The Germans called it evacuation, but before they arrived to occupy the Channel Islands the residents had had the choice of whether to leave for the United Kingdom. They called that evacuation. When those who decided to remain, but had not been born in the islands, were forced to go to internment camps in other German occupied territories, they called that deportation.
Jersey's Bailiff Alexander Coutanche in his memoirs, professed not to know why this decision to deport non-indigenous islanders had been taken, but historians are in no doubt that it was the personal order of the German leader Adolf Hitler.
As early as 14 October 1940 there were indications that the Germans had deportation in mind when all male British subjects between the ages of 18 and 35 inclusive were ordered to report immediately for official registration. Those concerned had to state whether they hade served in the British Army and also whether they were on the Reserve of the British Army. This registration was a first regarded as a preliminary to the deportation of men of military age, but subsequent inaction showed that it was then only intended as a threat.
However, in late 1941 Hitler ordered the deportation of non-island born British residents of the Channel Islands in retaliation for the internment of Germans living in Iran. Detailed lists of the mainland born subjects resident in the islands were prepared in September and October but the deportation itself did not take place.
Senior German officials in the islands were against the move and on 23 January 1942, Jersey Feldkommandant Colonel Knackfuss notified 319 Infantry Division on mainland Europe of his opposition. He believed that the presence of 8,000 'influential' Channel Islanders, considered important by the British government were providing a shield discouraging the British government from mounting a military operation to retake the islands.
Later in 1942 after a Swiss proposal for the exchange of prisoners of war Hitler realised that his deportation order had not been carried out and he demanded that it should be, without further delay.
On Tuesday 15 September 1942 Colonel Knackfuss published a notice of the intended deportation in the Evening Post:
- By Order of the High Authorities the following British subjects will be evacuated and transferred to Germany:
- (a) Persons who have their permanent residence not on the Channel Islands, for instance those who were caught here by the outbreak of war.
- b) All those men not born on the Channel Islands and 16 to 70 years of age who belong to the English people, together with their families. Detailed instructions will be given by the Feldkommandatur.
- Der Feldkommandant, Knackfuss. Oberst
Knackfuss demanded that at least 1,200 Jersey residents should be deported the following day. This was impossible, but when the SS La France sailed for St Malo the following night there were 280 Jersey residents on board. On the Friday a further 346 Jersey residents were deported and a third group of 560 left on 29 September. In total, some 2,000 people were deported from Jersey and Guernsey.
This was one of the lowest points of the Occupation and the role of the insular authorities in facilitating the deportation has since come in for much criticism. Many have felt that those in office who contemplated resignation should have done so.
Occupation – order for registration
In his diary which was published as Jersey Under the Swastika, Phil Le Sauteur wrote of the deportations:
- ""Apparently the Germans had made all the necessary arrangements secretly, for during that night and the following day, accompanied by members of the local Police, they were busy delivering notices to many of the people affected by the order, instructing them to present themselves at the Weighbridge at 4 pm, taking a certain minimum of luggage.
- "Some people did not receive their notice until mid-day, and so were given very little time to pack and make the necessary arrangements, and none at all to acquire the warm clothing and other items specified. It was pitiful to see hundreds of people, often accompanied by young children, herding down towards the harbour, having been rooted from the homes and all that mattered most to them, now on their way to a foreign country where the general conditions were unknown to them. Many of them were not British at all, having been born of Jersey parents and brought to the Island as infants, whilst almost all of them had lived in Jersey for many years.
- "Exemption was given to those working for the Germans, doctors, clergy and certain essential service workers, although, in the subsequent shipments there were almost no exemptions. Certain rejections were made on medical grounds, and, in the first instance, of those with more than four children. In the later batches, it almost seemed that there was a preference for deporting those with larger families.
- "The deportees were kept waiting about for several hours while the red tape formula was being gone through, and meanwhile the States had arranged for a picnic meal, and each person was provided with a tin each of milk, meat and beans, and a slab of chocolate, to help them while travelling to their destination. Large crowds gathered in the roads leading to, and overlooking, the harbours, but, anticipating demonstrations, the numerous Germans on duty ostentatiously paraded with full kit, rifles, tommy guns and boxes of hand grenades. The singing of Tipperary and other British songs by the deportees as they were leaving the pier at 9 pm was taken up by the many onlookers, whereupon the German guards quickly dispersed the crowds.
- "While these unfortunate people were waiting, the German officers were practising a refined form of cruelty by assuring them that they were being taken to Germany for repatriation to England. There were many very hurried marriages amongst those affected by the order — in some cases, girls married in order to avoid going with their British-born parents, and in others, in order that the girl might go with her man in preference to being separated.
