Channel Islander Victims of Nazi Persecution: A Legitimate Heritage?

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Channel Islander Victims of Nazi Persecution: A Legitimate Heritage?

A casual stroll through any village or town in France will reveal memorials to those who died in concentration camps.

Examine any war memorial and alongside those who died on the battlefield are lists of the glorieux martyrs de la Resistance—those victimes de la barbararie Allemande who died in Nazi captivity.

Would Britain have been like France, so the tired old question goes, had it been occupied? Would there have been collaborators and resisters? Would we have stood up to the Germans or formed a collaborationist government? The question is usually answered with reference to the Channel Islands—the only part of the British Isles to have been occupied by German forces during WWII. And yet small islands with small populations and close-knit communities, tied together by bonds of kinship, do not form a good comparator for larger countries with urban populations. The States of Guernsey and Jersey, as the local parliaments are called, did not have the same experienced international statesmen that one might find in larger nations. Neither was the geography, the political system, or the demography comparable, and all impacted the nature of resistance.

Yet, what is worthy of interesting comparison is the percentage of the Channel Islands’ population imprisoned and deported for acts of protest, defiance, resistance and other forms of offences against the occupiers. My recent estimates indicate that around 1300 people or 2% of the population was imprisoned, and between 200 and 250 of those deported to prisons, labour camps and concentration camps on the continent. Over the last year I have been building a website telling the wartime story of each of these people (www.frankfallaarchive.org), named after Guernseyman Frank Falla, a former political prisoner who spent time in Frankfurt and Naumburg prisons for his role on an underground newspaper. In the mid-1960s, and in the face of local government indifference, he helped deported Channel Islanders get compensation for Nazi persecution from the £1 million that the Federal Republic of Germany gave the British government following a bilateral agreement in 1964. Thanks to Falla, around 50% of all Islanders who applied for compensation received it.

Falla’s daughter gave me her father’s archive in 2010. It contained many testimonies of Islanders who had experienced Nazi prisons and camps, and was the inspiration for the later website. The testimonies gave a graphic insight into the experience of these British subjects in Nazi-controlled places of incarceration. They revealed that one of the main difficulties that Islanders faced was not being able to understand the language of the camps, which isolated them and drew the unwelcome and violent attention of the guards. They were targeted for ill-treatment, and drawn towards other Britons—who were very few and far between—in their prisons and camps for company, safety and survival.

31 Islanders, a number which includes three Jewish women deported from Guernsey, died in their places of incarceration. Memorials were erected to them only in 1995 in Jersey and 2015 in Guernsey. The reason these took so long to be created is because those deported for offences against the Germans were not seen as heroes. Instead, they were trouble-makers who risked rocking the boat. The local governments were worried above all about reprisals, and given that Islanders were sitting ducks, the ‘trouble-makers’ had the ability to bring death upon the heads of all. Yet this never happened. Not a single Channel Islander was executed by German forces in the Islands themselves, but once they had been deported it was a different story.

The rehabilitation of this group of victims of Nazi persecution took a long time, and was achieved through two groups of people. First came the ‘guardians of memory’—people like Frank Falla—who were able to fight on behalf of their memory group and to argue that their wartime actions were legitimate. In the late 1980s and 1990s, the ‘game-changers’ emerged, but only in Jersey. These were the people of power and influence who, through heritage activism, fought to rehabilitate these brave men and women. Memorials in their memory were erected, new exhibitions were prepared, and Holocaust Memorial Day became a time to dwell on the wartime administration, who had not done more to protect these people. Jersey was led in this process by its Bailiff, Sir Philip Bailhache.

In Guernsey, no game-changers have emerged. This, I believe, is for two reasons. First, the Occupation-era Bailiff was Victor Carey, and his grandson, de Vic Carey, became Bailiff in Guernsey at the time of the changes in the sister Island. Out of respect to him, nobody wanted to criticise the actions of his grandfather. Second, the local Channel Islands Occupation Society, a powerful organisation which safeguards Occupation memory, is interested in restoring bunkers, collecting militaria, and talking about the wartime make-do-and-mend culture. It has less interest in victims of Nazism. Given the prime role of the Occupation in Channel Islanders’ identity formation today, their narrative of the past is almost unassailable.

In 2015 I successfully helped fight for a memorial for Guernsey’s victims of Nazism. I have also been working on a number of heritage projects in the Channel Islands since 2010, including those in the field of digital heritage. I have a Facebook page (the Frank Falla Archive) for those interested in seeing the results of my research and the voices of Channel Islanders from the prisons and camps. My exhibition On British Soil: Victims of Nazism in the Channel Islands was shown at the Wiener Library in London earlier this year, opened by Sir Philip Bailhache. It moves to Guernsey in the spring of 2019. It is my hope that, through such heritage activism, Guernsey will also be able to consider such victims of Nazism as a legitimate heritage in the future.


Authored by Gilly Carr

Gilly Carr

Dr Gilly Carr is a Senior Lecturer in Archaeology and a Fellow of St Catharine’s College at the University of Cambridge. She works in the fields of Archaeology, Heritage Studies, History and Holocaust Studies. She is the author of ‘Legacies of Occupation: Heritage, Memory and Archaeology in the Channel Islands’ (Springer 2014) and ‘Protest, Defiance and Resistance in the Channel Islands: German Occupation 1940-1945’ (with Paul Sanders and Louise Willmot, Bloomsbury Academic 2014). Her latest book ‘Victims of Nazism in the Channel Islands: A legitimate heritage?’ will be published by Bloomsbury Academic in 2019.


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The British Online Archives blog is a platform for scholars to present their research to students and the general public. The posts cover a range of historical themes and debates from around the world. The opinions expressed represent those of the authors, not British Online Archives or Microform.

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