How expert team will uncover the truth
There has been much speculation about the number of people who died in Alderney during the Occupation, but an extensive review, led by Lord Eric Pickles, aims to put an end to the arguments. Dr Gilly Carr of the University of Cambridge, who is a member of Lord Pickles’ expert panel and the Channel Islands representative to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, explains how...
ON 27 July, Lord Eric Pickles, the UK’s post-Holocaust issues envoy and head of the UK delegation to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), announced a review of the evidence of those who died in Alderney during the Occupation. This review is being conducted for the sake of the dead and their families, and also for the people of Alderney, whose lives have been repeatedly disrupted in recent years by numerous newspaper articles making competing claims about numbers.
After planning this review since May 2021, Lord Pickles has now appointed a panel of 11 internationally recognised experts to assess the evidence. These are all people who have published widely in the fields of the Second World War, Nazi persecution, the Holocaust, forced and slave labour, the Organisation Todt, the German occupation of the Channel Islands, or other areas pertinent to the review. These experts have also published their work via peer review, a process whereby academics submit their work for review, feedback and checking by other experts. This is the gold standard – it acts as a way of giving confidence to the public that new ideas can be accepted. To draw a distinction, articles submitted to newspapers do not first go through a peer review process.
The experts on the team have many years of prior experience in the kind of archival work necessary for this project. We have also declined any pay for our services to underscore our independence as academics. We do not wish the project to be jeopardised by claims that we’re being paid to produce a certain result, or that we’re wasting taxpayers’ money.
The remit of the expert team is not only to calculate the number who died in Alderney, but also to identify the total number of those who were sent to the island. This is particularly important as it provides an upper limit, indicating whether the numbers which have been proposed in the media in recent years can be supported.
The review is open to members of the public to submit their theories and evidence for the experts to assess. We’re aware that not all archival records are intact – some never made their way into the archives in the first place and were handed down through families or sold among the collector community. It is therefore very important for people with records to share copies with the experts if they feel these could help the expert review.
We have asked people to submit their theories supported by evidence. This means that copies of archival material (especially if from a private archive or personal collection) should be submitted along with theories or calculations. This should reassure the public that theories that have no proof will not and cannot be accepted.
This review will not be disturbing human remains. This is against ‘Halacha’ or Jewish custom, which forbids disturbance of the dead. Even if one person in a mass grave was Jewish and the rest were not, the dead still cannot be disturbed. Even if Longis Common was excavated in its entirety and an additional – say – 500 bodies were found, we would still not know how many bodies were elsewhere, perhaps dumped at sea and never recovered. DNA analysis of remains to identify individuals would not help either, because this relies upon matching samples from relatives, and there is no master database of DNA samples of people from the nearly 30 countries from which the prisoners came.
Since the end of the Second World War, countries across Europe have developed methods for counting those who were murdered in the Holocaust. This is how we are able to have accurate counts of those who died in places such as Auschwitz, despite bodies being cremated. These methods are well established, and the team have all worked with such records before.
To understand the kind of files with which we will be working, readers are invited to view the more complex entries on the Frank Falla Archive (www.frankfallaarchive.org), a website dedicated to all Channel Islanders deported to Nazi prisons and concentration camps. These feature documents such as transport lists, which catalogue convoys of named people sent between camps. Other relevant records for us will include war crimes investigation records, payment lists, cemetery lists, death certificates (noting that the cause of death is irrelevant here as this was often falsified; it’s the names that matter). Many of these records cross-reference each other, which is how they can be checked and double-checked. When the records were first created, carbon copies were often made, so where records are missing in one archive they might be present in another. Archival documents often comprise correspondence between officials, with each half of the conversation being in different archives in different countries. This means that even where records are missing or destroyed in one place, they may still be present in another.
In short, these records allow us to count people, which is the most reliable method. It is also more reliable than eye-witness testimony, where counting involves making assumptions. For example, where five people record seeing 20 people killed, were they all witnessing the same event? Did 20 people die or 100? Where a person recalls seeing 100 people die, did they count them? Is this an accurate number? Or did they mean ‘a large number’? In short, this method is unreliable although useful where nothing else survives. We are fortunate, however, that there is good survival of records giving names and numbers in archives across Europe. The team will bring them all together, building on previous research.
Finally, let us consider the dangers of Holocaust distortion (noting that non-Jews were also brought to Alderney). This is the practice of deliberately minimising or over-inflating the numbers of the dead. Both are forms of falsification and can be done for political or personal purposes. This is why the expert term will be citing a minimum number or range for which there is clear evidence rather than unsupported speculations.