The Holocaust death toll on the Channel Island has risen by hundreds

A long-running debate over a small part of Britain's Holocaust history has been resolved.

A group of historians tasked with investigating the death toll in Alderney, a British Crown dependency and one of the Channel Islands in the English Channel, has corrected the island's historical record, adding several hundred people to an official count of the years '40.

Lord Eric Pickles, Britain's special envoy for post-Holocaust affairs, announced last July that a panel of experts would try to resolve the sometimes heated debate. On Wednesday he presented the findings to members of the commission in a packed room at the Imperial War Museum in London.

The panel did not arrive at an exact number. It was concluded that the probable range of deaths was between 641 and 1,027, with a maximum number of 1,134 people. A previous estimate had put the number of deaths under 400.

The group also answered the question of how many forced laborers and prisoners – the vast majority of them men – were present on the island during the occupation between 1940 and 1945, concluding that there were between 7,608 and 7,812 people. Most of them were forced laborers from the Soviet Union. That number also included 594 Jewish prisoners from France.

“We are absolutely confident about these numbers,” Mr. Pickles said. “The truth can never hurt us.”

While the committee's original brief was to focus solely on numbers, that proved not to be enough, Pickles said. Over the past nine months, the committee has broadened its scope and investigated why Britain never held any of the Nazi perpetrators accountable for mistreatment that included beatings, shootings, malnutrition and horrific working conditions.

The failure to prosecute anyone who committed violence and crime in Alderney, Pickles said, was a “stain on the UK's reputation”.

Anthony Glees, a historian at the University of Buckingham, said the failure to bring those responsible to justice was a “cover-up” by the government, although he stressed that his research showed the government had no intention of letting release the guilty. .

After the war, Britain handed over the Alderney cases to the Soviet Union in 1945, Glees said, because most of the victims were Russians. The Soviet Union did not try any of the perpetrators, a fact the British government did not make public. Furthermore, according to the committee's 93-page report, the Soviet Union had not requested such information.

Then, a couple of years after the war, public appetite in Britain to prosecute major war crimes waned, Glees said.

“It wasn't a blind eye to the killing,” Mr. Glees said, “but a lack of resolve.”

The Channel Islands were the only British territory occupied by the Germans during the Second World War. In June 1940, the British government evacuated Alderney.

The Nazis built four camps in Alderney. Two of the camps, Helgoland and Borkum, were labor camps operated by the civil and military engineering arm of the Nazis. The SS, the organization that was largely responsible for the Nazis' barbaric campaign of extermination, took control of two more camps, called Norderney and Sylt, in 1943.

The panel reached its conclusions by examining archival materials and comparing each member's work. Before that, the closest thing to an official count came from a British military intelligence interrogator, Theodore Pantcheff, shortly after the war ended. He had discovered that at least 389 people had died in Alderney.

The debate over the numbers has brought much attention to the island over the years, sometimes to the dismay of its residents, who long for a quiet, remote lifestyle.

“I encountered a lot of arguments about numbers,” Mr. Pickles said. “Nothing compares to the virulence or personal nature of discussions about numbers in Alderney.”

After learning the commission's findings, William Tate, the island's president, said he felt a mixture of relief and sadness: relief that the number was no higher and sadness that hundreds of victims had actually remained unidentified for more than seventy years.

“It's a very important moment in the history of our island,” he said.

Mr Tate said the island had a duty to keep the memories of those victims alive and to provide residents and visitors with more information in the form of signs.

The academics on the panel were pleased with the outcome of the long-awaited report. “We solved it; we exceeded our expectations,” said Dr. Gilly Carr, a historian who has published books on the Nazi occupation of the islands. Other panel members also expressed confidence in the results obtained.

While new information may emerge, yielding future insights, these findings will hold, said Robert Jan van Pelt, a historian at the University of Waterloo and a member of the panel.

Alderney plays a relatively small but extraordinary role in British WWII history, placing Nazi violence and atrocities directly on British soil.

The small island, which today has just over 2,000 residents and is about 10 miles off the French coast, had no gas chambers. But, researchers said, conditions for workers and prisoners on the island were brutal.

“In the eyes of the Nazi regime, Jewish forced laborers had the right to live only as long as their labor could be exploited,” the report concluded. “The Holocaust is therefore part of Alderney's history.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *