More than 1,000 slave labourers may have died in Nazi camps on Alderney, review finds

<span>The Odeon, a naval range-finding tower built by forced labourers under the occupying Nazi forces in Alderney.</span><span>Photograph: Carl Court/Getty Images</span>
The Odeon, a naval range-finding tower built by forced labourers under the occupying Nazi forces in Alderney.Photograph: Carl Court/Getty Images

More than 1,000 slave labourers may have died on British soil at the hands of the Nazis in the second world war, hundreds more deaths than were officially recorded in historical archives, a review has found.

Labourers on the island of Alderney 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 review said.

It also concluded that there was no evidence to support suggestions that many thousands of people died on the island, and it said claims that “Alderney constituted a ‘mini-Auschwitz’ were wholly unsubstantiated”.

The revised death toll on Alderney, one of the Channel Islands occupied by Nazi forces between 1940 and 1945, has been established by a panel of independent and internationally recognised experts. Commissioned by Eric Pickles, the UK’s Holocaust envoy, the Alderney expert review panel aimed to dispel conspiracy theories about what happened on Alderney.

The previous official death toll of 389 came from examinations of marked graves in the 1960s. The panel said it was “confident that the number of deaths in Alderney is unlikely to have exceeded 1,134 people, with a more likely range of deaths being between 641 to 1,027”.

The minimum number of prisoners sent to Alderney labour camps throughout the German occupation was between 7,608 and 7,812 people, the 93-page report said. Almost 100 people died in transit, in addition to the island death toll.

The panel also sought to discover why German perpetrators were not tried by Britain for war crimes committed in Alderney. It concluded that a war crimes investigation carried out in Alderney immediately after the war was “wholly serious in intent”. But because most of the victims were Soviet citizens, the case was handed to the Russians. In exchange, Germans who murdered British servicemen in Stalag Luft III during the “great escape” were handed over to Britain.

“The Soviet Union did not follow up the Alderney case and were thus responsible for the failure to bring the perpetrators to justice, causing much anger among members of the British government,” the report said.

In 1981 the Observer disclosed that senior Nazi officers responsible for the atrocities on Alderney were living freely in Germany.

Lord Pickles said: “As the UK’s special envoy on post-Holocaust issues, I have encountered many arguments over numbers. Nothing compares to the virulence or personal nature of arguments over numbers in Alderney. At a time when parts of Europe are seeking to rinse their history through the Holocaust, the British Isles must tell the unvarnished truth.

“Numbers do matter. It is as much of a Holocaust distortion to exaggerate the number of deaths as it is to underplay the numbers. Exaggeration plays into the hands of Holocaust deniers and undermines the 6 million dead. The truth can never harm us.”

Ephraim Mirvis, the chief rabbi, welcomed the review’s findings. He said: “Having an authoritative account of this harrowing element of the island’s history is vital. It enables us to accurately remember the individuals who so tragically suffered and died on British soil. Marking the relevant sites will now be an appropriate step to take to ensure that this information is widely available.”

Alderney, a British crown dependency that lies about 70 miles off the English coast and 10 miles from the French coast, was occupied by German forces along with Jersey, Guernsey and Sark. The British government had demilitarised the islands, in effect leaving them without any defences as German forces advanced.

Most of Alderney’s 1,500 residents were evacuated to the UK but a small number remained. The Nazis set up four labour camps on the island, at least one of which later became a concentration camp.

Prisoners were sent to Alderney from more than 20 countries, including Russia, France, Spain and Poland. They were ordered to build Hitler’s “Atlantic wall” concrete defence network.

Soon after the islands were liberated in 1945, Capt Theodore Pantcheff, a British military investigator, arrived in Alderney. Witnesses told him prisoners had been beaten, hanged and shot, and corpses were often dumped in the sea.