They were exotic for sure, certainly by Jersey standards. Lucie Schwob (aka Claude Cahun) and Suzanne Malherbe (aka Marcel Moore) step-sisters and life partners, rocked up in Jersey in 1937. Lucie was then 43, Suzanne two years her senior. Both had been born in Nantes, a French city well known to present day Jersey drivers heading south.
They were both artistic, of the surreal persuasion. They are best known for their ground-breaking photography, daring to shock with their avant-garde and gender-challenging work which has attracted a new audience in recent times.
They purchased a property – La Rocquaise – in beautiful St Brelade’s Bay. In July 1940 the Channel Islands were occupied by Nazi-ruled Germany. In October of that year the occupiers enacted the First Order, requiring all Jews to register. Lucie and Suzanne ignored it. Furthermore, they made it their business to listen in to BBC news broadcasts on a forbidden wireless set. They then typed up the bad (from Germany’s point of view) news on slips of paper which they then discretely placed where they would be found and read by occupying soldiers. News of the Allied victories and destruction of German cities would certainly have undermined morale.
They were informed upon (sadly not unheard of in Jersey) and were arrested. Well aware of their likely fate, they overdosed on their way to prison. The suicide attempts failed and they were duly sentenced to death. Only on appeal by the Bailiff Alexander Coutanche were their sentences commuted to life imprisonment, on the grounds that they were female.
A few months later the islands were liberated. Lucie’s health, never the best, deteriorated and she died in 1954. Suzanne moved to the property Carola in Beaumont where she committed suicide in 1972.
A full appreciation of Lucie and Suzanne’s lives and works with many photographs can be found here.