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Fresnes Prison (Centre pénitentiaire de Fresnes) is the second largest prison in France, located in the town of Fresnes, Val-de-Marne South of Paris. It comprises a large men's prison (maison d'arrêt) of about 1200 cells, a smaller one for women and a penitentiary hospital.

Fresnes is one of the three main prisons of the Paris area, the Fleury-Mérogis Prison (Europe's largest prison) and the La Santé Prison (located in the centre of Paris) being the other two.


The prison was constructed between 1895 and 1898 according to a design devised by architect Henri Poussin. An example of the so-called "telephone-pole design," the facility was radically different from previous prisons. At Fresnes prison, for the first time, cell houses extended crosswise from a central corridor. The design was used extensively in North America for much of the next century.[citation needed]

During World War II, Fresnes prison was used by the Germans to house captured British SOE agents and members of the French Resistance. Held in horrific conditions, many of these prisoners were tortured, and some died there.[1] As soon as the Allied forces broke through at Normandy and fought their way to liberate Paris, the Gestapo peremptorily killed prisoners at Fresnes. Fresnes Prison was liberated on 24 August 1944 by the French 2nd Armoured Division under General Philippe Leclerc, after a day of heavy fighting with many casualties on both sides.[2]

Notable inmatesEdit


  • Jean Genet (1910-1986), novelist, playwright, poet, essayist, and political activist; for petty theft (late 1930s - early 1940s).[3]

World War IIEdit

  • Jack Agazarian, SOE agent, endured torture for six months at Fresnes prison before being moved to Flossenbürg concentration camp where he was held in solitary confinement before being executed on 29 March 1945.[4]
  • Berty Albrecht, French campaigner and co-founder of the Combat movement, was tortured and committed suicide.
  • Roger Bardet, French Resistance operative, who became a double agent, leading to the arrest of Peter Churchill and Odette Sansom;[5] Sidney Jones, Marcel Clech, and Vera Leigh; Henri Frager; Maurice Pertschuk, and Marcus Bloom. Survived.
  • Yolande Beekman, SOE F Section agent, executed in Dachau concentration camp.
  • Marcus Bloom, SOE F Section agent, then to Avenue Foch where he was severely beaten but revealed nothing. In August 1944 he was deported to Mauthausen and executed on 6 November 1944.
  • Andrée Borrel, SOE F Section agent, later executed in Natzweiler-Struthof concentration camp.[6]
  • Christopher Burney, SOE agent, held in solitary confinement for 15 months and freed in 1945. After the war he published an account of his of imprisonment.[7]
  • Peter Churchill, SOE F Section agent, arrested with Odette Sansom in April 1943. He was held in Fresnes until 13 February 1944 when he was transferred to Berlin for questioning. On 2 May 1944 he was sent to Sonderlager “A” Sachsenhausen, where he was held in solitary confinement for 318 days out of 11 months. He survived despite being sentenced to death.[5]
  • Roman Czerniawski, creator of the Interallie network in France, held in Fresnes prison after his arrest in November 1941. He was released and became a successful double agent.[8]
  • Madeleine Damerment, SOE F Section agent, later executed in Dachau concentration camp.
  • Edmond Debeaumarché, French Resistance operative, arrested on 3 August 1944 and questioned harshly by the Gestapo at the Rue des Saussaies, He lost consciousness under the beatings but did not divulge any names; subsequently held at Fresnes[when?] and then transported by train to Buchenwald on 15 August 1944.[9] Survived.
  • Graham Hayes, a founding member of the Small Scale Raiding Force arrested in September 1942 in Operation Aquatint, was kept in solitary confinement for nine months before his execution by firing squad on 13 July 1943.[10]
  • Agnès Humbert, along with other members of the French Resistance, "Groupe du musée de l'Homme", were imprisoned and tried there and sentenced to death. However she was transferred to the Prison de la Santé where the men were executed and the women sentenced to five years slave labour and deported to Anrath prison in Germany. After four years, she was liberated by the Third United States Army in June 1945.[11]
  • Phil Lamason, Squadron Leader in the RNZAF was the ranking officer and one of 168 allied airmen imprisoned here in 1944. They were transferred to Buchenwald just days before Paris was liberated, and all but two survived.
  • Pierre Le Chêne, SOE F Section agent, held in solitary confinement to 10 months, then deported to Mauthausen, then Gusen I, liberated on 6 May 1945.
  • Vera Leigh, SOE F Section agent, later executed in Natzweiler-Struthof concentration camp.[6]
  • André Marsac, French Resistance operative, whose interrogation led to the arrest of Roger Bardet, and subsequently Peter Churchill and Odette Sansom.[5] Survived.
  • Isidore Newman, SOE F Section agent, arrested on 31 March 1944 and taken to the Gestapo prison in Paris, then Fresnes, and lastly transferred to Mauthausen concentration camp where he was executed on 7 September 1944.[12]
  • Sonia Olschanezky SOE F Section agent, later executed in Natzweiler-Struthof concentration camp.[6]
  • Eliane Plewman, SOE F Section agent, later executed in Dachau concentration camp.
  • Louis Renault, automobile industrialist, arrested by the provisional French government for collaborating with the Nazis, died in 1944 following alleged mistreatment in Fresnes prison.[13]
  • Diana Rowden, SOE F Section agent, later executed in Natzweiler-Struthof concentration camp.[6]
  • Odette Sansom, SOE F Section agent, arrested with Peter Churchill in April 1943. She was transferred to 84 Avenue Foch, the headquarters of the Sicherheitsdienst, where she was brutally tortured prior to being transported to Ravensbrück but survived despite being sentenced to death.[5]
  • [[Robert Sheppard]], SOE F Section agent, successively held in Fresnes prison and then concentration camps of Neue Bremm, Mauthausen, Natzweiler-Struthof, and Dachau. Released by US troops on 29 April 1945.
  • Charles Skepper, SOE organiser of the "Monk" circuit. He was arrested in March 1944, severely tortured by the Gestapo, transported to Fresnes and then to Compiegne prison. His death, possibly at Buchenwald concentration camp, was officially recognised by the War Office as ‘died while in enemy hands on or shortly after 1 April 1944'[14]
  • Suzanne Spaak, French Resistance operative, was executed there on 12 August 1944, less than two weeks before the city was liberated.
  • John Starr, SOE F Section agent, captured on 18 July 1943 and transferred to Fresnes where he was shot and wounded while attempting to escape, then tortured, then transferred to Avenue Foch. In 1944 he was transferred to Sachsenhausen concentration camp, and released at the end of the war.
  • Brian Stonehouse, SOE F Section agent, arrested on 24 October 1941 and held in solitary confinement in Castres prison while subjected to frequent and brutal interrogations. Then transferred to Fresnes prison and further interrogated. Later sent to Mauthausen concentration camp, and in mid-1944, transferred to Natzweiler-Struthof concentration camp. He saved his own life by drawing sketches for the camp commandant, guards and their families.[15]
  • F. F. E. Yeo-Thomas, SOE F Section agent, arrested in February 1943, tortured in Avenue Foch then transferred to Fresnes where he made two failed attempts to escape, then transferred to Compiègne prison, then Buchenwald where he made a brief escape. On his recapture, he was sent to Stalag XX-B, near Marienburg.
  • Edward Zeff, SOE F Section agent, arrested in February 1943 and sent successively to Fresnes, then a prison in Prague, Mauthausen concentration camp, then Melk where he was condemned to receive fifty lashes before being hanged, but escaped death having befriended one of the camp Kommandants; finally, again at Mauthausen, where he was the only British Jew who was there at the time of the liberation by the Americans in 1945. He had been brutally tortured over three months but revealed no information to the Nazis.[16]

