging from trees with their stomachs slashed open because they were Polish. Prisoners in Buchenwald were, he said, fed human fat recovered from dead bodies, and he’d “seen women… cutting the hearts and livers out of bodies of other women to eat because they were starving”.

Gourdan said that he escaped from Buchenwald by climbing over a pile of dead bodies, which saved him from electrocution on the fence that surrounded the camp, but was recaptured and treated as an enemy spy. Salvation came in the form of American soldiers, who eventually recognised him as an escaped prisoner.

The journalist who wrote up the interview in the Evening Post of 8 July 1945 commented, “it is almost an incredible story, yet I have not exaggerated one word of what he told me – in fact, I have left out a good deal of it, for it would almost make a book”.

A companion appears

In 1966, a lawyer in Florida supplied the Foreign Office with a statement from Jack Harper, previously a member of Guernsey Police, who arrived in France on the same boat as Gourdan, and explained how the two had been put to work laying railway lines – something that hadn’t appeared in Gourdan’s interview. Harper said they had made an escape attempt, and that while Harper had been quickly recaptured, Gourdan had not. The next time the two met, they were both in Augsburg, and Gourdan had told him that he’d made it as far as the Belgian border before being recaptured.


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