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Death toll updated at Nazi camps built on remote British island Alderney

Researchers now suspect that as many as 1,134 may have died at the little-known location.

A satellite view of Alderney, the northernmost of the inhabited Channel Islands. Credit: Copernicus Sentinel-2, ESA via Wikimedia Commons.
A satellite view of Alderney, the northernmost of the inhabited Channel Islands. Credit: Copernicus Sentinel-2, ESA via Wikimedia Commons.

Historians previously estimated that 389 prisoners and laborers died during the German Nazi occupation of the Channel Island of Alderney (estimated population of as many as 7,800 people) during World War II.

The results of an investigation beginning last year, however, tallied a more accurate, albeit increased, body count for the years between 1941 and 1945. A team of 12 experts believes that the toll most likely ranged between 641 and 1,027,  not exceeding 1,134 people.

During the German Occupation (1940-1945), after the evacuation of Alderney, the Nazis transported thousands of workers from many nations to the island of Alderney to build military fortifications. This plaque records the sites of the principal camps where these workers were held. Credit: Andree Stephan via Wikimedia Commons.

“I have encountered many arguments over numbers. Nothing compares to the virulence or personal nature of arguments over numbers in Alderney,” Eric Pickles, the United Kingdom’s special envoy for post-Holocaust issues, stated on May 22. “At a time when parts of Europe are seeking to rinse their history through the Holocaust, the British Isles must tell the unvarnished truth.”

During the occupation, the Nazis created both forced labor and concentration camps, the most notorious of which was Lager Sylt, or Sylt Camp. Thousands of forced laborers, including prisoners of war and civilians from different countries, were brought to Alderney to construct bunkers, tunnels and other fortifications. They were required to do so under harsh conditions, and many died due to disease, malnutrition and exhaustion.

The analysis sought to dispel conspiracy theories that had long asserted a much higher death count at Alderney than historians claimed, while at the same time reaching a more precise number that turned out to be higher than originally thought.

“The findings of the Alderney Review are a significant and welcome development. Having an authoritative account of this harrowing element of the island’s history is vital,” said Ephraim Mirvis, chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth. “Marking the relevant sites will now be an appropriate step to take to ensure that this information is widely available.”

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