Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Occupational Hazards

The Occupation saw many people struggling to survive, and just get on with their lives at a time when food and fuel was severely rationed. But quite a few people did listen to Radio Sets to the BBC news, even though that was illegal - one of the States Occupational Committee, Edward Le Quesne, was imprisoned because he had a wireless set.

But when Denis Vibert made a spectacular escape from Jersey in October 1941, he mentioned that while "Crown Officers were directed to remain at their posts", and that they were "doing their best to safeguard the interests of the Islanders" and "that their difficult position had not been clearly understood by some of the evacuated Channel Islanders". But he also criticised a number of States officials, such as the Attorney General, Duret Aubin,  who he said were "co-operating to an unnecessary extent" or "going out of their way to co-operate"

What I have done for this Liberation Day is to provide three dramatised stories which shows how much this was the case. The basic events narrated are all historically verified; they can be read in Paul Sander's book "The British Channel Islands under German Occupation 1940-1945" and in "The Memoirs of Lord Coutanche". Two show, I think, something of Vibert's concerns; the final one, shows how, nonetheless, the authorities could at times be said to act as a buffer against the German forces.

Occupational Hazards

Act 1: The Law of Expediency

Scene: A study. The blackout curtain is over the window. The light is poor, from a dim bulb in the centre of the ceiling. The lampshade looks dusty, neglected, as do the shelves of legal books, thick with dust. Behind a desk in the room sits a man, writing. There is a knock at the door.

Narrator: A time of war. Jersey is under German Occupation, and under German Orders. Wireless sets have been confiscated, and possession of a set, to listen to the BBC, is now a criminal offence.  The authorities are obliged - under threat of punishment - to signal to the Germans all information which came to their attention bearing a relation to infractions of German orders.

Attorney General: Come.

The door opens and two men enter. They are wearing suits, which are shabby and have seen better days; their shoes look worn. On the lapel of their jackets is a small badge, the insignia of the Honorary Police. They stand beside the desk.

Policeman 1: Sir, we have a situation, and we'd like to approach you about it, but off the record, informally..
(he pauses, uncertain of what to say)

AG: Yes. Spit, it out, man. I haven't got all the time in the world. It's already past curfew. My work as Attorney-General is the more onerous because of the German Occupation. So what is so important it brings two Honorary Police to my door?

Policeman 2: We were following up information regarding a robbery, and we received information from neighbours in the vicinity about a wireless set held by an individual. That man had nothing to do with the robbery.

AG: Was the wireless set there?

Policeman 1: Yes sir, we did discover a wireless set belonging to a Mr Frederick Page.

AG: You do know that wireless sets are illegal. The German Order expressly forbids the Civilian Population to keep an unlicensed wireless set.

Policeman 2: We know that sir, but the owner of the house hasn't committed any other offence; it was quite by chance we discovered the wireless set. It is not an ordinary criminal matter as such, and  we wonder if we should perhaps forget all about it. I've very disturbed in my mind as to the correct course of action.

Policeman 1: We know the man involved; he's an honest man. It just doesn't seem right that a man who is innocent of any real law breaking should suffer. That's why we brought it to your attention. We don't know what to do. After all, he's not really a criminal.

AG: In the eyes of the law, he is. We can make no distinctions here between our laws and the laws of the occupying German forces. There has to be one rule of law. Consider this: what would happen if you had not told me, and it later emerged that you had concealed a crime against the German forces? What do you think would happen? Well? But it is for you to decide: I am not disposed to give you an order one way or the other in a matter into which considerations of conscience entered so strongly. You must see where your duty lies to the wider community.

Policeman 2: I supposed we'd be guilty of covering it up. But can't we pretend we never saw it, turn a blind eye?

AG: You would be accessories after the fact. You could well end up imprisoned. And now you have told me. Now I know. If I concealed this, and it came to light, I too would be guilty of a felony. I could end up imprisoned.

Policeman 1: So what are you going to do, sir?

AG: Now that I know, I must inform the German authorities. That is my duty,..

Policeman 2: But it seems harsh, sir; it just doesn't feel right.

AG: When have feelings ever come into matters of law? But look at it this way. We are under an Occupying force. If we fall, then the Germans will govern directly. They will mete out the law with much more brutality, make no mistake. And the situation will worsen for the great majority of law abiding Islanders. If they are dealt with directly, there will be more summary justice. We stand as a buffer between the German command and the people of Jersey. If we fall, who will protect the people.

