JERSEY OCCUPATION REMEMBRANCE OPEN LETTER
TO MEMBERS OF JERSEY STATES ASSEMBLY
Dear Jersey politicians (Members of the States Assembly)
The Occupation period was a very difficult period of our Islands’ history. It was understandable that after the War, given the ordeal which the islanders and authorities had to endure and the desire to resume a normal life as soon as possible, there was a period in which Occupation history was put on the back-burner, while lives were rebuilt and a narrative was adopted that parked some of the more difficult issues of the Occupation.
Today, as fewer of those who experienced the War remain with us and the events of the Occupation have been gradually re-assessed and more historical sources declassified, we need to ensure that the official Commemoration and Remembrance is up to date, accurate and genuinely universally inclusive, of all of those who suffered and further, that interpretation at historic sites reflects advances in scholarship on the period.
We also need to acknowledge that the Occupation histories of the Channel Islands are interlinked. For example, the work of Marcus Roberts and other researchers, shows how the slave labourers were shuttled from island to island to perform their forced labour and Jersey was also an important transit point for prisoners being returned to their fates in Europe. Jewish prisoners recall how they (along with the Spanish Republicans) were the first constructors (and victims), of the Ho8 Jersey War Tunnels and were held in a camp at Fort Regent (‘Lager Ehrembrestein’) for two years, before being sent on to Alderney and SS camp Norderney, in 1943, to join French Jews from Drancy. This information, sent to Jersey in 1971, is in an official letter sanctioned by the French survivors’ association, which we identified at Yad Vashem and is attached to this letter.
However, this Jewish group are not included in official remembrance, or additionally on the site interpretation, at the Jersey War Tunnels, or at Fort Regent and what is concerning is that the survivors state that Jewish victims have not been recognised – 'but the first victims were Spanish and Jews (French, Polish, etc.)’. The 1971 letter was a polite official complaint to the Jersey authorities about their omission from the displays at the War Tunnels but appears not to have been acted on. Both places ought to be significant Sites of Memory for the Jewish community and indicates how the war-time presence of Jews on the islands has been largely over-looked and it is important for Holocaust recognition that the Jewishness of victims is recognised as well as their nationality, as this was a key reason for what befell them.
In June 1944, as the Allies advanced, the Germans sought to evacuate slave labourers from the islands, from Alderney, via Guernsey and then Jersey, with prisoners often being held at Fort Regent operating as a transit camp, before being sent via St Malo, on towards Germany and an uncertain fate, but most likely to be killed on route, or ‘euthanised’ in a German camp. The ships also carried Islanders, who had been imprisoned on Alderney and some found their liberation on arrival to Jersey. There were at least 11 sailings in June, 1944, but because of weather conditions and advancement of Allied forces in Normandy many prisoners "remained" at Fort Regent.
One of these transports included no less than 7 ships and their escorts. The holds were packed with a human cargo - a mixed international cohort which included OT slave workers, women, civilians, concentration camp inmates and civilian prisoners, who were temporarily off-loaded to Fort Regent, before being re-boarded three days later.
Most tragically, on 3 July, 1944, the slave ship, Le Minotaure left St Helier in a convoy and exactly four hours later, when off St Malo, was attacked by British MTBs and up to 250 French Jews were killed out of the 500 slaves onboard, in a torpedo attack. They have no memorial, in the Channel Islands, or France and their inclusion in official commemoration is urgently merited.
In Europe, transit hubs and camps have frequently become important museums of deportation, such as at the Caserne Dossin, at Mechelin in Belgium and the Camp Westerbork Memorial Centre in the Netherlands.
We are of the view that officially commemorating the role of the harbour and Fort Regent in bringing slave workers to Jersey and its additional role as a key transit / deportation point, is of importance, as well as the use of Fort Regent both a transit camp and camp for Jews working on Ho8. We also recommend re-interpretation at the Jersey War Tunnel to make specific reference to Jewish prisoners and its role in the Holocaust.
In terms of deportation memorialisation on the island today, St Helier harbour has the Lighthouse Memorial for deported Islanders. There is a plaque for those 2,300 people deported in September 1942 and a plaque for those who evacuated before the Occupation. There is also a plaque for the bombing of St Helier Harbour on 28 June, 1940. Vega Ship ( Red Cross Memorial ) . Fort Regent, despite its importance, has little on-site remembrance and information.
We are requesting that existing memorialisation is reviewed, rationalised and brought up to date and that none of the victim groups are left out, in order to achieve universal memorialisation and to ensure that key facts are physically represented in the public space. We also request that stake-holder groups are involved in any process, such as for the Jewish community and those representing the Spanish Republicans ( who are taking a renewed interest in their CI history. )
Marcus Roberts, Director JTrails.,The National Anglo- Jewish Heritage Trail.
Kevin South. Campaign Lead of Channel Islands WW2 Remembrance Campaign.
Below is the Attachment with this letter.