Post warEdit

  • Paul Touvier, French Nazi collaborator during World War II, was imprisoned in 1989 for his war crimes and died of prostate cancer in 1996 at the Fresnes prison hospital.[17]
  • Antonio Ferrara, Italian mobster, who broke out of the prison in March 2003 in a commando-style raid. Members of his gang attacked the prison with rocket launchers and assault rifles, and they set fire to nearby cars in what is believed to have been intended as a distraction.[18] Arrested again four months later, Ferrara is now imprisoned in Fleury-Mérogis.

Modern dayEdit

Fresnes Prison has recently experienced many rebellions and arson incidents.[19][20]


  1. ^ World War II Database : Fresnes Prison
  2. ^ Frank Falla archive
  3. ^ Barber, Stephen (2004). Jean Genet. Reaktion Books. p. 30. ISBN 9781861891785.
  4. ^ Lewis, Greg (6 August 2016). "Unknown WW2 secret agent buried in Cardiff cemetery". BBC. Retrieved 17 June 2017.
  5. ^ a b c d The Spirit in the Cage, Peter Churchill
  6. ^ a b c d Flames in the Fields, Rita Kramer
  7. ^ Burney, Christopher: Solitary Confinement, Macmillan Books, 1952.
  8. ^ Macintyre, Ben (2013). Double Cross: The True Story of the D-Day Spies. Broadway Books; ISBN 978-0307888778
  9. ^ Sellier, Andre (2003). A History of the Dora Camp: The Untold Story of the Nazi Slave Labor Camp That Secretly Manufactured V-2 Rockets. Ivan R. Dee. pp. 113–14, 165. ISBN 9781461739494.
  10. ^ Gordon Brown. Wartime Courage (pg. 62); ISBN 978-0-7475-9607-3
  11. ^ Agnès Humbert, (tr. Barbara Mellor) Résistance: Memoirs of Occupied France, London, Bloomsbury Publishing PLC, 2008; ISBN 978-0-7475-9597-7 (American title: Resistance: A Frenchwoman's Journal of the War, Bloomsbury, 2008)
  12. ^ Special Forces Roll of Honour
  13. ^ Pschitt info : Industrie automobile
  14. ^ National Archives, London. Document HS 9/1370/1
  15. ^ Holocaust Sketches Donated To Imperial War Museum
  16. ^ "Edward Zeff: The WW2 spy who refused to reveal his secrets. The Jewish Chronicle, 3 November 2016". 2016-11-03. Retrieved 2018-11-28.
  17. ^ Centre d'Histoire de la Résistance et de la Déportation, Lyon
  18. ^ "Jail escape forces French rethink". BBC News. 13 March 2003. Retrieved 4 January 2010.
  19. ^ Fresnes, prison au bord de l’explosion
  20. ^ Prison de Fresnes : neuf détenus mis à l’écart après la rébellion, Le Parisien

External linksEdit