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December 30, 2012

British SOE agent Bruce Dowding was executed by beheading (Fallbeil) during World War II

Filed under: Dachau, Germany, World War II — Tags: , , , — furtherglory @ 10:52 am

I received the following information yesterday from Peter Dowding in e-mail:

I have an eyewitness account of the execution of my Uncle Kenneth Bruce Dowding – an Australian – at Dortmund on 30 June 1943 together with a number of others who had been arrested and treated as NN prisoners following their involvement in the “Pat Line”.  The execution was by beheading using a Fallbeil such as was used to execute Sophie Scholl in Munich as depicted in the film the White Rose. I believe that many Nacht & Nebel prisoners who were not placed in Concentration camps were similarly executed- not by hanging.

Bruce Dowding was a secret agent in the British SOE; he was a member of the “Pat Line,” named after British SOE agent Albert Guérisse, who was using the fake name Patrick O’Leary.  The “Pat Line” operated an escape line for downed fliers.

The SOE was the Special Operations Executive, a British spy organization, which was established by Winston Churchill and given the mission to “set Europe ablaze.” The SOE carried on espionage and sabotage operations during World War II, as well as operating escape lines to send downed fliers through Spain and back to England.

To the British, the SOE agents are heroes who helped to liberate Europe from Fascism by means of espionage and sabotage, but to the Germans, during World War II, the SOE agents were “terrorists,” operating illegally to help the “French resistance bandits” to destroy factories, blow up troop trains and worst of all, to delay German Panzer divisions from reaching Normandy until it was too late to stop the Allied invasion of Europe.

The SOE supplied arms, money and food for the insurgents fighting the Nazis. It was a secret organization because it was against international law to provide military aid to countries that had laid down their arms and signed an Armistice, promising to stop fighting.

The following excerpt is from an article that was written by Peter Dowding in 1998; you can read the article in full here.

The family then received letters in December 1939, in February 1940 when he [Bruce Dowding] joined the Army and June and July 1940 when he was a prisoner of War. After this Bruce wrote a post card on 19 July 1942 to say that he was “absolutely safe” but a prisoner at Stalag Vl/G ( there was no POW number on this post card). It was not until 1947 that the family learned of his fate which was detailed in a letter (27.01.47) from a Father Steinhoffer who had attended his execution and that of nine Belgian and French men on 30 June 1943. [According to some accounts he was beheaded]

He was Corporal 131722 Royal Army Service Corps, Boulogne Sub Area, BEF. Bruce was captured at Dunkirk on 22 May 1940. He was a prisoner at Stammlager 6C and Fronstalag 151 at (?) Mont Argis and on about 27 August 1940 tried to escape, according to the Red Cross, from a train taking prisoners to another Stalag. A fellow prisoner later stated that Bruce had hidden in a sewer with two others who were shot and Bruce recaptured. He was placed in a POW prison and escaped (according to the informant Julian Verlest) by leaving with a French worker dressed in the civilian clothes of another worker who remained behind.

It is clear that he made his way to Marseilles and by Christmas 1940 was associating with the members of the escape organisation [Pat O’Leary line]. On the day Pétain visited Marseilles Bruce was having coffee with Norman Hinton and Mme de Ségur. By 1941 he had a code name ‘André Mason’.

In February 1941 he was actively engaged in assisting the escape route and was a friend of Donald Caskie. He was responsible for taking prisoners towards the Spanish boarder by train, via Toulouse and Perpignan.

In November 1941 Bruce was in the flat of Dr Rodocanachi with Pat O’Leary, Mario Prassinos, Léoni Savinos, Dupré and Paul Cole, after the arrest of Ian Garrow. Bruce wanted to execute Cole as a traitor. Cole escaped [from a bathroom window while the traitor’s fate was being decided and he was being guarded by Bruce Dowding].

Bruce and O’Leary went to the [northern] headquarters of the escape organisation in Lille, in Occupied France, to warn of Cole’s treachery. There on the 8 December 1941 the Gestapo arrested members of the escape group including the Abbé Carpantier. All had been betrayed by Cole. Bruce kept warning other members of the group and on his third call on 9 or 10 December he too was arrested. The Abbé was taken to Loos Prison Lille. O’Leary later reported that Bruce had been held at St Omer (Nord ) Loos, Lille, then being deported to Bochum in Germany. Verlest later reported that Bruce was a political prisoner.

