The gradual loss of power
DURING this week in 1945, the Auschwitz concentration camp was liberated by Russian forces. After the fall of Poland in September 1939 – the event which signalled the start of the war – the Germans converted a former army barracks at Auschwitz to hold Polish political prisoners. The first prisoners arrived in May 1940 and the first murder by gassing of prisoners took place in September the following year.
Auschwitz was a complex of multiple concentration and extermination camps spread over several square kilometres. It is estimated that considerably more than a million people, around nine-tenths of them Jews, were murdered in Auschwitz. When the Russians arrived, there were still over 7,000 prisoners at the camps. Through the war a similar number of German ‘Schutzstaffel’ – the infamous SS – served at the camps and after the war a relatively small number, around 12%, were convicted of war crimes. It is a stain on humanity that cannot be erased. The day on which Auschwitz was freed, 27 January, is commemorated as International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Of course, there was nothing of this in my father’s diary entry for this week of 1945. He wrote of the termination of the electricity supply for civilians and the end of publication of the Evening Post. He also committed to paper his anxiety about the garage for which he worked having supplied vehicles to the occupying Germans, even though the provision of cars and lorries had been compulsory.
‘WITH the finish, on Thursday 25th January at 10.30 p.m. of the electricity supply for the civilian population practically all essential services and supplies have been ceased----and this on the 8th month of the great siege of the Channel Islands. We had all hoped that this latest, and to many greatest, hardship would not come about just yet, but this, unfortunately was a rumour that proved to be right. So that most of the people are plunged into darkness and have to sit in the firelight, if they are lucky enough to have a fire, or go to bed after tea. Some people have a little diesel oil which gives a very bad light. Some rely on batteries, which incidentally can still be charged, and a few, like ourselves have carbide lamps, which are probably the best substitute for the real thing. But all electricity is not finished. The German forces are wiring up their places and will still have light and power. It is said that there was trouble at the Electricity Company as the Germans would not share the available current with civilians. It is a hard and black time for many.’
‘The Germans have said that they are going to supply our garage [St Helier Garage in Bath Street] with current. I sincerely hope that this will not come about. With the end near, I at any rate think that there should be nothing to identify our works, which after all is a civilian enterprise, with the enemy.’
‘In this connection it must be admitted, and the fact must be squarely faced whether we like it or not, that the great bulk of our profits during these years of occupation are the result of German work and sales, though forced sales, of cars and lorries to the German Forces. And reflecting on the approaching end this will mean the return of Mr Briginshaw and the entry into the firm of Col. Anderton’s sons. How will they look upon this trading with the enemy? Though here again it must be emphasised that this work was not voluntary.’
‘There is no doubt Mr Harry Jones will make a lot of the fact that he prepared to close down the firm and let the Germans requisition it if necessary. But this will most likely be discounted by the fact that this proposition was only made after H.J. knew that he had to terminate his directorship in any event. Anyhow time will tell, but truth to tell, the happiest ones must be those who in no way have worked for the Germans – either directly or indirectly. But these must be few and far between.’
‘Another blow to many is the cessation as from Saturday 27th of the Evening Post. Here again it is said that there has been trouble as the E.P. wanted to print both a civilian edition and the German Insel Zeitung [Island Newspaper] but the E.P. as I said has ceased publication. This means that there will be no news apart from the owners of crystal sets.
The weather this month has been extremely varied. We have had storms, rain, snow and frost and a few days of mild spring-like weather. On Friday night we had a heavy snowfall and as this was followed by frost the roads have become very treacherous.’
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