Channel Islanders Imprisoned in The Grand Seminary of Angers Provisional Prison:
By Roderick Miller
At least three women from the Channel Islands were imprisoned in the Grand Seminary of Angers (Le grand séminaire d’Angers, Centre Saint-Jean) in the city of Angers in the Maine-et-Loire department of France. The Grand Seminary is the seat of the Catholic Church diocese in the region. It was designed in 1912 by architect Eugène Dussouchay, its chapel consecrated in 1915, and additions made at the rear of the building in 1922 and 1931.
During the so-called ‘Phoney War’, an early period of the Second World War prior to the invasion of France in which very few military confrontations occurred, many Jewish refugees settled in the Northwest region of France. After the German occupation of France in June 1940, Angers became the seat of the German military occupation in Western France and the Grand Seminary was requisitioned by the Germans for this purpose.
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.
By June 1942, Angers had become the regional headquarters of the Gestapo, and all Jews in the region were required to register with the police. On 7 June 1942, the Nazis decreed that all Jewish persons were required to wear the yellow Star of David in public. From 15 to 17 June 1942, German Gestapo and French police, led by SS-Haupsturmführer Hans Dietrich Ernst, rounded up all known Jews in the region on the basis of the police registrations, including Channel Islanders Marianne Grunfeld, Auguste Spitz, and Therese Steiner in the city of Laval, whence they had been deported from the Channel Islands on 21 April.
The Jewish families were arrested in their homes, their cash and identity cards confiscated, and were given a few minutes to pack a bare minimum of belongings and food. They were told by the Gestapo and French police that they were being ‘relocated’ to Germany or the Ukraine or ‘the East’. All of the arrested Jews in the region were then transported in lorries to the Grand Seminary in Angers, where the children were separated from the adults, and the adults separated by gender. They were then packed, 25-35 persons per room, into provisional prison rooms in the Grand Seminary. There they remained for five days.
On 20 July 1942, the 824 Jewish prisoners in the Grand Seminary were, still separated by age and gender, ordered to leave the building and board passenger buses awaiting outside. Many inhabitants throughout the region had witnessed the arrests the week previous and openly displayed pity for the victims, to the extent that the local prefect Pierre Daguerre was afraid that the Jews would be perceived as martyrs by the local population. It was therefore decided that the Jews would not be forced to board the train on a standard passenger platform of the Angers St Laud station, but instead taken to a goods loading dock where the general public could not witness what was happening. 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 at Auschwitz II-Birkenau Concentration Camp 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.
Angers was liberated by US Troops under the command of General George S. Patton on 10 August 1944 after several days of heavy fighting in which at least 60 US soldiers lost their lives.
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.
A memorial to the Jews deported from Angers was unveiled on 20 July 2002 at the St Laud train station in Angers to mark the 60th year of their deportation. Ten years later, the Grand Seminary in Angers unveiled a memorial in 20 July 2012 for the Jewish men, women, and children who were imprisoned there. Auschwitz survivor Henri Borlant, who was deported from Angers that day along with his family, attended the ceremony in person.
 Other sources list only 14 survivors.
Borlant, Henri: Merci d’avoir survécu, Seuil, 2011 (in French, Borlant survived the Auschwitz and wrote an eyewitness account of the events of 15-20 July 1942 in Angers).
Carr, Gilly; Sanders, Paul; Willmot Louise: Protest, Defiance and Resistance in the Channel Islands: German Occupation, 1940-1945, Bloomsbury Academic, London & New York, 2014.
Service Communication de la Préfecture (Angers): ‘Histoire du convoi No. 8’ in Cérémonie de lecture des noms au centre diocésain rue Barra à Angers, Fondation pour la Mémoire de la Shoah, 2017 (in French). Link
Peschanski, Denis. Les camps francais d’internement (1938-1946) – Doctorat d’Etat. Histoire. Université Panthéon-Sorbonne – Paris I, 2000 (in French). Link
The Wiener Library, London (International Tracing Service):
Reference numbers 23615639, 52752958, 91054352 (Grunfeld); 11179855, 38564278, 50755696 (Spitz); 11489954, 42550470, 42550471, 42550472, 42550557, 53830198 (Steiner).