23 May 2024

Alderney Expert Review report published

“It was important to tell the truth,” Lord Eric Pickles, UK Post-Holocaust Issues Envoy and IHRA Chair said at the launch of the expert review report he commissioned into the Nazi occupation of Alderney, a history largely unknown to many in the UK. “The truth can never harm us.”

The result of painstaking work by a dozen experts from six countries and various disciplines, the review represents the most accurate assessment of how many people died on Alderney during the Nazi occupation, and uncovers the history behind why none of the perpetrators were ever brought to justice.

“This expert review is a significant step toward telling this important history. Dealing openly and accurately with the Holocaust and the history of Nazi persecution of other groups in all its dimensions is crucial,” Dr. Kathrin Meyer, IHRA Secretary General said.

Alderney expert review key findings

  1. The Alderney Expert Review Panel is 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 – 1,027.
  2. The minimum number of prisoners/laborers sent to Alderney throughout the German occupation is between 7,608 – 7,812 people. People of around 30 nationalities were sent to Alderney. The largest group came from the territories which at the time were part of the Soviet Union and from Poland.
  3. War crimes investigations by Captain Theodore Pantcheff and others were wholly serious in intent. The case was handed to the Russians because the majority of victims were Soviet citizens; in exchange, the British were given the Germans who murdered British servicemen in Stalag Luft III during “the Great Escape.” The Soviet Union decided not to follow up the Alderney case, causing much anger among members of the British government. However, this had been hidden from public view until now.

International and interdisciplinary cooperation central to success of Alderney Expert Review

The scale and level of cooperation on this project is unlikely to be repeated again and represents a truly unique endeavour.

Two IHRA delegates participated in the review. Dr. Gilly Carr of the UK delegation and the Academic Working Group coordinated the project and authored the report’s chapter on Channel Islanders in Alderney.

Dr. Karola Fings of the German delegation and the Academic Working Group lent her expertise on a transport of laborers under SS control from the Neuengamme concentration camp (SS Baubrigade I) and co-authored the chapter that used a comparative approach to help contextualize Alderney’s forced labor conditions and death rates within the German occupation regimes in Europe.

It was important to tell the truth. The truth can never harm us.

“I am proud of the way the team of experts came together to provide answers to the questions set by Lord Pickles,” Dr. Gilly Carr said. “It shows what can be achieved when you bring together the right people with the right experience and expertise who are committed to working in memory of those who suffered in Alderney during the Occupation.”

The constellation allowed, for example, for existing German and French research that had been largely unknown in the English-speaking world to be incorporated.

Dr. Mehnaz Afridi of the IHRA’s US delegation and the Academic Working Group, who volunteered to review the expert report, was equally impressed. “This Alderney review exposes the integral problem of Holocaust distortion,” she said. “Although distortion is layered, it is always about misrepresenting the facts and this review highlights the requisite of fact-finding research. The review exemplified that methodological research into the Holocaust requires a diverse team of scholars to critically review cases so that we can come to the facts together. Furthermore, the review offers the case of Alderney as an excellent site for scholars, teachers, and the public to grasp the complex and enormous landscape of the Holocaust.”

Alderney review reflects close evaluation of sources

Over the course of several months, the experts returned to old archival material, assessed new archival material, cross-referenced sources, and evaluated their reliability.

“We cannot uncritically deal with sources,” Dr. Paul Sanders, who chaired the review, underlined during the launch event at the Imperial War Museum in London.

Each type of source has strengths and limitations. Official documentary evidence is more accurate as concerns specific quantitative information, such as numbers, dates, names, identities, lists of people. Official documents are also the better source for understanding bureaucratic and organizational processes.

However, not every relevant aspect that is of historical interest is documented by such evidence. Eyewitness accounts have a greater level of accuracy where it comes to describing the conditions of life and death. They are also better in conveying atmosphere. And they are obviously the place where to look for personal opinions, subjective situation appraisals and motivations.

IHRA Charter for Safeguarding Sites to inform next steps for the sites on Alderney

The Alderney expert review’s careful methodology goes a long way to protecting the facts and to paving the way for memorialization based on the truth. It forms a critical part of the foundation for remembrance activities, together with the Occupied Alderney website, a series of eight recommendations made by the IHRA’s Safeguarding Sites Project team, and the IHRA Charter for Safeguarding Sites, which offers good practice guidance on how to preserve heritage sites related to the Holocaust.

The expert review helps both members of the public and experts in the field better serve as guardians of this history and honor those who suffered and died at Alderney.