Midvale Road, St Helier, Jersey – A Road to Remember by MARCUS ROBERTS
© Marcus Roberts 2023.
Written by Marcus Roberts.
My survey of the remembrance of the German Occupation in Jersey has shown me that in general local remembrance and memorialisation has failed to mature and develop over the decades – it is still somewhat fixated on ‘Resistance’ and ‘Liberation’, the lenses through which the islanders focus
and remember their own undoubted suffering and privations during the war-years, but it remains largely self-absorbed vision. This vision of the Occupation is a failure in many respects, as it does not consistently include the non-native Jersey islanders, who were resident or trapped on the island, once the Germans took the islands, as well as the thousands of slave-labourers, who were brought to construct tunnels and fortifications for the Germans in terrible and often fatal conditions. The recognition of local Jews trapped on the island is dealt with in an inconsistent manner, with no real effort to incisively understand the fates of these individuals or incorporate the Jewish community perspective. The evidence suggests that many more Jews, whether affiliated to the community or not, were present on the island before the War, with an un-researched and most likely rather larger number who remained hidden on Jersey during the Occupation. As to the other Jews brought to the island as slaves, to Fort Regent and the Jersey War Tunnels, they are largely white-washed from the history.
I have developed a mini-Remembrance trail based on Midvale Road, to show the limitations of current local efforts in remembrance and to demonstrate an alternative and more inclusive approach, as a ‘microcosm’ of the Jersey Occupation. Midvale Road in the northern district of St Helier’s, concentrates in its relatively short length, a remarkable cross-section of local Occupation history, as most of the groups who are remembered or ought to be remembered had their own occupation experiences in this street, some of which was horrific. Currently, there are no plaques or markers to remember some very significant locations and individuals who deserve to be on the rostra of remembrance. Some of the heritage is ‘Resistance’ focused, such as the home of the Miere family, while some commemorates a shocking historical experience of ‘pain and shame’, such as the
location of the Organisation Todt torture basement. All are equally worthy of remembrance.
The area around Midvale Road was also said to have been a favoured quarter of town for the small local Jewish community, who lack a general heritage trail, but specifically a Holocaust related trail and the mini-trail references this local Jewish history, though the impact of the Holocaust means that addresses and identities are not always easy to find and more research is needed.
The West-side of Midvale Road and the properties covered on this ‘mini-trail’.
Hidden Jews in Midvale Road
Arthur and Marthe Kleinstein lived in a large house at Midvale Road. When the Germans ordered compulsory registration of all Jews on Jersey, they hid their Jewish identity and did not register as Jews with the Jersey Aliens Office (there is are no Occupation identity cards registered under their
names). The Germans made determined searches for them, which lead to the couple taking desperate measures as the Germans were closing in and perhaps they found no hiding place? They took a boat from harbour, in 1941, but drowned off the south of Jersey while attempting escape (account of Joe Miere) and the Germans disposed of their bodies in an unknown location. The memory of their attempted escape should merit a plaque at Gorey Harbour?
Joe Miere, the noted Resistance figure and chronicler of the Jersey Occupation, also noted that another, unnamed Jewish woman, from Midvale Road, managed to hide from the Germans and survived the War. He also discusses another Jewish woman who married an English / Jersey bus driver the day before the German occupation and they lived in a room rented from Joe’s mother in
Midvale Road. Miere notes that they evaded being arrested or deported, though the actual reason why is possibly that under French Vichy law she may have been classed as ‘Conjoint Aryenne’ (i.e having a Christian spouse), which may have given her some protections?
Joe Miere also notes the shocking fact that Jersey refused to take 14 Kindertransport children due to prejudice.
17-19 Midvale Road
The former Portland Hotel is a key Occupation historical site in Jersey because it was the headquarters of the paramilitary construction corps, Organisation Todt, who were in charge of all of the military construction on Jersey, and the slave workers supplying that work in terrible conditions.
The slave worker brigade, including many Russians, as well as Jews. The OT on Jersey was code- named, ‘Bauleitung Julius’ (‘Construction Sector Julius’), whereas on Alderney it was given the alternative notorious title ‘Bauleitung Adolf’.
While the main portion of the former hotel at No. 17, provided useful space for administering the construction works, neighbouring No. 19 was also used for the abuse and torture of escaped
Russians. The OT converted the back-basement rooms into holding cells. Miere relates that apprehended escaped slave workers would arrive in Jersey Police vans and that they were then given over to the OT staff, ‘who kicked and hit them with long batons all the way down the
basement steps. You did not have to wait long before dreadful screams came from number 19 as the brutal OT beat up the recaptured men and women in the basement’. Surely, in recognition of the suffering of the slave-workers, these sites merit some formal public marking?
No’s 17 (white portico on left and states ‘Portland Hotel’ just under roof-line) and 19 Midvale Road (door on right) the OT torture chamber.
19 Midvale Road
Royde House, 21 Midvale Road
It may seem ironic, but a Dr Shone, who was a Red Cross representative in Jersey, lived at Royde House. Miere recalls that he did complain about the treatment of the re-captured slave workers,
but was been told by the Germans to mind his own business. He also went to the Bailiff and the Attorney General, who told him that the Germans were in total control of the prisoners. Shone noted that he did not like the Attorney General, Duret Aubin’s, attitude to the prisoners, whom he
described as, ‘savage heathens and criminals’. Miere noted that he equally held local political prisoners, such as Miere himself, to be common criminals. Miere’s crimes included theft of German property, which were small acts against the occupiers.
25 Midvale Road
No’s 25 (door on left) and 27, Midvale Road (door on right). No. 27 was the home of one of the only British Holocaust victims, June Sinclair and ought to be marked as a site of national importance.
