Saturday, May 11, 2013


The last of the POWs whose face is seen clearly on the photos taken in Katyn is a civilian, and his name has only been mentioned in one book, almost as an aside.  During the Madden Committee Hearings, both Colonel Van Vliet and Captain Stewart stated that they could not recollect his name, despite the fact that they recalled the names of the other officers and the names of various other individuals with whom they had only momentary contact.

Given the fact that they British government was severely irritated by the Congressional Committees planned hearings in Europe, it is highly probable that the Committee Counsel advised the officers that they should not mention Stroobant’s name.  There is only the mention by Captain Stewart that
There was a British civilian who was an internee a prisoner of war. This British internee had lived on one of the Channel Islands, either the Isle of Guernsey or the Isle of Man. I do not recall which one.

While Lt. Col. Van Vliet testified that there were
… and one British civilian internee. There names were once known to me and I have since forgotten them.

He was a civilian from the Channel Islands – the only British territory to be occupied by the Germans.  Starting in 1942, together with a small group of the local citizenry, he was held in the civilian camp for single men in Laufen, where he served in the role of Camp Senior, as a result of which he was designated to join the group of witnesses.  As becomes clear from Stroobant’s memoirs, the Germans first planned to send two civilians from Laufen – yet ultimately, and for unknown reasons, Stroobant was sent alone.

The Germans occupied the Channel Islands in the summer of 1940, and by that time almost half of the population, specifically mothers with children had been evacuated to England.  The 319 Wehrmacht Infantry Division was stationed on Guernsey and built fortifications, which were an extension of the German Atlantic Wall.  The Germans ordered life in the Islands in much the same fashion as they did in the rest of occupied Europe.

When, in September 1942, German citizens residing in Persia (now Iran) were arrested by the British, Adolf Hitler gave orders, as a reciprocating action, that the British civilians residing in the Channel Islands – the only British territory under German occupation, should be deported. As a result, orders were given that all men between 16-75 years of age, who had not been born in Guernsey or the other islands, together with their families as well as all individuals, whose permanent place of residence was not on the Islands, were to be removed

At the time of Frank Stroobant’s birth (1907) his parents were living in London (while the rest of the family remained in Guernsey).  Frank returned to Guernsey with his parents at the conclusion of World War I and the family resided there.  However, since he had not been born there, the German announcement applied to him, since he was born outside the Channel Islands and he was to be deported.  
His organizational abilities were the factor which caused him to become the ‘accidental’ leader of the group.  During their train trip, when the internees had not had any food for over 24 hours, it was Stroobant, who, during a stop at a railroad station, fought for and got hot soup for the group from the Red Cross.

After their arrival on the continent, the Guernsey civilians were sent to one of the Ilags, or Internierungslagers, camps for civilians.  The families (totaling about 1,000 individuals) were sent to Biberach, where, on the site of the former Oflag VB, the Germans formed Ilag VB. The single men were sent to Laufen in Bavaria, where until 1942, Oflag VII B (where Poles had been imprisoned) was located, which had then been converted into Ilag VII.  The Channel internees joined the ‘Americans’ who were already there, these were mainly the sons of US citizens who had returned to Europe, these men had never seen the States, nor did they in fact speak English, but they had received citizenship through their fathers. Frank Stroobant was married, but his wife and daughter had been evacuated in 1940 and as a result, he was considered single and so was sent to Laufen.

In a society which was very clearly stratified in terms of social class, it was to be expected that the role of Camp Senior (CS) would go to one of the notable citizens.  However, no doubt as a result of his practical abilities, as well as the fact that the notables were taken to Paris – it was Frank Stroobant who was elected Camp Senior in Laufen. One of the last surviving internees, Alfred J. Ingrouille, in a recent oral history interview, reminisced that Stroobant conducted matters between the camp authorities and the internees effectively, but that nonetheless, he was not universally accepted in the new role.  It is possible that his young age (he was in his mid-thirties) as well as his lack of education created this attitude.

Brother Andrew Earley, a monk who taught in a school on the Isle of Jersey was also held in Laufen and he wrote that
We heard terrible news of a massacre of Polish officers in the Katyn Forest. Posters were put up on our corridor walls. Who was responsible? … So, representatives from different POW camps were ordered to go and investigate the evidence.

© Krystyna Piórkowska