German soldiers' letters from Jersey delivered 71 years late
- 19 December 2012
- From the section Jersey
Some were written on plain paper, others on the back of brightly coloured greetings cards.
Their copper-plate sentences told of life as German soldiers stationed on the Channel Island of Jersey during World War II.
Written in December 1941, all the letters and cards were heartfelt messages to loved ones, sweethearts and friends back home.
But none was ever delivered - until now.
The 90 pieces of mail were stolen from the German army's field post office in Beresford Street in St Helier - "liberated" some might say - by a group of young men 71 years ago.
They were hidden for 66 years before they were brought to the Jersey Archive by a man who wants to remain anonymous.
He told Stuart Nicolle, from the archive, that he was 16 when he was handed the letters and ordered to keep them safe.
The youngster hid them in the family's piano and took a vow of silence with the group.
However, five years ago he decided to give them to the Jersey Archive, which has translated and catalogued them.
With the help of Jersey Post, it has been able to track down the families of 10 soldiers to finally deliver the messages.
Farmer Engelbert Bergmann, 55, from Frankfurt, received the letter written by soldier Emil Adam, a neighbour of his grandfather.
Mr Bergmann said he had known Mr Adam for a long time and that he died a few years after his grandfather, in the mid 1980s.
Mr Bergmann said: "First I thought it might be a joke, but when I heard the whole story I was enthusiastic and was very keen to see what was in the letter.
"I feel it is very important to have the other letters delivered in these cases where family or sons and daughters are still around."
Perhaps because they were kept hidden away in a darkened recess, the colours on the greeting cards remain vivid.
One depicts brilliant red sail boats heading into the sunset. Another has luscious green holly leaves snaking round its edge.
But the feelings shared in the letters are also as rich and vibrant.
Lance Corporal Lothar Wilhelm wrote to his fiancee Kaete Schwartz: "The 14 days we spent together were the most beautiful of my life."
He asks his fiancee to wish a Merry Christmas to both their families.
It also said: "I'll be thinking of you and remember the happy hours we spent together last year at Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve.
"Christmas won't be so happy for me this year, because I'm only happy when I'm with you. God grant that we can spend next year's Christmas together again."
He also talks about how he is longing for their wedding day.
Fellow soldier Carl Stempel was more downbeat when he wrote to his uncle Wilhelm Seiger in Westfalen.
He moaned: "Life will soon be too boring for us and there is nothing to do here and playing cards gets boring too.
"We get up at half past eight in the morning and then we have to find something that we can do during the day.
"The best diversion is going on holidays and I'm quite sure I will be with you in the middle of July. I'm looking forward to these days."
The letters were stolen in December 1941 amid growing anti-German fervour on the island.
Jersey was 18 months into the German Occupation, which lasted to 1945, and local diarist Leslie Sinel said islanders were beginning to show signs of defiance.
He said V for Victory signs began appearing around the island.
It was at that time the group of young men took the letters from the field post office.
Mr Nicolle, from the Jersey Archive, said: "The letters are very personal, detailing what life was like and showing how far away from home the young men felt at Christmas time.
"We are very grateful to the person who shared these letters with us and to Jersey Post and Deutsche Post in helping us to get them to their original destinations."
The Jersey Archive has worked with Jersey Post, Deutsche Post, the German Red Cross, handwriting experts and the German military to help reunite the letters with their recipients' relatives in time for Christmas 2012.
All the letters were dated the 16 or 17 December 1941.
A team from Jersey Post found a 91-year-old former soldier who was stationed in Jersey and remembered a colleague who wrote one of the letters. He has put them in touch with his comrade's family.
Michael McNally, from Jersey Post, said Deutsche Post had been "amazing" in helping to deliver the letters and had gone to "enormous lengths" to make it possible.
He said so much time had passed and Germany had changed geographically, with many letters addressed to places that no longer formed part of modern Germany.
Mr McNally said he hoped to find members of just one of the families involved but to find 10 was "beyond our hopes".
He said: "I was there when the letters were finally handed over and I can tell you it was a really emotional experience for all."
He said as time goes on they hope to find more people to receive their letters.