The German Registration cards note that a Mary Jaffray Basevi (née Thomson, born 24/11/1860), was resident at 25, Midvale Road, St Helier. The family name ‘Basevi’ is well-known as a Sephardic Jewish surname (though some members of the family converted to Christianity). Disraeli’s mother was a Basevi and members of the family lived in Hove, thus the family were likely to be of Jewish
origins linked to the ‘Cousinhood’, and potential relatives of Disraeli. My research has provided indications that various scions of the UK ‘Cousinhood’ (Jewish Victorian elite) established themselves in the Channel Islands. While they were often disconnected from local Jewish communities, the families often maintained a private Jewish identity.
Number 25 was also the family home of the famous Jersey Resister, Joe Miere, who was resident as a young man, at 25 Midvale Road and carried out a number of his acts of resistance from the family home, which got him into serious trouble with the Germans. Joe also remembers the family finding a cowering Russian hiding in their garage one night, his face covered with grime and blood. He had evidently escaped his torture in the basement in No. 19 and they were able to help him by leaving a jug of water and some food and an old coat and let him have over-night refuge, before the OT came seeking him in the morning. Joe, as a 17-year-old carried out acts of defiance (such as house tarring) and belonged to a Resistance group and was imprisoned by the Germans for sabotage, where he was terribly beaten and interrogated for weeks at an end. He was in cells near to the Jewish sisters (and artists) who had also been imprisoned and given the death sentence, but then reprieved due to the intervention of the Bailiff, Coutanche. At his release, he joined the British Army and fought the Japanese.
Afterwards, he became a major witness to the occupation and Resistance and also worked as the curator of the Jersey War Tunnels, and his research is still a vital resource in telling the story of the Occupation, both the Tunnels, but also in general. From a Jewish perspective, Joe Miere was very sympathetic to the plight and fate of the of the Jews on Jersey (his family were familiar with varous
members of the local Jewish community) and is an important source of information regarding the Holocaust on Jersey and publicly countered the claim that no Jews were brought to Jersey as slave
labourers during the Occupation. Other members of his family were also arrested at various points.
Strangely, his house at No. 25 has no plaque, despite his importance in the Occupation story?
27 Midvale Road
Joe Miere recalled that June Mary Sinclair lodged next door to his family home. He said that she was a young woman from London, who said that she has a Jewish parent and also claimed that her family had all been killed in an air-raid in London. She worked in the ‘Continental Hotel’, where a German soldier molested her and she retaliated by slapping his face. The fracas resulting led to her arrest and deportation to France and the prison at Fresnes, then the camp at Brens, after which she was deported to Ravensbrück Camp, where she died in 1943, aged 23. Therefore, one of the only British Jewish victims of Ravensbrück Camp and the Holocaust resided in Midvale Street, making the location of national importance. A French woman, also in Ravensbrück, Marie Boudouine confirmed her presence in the camp and spent June’s final days before her death with her and because June had told her all about the Miere family, this prompted her to write in 1946, based on that specific intelligence about the Miere family that could only have come from June herself. There have been searches seeking documentation regarding her identity and exact fate, which have drawn a blank, though the Bad Arolson Archive, while huge, is missing many records and searches in my experience often draw a blank (for example, I could only find one out of two of my relatives who had been deported as slave labour). However, I have traced a Jewish Sinclair family who were resident in Stoke Newington during the War and one of the school age boys was evacuated to Northampton during the Blitz (and had to remember not to use Yiddish with his Christian host family), so Sinclair is a Jewish name found in London (and the UK) and numerous examples can be found in Jewish vital records. It is also important to observe that June Sinclair could have easily and legally have changed her name in London, before going to Jersey, as many Anglo-Jews Anglicised their names, which could be readily done merely by an announcement in the London Gazette and at the begging of the War many Jews had to make the choice of changing their name from Germanic names. The famous Jewish artist, William Rothenstein, writes about his difficult decision not to change his name to something more English at the start of the War. It is possible that once in the camp system June could have been interrogated and forced to revealed her identity, as this is described by some Holocaust survivors as part of their ordeal. A Guernsey academic has cast doubt on the Ravensbrück story, due to being unable to find documentation and suggests she might have been sent to a civilian internment camp instead, and survived, but with no proof of this claim in the form of a supposed repatriation list, or an index card in the International Tracing Service database (ITS). It seems to me to very untoward and insensitive, to challenge the memory of one of the UK’s only Holocaust victims, who is the only actual Jew on the Jersey Light House Holocaust Memorial, which lists the 21 islanders and Resisters, who died in German Camps, without proof and could create an unintended impression of Holocaust denial? Previously, the Memorial had 22 names, but a name was taken off the memorial when evidence suggested that one of the named survived. Again, there is no Plaque on the building, or ‘stumbling-stone’ on the pavement, to show that one of the only British and Jewish victims of the Holocaust lived at No. 27? Surely this is something that that should be vital in both local and national memory and should be remedied as soon as possible?
No. 27 was also later requisitioned by the OT to be used as a store (and as a billet for French women working with the Germans) and Joe Miere and other raided it and stole cotton underwear, which it turned out was on route for the SS on Alderney, and two SS men later interrogated him as a witness as he had said he had heard breaking glass on the morning of a robbery, so No. 27 has a connection with the SS terror on Alderney as well.'
Remembrance needs to happen.
(Director JTrails, the National Anglo-Jewish Heritage Trail, part of the Europe Route of Jewish Heritage, a registered UK Charity)
OT is German Organization, a Nazi civil engineering organization working for the Nazi Third Reich throughout the occupied territories during World War II. Used slave laborers as well. .Much of the work on the German Atlantic Wall was done with slave labour. Vast amount brought to Channel Islands during WW2.
The properties are private and have no public access.
Trail by JTrails is experienced from the public Pathway only.