Via Dolorosa

IN MID-JUNE, AFTER INTERROGATING Sumner, Toquette and Phillip Jackson, the Gestapo sent the family on a circuitous journey that would be hard to follow. Phillip wrote,

One fine day, I can hardly call it day, as there was no light and no air in my cell, where I remained shut up for 14 days, only getting out once –then we were transferred to the German military prison at Moulins. During the journey I sat next to my father, in the same bus and we saw my mother who traveled in another bus. Once arrived at Moulins, my mother and ourselves were enclosed in the prison, an old medieval dungeon, where we had to go up 118 steps to our cell. My father and I were in the same cell, my mother in another part of the building. We remained 21 days at Moulins, conditions not too bad, but we suffered from hunger. Examined once more, my father, my mother and myself, this time by a German of the Gestapo. Declarations nil from my father and for myself–for my mother I do not know.

Through the Swiss, the State Department learned that the Jacksons ‘finally had been sent by the Germans to the Prison in Moulins’. The Americans asked the Swiss where Moulins was, and Leland Harrison cabled their reply to Washington in August: ‘Inquiry of Swiss Foreign Office reveals nothing (repeat nothing) in files indicates exact location Moulins … Further inquiry impossible as all (repeat all) communication cut.’

On 22 June, Toquette wrote to her sister, ‘I saw my son and my husband the other day during an inspection. They are together and that makes me happy.’ At seven in the morning on 7 July, father and son were handcuffed together and moved again. Toquette was left behind at Moulins. Phillip recalled, ‘Journey by bus, rather trying, without water, in a burning sun. We had left Moulins at 7 a.m. and reached Compiègne the next day at 3 a.m. We were handcuffed from the start at Moulins till the arrival the next day at Compiègne.’ Sumner had been imprisoned in Compiègne before, in September 1942, as an internee. When he and Phillip arrived, the American and other enemy alien internees had been moved. The Compiègne camp, now a holding pen for political prisoners, retained some of the privileges of its first years. Phillip noted that there were ‘Red Cross parcels–no work; the only trouble was vermin, fleas lice en masses’.

As in 1942, Jackson’s stay at Compiègne lasted only a week. In 1942, that seemed a long time. In 1944, it was too short. This time, General de Chambrun did not know where Dr Jackson was and did not drive there to take him home. On 15 July, which Phillip called ‘a fatal day’, he and his father were force-marched with about 2,000 other political prisoners to the train station ‘where we are pushed into cattle wagons for Germany’. Groups of sixty men at a time were packed into the hot and airless cattle wagons. Each man was issued one piece of bread and a sausage for what would be a three-day journey across France and Germany. The prisoners had no room to lie down and very little water. One psychotic guard fired into one of the cattle wagons, killing a prisoner. Seventeen men escaped, and the Germans shoved the other forty-three from their cattle wagon into one that already had sixty men in it. ‘We were escorted by German gendarmes in French uniforms, incredibly brutal,’ Phillip wrote.

Our convoy was to go to Dachau but, on July 18th, we arrive at Neuengamme, 30 kms. South of Hamburg, in the curve of the River Elbe. There we are horsewhipped out of our carriages, by the S.S., and marched to the camp, guarded by S.S. men with machine guns under their arms and dogs on leach [sic]. At the camp, we are packed into two gigantic cellars, then taken out into small groups to the shower room where rings, false teeth, orthopedic belts are taken from us, after our heads have been shaved.

The men’s bare bodies were inspected by guards. Each prisoner was given old and tattered clothes, ‘not fit for a beggar to wear’, and wooden shoes. Sumner was prisoner Number 36,462, his new identity stamped on canvas strips sewn into his jacket and trousers. Phillip was Number 36,461. Sumner Jackson and his teenage son became American slaves of the Third Reich. It was 18 July, the day that the Allied armies finally broke out of Normandy on their way to Paris.

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