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16,000 slave workers remembered at poignant ceremony

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ISLANDERS remembered the 16,000 forced workers brought to Jersey during the Occupation on Saturday.

The millions of people who died in the former Soviet Union were also remembered during a poignant Liberation Day ceremony held at the Slave Workers Memorial.

Valery Dougan, deputy head of mission at the Belarus Embassy in London, told the almost 200 people who attended, that Belarus suffered terribly in the Second World War.

A third of the population – 2,230,000 – were killed by the Germans. Meanwhile, a further 380,000 were taken as slave workers, some of whom came to Jersey.

Jersey's Polish Consul Magda Chmielewska presents a wreath at the Crematorium

More than 600 villages were burned down and 209 towns and cities, including the capital, Minsk, were destroyed under Nazi plans to eradicate three-quarters of the population and enslave the remainder.

'I think it is very touching that Jersey cares for people from a faraway country, who were brought here as slaves, and that they are remembered here today,' he said, before laying a wreath in memory of his countrymen.

Forty wreaths were laid, beginning with one on behalf of the Crown, by the Lieutenant-Governor, General Sir John McColl, who was followed by the Bailiff, William Bailhache, and the Chief Minister, Ian Gorst.

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Several wreaths were laid in memory of Spanish Republican forced workers by their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Jersey's Lieutenant-Governor, Sir John McColl

Wreaths were also laid in memory of Belgium, Ukranian and North African forced and slave workers as well as for the Islanders who risked their lives to help them.

The Assistant Naval Attaché at the Russian Embassy, Commander Igor Elkin, who travelled to the Island with his 16-year-old son, Alexander, laid a wreath in memory of Russian slave workers.

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Ceremony organiser Gary Font said: 'The people have paid homage to the foreign forced workers who perished in Jersey during the Occupation and I was very proud to be part of the ceremony.'

An excerpt from John Nettles' book, Jewels and Jackboots:

During the Occupation, Hitler issued an instruction for the fortification of the islands. He thought them to have enormous strategic and propaganda significance, and this belief gained in intensity as the war in the east began to unfold.

He was convinced that an Allied attack on western Europe would begin with an attempt to take the Channel Islands, which must be prevented, whatever the cost.

The little Islands must be turned into mightily defended fortresses with great gun-emplacements, huge minefields, miles of underground tunnels to house stores and hospitals and massive sea walls constructed against the invader.

'The most pleasing view in Jersey today': German prisoners remove railway lines from solid concrete in 1946, undoing work carried out by slave workers

Germany suffered increasingly throughout the war years from a chronic shortage of labour, and turned more and more to forced labour imported from all over their new empire.

And so it was that many Russians came to the Islands to pour the concrete, dig the ditches and build the walls needed to turn them into the strongest section of the great Atlantic Wall that stretched all along the western European seaboard from Norway to the northern edge of Spain. Their appearance in the islands shocked all who saw them.

Their treatment by the German guards appalled them even more. The Islanders might have very little food, but compared to the Russian slave workers they were living high on the hog, for these men had hardly any at all.

The work of these men was heavy, and the calorific value of their diet was extremely low – less than half that of the Islanders. There was little or no meat, but lots of thin, very thin, vegetable, usually cabbage, soup, small pieces of coarse bread, and quantities of ersatz coffee. They were dressed in rags, mostly old sacking, and they were often without any footwear beyond bits of cloth wrapped around their feet.

Unwashed and verminous, gaunt and hollow-eyed, the appearance of these prisoners from the east and their brutal treatment by their captors provoked feelings of disgust among the islanders. Alexander Coutanche himself was moved to protest to Von Schmettow after seeing them: ... prisoners being driven to work by their guards when their feet were so sore that they were wrapped up in sacks.

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