Report Sheds Light on Nazi Camps on British Soil

Some Holocaust victims were killed on Alderney, but island wasn't a 'mini-Auschwitz,' panel found
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted May 26, 2024 5:00 PM CDT
Report Sheds Light on Nazi Camps on British Soil
The remains of German fortifications on Alderney.   (Getty Images/colimachon)

The savage treatment of slave laborers at the Nazi concentration camps Norderney and Sylt was standard, historians say. What made them exceptional was that they were on British soil. A panel of historians has released its findings on the German occupation of Alderney, one of four Channel Islands seized by the Nazis in World War II. The panel determined that up to 1,134 prisoners died during the occupation from 1940 to 1945, but rumors that tens of thousands were killed in a "mini-Auschwitz" were unfounded, the Guardian reports. The island is around 10 miles off the coast of France.

  • Atrocious conditions. The forced laborers, including French Jews and Russian prisoners of war, were "subject to atrocious living and working conditions, which included starvation, long working hours, completing dangerous construction works, beatings, maiming, torture, being housed in inadequate accommodation and, in some cases, executions," the panel's report stated. There were a total of four camps on the island run by the Nazi civil and military engineering Organization Todt; the SS took control of Norderney and Sylt in 1943.
  • Revised death toll. The panel said the death toll is "unlikely to have exceeded 1,134 people, with a more likely range of deaths being between 641 to 1,027." That's up from a previous estimate of 389, based on marked graves found on the island.

  • No extermination center. Lord Eric Pickles, the UK's special envoy for post-Holocaust issues, ordered the inquiry. "Alderney housed the most westerly concentration camp in the Third Reich," he said Wednesday. "Prisoners were treated appallingly, and life was cheap, but Alderney did not house a 'mini-Auschwitz'; there was no extermination center on the island." He noted that the Nazis had the infrastructure to kill millions elsewhere with horrifying efficiency. "To put it bluntly, the Nazis were about killing lots of people," he said. "It is extremely unlikely that they would build a camp on a remote island that is very hard to get to."
  • Island had been evacuated. Most of the 1,500 residents of Alderney were evacuated before the Nazi invasion, and "historical accounts as to the number of deaths varied wildly," the BBC reports. The panel found that at the height of the occupation in 1943, there were more than 3,200 German personnel on the island and 5,800 laborers of around 30 nationalities.

  • A succession of cover-ups. The panel found that amid a "succession of cover-ups," the German perpetrators of the atrocities were never prosecuted. The panel said that because most of the victims were Russian, the case was handed to Soviet authorities, who didn't follow up, the Guardian reports. In return for being given the Alderney case, the Soviets handed over Germans who killed British servicemen in the "Great Escape" from Stalag Luft III.
  • Holocaust is part of island's history. "In the eyes of the Nazi regime, Jewish forced laborers only had the right to live as long as their labor could be exploited," the report stated, per the New York Times. "The Holocaust therefore is part of Alderney's history."
  • Next steps. Alderney's president, William Tate, said information boards are in place at three of the sites and a fourth will be added, the Bailiwick Express reports. "We should never forget the suffering that those poor souls endured at a time when our entire population were taken from their homes," he said.
(More World War II stories.)

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