From the outset of the Occupation swastikas had been appearing on several homes and businesses of alleged collaborators, ‘black marketers’ and those seeking favour with the Forces of Occupation, with some being daubed on properties shortly after the Liberation by people angry with the moral of their fellow Islanders.
Few civilian painted swastika’s now survive, however there are many German painted swastikas in the town area which can still be seen and tend to be over-looked.
They relate to an extraordinary occurrence which happened in the early part of February 1945.
One evening in mid-February 1945, a couple of youths painted a swastika on the home of a girlfriend of a Kriegsmarine Officer, and so triggered a most bizarre event.
During the night of Wednesday 21st February 1945 two Kriegsmarine Officers along with an Officer from 1st Pioneer Battalion 319 gave orders to two units of men to paint swastikas on houses and buildings in the town area. However, the men didn’t use paint, they used flame-thrower fuel; a thick black tar-like substance which is quick drying and when hard, is as tough as enamel.
On the morning of Thursday 22nd February 1945 the town residents awoke to a mass of tar painted swastikas. They had been painted on nearly every house or building from the bottom of Queens Road to St. Clements Road. Some of the areas daubed included; Devonshire Place, New Street, Stopford Road, Victoria Street, Robin Hood and Clarence Road.
Lesley Sinel recorded in his diary under 22nd February 1945:
“During the night hundreds of homes in town have had swastikas painted on them. This was the work of German Marines who did a systematic job!”
The German authorities were furious as Baron von Aufsess recorded in his diary:
“In the night swastikas were painted all over the Island
(This was a slight exaggeration)
The Attorney General and Constable of St. Helier came to see me and established on reliable evidence and beyond doubt that this idiotic prank had been carried out by Germans and more over on an organised basis.
In fact it has been established that two German Officers were responsible for or rather were irresponsible perpetrators of this infamous act.
Entirely on their own imitative and without the knowledge of the Fortress Commander, they had issued orders to two companies of men to do the job. They claim that their motivation for this ‘Political Protest’ was their National Socialist principles. It was such criminal fools who plotted the ‘Crystal night’ in 1938, which triggered off the storm of hatred against the Jews.
At first the Islanders reacted with shock and indignation, but this attitude is already giving way to one of sardonic amusement. On Liberation day these swastikas will show what cultural barbarians the Germans were. One humourist has hung an empty picture frame around ‘his’ swastika; another has written ‘ England for ever’ alongside his; a third has converted the swastika into the type of cross used for British decorations for valour and merit.
The Island population has been senselessly provoked and the prestige and good discipline of the German armed forces seriously compromised, it amounts almost to a small-scale mutiny and involves further punishable offences, such as removing and making improper and unauthorised use of military property, etc.
The immediate problem is to get rid of the visible evidence of this night of rampage; this is a big problem, as over a thousand tar-smeared houses are involved. The Islanders have no petrol and in the circumstances would hardly be prepared to undertake such a chore.
Every right-thinking German is struck by horror and repugnance at the actions of the Nazi thugs, who consider themselves the elite of the nation, and for whom the whole nation has to suffer and atone.
It has been decided that the tar daubings must be removed by foreign workers of the O.T. (Organisation Todt). It would scarcely be in keeping with the good standing and repute of the troops to employ them on this humiliating task under the derisory gaze of the Islanders”.
Suffice to say, von Aufsess was not amused and certainly no mention of the Officers’ hiding their girlfriend’s identity.
According to Herr Ernst Kämpfer, who served as a staff sergeant with the Second Company, Engineering Battalion 319, the troops responsible for these tar daubing’s were from the First Company Engineering Battalion 319.
Some town residents tried removing these swastikas from their homes, but most people gave up as the tar had dried rock-hard and most householders did not have the necessary tools.
On the 26th February 1945 Sinel noted in his diary:
“Men working for the Organisation Todt have been put to work removing swastikas from houses recently daubed: in many cases the ‘removal’ aggravates the defacement, and some are being chipped off with chisels”.
To appreciate just how bad the situation was and: the number of houses and area involved, the OT workforce was still removing tar swastikas right up until March 15th 1945.
Although St. Helier has altered dramatically since the Occupation, surprisingly much evidence has survived from this night of tar daubing or night of rampage, as described by Baron von Aufsess.
Baron von Aufsess refered to “One humourist who hung an empty picture frame around ‘his’ swastika”. This appears to have been Cyril Medland who lived in Stopford Road. Cyril saw the funny side of the incident and hung a gold coloured picture frame around the swastika on his property.
Baron von Aufsess also mentioned; “a third has converted the swastika into the type of cross used for British decorations for valour and merit”. The out-line for these can still be seen at the Junction at Robin Hood and Val Plaisant.
On 28th February 1945 Leslie Sinel noted in his diary; “Two Naval Officers have been arrested for their part in painting swastikas”. However on the same day as the Naval Officers arrest, Admiral Huffmeirer replaced Graf von Schmettow as Commander-in-Chief of the Channel Islands. As Admiral Huffmeirer was regarded as an ardent Nazi, and remembering that the two Naval Officers claimed that their motivation for the act was a ‘Political Protest’ because of their National Socialist principles, I would suspect Admiral Huffmeirer would not have them prosecuted.
There are numerous remains and evidence of swastikas still to be seen around the busy streets of St. Helier, with few people walking past them realising the bizarre story behind them. If wishing to look for them, they can be easily identified; The swastikas painted by the First Company Engineering Battalion 319 are approximately one foot square and were ‘sitting swastikas’ any evidence of larger swastikas would have been daubed by civilians either during or just post Liberation period tend to be much larger.
Text and images by Colin Isherwood