1939/1940 Internment of German Residents

Submitted by whitto on Mon, 04/15/2019 - 18:16

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.'

I think that copy from the link might be a reprint.  The copy I have was published in 1984.  The author had since passed away in 1997.  

I am guessing it's permissible to retype a few paragraphs from the book to offer a glimps of the internment set up.  If not, please advise and I will delete it. 

An excerpt from Chapter 5 from the book: Herman the German, by Gerhard Neumann

At 7 P.M. Hong Kong time, on September 3, 1939, the ultimatum expired and England was at war with Germany! A few minutes later a British immigration official, accompanied by a British officer and two beturbaned Indian soldiers with rifles, knocked at my door, and demanded politely to see both my travel and military passports.  I was driven in a bus to police headquarters in Kowloon, where twenty-five other Germans had already been rounded up.  More were brought in by the hour.  At 2 A.M. there were ninety of us, all men. The British apologized profusely for the inconvenience they caused, and I believe that they meant every word they said. We were driven in three buses to La Salle College in Kowloon. Under floodlights, Chinese workmen were dicing stakes into the ground to surround the college with barbed wire.  Four watchtowers were being built also. Its dormitory was empty since there was at school vacation.  A few more German businessmen were brought in during the early morning.  


It became obvious that the British had not given any thought to the possibility of interning one hundred Germans. Theoretically, we were really not prisoners of war by rather civilian internees. One Englishman told us that we would leave this temporary camp soon, but no one knew anything for certain. Most of the Germans had been residents of Hong Kong for many years, possibly longer that some of the British, and they spoke English fluently. The majority had not even been to Germany since Hitler had come to power. Incredible as it may seem, two old Chinese were also interned with us; in their younger years, they had been houseboys in the former German colony of Tsingtao in northern China and had there accepted German citizenship in 1906. They were unable to speak a single word of German!


One of the more touchy problems for the British was that of race: One white man had to show respect for another white man in front of the hundreds of “yellow” Chinese, who, curious, crowded outside the barbed-wire fence of our camp and peered inside. To prove that we were not “real” prisoners held by the British, we were permitted to hire Chinese kitchen personnel who did our laundry. Life in the internment camp was not bad at all! We sunned ourselves, played tennis on the school courts and enjoyed watching the British guard climb down from one of the four watch-towers to retrieve a tennis ball someone had hit over the fence.


Our relations with the British camp commander were excellent. Pretty soon a discussion was held between our elected representative and the commander about setting up a bar in the college auditorium. These negotiations were successfully concluded. Well-to-do German merchants would pay for the construction, furnishing and initial stocking of the bar, which was to be open for Germans every night from eight to nine and for our British guards from nine to ten. After only a few days of this arrangement, the Germans invited Tommies for an “early drink”; since British soldiers were paid very little, the Germans’ invitations were gratefully accepted.  Someone then had a bright idea: Why not combine the two one-hour sessions into a common “bar open” time from eight to ten for both guards and inmates? Why not? Said the German representative. Why not? Asked our British commander. Guards had orders to leave their heavy Enfield rifles outside the bar entrance. And so it went, peacefully, intelligently and thirst-quenchingly. Until … one of the Germans, slightly drunk, played a stupid prank: The man grabbed one of the rifles and shot out a light. Pandemonium broke loose; we were ordered back into our sleeping quarters …


As a consequence, not only the commander but his whole guard force were replaced by a very much tougher Scottish commanding officer and his men. The bar was closed for good; no more playing tennis; no longer were we permitted to employ Chinese houseboys.  New camp rules were established including the “calling of the roll” every morning before breakfast.

Thanks for the excerpt Mark! It was very interesting to read - especially the little incident! I never came by that during my research!

A thing I found interesting is the "two old Chinese" that Neuman encountered. According to my documents, there were no 'Chinese' individuals interned at La Salle. Of course, there were more than a few Eurasians, so perhaps two looked racially ambigeous enough to be considered Chinese? But if it's the two individuals I thinking of, it's rather amusing because these two brothers were just in their mid-thirties!

