1939/1940 Internment of German Residents | Gwulo: Old Hong Kong

1939/1940 Internment of German Residents

At the outbreak of WWII in September 1939, German and other 'Enemy' residents of Hong Kong were interned at La Salle College for a short period. Does anyone have information on this topic including the fate of these internees ?


The newspapers look to have reported on it. Here's a list of articles with the word internment, printed in 1939.

The first result for September is on page 7 of The China Mail, 1939-09-04:


It is learned that, at least for the time being, no action for internment of German women residents in the Colony is being taken.

The menfolk, totalling over 100, are housed on the top floor of La Salle College, and visiting days are expected to be authorised when the “camp" which is under the charge of Major Gorden, of the Middlesex Regiment, has been satisfactorily organised.

Sentries are on guard, provided by the Royal Scots, and the barbed-wired barricade, completely surrounding the College, is nearly completed.

At intervals, high watching-posts for sentries have been erected.

No official information is yet forthcoming regarding the arrangements to be made for visiting and so on.

It is learned that Czechs in the Colony who had registered with the German Consulate and changed their passports for German passports are being interned. Those who refused to recognise the German establishment of a Protectorate are not being subjected to internment.

I had carried some research into this subject some years ago, as part of my study into the history of the College.  I discovered a first hand account of an internee’s memories in the Internment Camp in a book called Herman the German, written by Gerhard Neumann who later became a renouned engineer.   He offered several pages of his stay in the College-turned internment facility in an entertaining fashion. 

Is is it appropriate to post a few pages of the book here? 

Here is an article I wrote on the subject in 2014 for the school and the old boys community. 

75 years on: Germans Interned in La Salle as Hitler Ignores Ultimatum

On Friday, 1st September 1939, Hitler’s German forces invaded Poland.  Britain and France issued a 48 hour ultimatum to Germany demanding they withdraw their troops.  Germany ignored the ultimatum, and on 3rd September, Britain and France declared war on Germany, raising the curtain to the Second World War. 

The Anglo-French ultimatum in fact expired at 7:00 pm HK time on 3rd September.  In the far away British outpost of Hong Kong, the British military authorities immediately proceeded to arrest all German “enemy aliens” in the Colony.  The British Military were clearly prepared on who to arrest, and where to put them.  

Two hours later, German internees began to arrive at LSC.  Brother Cassian noted in the Brothers' Community diary:

“Instantly the College was invaded by army squads who over the next two days encircled it with barbed wire, observation posts, barriers and grills, transforming it into a prison.  Four bamboo towers were erected at the four corners of the perimeter to ensure effective surveillance of the perimeter and the immediate surroundings of the camp.  At 9:00 pm, Sunday 3rd September, the first internees arrived, and all night through army and police cars kept arriving with more.  A section of the Royal Scots provided the guard.”

La Salle College had overnight become a concentration camp, and the World War Two tensions in Europe hit this unsuspecting far-away school on the other side of the world right in the face.

The new school year was due to recommence after the summer holidays on 11th September, but using the campus for school was out of the question.  At the time, opposite the main campus was the La Salle College Annex (the current La Salle Primary School grounds), which had a small two storey building and a covered playground.  So Director Brother Aimar made a swift decision to covert the playground into four more classrooms, and in the open area, sheds were built with bricks and wood to make four more classrooms. 

The now twelve classrooms were all that the Brothers possessed for over schooling 1,000 students.  So, the school hours were split into AM and PM sessions: 7:45 am to 12:30 pm for the Matriculation and other senior students, while the juniors attended classes from 1:00 to 5:00 pm.

The number of German internees in La Salle slowly dropped and the Military agreed to use the LSC Annex instead, allowing the classes to resume in the College campus.  By April 1940, all German internees were shipped abroad to Ceylon.  The Brothers recovered the full use of the school building.  The HK Government agreed to pay the Brothers HK$44,680 as compensation.

This unfortunately became a precedent, as La Salle Brothers will unfortunately find La Salle College being occupied by outsiders intermittently for different reasons over the next 20 years.


A newspaper report to the Internment camp.  

  • HK Telegraph, 11 Sep 1939: 'A strong police guard was placed on the ship to prevent any German nationals alighting; could they have done so they would have been subject to internment. Before the ship sailed they were joined by 15 German Jewish refugees who were released from the la Salle College internment camp.'