The Longer Read

Finally, the truth about what happened in the Nazi concentration camp on British soil

For years, historians and residents have fought over how many people died under the Nazi occupation of Alderney in the Channel Islands. This was no ‘mini-Auschwitz’ is the conclusion of the latest report but it doesn’t mean that horrors were not committed here and that there wasn’t a cover-up of sorts, says Guy Walters

Thursday 30 May 2024 14:39
The British garrison welcomes the returning islanders who evacuated prior to the Nazi occupation in 1940
The British garrison welcomes the returning islanders who evacuated prior to the Nazi occupation in 1940 (Northcliffe Collection/ANL/Shutterstock)

It looks like the war in Alderney may soon be over. The war in question is not the Second World War itself but rather the bitter conflict about its legacy on this tiny Channel Island, with just 2,000 inhabitants populating its three square miles. For the past few years, resident has been pitted against resident, historian against historian, and even resident against historian, in the debate on just how many prisoners and slave labourers died on the island when it was occupied by the Nazis, and how these poor souls should be remembered.

While some resolutely stick to the official post-war investigation that stated that 389 forced labourers and prisoners had died, others are insistent that the true figure was far, far higher, and ran into several thousand, with a few even stating that the figure could be as high as 40,000.

Over the past few years, I have seen first hand just how divisive this issue has become, not only on Alderney – which, it should be stressed, was evacuated before the Germans came – but also on Jersey and Guernsey, whose populations did live under the Nazi jackboot. There is no doubt that Alderney, while a glorious place to visit, does have a dark past, as is evidenced by the recent discovery of the distinctively striped uniform of a concentration camp inmate in a house on the island, which I was able to see at the island’s museum.

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