On 22 June 1942 Bruce wrote to the British High Commissioner for Australia that he was in the best of health at Stammlager Vl/C in Germany. On 19 July 1942 Bruce wrote a post card to his family but with no POW number, referring to his “absolute safety”. In September 1942 the War Office reported that he was a POW. O’Leary reported to the War Office that Bruce had been tried and on 1 March 1943 been found guilty of (?) and sentenced to death.

In 1947 the family first had it confirmed that Bruce had been executed on 30 June 1943 at Dortmund. He had been taken to Dortmund jail on 29 June 1943 for the execution. He was cremated 12 July 1943 and interred in an unmarked grave in Dortmund cemetery. Later his remains were moved to a War Cemetery at (?). On 13 September 1946 Bruce was ‘mentioned in despatches’ for ‘gallant and distinguished services in the field’. He was posthumously issued with a Certificate of Appreciation by the Bureau de Recherches sur l’Aide Apportée aux Evadés Allies.

According to Peter Dowding, his uncle, Bruce Dowding, had been put on trial and found guilty, but apparently his family never learned what crime he had been found guilty of.  Strangely, Albert Guérisse, aka Patrick O’Leary, who was in charge of the “Pat Line,” which helped downed flyers to escape, was never put on trial. Or maybe Guérisse was put on trial, but was not convicted. Maybe he was convicted, but the Germans never got around to executing him.

This website mentions that Patrick O’Leary was sentenced to death, but he was not executed, for some unknown reason.  This quote is from the website:

Facing an end in Dachau
Within three weeks London knew O’Leary had been captured. O’Leary took all the responsibility on himself, to prevent further damage. A young member of the Line, Fabien de Cortes, was helped by O’Leary to jump from the train on their way to Paris. Cortes managed to reach Geneva where he relayed what O’Leary had told him about Roger Le Neveu (alias Roger Le Légionnaire, possibly an associate of Cole). De Cortes returned to France and was soon arrested; he, Groome and Louis Nouveau all survived their concentration camps.

O’Leary was tortured to make him reveal the names, duties and whereabouts of the other members of the line. He was put in a refrigerator for several hours and then beaten continuously but did not disclose any information of use to the Germans. He was then held under the Nazis’ infamous Nacht und Nebel procedure in a series of concentration camps, beginning at Natzweiler and ending at Dachau.

Bruce Dowding was also classified as a Nacht und Nebel prisoner, according to Peter Dowding. The Nacht und Nebel classification was used for prisoners who were sent to a concentration camp, but their relatives were never told what had happened to them.  They were made to disappear into the Night and Fog. (Nacht and Nebel in German)  Nacht und Nebel prisoners were not killed, but their relatives assumed that they had been killed because they were never heard from again.

Before the Dachau camp was liberated by American troops on April 29, 1945, the acting Commandant and most of the SS guards left the camp the night before, after turning the camp over to the International Committee of Dachau, which was headed by Albert Guérisse, aka Patrick O’Leary.

The color photo below shows some of the members of the International Committee of Dachau. I believe that the second man from the left, who is wearing a cardigan sweater and an overcoat, is Albert Guérisse, a British SOE agent from Belgium. He was one of five British SOE agents at Dachau, who had survived the Nazi concentration camps at Mauthausen in Austria and Natzweiler in Alsace before being transferred to Dachau.

Prisoners at Dachau after they were liberated

Prisoners at Dachau after they were liberated

Compare the man in the photo above to a photo of Albert Guérisse, taken after the war.

Patrick O'Leary with his wife

Albert Guerisse with his wife

Bruce Dowding and Albert Guierisse were both British SOE agents and both were with “the Pat Line,” named after Patrick O’Leary.  Why was Guierisse allowed to live, and to organize an International Committee at Dachau, while Dowding was beheaded and his body cremated?

