On British Soil: Victims of Nazi Persecution in the Channel Islands
Société Jersiaise, Photographic Archive, Jersey
During the German occupation of the Channel Islands 1940-1945, many thousands of people were persecuted, including slave labourers, political prisoners and Jews. Their story has been largely omitted from a British narrative of ‘standing alone’ against Nazism and victory over Germany. This exhibition tells the stories of the persecuted, drawing upon The Wiener Library’s collections, files recently released by The National Archives, and items belonging to the victims of Nazi oppression.
The exhibition launched on 19 October 2017, and is based on the research of Dr. Gilly Carr of Cambridge University, and with the generous support of the Heritage Lottery Fund.
With special thanks to Jasmine Munn-McDonnell for adapting this online exhibition.
The Channel Islands and the War
Courtesy of the Jersey Evening Post
The Channel Islands comprise two administrative areas (Bailiwicks), Jersey and Guernsey, which are both British Crown Dependencies. The Bailiwick of Guernsey includes Alderney, Sark and Herm. The Islands have been connected to the English Crown since 1066, the time of the Norman Invasion of Britain.
Invasion and Occupation
As the defeated British and French Armies evacuated from Dunkirk in May and June 1940, British authorities decided not to defend the Channel Islands. The Islands were demilitarized and 25 percent of the residents left. Germany invaded in late June-early July 1940.
The occupation affected the local population in various ways. Residents born outside the Channel Islands – some 2,200 people – were deported to internment camps in Germany in 1942-43. Islanders experienced restrictions, including the confiscation of their radios from 1942. By 1944, food shortages worsened, and starvation was only alleviated from December by a monthly Red Cross ship bearing food.
On 9 May 1945, the Channel Islands became the last place to be liberated from Nazi Occupation.
‘It is desired by His Majesty’s Government that the Bailiff should discharge the duties of Lieutenant-Governor … and that he should stay at his post and administer the government of the Island … in the interests of the inhabitants, whether or not he is in a position to receive instructions from His Majesty’s Government.’
- Extracts of a letter sent to each of the Lieutenant-Governors by the Under Secretary of the Home Office Instructing the Bailiff’s to remain in post in the event of an invasion, 19 June 1940.
Jews Under German Occupation
Courtesy of the Jersey Evening Post
At the start of the German occupation, around 30 Jews remained in the Channel Islands. In the main, they were either British citizens or Europeans who had fled the Nazis. The Jewish population of the Islands suffered persecution, terror and even death during the occupation.
Nine antisemitic regulations were introduced in Jersey and Guernsey between October 1940 and August 1942. The measures included compulsory registration of those ‘deemed to be Jews’, the forced sale of Jewish businesses, and a ban on Jews visiting places of public entertainment. Jews in the Channel Islands were also subject to a curfew.
In February 1943, some of the British Jews living in the Islands were deported to civilian internment camps. All survived the war.
Non-British Jews faced worse treatment: three such women were deported in 1942 and eventually murdered in Auschwitz. A group of between 855 and 2,000 French Jews and those of Jewish heritage who were sent as slave labourers to Alderney were particularly badly treated.
Hedwig Bercu – A Jew in Hiding
Courtesy of Jersey Heritage
Hedwig Bercu (1919–2009) arrived in Jersey from Vienna in 1938. Even though she had registered with the authorities as a Jew in 1940, Bercu obtained work as an interpreter for the Germans in spring 1942. She began a relationship with a German officer she met through work, Lieutenant Kurt Rümmele.
In 1943, Bercu moved into hiding with a local woman, Dorothea Weber. Rümmele supplied the women with food, and Bercu remained hidden with Weber until liberation.
After the war, Bercu converted to Protestantism and went to Germany where she married Rümmele. In 1960 she learned that her parents had been murdered in Auschwitz.
Marianne Grunfeld – Murdered in Auschwitz
© Island Archives, Guernsey
Marianne Grunfeld was born in Katowice, Poland, in 1912 to a German Jewish family. She moved to London in the mid-1930s and studied horticulture.
In early 1939, Grunfeld took a job on a farm on Guernsey. She did not register as a Jew and may have been denounced to the authorities.
