By Gilly Carr
Therese Steiner was born in Vienna, Austria, on 24 February 1916 to Ida Steiner née Gelbkopf and Ignatz Steiner, a merchant.
Therese qualified as a dental nurse in Vienna and moved to England to escape rising Antisemitism. She found work as a nurse with Edgar Potts in Kent. In 1939, on the outbreak of war, the Potts family moved to Sark and Steiner travelled with them, becoming the Potts children’s nanny. In 1940, Edgar Potts moved back to England and his wife, children and Steiner moved to Guernsey.
As the occupation loomed, Mrs Potts and her children returned to England but Steiner was unable to travel with them as she was an ‘enemy alien’. From 4 – 25 June 1940 she was interned in Guernsey under the Home Office ‘enemy aliens’ regulations. After she was released, she took up employment as a nurse at the Castel Hospital. She registered as a Jew in accordance with the First Order relating to Measures against the Jews, registered in the Royal Court of Guernsey on 23 October 1940. On 17 March 1941, the Bailiff of Guernsey received instructions that the registration cards of Jews be marked with a large red J and a red cross-strip; Therese Steiner’s card was marked in this way.
In April 1942, on the orders of the German occupying authorities, the Guernsey police instructed Steiner to pack her bags and report to the designated German authority. The policeman who gave her this information reported later that ‘Therese became extremely distressed, bursting into tears, and exclaiming that I would never see her again.’ The Reverend Ord, who kept a detailed diary in Guernsey during the occupation, wrote that ‘When I last spoke with her she had Orders to go to France. She was in great distress and seemed to feel that her feet were now set upon her Via Dolorosa. I did what I could to comfort her but what can you say or do?’
On the night before her deportation, she and Auguste Spitz went to visit their fellow Viennese Jewish friend, Elisabet Duquemin, who had acquired British nationality after marrying a local man. Elisabet lent them a suitcase, reporting later that ‘they were in a terrible state of anxiety … I never saw the poor girls again.’
Therese Steiner, Auguste Spitz and Marianne Grunfeld were deported to France on 21 April 1942. On their arrival they were expected to find their own accommodation. There is some confusion and competing accounts as to what happened to the three Jewish women before they were rounded up, but it seems that by 4 June 1942 they were all living in Laval (c. 140km from St Malo, where they had arrived in France), at the Hospice Saint-Louis, run by an order of nuns. Steiner found employment with the nuns as a nurse, but Grunfeld and Spitz were unemployed and in the care of the nuns.
The Jewish Star Order came into effect on 7 June 1942 and all three women were compelled to wear them. On 15 July, Therese Steiner and Auguste Spitz were arrested in Laval; Marianne Grunfeld was arrested the following day. They were taken first to Angers where the testimony of a survivor recalled that those rounded up were deprived of their possessions and herded into the small rooms of a seminary, 25 to 30 to a room, and locked in. On the day of their deportation, 20 July 1942, they were taken by lorry to the railway station. At 8.35pm, the three Jewish women were among the 824 Jews loaded into the cattle trucks of convoy No.8. Therese was number 76 on the transport list; Auguste Spitz was 75. The train was routed via Drancy, where 28 Jews were unloaded due to complications over establishing their nationality, and arrived at Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp on 23 July. We do not know how long Therese, Auguste and Marianne survived; eyewitness testimony regarding the occupants of convoy No.8 varies.
Neither Therese Steiner, Marianne Grunfeld nor Auguste Spitz survived the war. Of convoy No.8, 18 men and two women survived.
To mark Holocaust Memorial Day 2016, a documentary was made by BBC radio Guernsey about the Jewish woman deported from the Island. It can he heard here.
Information taken from Cohen (2000) and International Tracing Service records.
Therese Steiner, Occupation Registration Form, Guernsey Archives.
Cohen, F. 2000. The Jews in the Channel Islands during the German Occupation 1940-1945. Jersey: Jersey Heritage Trust.
ITS files from the Wiener Library for the study of the Holocaust and Genocide, references: 11179855, 11489954, 42550470, 42550471, 42550472. 42550557. 53830198, 89886543.