Policeman 1: So what you are saying is this: It is better than one man should suffer for the people than the whole Island suffer. Seems I've heard that said before.
(sounds cynical)

AG: I can understand your frustration, but you must understand my point of view. We cannot allow ourselves the luxury of feelings. The law, such as it is, even if you feel it may have been twisted by the Germans, is our only defence against matters getting out of hand. We have due process of law, of trials, and these are our only means of resisting the Germans. Direct action is not possible; this is a small Island, cut off from the sea, with no hiding places. I have not the choices I would like in these matters. We live on a knife edge.

Policeman 2: I don't like it sir, but I suppose we are stuck with it. But it isn't why I joined the Honorary Police, to enforce German Orders. It was to keep ordinary decent people safe, no to arrest them for possession of Radio sets.

AG: I think I have made my views plain. There is no more to be said on the matter. Now gentlemen, if that is all, I have work to complete. I shall expect a full report, which I shall duly pass on to the proper authorities.

Policeman 1: The German authorities?

AG: Of course.

Policeman 2 (subdued voice): It shall be done.

They nod and file out, as the door closes, he resumes his paperwork.

Narrator: Frederick Page, whose wireless set had been discovered, was tried and was sentenced to 21 months imprisonment. He died at Naumburg prison, Germany, on 5 January 1945. He was only 45 years old.

On 11 December 1945, in the Honours List, Attorney-General Charles Duret Aubin was given the Order of the British Empire.


Act 2: An Orange Order

Scene: An office. There are two desks, telephones on the desk. A filing cabinet in the corner. A man is sitting at the desk. A woman comes in and places a file on the desk.

Narrator: The Civil Service in the German Occupation carried on much as before. We are in the office of the Aliens Officer, Clifford Orange.

Woman: Mr Orange, these are the figures that you requested.

Clifford Orange: Ah, thank you. We are doing well. We may be commended for our efficiency, you know. At this rate, we should have all the names of Jews in Jersey collated before the month is out. A great achievement.

Woman (sits at her desk, starts sorting papers): But should we be doing this? Collating all the names of the Jews in the Channel Islands? What do the Germans want it for?

Orange: That's not for us to know. Our job is to be efficient, whosoever our masters are. I am in charge of the aliens office, and before the war, I was collating names. Different names, to be true, but names none the less. That is the function of our office.

Women: But what are the Germans going to do with those names? I've heard horrible rumours. Are they going to take them away and kill them. I don't trust the Germans; I don't know if we should be doing this.

Orange: We can't pay attention to every piece of tittle-tattle that we hear. Our job is to make sure that no one is missed out. What happens after that is none of our concern. We cannot predicate our lives on rumour and gossip.

Woman: But should we be doing their job for them? I'm worried that we may be seen as collaborating with the enemy. We are helping them round up the Jews.

Orange: We are simply providing a service. Hitherto, it was a service provided by the Civil Service to the States of Jersey; now it is provided to the Germans. It's just a service, nothing more. It had no consequences then, and I fail to see how it could have consequences now. Anyone could do this. It's just paperwork.

Woman: I think that some of the Jews may have gone into hiding. I was speaking to a Jewish lady last week, a friend of mine. I've not seen her since; I don't know where she is. I think that's true of a lot of the Jews in Jersey. They are scared, Mr Orange.

Orange: They've no need to be. We are just collecting names, that's all. That's what we did before the Occupation. Nothing has changed. And your friend is very foolish. Where can she hide? This is a small island. Even if someone hid her, sooner or later, she would be found. It's much better to come and have your details recorded. It's a system. And, if I may say so, a remarkably efficient one. I've heard of German efficiency, but I think our Civil Service is actually better organised.

Woman: But they are scared. They've lived in this Island for a long time; it's their home, and they know they may have to go away, and they don't know where they will end up. They've grown up here, they've always been able to do as they liked, but now they feel they come here, and others will take them where they don't want to go.

Orange: But they are aliens, after all; they are not native to this Island. They can't have any claim to the Island. Surely you must see that? We've always tracked the aliens coming here. We've allowed them to come, but they don't have a right to be here. They are not Jersey born. And so if the Germans take them away, it will, I am confident, be for the best. They will be happier with their own kind.

Woman: They say there is a boat being made ready for their departure.

Orange: Yes, there is a saying that there always a boat in the morning available for those who don't belong here.

Narrator: Clifford Orange retired from the Civil Service and became a Jurat of the Royal Court, a position of honour and prestige in 1954. He died in 1979, aged 85 years.


Act 3: Signs of the Times

Scene: An office. There are two desks, telephones on the desk. A filing cabinet in the corner. The German Commandant is sitting at the desk. The Bailiff, Alexander Coutanche opens the door and comes into the room.