If you are interested to read more of the book, feel free to get in touch on my email mark.huang.hk@gmail.com.  I'd like to hear more about your reearch. Another researcher had also reached out to me some years ago to discuss the La Salle Internment.  For the two Chinese gentlemen holding onto German passports, I suspect they were subsequent released from the camp, since they were obviously not of German descent, but rather just holding the passport. 

Also, have you gotton hold of the English newspapers over the duration of the internment?  A name list of internees is regularly printed out in the daily English papers, and the detailed names would surely be of interest to you.


Recently we came across a short US archival footage from 1939 or 1940, containing 2 minutes of the exterior of La Salle College when it was taken over by the British Army as a German Internment camp. The remainder of the clip relates to ARP training.

It seems the facility was then guarded by the Royal Scots.


Far East Motors Ltd

Far East Motors was founded in 1934 when Far East Aviation was awarded the exclusive dealership of Chevrolet (Chevy) in HK and South China by American auto giant General Motors. Its first location was at 26 Nathan Road in Kowloon next to the Peninsula Hotel with 15000 sq ft of space and capacity to hold up to 30-40 cars. In addition to Chevy, the firm also distributed two other brands of General Motors – Cadillac and Holden (made in Australia) and Standard Motors and Armstrong Siddeley automobiles from the UK and also dealt in used cars.

The first manager of Far East Motors was an American by the name of Claude Ellsworth White (1893-1952, C.E. White). A native of California, he left home at the age of 15 to work in shipping in the Far East. His name first appeared in the Hong Kong Jurors List in 1923 as an assistant at Alexander Ross & Co, the distributor of Ford in H.K. before Harpers. In 1931, White was listed as sales manager at the Hongkong Hotel. In 1938, John Robinson, who had worked at Bradley & Co (德記洋行) in Swatow and in ticketing at the Pan American Airways backed Chinese airline C.N.A.C, acquired control of the Far East group of companies and he kept White at the helm of Far East Motors.

In 1939, White hired Gerhard Neumann (1917-1997), a young German with some engineering training as the chief mechanic of Far East Motors. As Neumann recalled in his memoir, the clients of Far East Motors at the time included the Governor and prominent figures such as Lawrence Kadoorie. When Germany went to war with the UK in September 1939, all German residents in HK were interned in La Salle College in Kowloon, and it was thanks to a guarantee by Lawrence Kadoorie that Neumann was released. Neumann continued to work in Hong Kong until June 1940 when the colonial government expelled all German residents, but thanks to the help of CNAC manager William Langham Bond, he moved to Yunnan to work as a mechanic for General Chennault’s Flying Tigers. Eventually he moved to the US after the war where he worked for the aircraft engine division of General Electric for 32 years and achieve fame as a “father of jet engines.”


Former chief mechanic of Far East Motors in HK – Gerhard Neumann (left) and Neil Burgess in front of the J79 turbojet engine they designed for GE in 1958.



When the Japanese occupied Hong Kong, C.E. White was briefly thrown into a concentration camp but was repatriated to the US as an exchange internee in February 1942. After the war, he returned to HK to resume the operations of Far East Motors at 26 Nathan Road.                       Far East Motors Ltd was formally incorporated as a separate entity in 1948 with C.E. White as manager, C.P. Basto as sales manager and Gilbert Mayne as service manager. In the early 1950s, the Soares family which owned 26 Nathan Road decided to evict Far East Motors as property values in the emerging “Golden Mile” in Tsim Sha Tsui rose.

The site was ultimately sold to building contractor Ching Chun-kau (程振球) who in turn sold it to the Chan Kwan-tung family who developed the site into the Ambassador Hotel in 1960 As a result, Far East Motors had to relocate, and they decided to move across the harbour.

