Occupation historian calls for memorial stones to victims

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THE fate of some Islanders deported during the Second World War could be remembered by so-called ‘stumbling stone’ memorials which are common throughout Europe, an Occupation historian has suggested.

The ‘stolpersteine’ created by German artist Gunter Demnig – recording the names and fates of those persecuted by the Nazis – have been installed outside the last-known residences of thousands of individuals in many European countries but the Channel Islands are so far without the distinctive brass cobbles.

Dr Gilly Carr – who this week organised a panel discussion at the Town Hall about the way victims of Nazi persecution are remembered – said that the artist had a personal desire to come to the Channel Islands to lay some of the memorial stones.

‘They are a way of remembering those people in a different way, so it’s not just a plaque on the side of the building but it’s a brass glint from the pavement where you can say that the person who lived here was deported, were in this camp and did or didn’t come back,’ she said.

‘It’s something you accidentally come across and it makes you think, “Ah that’s something that happened here”.

‘It would be eminently possible [to do this] and to have ceremonies in Jersey and Guernsey. The Channel Islands are a place that was occupied by the Germans that has yet to have these stolpersteine. I think it would be a great addition to the memorial landscape.’

More than 1,265 German towns have stolpesteine, while they are also visible in 21 European countries, only some of which were occupied. One of the first duties of the German Ambassador Miguel Berger – a guest in Jersey for this week’s Liberation celebrations – was to attend a ceremony to unveil a stolperstein in London’s Golden Square last year in memory of Ada von Dantzig, murdered with her family in Auschwitz in 1943.

She had returned from London to her native Netherlands in an unsuccessful bid to help them escape to England.

The Ambassador related the experience as a member of Dr Carr’s panel – also including Tobias Stockhoff and Alexandra Scherer, mayors of Dorsten and Bad Wurzach respectively, St Helier Constable Simon Crowcroft and Jersey Heritage chief executive Jon Carter – which discussed changing attitudes to the way victims of persecution are remembered. Mr Berger spoke of the continuing relevance of reconciliation.

‘You have to fight for your freedom and for human rights. They cannot be taken for granted. The war in Ukraine has shown that it cannot be taken for granted. Reconciliation never ends,’ Mr Berger said.

The panel discussion, attended by around 80 people, was developed by Dr Carr – university associate professor and academic director at Cambridge University – in discussion with the government, as a key event in the Ambassador’s visit for the 78th anniversary of Liberation. She explained the importance of such discussions tackling a subject which might once have been avoided.

Dr Carr said: ‘There is an awful lot of work going on all over Europe simultaneously thinking of memorials and thinking about victims of Nazism – having difficult conversations, of excavating concentration camps, all of these sorts of things. I think that people living in the Channel Islands are not necessarily going to be aware of these things.

‘I’ve often felt in the Channel Islands there has been [a view that] we can’t talk about this; that it’s perhaps very sensitive, very delicate, perhaps even a bit taboo to be talking about victims of Nazism in front of Germans – you don’t want to offend people. I just wanted to bring some of those many conversations I’m aware are happening on the continent to Jersey, so that people can learn about it and realise that these conversations are OK to have and to have in public.’

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