- "Of the two ships which left on the 16th, only one returned to Jersey, and another ship earmarked for the purpose was rejected as unfit for carrying passengers, so that half of those warned to go were sent home with instructions to be ready again in a week's time. In a few cases, the returning unfortunates discovered that their homes had been ransacked during their few hours absence, and so had nothing to come back to for that week.
- "During these few days of great nervous strain, there were several cases of suicide, as well as several unsuccessful attempts, but on the whole it was amazing how pluckily and cheerfully those affected by the deportation order took the complete upheaval of their lives.
- "Continued gales caused a postponement of the date of the third shipment of deportees until September 29th, and in addition to those sent back from the previous batch and further English-born people who expected to be called, quite a number of "undesirables" received notice at the last moment to go. Some of the latter were of the genuinely undesirable category - regular drunkards and the like — whilst others were those convicted and punished at some previous date for such "heinous" offences as curfew breaking, having a radio, or being concerned in a traffic accident.
- "Some 600 people were taken in two vessels, the remainder (about 200) of those who had been warned to appear being informed that the specified number had been taken. These remaining persons were advised to return home and resume their normal occupations, as there would be no further evacuations in the immediate future. So once again there was the spectacle of people returning to empty homes, faced with the stupendous task of recovering their belongings. There were some who had attended the assemblies of each of the three evacuations, and had been left each time.
- "During November the first news trickled through from the unfortunate deportees in Germany. Their whereabouts were not then disclosed, but it later became known that they were in internment camps at Wursach, Biberach and Laufen, and were being kept in close confinement. The food conditions were very poor indeed until, after they had been there for some weeks, they began to receive Red Cross parcels containing many little luxuries, things which had become just memories during the previous two years. Indeed, it would hardly be an exaggeration to say that the Red Cross saved the lives of many of these evacuees, and certainly by bringing them something to look forward to, helped in no small measure to save their reason under the trying conditions under which they were being compelled to live.
Further deportations were to follow the next year. On 3 October 1942 the Allied forces launched a small scale raid on Sark. Two German soldiers who were captured by the force of 12 were killed and on hearing of this Hitler ordered the shackling of 1,400 Allied prisoners captured at Dieppe and a further deportation of Channel Islanders including Jews and high ranking freemasons, former officers and reserve officers, people with previous convictions, communists and politically suspect persons, those who refused to work, young men without useful employment, clergy, leading public figures and wealthy people who might exert an anti-German influence, and the inhabitants of Sark not engaged in agriculture.
This time if the person to be deported was the head of a family then the whole family was also to be deported. Intended deportees were interviewed at the Feldkommandantur, as a result of which a number were given exemption from deportation, mostly based on medical grounds.
On 5 February 1943 the German authorities sent out the final deportation notices by mail, warning that transportation would take place on Tuesday, 9 February. However, bad weather and problems with the boat delayed the transportation and on 13 February the deportees finally left for St Malo.
Between August 1940 and August 1944, over 570 Islanders were arrested and deported from the Channel Islands to German prisons and concentration camps. Of these, 22 from Jersey and at least nine from Guernsey were murdered in the camps or perished as a result of the ill-treatment they received..
Islanders were sent to the most notorious of the concentration and extermination camps, including Auschwitz, Buchenwald, Bergen-Belsen, Neunegamme and Ravensbrueck. Others were sent to Sylt in Alderney, the only concentration camp established by the Nazis on British soil.
The tragic stories of a number of these Jersey men and women are told in three books which can be downloaded from the Occupation Memorial website:
- The Ultimate Sacrifice, by Paul Sanders
- Night and Fog, by Peter Hassall
- The Fate of Jewish Residents by Frederick Cohen
List of deportees
The names of those deported to prisons and concentration camps and their fates have been researched over many years by Joe Miere:
This list of deportees to internment camps has been refined over the years and is believed to be the most accurate available:
- Maureen Osborne's recollections of Biberach and Wurzach
- Another story of life in Wurzach
- A family's story of Wurzach
- Roy Skingle, Biberach, Laufen and back to Jersey
- Gwendoline Bisson's story of internment camps Added 2016
Ironically, communications between islanders and their relatives and friends sent to German internment camps were better than those channelled through the Red Cross to the United Kingdom, as evidenced by these letters to Mr T G Hutt in 1943 and 1944, and Mrs Gates from Mr Chapman in Laufen in 1943, and others added in 2018
Pictures of groups of Jersey and Guernsey internees at Laufen and artwork from Bad Wurzach