Government apology for lack of prosecutions over Nazi atrocities in Alderney

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Government apology for lack of prosecutions over Nazi atrocities in Alderney

UK's Post-Holocaust envoy Eric Pickles releases landmark report into events on Channel Islands

Jenni Frazer is a freelance journalist

Germans inspecting harbour from Fort Albert on Alderney Island
Germans inspecting harbour from Fort Albert on Alderney Island

Britain’s post-Holocaust envoy has apologised and said it was “a stain on the reputation of the UK” that the perpetrators of atrocities on the Channel Island of Alderney “did not receive justice on British soil” after the war.

Lord Pickles was speaking at the launch of his Alderney Expert Review at the Imperial War Museum on Wednesday. But historian Professor Anthony Glees, said that there were at least four “cover-ups” to explain why Britain did not prosecute the Nazis who had run labour and concentration camps on the island.

In fact, he said, the “intent” to bring perpetrators to justice was there, but because Britain had handed over material to the Soviet Union as part of a wartime agreement, in the expectation that the Soviets would prosecute, nothing was done.

This landmark review was conducted by 12 academics from four countries, (Britain, France, Germany and Portugal), and was commissioned by Lord Pickles, as a way of putting an end to “distressing and ridiculous claims about what happened on Alderney.” Additional input came from researchers in Spain, Canada, and Israel’s Yad Vashem.

The island was invaded by the Germans in July 1940 after almost all its British population was evacuated to the mainland. Grim years ensued, with slave workers on Alderney being forced to build fortresses for Hitler’s “Atlantic Wall”. The panel of academics, said its chairman Dr Paul Sanders, was confident that its final figures of “a maximum of 1134 deaths — but probably more between 641 and 1027”, were correct.

One of the academics, Canada’s Robert Jan van Pelt, ridiculed claims made in the Daily Mail by retired British Army officers Richard Kemp and John Weigold, who wrote that “tens of thousands” had lost their lives on Alderney, later claiming that “a minimum of 40,000 slave labourers died… perhaps as many as 70,000”. Van Pelt dismissed such claims as “not plausible”.#

Occupied Alderney website screenshot

Most of those who died were citizens of the Soviet Union. But a large number of those who worked on Alderney were Jews from France (although not all of those were French Jews). French academic Benoit Luc, who works for its Ministry of Defence and runs the National Office of War Veterans, estimated there were 590 Jews from France on the island during the Nazi occupation. Five hundred and eight six of that number were repatriated after the war, but Luc’s figures indicate that four French Jews died and were buried on Alderney; Professor Caroline Sturdy Coll, a key member of the panel, has identified four more Jewish dead, buried on the island.

Above all, Lord Pickles said, he wanted the review to highlight that while there were “atrocities” on Alderney and that there had been appalling living conditions, “those who called it a mini-Auschwitz were deeply insulting to those who died [in Auschwitz], and do not understand the sheer weight and vileness of the Nazi killing machine”. He said he had been “distressed” by “the continual misleading information about Alderney”.

Lord Pickles was echoed by Cambridge professor Gilly Carr, who convened the panel’s work, and said it was vital to remember “both those who died and to acknowledge the problem for those who live on Alderney today and who have to deal with speculation about the past”.

Lord Pickles believed, he said, that “people are utterly sick of sensationalist and speculative stories”. And he added: “This is a review carried out by a distinguished group of experts, not a collection of amateur historians who rely on the recycling of inaccurate newspaper cuttings, looking for a magic file that somehow would turn the impossible into the credible”.

Dr Carr said the panel had scoured both new and old archives in the search for accurate information about Alderney during the war.

Present in the audience was the current president of the State of Alderney, William Tate, who expressed satisfaction with the findings of the panel. Mr Tate said: “We have a commitment to find out what really happened from reliable sources, and never to forget the suffering of those poor souls who laboured on Alderney”.

Now that the review has been completed, the intention is to implement the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) charter for safeguarding sites. Mr Tate confirmed that the island was keen to provide detailed information plaques at the sites of the four major labour camps on Alderney.

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