5th January 1993
Guernsey opens its wartime files
Officials on Guernsey finally unsealed a controversial volume of its wartime archives on 5 January 1993. The records, which had been locked away at the end of the occupation, detailed how the island authorities had complied with German demands regarding the local Jewish population.
They recorded that bailiff John Leale had handed over the names of Guernsey’s Jewish residents to the German forces, as a result of which three women were deported. They died in German concentration camps on the European mainland.
Although the authorities appear to have complied promptly, they subsequently claimed that they had done all they could to protect Guernsey’s Jewish residents. Yet, at the same time, they were aware that failure to do as they were told would likely have led to reprisals.
Jersey was unable to open its own files since its entire wartime archive had been stolen in the early 1990s. Although the majority of its papers were returned, those that covered the deportation of the island’s Jewish population were never recovered. Many believe the contents were either destroyed or sold to collectors, most likely in the United States.
However, Guernsey’s unsealed files didn’t only concern themselves with the fate of the island’s Jews. They also detailed how half of the population had been actively working for the occupying army.
This wasn’t always done willingly. When the Germans demanded several thousand workers to help with the airport and island defences, the local works ministry laid off the requisite number from local industries like tomato farming, and informed the unemployed labourers that the German forces would be willing to give them work. What choice did they have other than to accept? The Controlling Committee had considered withholding unemployment benefit from any who refused.