Historical Notes: Germany has faced its past. Why can't we?

Julia Pascal
Wednesday 04 August 1999 23:02
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In 1942, Theresa Steiner, a Viennese Jew, was betrayed by the Guernsey authorities and gassed in Auschwitz. Puppet governments in Guernsey and Jersey helped with the deportation of several Jews as well as the deportation of non-Channel Island residents to work camps in Germany. Victor G. Carey, the island's Bailiff, was Guernsey's Petain. After the war France condemned Petain but Carey received honours. One of his grandsons, who came to see my play Theresa in 1990 told me, "At the Liberation, the Government didn't know whether to hang my grandfather for treason or knight him." In 1945 King George VI and Queen Elizabeth gave Victor Carey his knighthood.

Critics damn Carey for calling the Allies "the enemy" and offering a pounds 25 reward for information about anyone painting a V "or any other sign or any word or words calculated to offend the German authorities or soldiers". This was July 1941. Clearly it was best to be on the winning side. Victor Carey died in 1957 at the age of 86. Theresa was 26 when she was murdered.

My play Theresa, based on this history, has been seen in Britain, France, Germany and Switzerland. A further tour is planned for the 10th anniversary next March. Theresa is banned in Guernsey with the excuse that "People from the mainland don't understand. It's a very delicate subject." Germany has faced up to its past. Why can't we?

Alarmingly, several files are still withdrawn from public view. A trawl through the Public Records Office reveals that 54 years after the war, the names of the guilty are still being protected to spare their families. But children are not responsible for their parents' crimes. Theresa Steiner is dead but the reason why she died should not be kept from our generation.

Theresa Steiner was the daughter of a Viennese garment manufacturer who came to England to work as a dental nurse. She ended up as a nanny to the Potts family in Beckenham, Kent. After war was declared, the family went to Sark. When France fell, the War Office knew the Channel Islands were next. Locals were offered boats to the mainland. The Potts family left. An over-zealous policeman prevented Steiner from returning to England. She remained as a hostage and was made to work as an auxiliary nurse in Guernsey's Castel Hospital. As a Jew, she was forced to endure the Nuremberg Laws adopted by the ruling body. Nobody shielded her from surveillance, deportation and death. The Bailiff sent several letters to the Feldkommandatur itemising everything that could be ascertained about all "the Jews on the Island". He wrote, "I have the honour to report that the Order which accompanied your letter was communicated to the Royal Court of Guernsey . . . I can assure you there will be no delay, in so far as I am concerned, in furnishing you with the information you require. I have the honour, Sir, to be your obedient servant, Victor Carey"

Jewish shops were taken over. Jews were forbidden to go to the cinema, ice skate or sit on park benches. Letters between the Guernsey authorities, the bank and the Feldkommandatur show that Theresa earned pounds 48.10 per annum as a nurse. The Bailiff's wealth, then as today, remains a secret.

Theresa was broadcast and commissioned for BBC Radio 4 as The Road to Paradise. The play is banned onstage but Guernsey could not block the airwaves. The problem is that the island government, then, as now, is not democratic. The islands have no political parties. Conseillers are elected and island law is a a long way from mainland procedures. Today few dare oppose the election system. In 1940 Ambrose Sherwill, President of the Controlling Committee, refused to sanction the racist laws. He is the only island politician to come out of this history with real honour.

Julia Pascal's stage play `Theresa' will be published in September in her volume `The Holocaust Trilogy' (Oberon Books pounds 9.99)

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