Guernsey Press

Uncovering the truth

THE truth about the number of Jews and prisoners of war killed during the German occupation of Alderney could finally be revealed early next year.

Alderney graves of Organisation Todt workers, who first arrived in the Channel Islands in 1941. Concentration camp victims were also buried here. (Picture from the Carel Toms Collection, courtesy of the Priaulx Library)

Lord Eric Pickles, the UK’s special envoy for post-Holocaust issues, is to lead the most extensive inquiry yet into Nazi prison camps which operated in the island between 1942 and 1944.

The number of deaths officially acknowledged is just short of 400. But the actual number is widely considered to be much higher.

Some researchers believe more than 1,000 victims may be buried in Alderney.

Lord Pickles told the Guernsey Press yesterday that he had assembled a team of academics and experts to start the inquiry soon.

‘We haven’t quite finished our preparations. Once we have, we will publish terms of reference and be clear about the people who are going to be involved in this work,’ he said.

‘We will take evidence from anyone who has any. We want to open this up fairly shortly, close it around the end of October, and hopefully have something to announce in the new year.’

The Nazis set up several prison camps in Alderney. Two of them, Lager Sylt and Lager Norderney, are known to have become the only concentration camps on British soil.

Most prisoners in the camps were Russians and Ukrainians. Many Jews from other countries as well as north Africans and Spanish republicans were also taken to Alderney.

States of Alderney president William Tate welcomed plans for an inquiry to gather evidence, including from Alderney residents who he said ‘witnessed the atrocities first hand, or from their descendants who hold records’.

‘Above all, this will bring clarity and put an end to the arguments about numbers when, as an island, our priority is to show our respect for those who suffered and died here, however many there were,’ said Mr Tate.

But there was some concern in Alderney after the announcement of the inquiry was leaked to national newspapers. News of the inquiry made national headlines over the weekend.

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One of the island’s representatives in the States in Guernsey, Alex Snowdon, who found out about the inquiry through the media, welcomed Lord Pickles’ review but urged his team to take its time to do a thorough job and to carry the people of Alderney with it.

‘There should be public engagement with the community of Alderney so we fully understand all aspects of the inquiry. It would be helpful to understand what will be achieved with the outcomes of any inquiry and recommendations from the research,’ said Mr Snowdon.

‘It could take many years to achieve the outcomes of the review, if taking into account the sheer number of German fortifications on the island mainly built by slave labour in horrific conditions.

‘The labour force required for construction and the conditions of slave labour should form part of any review due to many records of what happened on the island being destroyed towards the end of the war.’

Mr Snowdon said that remembering victims of Nazi atrocities in Alderney should always be the paramount consideration.

Lord Pickles told the Guernsey Press that his review required ‘evidence, not conspiracy theories... because the dead deserve that respect’.

‘It would be interesting to know if two of the camps were part of the Nazi extermination by work programme. There are some who have suspicions of that, so evidence on that would be welcome. If that’s the case, this would be the most westerly concentration camps found,’ he said.

‘I absolutely want the Alderney community to be involved in this. Their views are particularly welcome. I can assure Alderney that its community will not be left behind in this work.’

The States of Alderney has been working with the International Holocaust

Remembrance Alliance on the appropriate ways to express the island’s respects and is

hoping to announce the outcome in the near future.