The Occupation by Deborah Swift


The occupation in this case was the Nazi occupation of Jersey during the Second World War, and the book did quite a good job of getting across what that meant for the islanders – the deportations and in some cases the killings, the bringing of Eastern European prisoners to the islands to be used as slave labour, the billeting of Nazi troops in civilian homes and the abuse of women that that sometimes brought about, the taking over of food and other essential supplies, and the general restrictions on daily life.

I kept thinking that the lives of the main characters were far-fetched but, to be fair, they were based on real life stories.  Fact can be a lot stranger than fiction.

Our main people were Celine, a Jersey woman, and Fred (Siegfried), her German husband.  He was called up into the Wehrmacht – which seemed a bit odd in that this was before the Occupation, but Germans were certainly ordered home from other areas, so I suppose it may well have happened.   Then he wasn’t given any training, so he struggled.  Then he was assigned to Paris as a spy, but got involved with the French Resistance.  I wasn’t 100% convinced by the idea of a German spy, even a reluctant one, joining the French Resistance, but the accounts of the Resistance’s work were certainly realistic and interesting.

Meanwhile, back in Jersey, Celine was hiding her Jewish best friend, Rachel, even after Fred’s brother arrived in Jersey, moved into her house, and forced her to share his bed.  As unlikely as it sounded, this really was based on a true story – that of Dorothea Weber, who hid her Jewish friend Hedwig Bercu in her Jersey home throughout the war.  The idea was that Rachel and Celine had both missed the last boat to England, which wasn’t overly convincing as boats were apparently still running after this was supposed to have happened: it might have been better just to have made some excuse for them both deciding to stay.  Rachel faked her own death before hiding out at Celine’s, which sounded totally far-fetched but was what Hedwig Bercu actually did … although, in her case, the Nazis weren’t convinced, whereas, in this book, they apparently were.

This wasn’t brilliantly written, which might be why I kept feeling that it wasn’t entirely convincing even though it was based on real life stories, but the accounts of what went on both in Jersey and in Paris under Nazi occupation were certainly worth reading, and the story of Dorothea Weber and Hedwig Bercu is fascinating, and inspiring.  So too is any story of resistance work under Nazi occupation.  There are some truly wonderful human beings out there.