Here is what Wikipedia has to say about Fallbeil executions in Germany:

In Nazi Germany, the guillotine was reserved for criminal convicts and political crimes including treason. A famous example of the guillotine being used was on the members of the White Rose resistance movement, a group of students in Munich that included siblings Sophie and Hans Scholl. Contrary to popular myth, executions were generally not conducted face-up, and chief executioner Johann Reichhart was peculiarly insistent on maintaining “professional” protocol throughout the era, having administered the death penalty during the earlier Weimar era. Nonetheless, the Nazis’ use of the Fallbeil was chillingly routine. It is estimated that some 16,500 persons were guillotined in Germany and Austria between 1933 and 1945. This number includes resistance fighters both in Nazi Germany itself and in those countries that were occupied by them. As these resistance fighters were not part of any regular army they were considered common criminals and were in many cases taken to Germany and decapitated. Decapitation was considered a “dishonorable” death, unlike an “honorable” death: e.g., execution by firing squad.[citation needed]

The Fallbeil was used for the last time in West Germany in 1949, in East Germany in 1966.

The Japanese also did executions by beheading, as the photo below shows.

An Australian POW is beheaded by Japanese

An Australian POW is beheaded by Japanese

The photo above shows Sgt. Leonard Siffleet, an Australian POW, who was captured by the Japanese in New Guinea during World War II. He is about to be beheaded with a sword in 1943, the same year that Bruce Dowding was beheaded by the Germans.

The Buchenwald concentration camp and the Treblinka “extermination camp” both had a zoo

Filed under: Buchenwald, Germany, Holocaust — Tags: , , — furtherglory @ 6:23 am

There is an on-going discussion in the comments section of my blog about the mislabeling of photos by Holocaust Museums.  For example, the photo below, which is shown on the Yad Vashem Museum website here.

Bears in the Treblinka zoo

Photo of the Treblinka zoo on Yad Vashem website

Photo of bears, enhanced in PhotoShop

Same photo of bears, enhanced in PhotoShop

I have added an enhanced version of the photo. Notice the background, which shows a stone structure, like the one at Buchenwald zoo.

Here is the caption on the photo above, as it is written on the Yad Vashem website:

Treblinka, Poland, Bears in the menagerie belonging to the camp command.
Belongs to collection:
Yad Vashem Photo Archive
Additional Information:
The photograph is from the private album of Kurt Franz from the time of his service as Deputy Commandant of Treblinka. The album was presented by the prosecution at Franz’s trial in Dusseldorf during the years 1964-5.
Justizverwaltung des Landes Nordrhein- Westfalen
Yad Vashem
Name of submitter:
Leitender Oberstaatsanwalt-Dusseldorf

One of the regular readers of my blog believes that the photo, shown above, is mislabeled and that the photo was actually taken at Buchenwald, a concentration camp which also had a zoo.

The photos below were taken by me in 1999 when I visited the Buchenwald Memorial Site.

Bearpit in the Buchenwald zoo

Bear pit in the Buchenwald zoo

House for bears at Buchenwald

House for bears at Buchenwald

The zoo at Buchenwald was built in 1938, as soon as the camp was opened. Commandant Karl Otto Koch ordered the construction of a park area for the SS guards, just outside the camp fence. The park featured a birdhouse, a water basin, and a zoo for four bears and five monkeys. The bears were in full view of the prisoners, and there was also an elaborate falconry in another area outside the camp where the SS kept birds of prey.

Commandant Koch may have been a cruel, ostentatious embezzler, but he was soft-hearted when it came to animals. The Buchenwald camp guidebook contains the following order by Commandant Koch, concerning the animals at Buchenwald:

Commanders’s Order No. 56 dated 8th September 1938 (Extract)

1. Buchenwald zoological gardens has been created in order to provide diversion and entertainment for the men in their leisure time and to show them the beauty and peculiarities of various animals which they will hardly be able to meet and observe in the wild.