Source: https://industrialhistoryhk.org/far-east-motors-distributor-of-chevrole…

Thank you for posting on this thread. Here is an excerpt from the memoir of my grandfather, Hans Melchior, which I have translated from German, from his time in the La Salle "prison camp".

On the evening of September third, 1939, our telephone stopped working, probably because it had been disconnected by the British, so I drove to a German acquaintance’s house to learn of any news from him. An empty bus was parked in front of his house, and two British policemen were hauling him away. Of course, I was also on their list for internment. A very nice, young policeman, apparently uncomfortable about these arrests, drove with me in my car back to our home. I was allowed two small suitcases, bid mother farewell, and kissed, you dear Krinka, good bye while you were sleeping in your bed. On the road, it occurred to me that mother would not have enough cash at home, and the policeman agreed to return to the house. Another farewell. Finally, we were off.

I was in a daze. We drove along the coastline in the still of night. Out at sea fishing boats were lit by acetylene torches, and the moon, barely visible, shone from behind the dark Peak. It felt so quiet and peaceful that the idea of war seemed totally unreal. I didn’t say a word, rather buried myself in thought. Then the policeman started talking, trying to console me. He was so sweet and naïve that I had to smile. The ice was broken. My optimism returned, and I felt that somehow, it would all turn out alright.

He drove to a police station where a few other Germans were also being kept. The policeman promised to take my car back to my house the next day. A few days earlier, as a precaution, I had transferred the ownership of the car to a Chinese friend. This worked out well. A few months later he shipped the car to Shanghai where I could take possession of it again. At that time we owned two cars. We sold the other car to an English officer in the middle of the war.

It was all a bit humorous, really. On this first night, though, I was not in a mood for laughing. Towards midnight we were all taken across the harbor to Kowloon to the internment camp that had been prepared at La Salle College. Personal effects were taken from us. We had to give up our passports, some of our cash, razor blades, scissors, and so forth, for which we received receipts. Then we were all taken into one huge room set up as a dormitory. I did not think there would be more than about thirty Germans, but we were over a hundred, more than half of us German Jewish refugees. Exhausted we fell into bed, although most of us were too wound up to actually sleep. Then in the quiet of the night, a voice rang out: “It took him six years to separate us from each other, and now in just a couple hours, we’re all sleeping together again!” Even those locked up with Nazis could not hold back their laughter.

And so, your father, for first time in his life, was incarcerated. It’s a strange feeling “behind barbed wire.” Somehow one feels unworthy or second-rate or dishonored - the right words escape me - when one looks through barbed wire into free territory where complete strangers bearing weapons are denying you your freedom. Living there was not bad. We had plenty of space, and tennis courts were even available and eagerly used. At first, however, there were difficulties with provisions and maintenance issues. The Hong Kong bureaucrats had not yet received any guidelines from London and treated us according to rules established in 1914 to deal with civilian prisoners of war. In the meantime, prices in Hong Kong soared.

Still, it wasn’t too bad. Besides, soon enough, we were able to bribe our guarding soldiers to smuggle in and bring us newspapers, beer from the canteen, and so forth. At the end of the first week, our loved ones were allowed to visit us. Mother and you, Krinka, then one and half years old, arrived. Mother brought a supply of unopened bottles - whisky, gin, vermouth and so forth - which I unfortunately could not keep and gifted to our soldier guards. Mother also brought clothes hangers and a few potted plants for me to decorate “my room.” She was doing well on the outside. She was not bothered by anyone yet felt quite alone in the huge house. Because we had no idea what the future would bring, we also had to be careful with our expenditures. Previously I had taken precautions by transferring all of our savings out of Hong Kong to Shanghai, so we had very little cash left in Hong Kong.

Mother decided it best to move to a smaller house on the Peak, sharing it with the wife of another interned German. The next week she packed up everything which was not nailed down and that the British permitted. On the day of the move, I was allowed a furlough. It was a strange feeling. An armed soldier was assigned to accompany me. We rode the bus to our beautiful home, which I saw for the last time. Because everything had already been packed up, there was nothing for me to do. The soldier withdrew to another room and left me alone with mother. We put our heads together to discuss what we should or could do, when suddenly, a car drove up.

