Resistance: From ''The British Channel Islands Under German Occupation''

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From The British Channel Islands Under German Occupation, 1940-1945 by Paul Sanders

The most significant, but also the most dangerous of these activities was giving shelter to escaped forced or slave workers. If a list of 14 escaped prisoners in Jersey, in all probability established in 1944, is anything to go by, the great majority of the fugitives were Russian OT workers.

Compassion

The main motive was compassion, often coupled with a political or social element such as willingness to defy the Nazis, anti-Fascism or social marginalisation. On the other hand, many helpers were the exact opposite of marginals or non-conformists: ‘doers’ who were actively involved in community life.

This virtual resistance organisation grew organically and it was its inherent element of improvisation and heterodox nature which precluded detection and made it effective.

Many of the escapees transited via the home of Stella Perkins in Hill Street. Stella’s mother and aunt were Russian-born and it was known among islanders that the fugitives could find someone who spoke their language. Stella remembered the occupation years as a very difficult time, but also a time of much animated chitter-chatter with these strangers, many of whom were both interesting and refined. One tall Eastern Slav had a most peculiar idea of what it was to look like an Englishman. He took an old mouldy bowler hat from a scarecrow and dressed in clothes with short sleeves. Dr McKinstry was then alerted and went out in his ambulance to bring him in.

Jersey clerk Bob Le Sueur was one of the relays for escapees in the island. He stated that eight or nine Eastern European escapees went through his hands from 1942. Bob was the ideal man for this task because of his mobility as an insurance agent and his talent for foreign languages. Security and discretion were of paramount importance: one of the precautions was to never leave an escapee longer than two months with any one shelterer. Town locations were considered safer than the countryside, which was perhaps against instinct. What he dreaded most was the fringe of town, as these suburban locations made it very difficult to hide things from the neighbours. Information was only passed on when absolutely necessary. The less people knew the better and Bob was never aware of more than three or four people up or down the life-line at one time.

Risks

The risks certainly were there, as is shown by the case of Jerseywoman Louisa Gould who took in a young Russian, Feodor Buryi (Bill) in autumn 1942. Gould owned a shop at La Fontaine Millais, St Ouen, and having lost one son in the war, treated Bill as surrogate son. Gould was not a distrustful person and she had perhaps a too high opinion of her co-parishioners. Bill’s presence in her house soon was an open secret. On occasions he was seen serving customers in the shop or doing little errands. In May 1944 the inevitable happened, Louisa Gould received a tip-off from a sympathetic islander who had gotten wind of a letter of denunciation that was on its way to the Feldkommandantur. Bill was immediately ferried to another location by Bob Le Sueur and the house was purged of any trace of his presence, but when the Feldgendarms raided the next day they still found enough evidence, including a radio, to arrest her. The trial took place in late June 1944 and involved a number of other people who had received radio news: her brother Harold Le Druillenec, her sister Ivy Forster and two of Gould’s closest friends, Dora Hacquoil and Berthe Pitolet. After the trial Gould, Le Druillenec and Pitolet were transported to the Continent (Ivy Forster evaded deportation by having been taken into hospital). The procedure until spring had been that condemned Channel Islanders sent to the Continent still served their terms in penitentiaries under the authority of the Reich Ministry of Justice first. By summer 1944, however, under the pounding of the Allied guns, German administration of justice in Western Europe had disintegrated and things were no longer done by the book. Therefore these prisoners were fed straight into the concentration camp prison: while Pitolet escaped during a bombing raid in France, Gould was sent to Ravensbrück and her brother to Neuengamme. Le Druillenec just about survived the horrors of Belsen, where he had been sent to in spring, but his sister was gassed in Ravensbrück, on 13 February 1945.

Family help

Especially in the rural northern and western parts of Jersey a large number of families provided assistance to slave workers, if only by passing on food. Some went as far as inviting slave labourers to their houses.

Perkins knew of 22 people who were involved in providing assistance, but is certain that there were many more. Information which Bob Le Sueur was able to collect after the war led him to believe that the total number of people directly involved in the sheltering of escapees in Jersey must have been about 100.

Jersey farmer William Sarre sheltered three Russian prisoners, among them Peter Bogatenko, Grigori Koslov and a man whom he had only known as Vasili, over varying periods of time. Vasili came to his house on Boxing Day 1942 to beg for food. He could not stand, ‘his legs being like bamboo sticks’, and the family took him in, stripped him, gave him a bath and put him to bed, before calling a doctor. They kept him for about five months until it became too dangerous to keep him. One week after he left the Sarres he was caught. As a result of Vasili’s account of conditions, Sarre made it his ‘business’ to go out to the Five Mile Road in St Ouen’s Bay.

A minority of farmers did not play along: Stella Perkins stated one case where a farmer tied up an escapee and called in the OT and another where an escapee was reportedly killed. However, she stressed that this should not be the basis upon which the ‘kind, but fearful’ majority of Jersey people should be judged.

Whether escapees were reported or given shelter relied to some extent on the first impression they gave to Channel Islanders. And it is true that in this respect not all forced workers were an example of rectitude.

Whether the first impression slave labourers foraging for food left was the disappearance of someone’s hens or rabbits or whether they approached the population with a modicum of civilised behaviour could make all the difference in the world. One December night in 1943 two Russians helped themselves to bicycles from the garage of a St Clement resident and then went on a food foraging ‘tour’ of the district, which involved several break-ins. The following day they were arrested by local police, brought into town and then handed over to the OT.

Could their fate have been different if they had asked nicely?

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