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Jews of the Channel Islands




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The Jews of the Channel Islands




The Occupation  


The Luftwaffe takes control of the Channel Islands

It was 10.30 in the morning on Sunday 30 June 1940 when a German aircraft flew low over Guernsey airport, it circled and landed. Clutching a revolver, the pilot walked cautiously into the deserted administration building. 


The absence of people unnerved him, suddenly a British aircraft roared overhead and he ran out back to his plane, leaving his revolver on a table. In the afternoon another German aircraft landed, this time three officers walked across the tarmac. One of them reclaimed the revolver, whilst another approached a policeman and in perfect English asked him to fetch the island officials. The Nazi occupation of part of the British Isles had begun.


In Jersey the arrival of the invader was equally un-dramatic. Just a fortnight earlier Whitehall had ordered the Channel Islands to be demilitarised and had carried out elaborate voluntary evacuation plans. The majority of established Jews resident in Jersey left the island before June 1940.


An incomplete list of many of those who had left the island was compiled by Clifford Orange the Chief Aliens Officer and sent to the German authorities on 6 January 1942.


The Passport Office lists show that many members of the families named by Orange renewed their passports in the months leading up to the Occupation. The last to do so was Rose Rachel Feldman who obtained her new passport on 15 June 1940. The passport office closed on 27 June 1940.


It was not considered wise to tell the Germans of this decision in case it should be taken as an invitation to march in immediately. Only after a German air attack had killed 38 civilians was the news broadcast that all British forces had left the Channel Islands.


A message from the King

Aware of the iminent arrival of the Nazis, the majority of the Jewish population had already escaped to the British mainland. Only a small number of Jews were left behind. As a result, twelve registered on Jersey, and four on Guernsey.


Among the first things the German conquerors did was to hasten to the telephone exchange and disconnect the lines to England.


The island newspapers were issued free, their front pages carrying proclamations from the Commandant ordering a curfew between 2300 hours and 0600 hours, the handing-in of weapons, and the surrender of soldiers on leave, the suspension of sales of spirits and petrol and forbidding the use of boats without permits.


German soldiers were now marching into the two capitals St Helier and St Peter Port heartily singing the Horst Wessel song, while the islanders watched silently and sadly. 


On Sark, feudalism’s last outpost, the Dame Sybil Hathaway, received two officers at the Seigneurie with calm courtesy, making sure they had to walk the whole length of a large room to meet her. One said, “You are not afraid?” to which Mrs Hathaway answered in her excellent German, “Is there any need to be afraid of German officers?”


Not all fared as well as Mrs Hathaway, for the Jews of the Channel Islands things were going from bad to worse.


Persecution of the Jews begins


A sign in the window of a Jewish business

The registration process, was the beginning of a systemized persecution, first all Jewish businesses had to display a sign stating the shop was "Jewish owned or "Jewish Undertaking", then the business was subsequently "Aryanised" and turned over to non-Jews.


The Channel Island authorities in particular Bailiff Alexander Coutanche cooperated throughout this entire process, and to a great extent he even  administered much of it.


The Third Order


The Third Order’, registered in the Royal Courts of Guernsey on 17 June 1941 and of Jersey on 31 May 1941 as Regulation and Order No 307, redefined those persons considered to be Jewish.

Any person having at least three grandparents of pure Jewish blood shall be deemed to be a Jew. A grandparent having belonged to the Jewish religious community shall be  deemed to be of pure Jewish blood. Any person having two grandparents of pure Jewish blood who:

        (A) ... belongs to the Jewish religious community or who subsequently joins it; or

        (B)… is married to a Jew or subsequently marries a Jew; shall be deemed to be a Jew.


In doubtful cases any person who belongs or has belonged to the Jewish religious community shall be deemed to be a Jew. The order prohibited Jews and Jewish owned businesses, not in the hands of an administrator, from carrying out many economic activities including, wholesale and retail, hotel and catering, insurance, navigation, dispatch and storage, guides, banking and money exchange, and businesses not in thehands of an administrator, from carrying out many economic activities including, wholesale and retail, hotel and catering, insurance, navigation, dispatch and storage, guides, banking and money exchange, and businesses concerned with dealings in apartments, land and mortgages.


Further, no Jew was to be engaged as a ‘higher official or as an employee who comes into contact with customers’ and Jewish employees should ‘be dismissed and replaced by non-Jewish employees’.

Managing administrators, authorised to sell holdings and shares, could be appointed to administer holdings in limited liability companies and shares belonging to Jews and Jewish undertakings.