But we must also expect the visitor to be reasonable and fond of animals enough to refrain from anything that might not be good for the animals, cause harm to them or even compromise their health and habits. (…) In the meantime, I again received reports saying that SS men have tied the deer’s horns to the fence and cut them loose only after a long while. Furthermore, it has been found that deer have been lured to the fence and tinfoil put in the mouth. In the future, I will find out the perpetrators of such loutish acts and have them reported to the SS Commander in Chief in order to have them punished for cruelty to animals.

The Camp Commandant of Buchenwald Concentration Camp

signed by Koch


Note that “loutish” behavior by the SS guards was not tolerated. The German army was the best disciplined of all the armed forces fighting in World War II, and the elite SS troops were held to an even higher standard. Note that the Commandant is threatening to report them. He did not have the power to punish the guards nor the prisoners without approval from headquarters in Oranienburg.

Photo of Buchenwald taken after the liberation of the camp

Photo of Buchenwald taken after the liberation of the camp

The old photo above was taken shortly after the liberation of the Buchenwald camp. On the far left, you can see the Buchenwald zoo, which was just outside the camp. On the far right is the Buchenwald gatehouse, which is the entrance to the prison enclosure.

The camp inmates were not allowed to visit the zoo, but they could see the bears and monkeys through the fence, which is shown in the photo above.

As for Treblinka, a book by Jean Francois Steiner, entitled Treblinka, mentions that there was a zoo, which had been built at Treblinka by Commandant Franz Stangl for the amusement of the SS staff and some of the privileged prisoners, called Kapos, who assisted the Germans in the camp. Treblinka also had a camp orchestra and a brothel for the SS staff, just like the concentration camps.

Aerial photos taken by the Soviet Union while the Treblinka “death camp” was in operation show that there were Polish farms adjacent to the camp and that the whole area of the camp was devoid of trees. Today, the area of the Treblinka Memorial site is completely surrounded by a forest and the section of the camp where the guards once lived is now covered by trees.

Jean Francois Steiner wrote in his book Treblinka that the privileged prisoners in the camp had “a great life.” They were allowed to marry in the camp, and Kurt Franz conducted the wedding ceremonies. After one of the wedding celebrations, the prisoners got the idea of “a kind of cabaret,” where there was music, dancing and drinking on the Summer nights.

The book Treblinka reads like a novel and I am not sure if it is truth or fiction. The Treblinka II camp, where the zoo was located, was supposed to be an “extermination camp” where Jews were brought for the sole purpose of gassing them immediately upon arrival.

The following quote is from Steiner’s book.  It describes how the privileged prisoners (Kapos) and the SS men were having parties at the “death camp.”  The Commandant, Kurt Franz, was nicknamed “Lalka,” which means doll.  He was given this nick name by the prisoners because he was a very handsome man.

When Lalka heard about what was going on, far from forbidding it, he provided the drinks himself and encouraged the SS men to go there. The first contact lacked warmth, but the S.S. men knew how to make people forget who they were, and soon their presence was ignored. In addition to the dancing, there were night-club acts. The ice was broken between the Jews and the S.S. This did not prevent the S.S. from killing the Jews during the day, but the prospect of having to part company soon mellowed them a little.


The high point of these festivities was unquestionably Arthur Gold’s birthday. An immense buffet was laid out in the tailor shop, which the S.S. officers decorated themselves. Hand written invitations were sent to every member of the camp aristocracy. It was to be the great social event of the season and everyone was eager to wear his finest clothes. […] The women had done each other’s hair and had put on the finest dresses in the store, simple for the girls and decollete for the women. […] Arthur Gold outdid himself in the toasts that preceded the festivities. He insisted on thanking the Germans for the way they treated the Jews.


One evening a Ukrainian brought an accordion and the others began to dance. The scene attracted some Jews, who with the onset of Summer, were more and more uncomfortable in their “cabaret.” The nights were soft and starry, and if it were not for the perpetual fire which suffused the sky with its long flames, you would have thought that you were on the square of some Ukrainian village on Midsummer Eve. Everything was there: the campfire, the dancing, the multicolored skirts and the freshness of the night. Friendships sprang up. Just because men were going to kill each tomorrow was no reason to sulk.

Does the photo in the Yad Vashem museum show the Treblinka zoo or the Buchenwald zoo?  I will leave it up to the readers of my blog to decide.