Why were so many Islanders deported to internment camps?
On Saturday 15 June 1940, the British government decided that the Channel Islands were of no strategic importance and would not be defended, but did not give Germany this information.
Thus despite the reluctance of Prime Minister Winston Churchill, the British government gave up the oldest possession of the Crown “without firing a single shot”.
The Channel Islands served no purpose to the Germans other than the propaganda value of having occupied some British territory. The “Channel Islands had been demilitarized and declared…’an open town”.
In wartime, events seem to evolve through a relentless chain reaction. Jersey, just a pinprick on the world map became directly caught up in world events on 28 June 1940 first with the bombing of the harbour by the German Luftwaffe then on 01 July 1940 after surrender of the oldest possession of the British Crown to a senior German military officer. There followed 5 years of isolation and German military occupation.
Islanders’ lives and their uneasy routines were subsequently abruptly shaken on Tuesday 15th September 1942 by a directive published in the Jersey Evening Post (Below) addressed to all British nationals not born in the Channel Islands between 16 and 70 years of age to report for duty the next day, together with their families, at the Weighbridge with a minimum of luggage. Original summons documents were also delivered personally to each household affected.
The Jersey Evening Post’ publishes a German notice:
By order of higher 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 have been caught here by the outbreak of the 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 Feldkommandantur 515.
What was the reason for this ?
Why did Jersey become caught up in wider WWII events – the Iranian connection
Following the German invasion of Russia on 22 June 1941 and with the German Army steadily advancing through the Soviet Union, in August 1941 in the interests of securing Iranian oil fields and safeguarding Allied supply line, British and Soviet Union troops invaded Iran.
For many decades Iran and Germany had cultivated ties as a counter balance to the imperial ambitions of Britain and Russia. From 1939 to 1941 Iran’s main foreign trading partner had been Germany which had helped Iran open modern sea and air communications with the rest of the world. Despite Iran’s claims of neutrality, Britain feared Iran was supporting Nazism and protested that a German advance in the region would threaten British communications between India and the Mediterranean.
Inevitably demands from the Allies were made for the expulsion of German residents in Iran (mostly workers and diplomats) but these were initially refused by the Shah. Ultimately the German legation and women and children from the expat community were permitted to travel to Europe and German men of fighting age (18-45) were rounded up, most preferring British to Soviet control. A few went into Soviet hands and were shipped to Siberia. The British then separated out Jewish Germans who could remain in Iran, the remainder being sent to India for internment, some even ending up in camps in Australia.
Upon learning of British action in Iran, Hitler was furious and complained somewhat hypocritically of invasion of a neutral country and internment of German citizens, his immediate reaction being to find out what reprisals were possible.
The German Foreign Office’s response was that British people in the Channel Islands were effectively interned as they could not leave without permission, a rough estimate indicating that about 2,000 men in Jersey had been born in the United Kingdom. This was short of the 5,000 that were needed if a ratio of 10:1 was to be applied according to German figures. More accurate lists of men were demanded and finally women and children were included and by 10 November 1940, lists were submitted by the Island authorities. However, in Berlin the order was passed from department to department but remained buried until September 1942 when a Swiss attempt to organise an exchange of injured soldiers and civilians resulted in Hitler being reminded that the British civilians were still in Jersey. Inevitably, on discovering that his orders had not been complied with, Hitler reissued the order.
In the Islands, everything then moved very quickly. The order arrived in Jersey on 15 September 1942. The same day a meeting was held with the Bailiff and Parish officials, and a notice appeared in the local paper. Because island authorities refused to serve the notices, soldiers required parish officials to show them where to go, and served the deportation orders on the first batch of people that evening.
In total about 2011 Channel Islanders (either non-resident and caught by the outbreak of war or men between 16 and 70 years of age not born in the Channel Islands together with their families) were deported in 3 sailings via a convoluted route across France, Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany to first Biberach arriving finally at the small town of Wurzach in the marshes north of Lake Constance, – men, women, children and babes in arms 618 Islanders were detained in Bad Wurzach’s 18th century castle until they were liberated in April 1945.