The Channel Islands at war — Deportation & imprisonment

In August, 1941 Allied armed forces invaded Persia (modern-day Iran) in order to secure Iranian oil fields and ensure the safety of supply lines for Russian troops fighting Axis forces on the Eastern Front. German citizens living in Persia were interned by the British.

Col. Friedrich Knackfuss; in the photograph at the top, the colonel is shown with an unidentified Jerseyman. — Images courtesy of The Island Wiki.

In retaliation, Hitler personally ordered the deportation of non-island born British residents of the Channel Islands. Detailed lists of the mainland born subjects resident in the islands were prepared in September and October but the deportation itself did not take immediately place because senior German officials in the islands were against the move.

On 23 January 1942, Jersey Feldkommandant Col. Friedrich Knackfuss1 notified 319 Infantry Division on mainland Europe of his opposition. He argued that 8,000 ‘influential’ Channel Islanders, considered important by the British government, were providing a shield discouraging the British government from attempting to retake the islands. And, in fact, the British were leery of an attack; they had made a few bombing attacks on German shipping in Channel Islands harbours, and clearly did not wish to endanger islanders.

Later in 1942, after a Swiss proposal for the exchange of prisoners of war, Hitler realized that his deportation order had not been carried out. He demanded compliance without further delay, and on September 15, Colonel Knackfuss published a notice of the intended deportation in the Jersey 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.

Deportations begin

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 Sept. 29. In total, some 2,200 people were deported from Jersey and Guernsey to any of several different internment camps in France and Germany. Most Channel Islanders were sent initially to Ilag2 Biberach in southeastern Baden-Württemberg, and then were moved on to one of three other camps, depending on their marital status.

Ilag Biberach was the first stop for many British families deported to France and Germany from the Channel Islands. — Image courtesy of The Island Wiki.

Wurzach Castle, home for hundreds of British families deported from the Channel Islands.— Image courtesy of The Island Wiki.

Conditions at Ilag Wurzach were less satisfactory than those in other camps; it was located in a three-story 18th-century castle that had previously been a monastery, and the rooms were dark and damp. Ironically, however, interneesat Ilag Wurzach and other internment camps were relatively well taken care of, and actually enjoyed a better diet in internment than they had had back in the Channel Islands. All families with children, plus about 30 couples without children, left Biberach for Wurzach on 31 October,1942.

The Jupp Family, interned at Ilag Wurzach

Among those interned was the Jupp family (Mrs. Frances C. Jupp, her husband, Lindsey, and daughters Frances M. and Elizabeth). It is not known when their internment began, but in October, 1942 they apparently arrived among a group of 618 internees at Ilag Wurzach, in the town of Wurzach (now Bad Wurzach) in southeastern Baden-Württemberg.

A twice-censored prisoner-of-war lettersheet addressed to Frances Jupp in Ilag Wurzach, postmarked Cambridge, England on Sept. 5, 1944, some two years after their internment. A pencilled note inside indicates that it arrived at Ilag Wurzach on Sept. 28. The relationship of the sender, Lionel Jupp, to Mrs. Jupp is not known.

The letter was censored twice, once by the British and once by the Germans; censorship seems to have been facilitated by the lack of gum or tape to seal the letter; instead, the flap was simply tucked into a slit in the cover to keep it closed in transit.

Like most private civilian and military letters, the prisoner-of-war lettersheet posted to Mrs. Jupp reveals nothing at all of a political nature that might have resulted in redactment or even refusal to forward the letter to the recipient. Nevertheless, the letter is a window into the some of the conditions of the internment:

Internees worked to ensure normalcy

Interned Channel Islanders enjoyed such recreational activities as playing football and performing in orchestras and bands.— Images courtesy of The Island Wiki

For the most part, the internees from the Channel Islands were not treated badly, nor were they treated especially well: wartime conditions meant that neither they nor their German jailers lived “the good life”.

Relatively few photographs of the internment camps appear to have been taken, and most can be seen as little more than propaganda photos. Nevertheless, it’s clear that the internees did their utmost to live as normal a life as possible under the circumstances, organizing sports events and forming bands and orchestras.

Death awaited many interned Channel Islanders

Although most deported Channel Islanders were sent to internment camps, a number ended up in some of the most notorious of German concentration camps — Bergen-Belsen, Ravensbruck, Auschwitz, Buchenwald, Theresienstadt. Their “crimes” included slapping a German soldier who made sexual advances, spreading news from the BBC, being an Australian, being an Italian, attempting to escape, sheltering an escaped slave worker, helping a German soldier to desert, owning a gun, radio, or camera, and receiving stolen goods. Twenty-two of them are known to have died in Nazi confinement.

The majority of the Jewish population had been evacuated to the British mainland before the German occupation, and only a small number of Jews were left behind, twelve on Jersey, and four on Guernsey. At least eight of them were transported to concentration camps, where they died.

Sadly, civilian authorities in the Channel Islands cooperated with the German authorities in identifying islanders for arrest and transport. A British intelligence report from August, 1945 states:

When the Germans proposed to put their anti-Jewish measures into force, no protest whatsoever was raised by any of the Guernsey officials and they hastened to give the Germans every assistance. By contrast, when it was proposed to take steps against the Freemasons, of which there are many in Guernsey, the Bailiff made considerable protests and did everything possible to protect the Masons.

In 1945, the British Lord Justice Herbert du Parcq was asked by Home Office officials to comment on allegations of collaboration within the Jersey and Guernsey administrations.

Du Parcq had criticised the role of the Channel Island governments in the deportation of 2,200 English citizens to internment camps, and some Jews to concentration camps, in 1942, on Hitler's orders. “I think that a strong case can be made…,” he wrote, “…that the authorities ought to have refused to give any assistance in the performance of this violation of international law.”3

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The Channel Islands at War — Postage stamps as instruments of resistance: The German occupation of the Channel Islands is documented through postal artifacts of the prewar and wartime periods. The successful efforts of stamp designers to ridicule Hitler and Mussolini and to surreptitiously display their allegiance with Great Britain are highlighted.

The Channel Islands at war — the Red Cross Message Scheme: Channel Islanders were able to communicate with friends living abroad, courtesy of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

The Channel Islands at War — Col. Rybot’s poetic protest: “An Occupation Alphabet,” a poem written in 1944 by the designer of Jersey’s first occupation stamps, protests the German presence in the Channel Islands as well as the unpatriotic behaviour of some of his fellow islanders.

  1. Knackfuss left his post on March 2, 1944 to face court-martial over “defeatist remarks,” his opposition to certain orders issued by superior officers, and his anti-Nazi behaviour. He is believed to have died in Russia in the same year. 

  2. Ilag is an abbreviation of Internierungslager, which means internment in English. Internierungslager were internment camps established by the German Army in World War II to hold Allied civilians, caught in areas that were occupied by the German Army. They included United States citizens caught in Europe by surprise when war was declared in December 1941; and citizens of the British Commonwealth caught in areas engulfed by the Blitzkrieg, and British citizens resident in the Channel Islands. 

  3. Quoted in the Dec. 2, 1992 edition of the British newspaper, The Independent