IHRA Delegation visits Alderney as part of project on safeguarding sites

From 25-28 September, the Safeguarding Sites project team visited the third largest Channel Island of Alderney for the first of their project fieldtrips. The team will be making formal visits to five sites in different countries over five years. The aim is to visit a range of different site types taken from a geographic spread within Europe. Visiting sites of the Holocaust and Nazi persecution will inform the heritage guidelines that the team is writing, aided by invited external experts. These guidelines will help European countries safeguard the sites in their care at a time of growing antisemitism, a rise in far-right extremism, and Holocaust denial and distortion.

75 years after the end of the war, Holocaust and Nazi persecution sites across Europe are today facing challenges including decay, neglect, inappropriate reuse, vandalism, a lack of memorialisation or identification, and Holocaust denial and distortion.  No European country is in a position to say that their sites face no challenges at all.

The team visiting Alderney was led by project chair Dr Gilly Carr from the University of Cambridge and the UK delegation to the IHRA. Dr Carr is also the Channel Islands’ representative to the IHRA. “I was keen to bring my team to Alderney”, she writes, “because the British Isles — specifically, the Channel Islands — have important Holocaust and Nazi persecution sites, just like other places in Europe. We want to visit a range of countries and sites during the length of the project, including concentration camps, ghettos, mass graves, killing sites and prisons. We will be visiting some of the most important sites in Europe and I’d like to raise the profile of Alderney in this regard. Many people are unaware that any part of the British Isles was occupied during WWII; bringing Alderney into the project connects the island to the European family of countries with a similar dark past and a range of difficult sites that present a challenge to local populations.”  Almost the entire population of Alderney evacuated to the UK before the German forces arrived in the tiny island.

During the trip, the team were shown around the island by local historian Colin Partridge. They visited SS Lager Sylt, today on private land, completely overgrown and neglected, although in 2008 a commemorative plaque was placed on the concrete pillar marking the entrance to the site. They also visited Lager Norderney, a concentration camp site that is today the island’s holiday camp. This site is unmarked. Slave labour camps Lager Helgoland and Lager Borkum, in different parts of the island, are similarly unmarked. Helgoland today has a private house built on the site, and Borkum is on the road leading to the island’s tip or impot.

A number of other sites were on the itinerary: Longis Common was undoubtedly the most important of these. While the liberating British army found a cemetery on this site, the bodies from which were exhumed in the early 1960s, recent geophysical survey and aerial photo evidence suggests that this was in fact a ‘show cemetery’ surrounded by other small mass graves. Although there are no markers or information boards on Longis Common, the Hammond Memorial is near the Common and bears memorial plaques commemorating the various nationalities who died in the island during the German occupation. A similarly interesting site was a wall covered in what appeared to be bullet holes, said by survivors to have been an execution site. The team also visited the decaying Alderney prison which was used by the occupiers during the war, and the island’s museum.

The final part of the visit comprised a meeting with the States Members of Alderney’s parliament. The team thanked the politicians for engaging with them on the project and offered some preliminary suggestions for moving forwards. These included updating the local Historic Buildings Register to include WWII sites of significance such as the labour and concentration camps and related sites, and starting educational projects through partnerships. The States Members asked the team for advice in dealing with the issues surrounding the graves on Longis Common and for Lager Norderney. There was also a request to discuss bringing the exhibition On British Soil: Victims of Nazism in the Channel Islands to the island. This exhibition, co-curated by Gilly Carr, has recently shown at the Wiener Holocaust Library in London and at Guernsey Museum.

The visit to Alderney was very positive and the team is committed to helping to advise the island and its community through the challenges that lie ahead. Helping to overcoming these challenges is the responsibility of the international community just as much as the local community.

Joining Dr Carr in Alderney was Sally Sealey, deputy head of the UK delegation, Dr Steve Cooke (Australian delegation), Alicja Białecka (Polish delegation), Dr Ophelia Leon (representing IC-MEMO, the International Committee of Memorial Museums in Remembrance of the Victims of Public Crimes), and project Research Assistant Dr Margaret Comer (University of Cambridge).

Project team in front of the entrance posts of SS Lager Sylt. Courtesy of Gilly Carr.