A British woman stepped out and introduced herself as a member of a committee devoted to helping German families in need. We saw this as a kind gesture, but told her that we didn’t need any help, and mother went one step further by picking her a large bouquet of orchids growing in our garden. This British woman was moved and wanted to express kindness towards us and announced: “We do not fight the German people, you know. It is the Hitlerism, and we have to be strict about it.” These last words “we have to be strict about it” struck me as such a typical English schoolmarm expression that I had difficulty suppressing my laughter.

So, mother and Karin moved to the Peak, and I returned to the camp. In the third week of the internment, a rumor spread that some of us would be released. Supposedly anyone who had no ties with the Nazi party would be set free. Primarily, this of course affected the many German Jews who had been senselessly incarcerated. But anyone who was not a party members saw a glimmer of hope. The English authorities knew exactly who among us were party members. They had managed to confiscate all the Party records, complete and intact, at the start of the war. The responsible Party bigwig did not dare destroy them. When his comrades questioned him about this in the camp, he insisted that he had not received any orders to destroy them. This idiocy turned out to be my good luck.

One day a British secret policeman dressed as a civilian came to the camp. Every German was taken to him, one by one. My record was spotless, having not even been a member of the German Club. This man knew it all. It was quite amazing how well informed he was on the details of each person before him. I easily answered all his questions to his satisfaction, except one which totally baffled me. The man wanted to know what my plans were, and where I would go if I were released. I knew that I could not stay in Hong Kong, an English colony and possession, in addition to the fact that I no longer had any gainful employment there. But the question remained whether I would use my freedom to travel through Siberia, return to Germany, and join the war effort against England. I answered that the only thing left for me to do was to travel to Shanghai with my family, where I would be supported by my firm, and live there for the duration of the war. He seemed content with my reply.

A couple days later, I received word that I would be set free. All the Jews as well as the other non party members were also let go. The several dozen Nazis who were left behind ended up paying a dear price for their sins. Before Japan conquered Hong Kong, they and their families were transported to another camp in Sri Lanka and later, when this location was endangered, they were moved again to Dehradun in Hindustan where they sat behind barbed wire until the winter of 1945 when they were finally deported to the rubble of Germany.

As for me, I only endured about one month in the internment camp. The authorities ensured that mother booked passage for three to Shanghai. A day before departure I was taken to a police station on the island. They also ordered mother to go to the station. There they returned my passport, money, and everything that had been confiscated, and set me completely free. Mother and I went to the Hong Kong Hotel where mother had arranged a meeting with an Englishman who wanted to purchase our car. The sale proceeded satisfactorily and we “enemies” drank a whisky to seal the deal, toasted one another and lamented the insanity of the war.

The next morning with all our suitcases and chests we left the Peak and drove down to the pier to board a British coastal steamer. A policeman came on board to witness and confirm our departure. He wished us luck and sailed back to the mainland. And so, as Germans we departed on a British ship from British Hong Kong in the midst the war. The only valuables we left behind were our furniture. Everything else was saved. We had nothing to complain about. The British were much more civil and friendly than they had been at the outbreak of WWI.

The full memoir, translated into English, is available here: 



Thanks for uploading an excerpt of your grandfather's (Hans Otto Melchoir) memoir. I enjoyed reading it, especially as it reveals more about internment in Hong Kong from the German side! Is it possible to get scans of the German original? My email is rchsun29@student.ubc.ca - I'm a PhD candidate doing research on this topic, so any information helps.

Regarding Hans, it seems that the authorities were not just satisfied with his answers. I'm copying the justification for his release: "Interned as he was of military age. Case discussed by Defence Security Committee who agreed that on account of his being physically unfit - suffering from a curbed spine; that he was not interested in the local Nazi Party. He was permitted to leave the Colony."