Channel Islanders Imprisoned in Auschwitz II-Birkenau Concentration Camp:
Marianne Ilse Hanna Grunfeld, Auguste Spitz, Therese Steiner
By Roderick Miller
At least three women from the Channel Islands were deported to Auschwitz II-Birkenau Concentration Camp (Konzentrationslager Auschwitz, KZ Auschwitz) in the village of Brzezinka in the Oświęcim District of the Lesser Poland Voivodeship in Poland, about 22 miles south of Katowice.
Auschwitz was not, as popularly believed, a single concentration camp, but rather an extensive 15 square mile complex of concentration and extermination camps. The earliest camp, Auschwitz I Main Camp, was established by SS-Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler on 27 April 1940 as a concentration camp for Polish political prisoners. Himmler ordered Auschwitz I to be expanded, initially for prisoners of war, and Auschwitz II-Birkenau began to be constructed by forced labour in October 1941, finally occupying 432 acres. Auschwitz II-Birkenau was a combination of extermination camp, with gas chambers and crematoriums, and concentration camp, for the exploitation of forced labour. Around 90 percent of the victims of the Auschwitz concentration camp complex died in Auschwitz II-Birkenau.
Channel Islanders Marianne Grunfeld, Auguste Spitz, and Therese Steiner originally emigrated from the continent to Britain and the Channel Islands in the late 1930s. Spitz and Steiner, as Austrian (and hence German after the Anschluss) citizens were interned from 4 – 25 June 1940 under the Home Office ‘enemy aliens’ regulations. This act of the Home Office served to stop the women from leaving the Channel Islands before the German occupation and effectively meant their death sentence. Despite widespread knowledge in the1930s of the Nazis’ brutal maltreatment of Jews and the fact that many Jews were refugees because of the Nazis, their status as Jewish did not initially grant them any different treatment than that given to pro-Nazi German citizens who happened to be in Britain at the time war was declared in September 1939. Many German and Austrian Jews spent years in British internment camps before the Home Office finally recognized them as allies in the war effort against the Nazis.
Grunfeld, Spitz and Steiner were deported from the Channel Islands to France on 21 April 1942 and were required to find their own accommodation upon arrival. By 7 June they were required by French law to wear the yellow Jewish star in public. They were living in Laval, about 40 miles east of Rennes, at the time of their arrests on 15–16 July 1942. They spent the following days incarcerated in the Grand Seminary in Angers, a city about 40 miles south of Laval that was the seat of the regional Gestapo. On the orders of SS-Hauptsturmführer Hans Dietrich Ernst, the Jews imprisoned in Angers were taken by lorry on 20 July to a goods loading dock at the Angers St Laud train station. The main passenger section of the train station was purposefully avoided, as the Gestapo and French collaborators did not want the public to witness what was taking place. Loading 75 to 80 people into each cattle car, 824 men, women and children left Angers bound for Auschwitz, the 8th deportation of Jews from France.
The train arrived in Auschwitz II-Birkenau on 23 July, its ‘passengers’ having spent 3 days and nights in hermetically sealed cattle cars with no food, water, or sanitary facilities. Upon arrival on the ramps of Auschwitz, they underwent a selection by the SS and 23 of them – probably all of the children and the very elderly adults – were sent immediately to their deaths in the gas chambers. The other 801 – and most probably the three Channel Island women among them, as they were neither children nor elderly – were forced to perform labour for the Nazis for the brief remainder of their lives.
Of the 824 people on Transport 8, there were only 20 survivors , among them two women, making for a 2.4% survival rate. It is not known if the three Channel Island women perished in Auschwitz II-Birkenau, were sent on to further external work commandos, or perished near the end of the war in a death march – the only certain fact is that none of them ever returned home to their families and they were declared dead after the war.
By November 1944, the Soviet Army was approaching Auschwitz and the SS ordered the crematoriums to be razed and evidence of mass murder to be removed. The camp was evacuated in January 1945 and the remaining prisoners sent on death marches in the direction of the German Reich.
Around one million people were murdered in Auschwitz II-Birkenau, over 90% of them Jews, but including 70,000 gentile Poles, 20,000 Sinti and Romani (‘Gypsies’) as well as Soviet POWs and prisoners of many other nationalities. Of the 7,000 SS personnel in Auschwitz, less than 10% ever faced justice for their crimes against humanity. SS man Hans Dietrich Ernst was imprisoned by the Soviets from 1947 to 1956, but was never brought to justice for his role in carrying out the deportations from Angers. He died in Germany at the age of 82 in 1991, having received a veteran’s prisoner of war pension for most of his life after the war.
The Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum was founded on the site in 1947 and remains open to the public.
 Other sources list only 14 survivors.
Borlant, Henri: Merci d’avoir survécu, Seuil, 2011 (in French).
Carr, Gilly; Sanders, Paul; Willmot Louise: Protest, Defiance and Resistance in the Channel Islands: German Occupation, 1940-1945, Bloomsbury Academic, London & New York, 2014.
Megargee, Geoffrey P. (editor): Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos, 1933–1945, Vol. 1 , Part A. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum , Indiana University Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis, 2009, pp. 209-214.
Peschanski, Denis. Les camps francais d’internement (1938-1946) – Doctorat d’Etat. Histoire. Université Panthéon-Sorbonne – Paris I, 2000 (in French). Link https://tel.archives-ouvertes.fr/tel-00362523/document
The Wiener Library, London (International Tracing Service):
Reference numbers 23615639, 52752958, 91054352 (Grunfeld); 11179855, 38564278, 50755696 (Spitz); 11489954, 42550470, 42550471, 42550472, 42550557, 53830198 (Steiner).