Narrator: Acts of resistance did take place. There was a secret network hiding escaped Russian prisoners of war. Albert Bedane hid Jewish refugees during the Occupation Years. And two Jewish surrealist artists, living at St Brelade, used their knowledge of German to fight a propaganda campaign with leaflets, targeting the disaffected soldiers.

Commandant: Ah, my dear Bailiff. Take a seat.

Bailiff: Thank you, sir.
(sits down)

Commandant: I have called you here because I have a most serious case that I must bring to your attention. You know, perhaps, that there has been a campaign of propaganda against my soldiers.

Bailiff: I'm not sure that I do. Perhaps you could enlighten me.

Commandant: Ordinary soldiers, going about the town, have had papers carefully placed into their pockets. The miscreants responsible have been most subtle.

Bailiff: And what do the sheets contain?

Commandant: They contain propaganda, telling the soldiers about how the war is going badly, lies made up from the BBC. They are demoralising at an already difficult time.

Bailiff: Ah, you mean, since the landings of Allied forces in Normandy, perhaps?

Commandant: A temporary setback until out forces assemble, and regroup. Then we will force them back onto the beaches and into the water. It will be, how do you say it, your "Dunkirk", all over again.

Bailiff: Time will tell.

Commandant: Now the matter of these two saboteurs. What they have done is treasonable, and carries the death penalty.

Bailiff: Who are they?

Commandant: Two women, of Jewish extraction. They live in St Brelade's Bay, by the Church. They have disguised themselves, and pushed propaganda leaflets into passing German soldiers on busy streets of Town. These have taken the form of  news bulletins, slogans, tracts and short dialogues between soldiers written on thin cigarette paper from "The Soldier without Name"; they placed them in pockets, briefcases, parked staff cars and between the pages of magazines.

Bailiff: Women? You realise that there will be considerable upset at the execution of two women.

Commandant: That is why I have summoned you. Your position is one of importance; the people of Jersey tolerate us, but they look up to you.

Bailiff: So you wish for my advice?

Commandant: No - the penalty is clear. I wish to inform you so that you can arrange matters so that any unrest is minimised. After all, if we have crowds gathering in protest, my troops may be forced to take action. These are difficult times. There may be bloodshed. You need to ensure the people understand that these executions are necessary.

Bailiff: "It is expedient for you that one man die for the people, and that the whole nation not perish", as the Scriptures say.

Commandant: Ah, I see we understand one another.

Bailiff: With respect sir, we do not. I cannot countenance such a severe penalty for two women. I think you do not judge correctly the temper of the Island. If they had been men, perhaps, but to take two women, whose crime has been that of propaganda, and execute them - I would have to lodge a protest in the strongest possible terms. No death sentence against women had been executed in this Island for time immemorial

Commandant: It is a pity; I had thought we might agree on this. But never mind; your protest will be duly noted.

Bailiff: I should also point out that if, and I think you would be wise to contemplate at least the possibility - I say, if the Allied Forces are not defeated, but the German ones are, then how will this decision look then?

Commandant: I hope you are not threatening me.

Bailiff: I am simply pointing out possible outcomes. If would be remiss of me, as a lawyer, not to do so. However slight the case may be, we are cut off from Germany by the invasion forces. If the Islands were retaken, then your record would be examined. The execution of two women would certainly feature strongly in the case against you. But it is, of course, your choice. You know, I am sure, better than me, the way the war is going; I am simply giving legal advice, to the best of my ability.

Commandant: But there must be a penalty. I cannot let them go free. If I commuted the sentence to life imprisonment, would that be held against me? Very well, that is what I shall do. A sign of the times.

Bailiff: That seems eminently wise, sir. Life imprisonment - a just sentence, that I can concur with. Yes, life imprisonment - for the duration of the war. Which, as you say, may be some time. Or perhaps not.

Narrator: Alexander Coutanche became Sir Alexander Coutanche after the war in the Honours List of December 1945. In his memoirs, he writes about how difficult it was to know when to hold back, and when he could instead act decisively to save lives.

The two women in question Lucille Schwob and Suzanne Malherbe were released from prison on 8th May 1945, one day before Liberation, along with other political prisoners. Schwob never fully recovered from the deprivation of her nine months in prison and died, prematurely, in Jersey, in 1954. They are buried in St Brelade's Cemetry, the only grave with a Jewish headstone. Barely three yards away, by an irony of fate, lies the grave of Clifford Orange.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for that, My father was on one of those lists, he was made to "catch a boat in the morning" because he was born in the Indian/British Army hospital in Poona. This made him an Alien despite the fact that both his parents were Jersey born and bred and he returned to Jersey aged just 2, he spent his 20th and 21st birthday interned in a German Camp. HAM