Marianne Grunfeld was deported to St Malo on 21 April 1942, along with two Austrian-born Jews, Therese Steiner and Auguste Spitz. Ultimately, the three were transported to Auschwitz via Drancy internment camp, arriving on 23 July 1942. Of their transport of 824 people, only eighteen men and two women survived the war.
Foreign Labourers in the Channel Islands
Maltreatment and Slavery
The German occupiers made extensive use of foreign labourers in the Channel Islands. A minority of workers were volunteers, whilst others were forced labourers, who received wages, or slaves, who did not. Labourers included Soviet citizens, Eastern Europeans, Spaniards, French citizens, North Africans, Dutch, and Belgians. The workers all suffered from maltreatment, including brutal beatings and a lack of food, but Jews and Soviets were especially badly treated. Some slave workers were murdered.
Labourers engaged in construction projects, primarily the fortification of the Islands as part of the Atlantic Wall scheme. All worked for Organisation Todt (OT), the Nazi engineering and construction organisation. At its peak, 16,000 OT workers were based in the Islands.
In excess of 1,000 foreign forced and slave labourers died in the Channel Islands during the occupation, mainly from maltreatment. Between 437 and 1,000 predominately Soviet citizens died in Alderney alone.
Foreign Labourers in the Channel Islands
Georgi Kondakov – Soviet Slave Worker
Georgi Kondakov (c1923 – unknown) was working in a shell factory in Orel, a Russian city south west of Moscow, when Germany invaded in 1941. He was forced into labour service for the Germans in 1942. Kondakov survived forced labour in Alderney and northern France. After the war, Kondakov returned to Orel. In retirement, he traced sixty-three other Soviet survivors of Alderney labour camps.
All our conversations on Alderney were about food or the death of someone we knew. On our one day off a month we discussed home and the progress of the war. If my brain was not too exhausted I would always dream of home…
Many times when I was on Alderney I thought death was close. Most of my worst memories come to me now as nightmares…
The Germans started shooting prisoners who were stealing potatoes out of the fields, but the desire for food was much stronger than the fear of death … we were … determined to defy the will of the Germans who had told us that no one would leave this island alive.
- Georgi Kondakov quoted in Madeline Bunting's A Model Occupation – The Channel Islands under German Rule 1940-1945 (1995).
1,300 Islanders were held in prisons in Jersey and Guernsey during the occupation for acts of protest, defiance and resistance. Of these, at least 200 were deported to prisons and labour and concentration camps abroad.
Acts of resistance included stealing weapons sabotage, espionage, underground distribution of news, producing anti-Nazi graffiti, and sheltering or giving aid to forced labourers or Jews.
There was also symbolic resistance, such as wearing clothes in patriotic colours, and some civil servants, teachers and clergy used their position to speak out. Defiance of the radio ban was common.
28 of those deported from the Channel Islands for acts of resistance died in incarceration.
Louisa Gould and Harold Le Druillenec: Another Mother’s Son
After her son was killed in action, Louisa Gould (1891–1945) felt she should do something to help ‘another mother’s son’.
In September 1942, she took in an escaped Russian slave labourer, Fyodor Burriy. For eighteen months, aided by her brother Harold Le Druillenec, Gould sheltered Burriy. She taught him English and the two appeared in public together.
Gould was arrested in May 1944 along with her brother and others.
Louisa Gould was deported to camps in France and then Germany. She died in Ravensbrück camp on 13 February 1945. Harold Le Druillenec survived forced labour at a number of camps. Le Druillenec was the only British survivor of Bergen-Belsen camp. Burriy lived undetected until the end of the war under an assumed identity, Oscar Le Breuilly.
Sidney Ashcroft – Deported for Theft of Food
21-year-old Sidney Ashcroft spent time in eight German prisons following his arrest for stealing food from a German kitchen and exchanging blows with a soldier.
Ashcroft died aged 23 of tuberculosis and starvation in Straubing Prison shortly before the end of the war. He was buried in the unmarked political prisoner section of a graveyard in the town.
