Guernsey Press

States of Alderney denies cover up on wartime deaths

THE States of Alderney has hit back at claims that it deliberately tried to block the truth being revealed about Nazi war crimes in the island during the Second World War.

Professor Caroline Sturdy Colls.

A new television documentary aired this week featured an investigation into how many people died at the hands of the SS at forced labour camps in the island.

Titled Adolf Island, and produced by the Smithsonian Channel, the 40-minute show was fronted by Professor Caroline Sturdy Colls, a forensic archaeologist.

Cutting edge surveying technology was used to uncover what she believed were new grave sites on the island – pushing the official number of people killed by the Nazis on Alderney from 389 to more than 700.

Professor Sturdy Colls said the project was nearly derailed after the States of Alderney issued a ban on the team conducting any digging at the former labour camps.

She told the TV audience that they had gained permission to excavate at Lager Sylt weeks before. But then an email had arrived from the States of Alderney ruling out any ground disturbance.

She said the fight to get the story told was the hardest of her career and accused politicians of deliberately trying to block the secrets buried by the SS being revealed.

Former States member Robert McDowall said people on Alderney did not want to face facts.

General Services Committee chairman Graham McKinley said that was not true.

He insisted that there was a will to find out what had happened, but investigations had to be led by the States rather than TV programme makers.

‘This project led to a protocol being developed to consider archaeological investigations on sensitive sites,’ he said.

‘There were also religious objections from the Jewish community to excavation. The documentary has highlighted that we do need to discuss how we go forward.

‘At the next Policy and Finance Committee, the States are to consider reforming a working group consisting of local historians and people like Andrew Pantcheff, whose father did the initial investigation.’

Martin Lunt, the States worker who was tasked with ensuring that the crew did not disturb any ground, said he believed the crew were treated badly. ‘People threatened them,’ he said. ‘I was appalled.’

Instead of digging, the team used Lidar, which uses lasers to map large areas, attaching it to a drone. Differences in laser return times and wavelengths were then used to make a contoured map, along with a 1943 RAF reconnaissance map.

Professor Sturdy Colls also travelled to Germany to analyse records of people who had died in Alderney during the war, but whose names were not attached to burials.

Andrew Pantcheff, son of Captain T. H. X. Pantcheff, the military intelligence officer who analysed records and conducted interrogations to establish the number officially killed, said the figure was more plausible than recent claims of 70,000, but said he had his doubts at the number arrived at by the documentary team.

‘The 330 deaths are the ones my father could make a case for,’ said Mr Pantcheff. ‘It’s quite clear there were more killed than that. Some died of starvation, which could be written off as flu by camp doctors, and some were flung into the water, some were double buried.

We’ll never know. Their record keeping wasn’t meticulous because they didn’t care. But I doubt there were 700 or more, as is now claimed.’