By Gilly Carr
Jean Marie Rossi was born in Jersey on 7 September 1898 to Italian parents. He married Lilian Maud Baker, and Englishwoman, after the First World War and their son Marcel Fortuné Rossi was born on 14 December 1921. Jean is best known as Marcel’s father; Marcel was one of the ‘Jersey 21’ whose names are engraved on the Lighthouse Memorial in St Helier as those who did not return from Nazi prisons and concentration camps on the continent during the German occupation.
At the time Jean comes to our attention in February 1943 he was 44 years old and worked as a garage manager. Marcel and Jean Rossi were caught up in the second wave of mass deportations that struck the Channel Islands during the German occupation. The first, which took place in September 1942, targeted men (most especially the English) born outside the Channel Islands aged between 16 and 70, and their dependents. They were sent to civilian internment camps in southern Germany for the duration of the war. The Germans saw the English as more of a potential resistance threat than indigenous Islanders, and so were keen to remove them in retaliation for the British deportation to Australia of Germans living and working in Persia. The second wave took place in February 1943, and targeted several groups of people, including the British Jews, the ‘undesirables’ (usually those who had served a prison sentence, often for resistance-related offences), and those former officers who had served in the armed forces. In total, around 2,200 people were deported.
Marcel and Jean Rossi were on the deportation list for 25 February 1943. The reason for their inclusion was later given by Jean Rossi, who noted that they had refused to sign papers to work for the Germans.
Father and son were sent first to Kreuzburg civilian internment camp in Upper Silesia for 12 months, arriving on 1 March 1943; Jean Rossi’s camp number was 1487 and Marcel’s was 1486. At least 33 other Islanders were in the camp with them, although in early August 1943 some men from Guernsey with families in Biberach civilian internment camp left Kreuzburg to join them. The Biberach camp register shows that seven men arrived from Kreuzburg in early August and another two in late September 1943, indicating that movements of people from the camp were not unremarkable.
What happened next to the Rossis can be pieced together through two sources: the post-war International Tracing Service records, which incorporate letters from Jean Rossi trying to trace his son; and the 1965 compensation claims, for which Jean Rossi submitted a claim for himself and his son.
As part of his extensive searches after the war, Jean Rossi wrote to the Red Cross on 27 February 1947, stating that
… Having refused to sign papers to work for the Germans, my son and I were sent to Germany, interned in Kreuzburg 1/3/43, then sent to Oppeln where we were imprisoned, then being sent to Blechhammer punishment camp remaining there till January 1945 when we had orders to evacuate, we were marched to Gross Rosen later to Herresbruck [sic] Concentration Camp. Up till that time my son and I were together. From Herresbruck we had another evacuation, my son being ill was evacuated, I believe to Dachau, April 7th, 1945, the sick having gone ahead. From that time I have no news of him and I with the remaining batch of prisoners were released to the Americans April 23rd, 1945.
This testimony and others written by Jean Rossi were vital in piecing together his and his son’s movements after Kreuzburg. It has been suggested by Paul Sanders that the reason for their removal from the comparative safely of this internment camp was because they were dual Italian-British nationals. If they were considered Italians rather than British by the Germans, they would have been affected by Italy’s capitulation in September 1943. Sanders suggests that they may have been taken to Oppeln prison in September 1943 along with other Italian civilians and military internees taken prisoner and deported to Germany at this time.
The precise dates of the men’s movements between these camps and prisons is not clear, although a few known dates punctuate their journey. It is known that Blechhammer forced labour camp was evacuated on 21 January 1945, the prisoners then put on a death march to Gross-Rosen concentration camp where they arrived 13 days later on 2 February. Jean Rossi was given the prisoner number here of 96096; Marcel’s number was 96095. Jean Rossi testified later that they had walked to Gross-Rosen ‘under terrible conditions.’ They were soon moved again, this time to Hersbruck concentration camp, a sub-camp of Flossenbürg concentration camp, where they arrived on 15 February 1945. Marcel Rossi was here given the prisoner number 85614. Jean Rossi witnessed his son, now ill with pneumonia, leaving on another evacuation – a death march towards Dachau – on 7 April 1945. Many were killed or died on this march. Given Marcel’s serious illness, it is perhaps not surprising that his name was not later found in the prisoner books of Dachau, although these are incomplete. Marcel’s chances of reaching Dachau alive and walking 177km with pneumonia and no doubt suffering severe malnutrition were extremely slim. It is most likely that he died on the journey.
Jean Rossi testified later that he was freed by the Americans in Schwandorf, 62km from Hersbruck, on 23 April 1945. Hersbruck was in fact liberated by the Americans on 20/21 April, and it seems more likely that he was moved to a DP (Displaced Persons) camp in Schwandorf after his liberation.
As Marcel Rossi’s final fate and resting place remain unknown even today, Jean Rossi did not discover his son’s whereabouts during his lifetime. In 1965 he received compensation for the loss of his son, but only £204 for his own Nazi persecution. Jean Rossi died two years later, in 1967.