No compensation was to be paid for losses incurred by Jews as a result of carrying out the order and no compensation was to be paid for dismissing a Jewish employee without notice. Infractions were punishable by fine and imprisonment ‘unless a more severe penalty is otherwise prescribed’.


German Rule


Post from Jersey during the Occupation

There was a determined effort by the Germans to show their best side for propaganda purposes. The harsher treatment of France was not to prevail here. British goods that still remained in the shops were bought up by the Germans, who were unused to seeing so many luxuries. These stocks could not of course be replaced.


Singing “God Save the King” was a serious offence, yet no attempt was made to remove the “royal crest” from the courthouse. Newspapers were strictly controlled, printing the news according to Dr Goebbels. The editors left the curious Germanic English in news stories so that nobody would be deceived. 


At first it was possible to listen to the BBC until later, when radio sets were confiscated. From then on many Channel Islanders risked imprisonment, deportation and even death to hear the BBC news on hidden radios.


Deportation of the Jews of the Channel Islands


In April 1942 on the Island of Guernsey, the first deportation began. Three women; Auguste Spitz, Marianne Grunfield, and Therese Steiner, were ordered to pack their bags and were forced onto a ship headed for the French mainland.

Ernest Plevin, a Police Clerk Sergeant in Guernsey during the Occupation, remembers:

‘... Guernsey Police were ordered to advise specified Jews to report to Police Headquarters. I was to instruct them to pack their bags and report to the designated German authority. I remember - well - Therese coming into the office, where I conveyed to her the instructions given to the Guernsey Police by the German Military Authorities. Therese became extremely distressed, bursting into tears, and exclaiming that I would never see her again."

In a subsequent letter Plevin added:


‘The relationship between deportees and Guernsey Police, was always, to my knowledge, good. Police involvement in deportations was rarely more than carrying out orders given by the occupying forces – such as conveying a message to the deportee. At no time were the Guernsey Police permitted to enter the White Rock area".


The night before their deportation Therese Steiner and Auguste Spitz visited their friend Elisabet Duquemin, a fellow registered Jewish refugee from Vienna. Elisabet Duquemin remembered:

"They had a paper with them from the Germans that they had to report the next morning to be taken away to France and were in a terrible state of anxiety. They borrowed a suitcase from me and I never saw the poor girls again".

Reverend Douglas Ord confirmed their state of anxiety:

‘When I last spoke with her [Therese Steiner] she had Orders to go to France. She was in great distress and seemed to feel that her feet were now set upon her Via Dolorosa. I did what I could to comfort her but what can you say or do"?

On July 20th of the same year the three women were caught up with a large transport to Auschwitz and their subsequent fate is unknown. It is believed they were sent to the gas chambers having been chosen with the initial selection upon arrival.

A British intelligence report from August 1945 states:

When the Germans proposed to put their anti-Jewish measures into force, no protest whatsoever was raised by any of the Guernsey officials and they hastened to give the Germans every assistance. By contrast , when it was proposed to take steps against the Freemasons, of which there are many in Guernsey, the Bailiff [Alexander Coutanche ] made considerable protests and did everything possible to protect the Masons.

Transport list

The remaining Jews on the Channel Islands were deported in February of 1943 sent to internment camps in France and Germany. Of course while the authorities in the Channel Islands helped the Germans deport the Jews, they had no certain idea on what their fate would be.

It was clear however that no matter what their inevitable fate, their persecution under the Germans would most certainly be "unpleasant", yet they did nothing to prevent the deportations.

The Normandy landings in 1944 heralded the final phase of the of the islands' German occupation. By August St Malo surrendered and the islands' supply routes were cut off.

For the next eight months, the local population and the 28,000-strong German garrison went close to starvation. Liberation finally came when an Allied task force headed by HMS Bulldog arrived off St Peter Port, Guernsey on 8 May, 1945.

A declaration of unconditional surrender was signed the following day.




History of the Second World War by Purnell and Sons Ltd London 1966

Auschwitz "The Nazi's and the Final Solution"  Laurence Rees BBC Books London 2005

The Holocaust by Sir Martin Gilbert, published by Collins, London 1986   

The Final Solution by G. Reitlinger – Vallentine Mitchell &Co Ltd 1953. 

The Holocaust – The Jewish Tragedy by Sir Martin Gilbert published by Collins London 1986.

Wiener Library



Copyright: Carmelo Lisciotto & Chris Webb H.E.A.R.T 2007



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