This article appears today in the Jewish Chronicle.
One of the most shocking documents on display at Yad Vashem is a typed list prepared by Adolf Eichmann for the Wannsee conference held in January 1942. That meeting sealed the fate of Europe’s Jews, and Eichmann’s research gave a breakdown, country-by-country of the estimated eleven million Jews on the continent. A meticulous bureaucrat, Eichmann didn’t pass over even the smallest Jewish communities, noting the estimated 200 Jews in Albania or the 1,300 in Norway. Every single Jew was noted, each one considered a suitable target for extermination.
Eighteen months earlier, the German army occupied the Channel Islands, the only part of Britain to come under Nazi rule. In Jersey and Guernsey, the German arrested a handful of Jews (whose names and addresses were turned over to them by local authorities) and several of these died in Auschwitz. But the tiny island of Sark, with a population of less than 600, presented a problem. There may have been a single Jew there – or maybe not. The issue preoccupied the German army for several years.
Annie Wranowsky was 46 years old in 1940. A divorcee, she had lived in the islands since 1934. She worked as a housekeeper and companion to a retired jeweller, Ernold Mason.
A few weeks after the Germans occupied the Channel Islands, orders were issued regarding the registration of the Jews. Any Jews in Sark were required to register at the office of the Seneschal, a local official.
A Guernsey police inspector reported to a leader of the island government about Annie, who was believed to be a German national. He wrote: “Enquiries have been made by the Seneschal of Sark concerning the above named woman. She states that neither her parents nor grandparents were Jews and that she can trace back five generations in her family without encountering Jewish blood. Her passport, No. 558, issued in London on 13/2/39, is stamped with a ‘J’.”
Letters in the archives prove that the Guernsey police received the full support of Sark officials who made inquiries and interviewed Annie regarding her Jewish status.
According to historian David Fraser, “There is no indication on the available documents that any form of objection about the morality or appropriateness of such measures or inquiries was raised by [those officials] … Moreover, there is absolutely no evidence that either the Seigneur or Dame of Sark ever questioned the measures.”
Such was the pathological nature of German Nazi anti-semitism that the presence of a single Jew, even a forty six year-old housekeeper, was seen as such a threat that it required serious attention.
The Island Police continued to investigate. A police inspector wrote: “In checking the list of Aliens it has occurred to me that those living on Sark have not been included … There are only three persons of foreign nationality living in Sark, Wranowsky has been returned, but I do not think the German Authorities have been informed of the two Americans whose particulars are forwarded herewith.”
The phrase “it has occurred to me” is striking; this police officer was trying to be even more helpful to the Germans by adding “Aliens” living on Sark as well as those in Guernsey, and reminding them of Annie’s existence.
The additional Aliens he discovered were Max Baird and Albert Fehenbach, both men in their seventies. He did not name Robert Hathaway, also an American citizen, who served as the Seigneur of Sark, presumably because he was also a British subject. At the time, the U.S. was neutral, so the only practical effect of submitting the information to the Germans would be to remind them that a Jewish woman, Annie Wranowsky, lived on Sark.
In a June 1942 report to the SS, Oberkriegsverwaltungsrat Dr Wilhelm Casper, the Chief Administrator of the German occupation government for the Channel Islands, reported on all the Jews he could find in Guernsey and Jersey, but for some reason he no longer included Annie in the list. However, she was not yet in the clear.
After the British commando raid in October 1942, the president of the Controlling Committee in Guernsey, sent the Germans a list of the Jews who had been identified, and in an attempt to pre-empt any further correspondence on the matter, added this postscript: “Apart from the Police no other States department has any information concerning Jews.”
It now looked as if Annie would to be deported to the continent where her fate would be sealed. According to historian Frederick Cohen, her status remained undecided and “the Feldkommandantur annotated her deportation order ‘German nationality, has Jewish passport and is presently trying to prove her Aryan origin’.”
Annie continued in her efforts and by the third week of April 1943 she was granted a travel permit to Guernsey, “to prove her Aryan descent and to visit a dentist”. It seems that her effort to prove her Aryan status was successful.
Some believe that this was due to the intervention of the Dame of Sark. But there is no documentary evidence to support this.
The Dame was perfectly capable of expressing her anger at the Germans and demanding that they change their behaviour when she felt they had crossed a line. This occurred notably when she was given an order banning fraternisation between German soldiers and local women on the island. The order was given in the wake of the spread of venereal disease among the German forces. Fraser wrote: “A notice concerning venereal disease was not just an insult to a lady, but its implication that Sarkee women were consorting with Germans was too much for the moral sensibilities of the Dame. There is no available evidence, on the other hand, at all that the Dame of Sark found reason to offer any formal objections to the anti-Jewish Orders registered on Sark. Legalised anti-Semitism was apparently perfectly acceptable.”
Whatever the reason, Annie’s success in proving her Aryan status — or as she put it, “five generations in her family without encountering Jewish blood” — undoubtedly saved her life. The Jewish women in Guernsey who were not able to do so died in Auschwitz.
Annie Wranowsky survived the war, having caused sufficient doubt regarding her Jewishness. She married her employer, possibly to avoid deportation, and remained in Sark for a time. Eventually, she moved to America and died there in a car crash.
It never did come out why she had that fatal “J” stamped in her passport, or how she persuaded the German authorities that she was not in fact Jewish.
Eric Lee is the author of Operation Basalt: The British Raid on Sark and Hitler’s Commando Order (The History Press, 2016).