On 12 July, Lord Eric Pickles, head of the UK delegation of IHRA, along with the deputy head, Sally Sealey, and Dr Gilly Carr, member of the UK delegation and chair of the new Safeguarding Sites project, visited Alderney in the Channel Islands.
The purpose of the trip was twofold. First, to make a preliminary observation and assessment of the Island's Holocaust and Holocaust-related heritage sites in the wake of a recent documentary which provided geophysical evidence of the potential presence of further bodies in a mass grave on Longis Common. Second, the island of Alderney has been chosen as the first case study of five for the five-year long IHRA project 'Safeguarding Sites', which aims to write a heritage charter for best practice for safeguarding authentic Holocaust and Holocaust-related sites throughout Europe.
The project team have chosen Alderney as their first site for a number of reasons, not least because the specific complexities of the heritage in the island will be of great value for informing the heritage guidelines. As a member of the UK delegation, the chair of the project, Gilly Carr, believes that it is important to start the project by looking on British soil, so that Britain does not offer advice that it is not willing to receive itself or on behalf of its Crown Dependencies. The UK was also a founder signatory of the Stockholm declaration and so it is important that it takes the opportunity to stand by its own commitments.
As the newly elected Holocaust advisor to the Channel Islands and their representative on IHRA, Dr Carr wanted to use her role to work together with Alderney to find solutions that will help the Island deal sensitively with its difficult heritage over the length of the project. During the visit to the small island, which measures only 1.5 x 2.5 miles in diameter and has a population of just 2,000, the three members of the UK delegation were taken around four camp sites: SS Lager Sylt (today overgrown save for a plaque erected on an entrance post by a Polish former prisoner in 2008); Lager Norderney, now Alderney's holiday camp site; Lager Borkum, now at the entrance to the road leading to the island's tip, the impot, and Lager Helgoland, which now has a house built on it. None of these sites is marked today as a heritage site; none has an information panel at the site acknowledging its boundaries, function or role.
The visiting group was also taken to Longis Common to view the site of the former prisoner cemetery, now suggested to have been both a smaller 'show cemetery' and a larger mass grave on the same spot. This site is also lacking a marker, although the nearby Hammond Memorial commemorates those who died on the island during the German occupation. The team were treated with great hospitality by the Island's authorities and an announcement about the project was broadly welcomed.
Dr Carr emphasised to the local politicians, the States Members of the local parliament, that Alderney was not alone in experiencing difficulties and social divisions in finding a resolution for its difficult heritage, and that communities all over Europe are struggling with the very same issues. By working with international experts experienced in Holocaust heritage, potential solutions will be shared with Alderney through a process of mutual learning, openness and discussion. In late September, Dr Carr will return to the island with a team of six colleagues to officially begin that process of learning and feedback.