Joseph Gillingham – Lost in a German Prison
Joseph Gillingham (1901–1945) was a member of the Guernsey Underground News Service. For this, he received a ten-month sentence and was deported to a number of German prisons. His fate and whereabouts remained unknown to his family for over 70 years.
Recent research has revealed that Gillingham was buried in a cemetery in Halle, Germany, after dying in the town’s police prison in March 1945. In March 2016, his only daughter Jean was finally able to visit her father’s grave.
Post-War: The Compensation Claims
Courtesy of the Frank Falla Archive, Island Archives, Guernsey
In 1964, the West German government awarded 1 million pounds as compensation for British victims of Nazi persecution. The British government decided that the money was for those who had been in ‘a concentration camp or comparable institution’. People were compensated for the amount of time spent in a camp and the percentage of permanent disability they suffered. Channel Islanders were only included in the schme after a campaign by a Guernseyman Frank Falla.
The scheme was advertised widely and people were invited to apply with evidence of their imprisonment. Those claiming for disability had to attend a medical board.
Over 100 Islanders applied for compensation and around 50 were successful. For some, the money was badly needed as they had been unable to work since the war due to physical or psychological impairments.
The Role of Frank Falla
The Silent War, by Frank Falla (1967), Wiener Library Collections.
Frank Falla (1911–1981) was a journalist who worked on the Guernsey Star newspaper and secretly on the Guernsey Underground News Service (GUNS).
Along with most other members of GUNS, Falla was caught in 1944 and deported to prisons in Germany, from where he was liberated in April 1945.
Whilst in captivity, Falla swapped his bread ration one day for a pencil stub and made note of the Islanders with whom he was incarcerated and the dates that they died. This was the first step in Falla’s 25-year campaign to remember the victims of Nazi persecution in the Channel Islands.
After release, Falla wrote articles for the Guernsey Evening Press and the Jersey Evening Post detailing the experiences of Islanders who had died in German prisons. He later organised the efforts of Channel Islanders to get compensation, contacting political prisoners to provide application forms, and helping people to complete testimonies.
Memory and Remembrance
© Gilly Carr
The victims of Nazi persecution in the Channel Islands have often been forgotten, and no person who committed acts of resistance ever received public recognition or honour by the Channel Islands or UK government in their lifetime. In the 1960s, the Soviet Union recognised some of those who had sheltered escaped slave workers.
Although Channel Islanders had similar experiences to those living in occupied Europe, their war narrative was tied firmly to that of the British mainland. This emphasised the British victory and glossed over questions of victimhood and suffering. In recent years, this narrative has begun to change.
Early Post-War Period
During the first post-war decades, emphasis was placed on military personnel (living and dead), victory and patriotism. Navy warships, RAF flypasts and battalions of soldiers were invited to the islands as part of the annual Liberation Day events on 9 May.
Channel Islanders who committed acts of protest, defiance and resistance were not treated as heroes. Many people – especially those in positions of authority – saw such behaviour as reckless and dangerous.
Changing Perceptions in Jersey
On the fiftieth anniversary of liberation in 1995, victims of Nazism were publically acknowledged in Jersey. At this time, the Bailiff, Sir Philip Bailhache, made speeches and unveiled memorials to victims, including resisters.
Memory and Remembrance
© Gilly Carr
Continued Silences in Guernsey
Guernsey has been slower than Jersey to acknowledge the experiences of victims, including those such as Joseph Gillingham and Frank Falla, who were deported for their work in the Guernsey Underground News Service. In 2015, however, a memorial was erected in memory of the ‘Guernsey Eight’ who died in Nazi captivity.
Remembrance of Forced and Slave Labourers
The experiences of the forced and slave labourers have often been overlooked. Former Spanish Republican forced labourer Francisco Font settled in Jersey after the war and was active in getting the Slave Workers’ Memorial in St Helier erected in 1971.
This was much earlier than the inauguration of the memorial to foreign workers in Guernsey in 1999, which was also erected following the activism of a former labourer of the Organisation Todt.
Today, the sites of the labour camps and concentration camp in Alderney are overgrown. Only one memorial has ever been placed at these sites, and this was organised by Polish former prisoners. The legacy of war has been difficult to come to terms with in Alderney.