Alderney Holocaust and Slave Labour Trail
(c) Marcus Roberts 2014.


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The camps on Alderney (and in the rest of the Channel Islands) were very multi-national, with inmates drawn from across Europe and perhaps further - these included Dutch, French, Spaniards, Poles, Ukrainians, Germans and Russians (POWs), Jews from across Europe around 1,000 Jews were on Alderney and many were French.

The Colonial contingent in the forced labour groups on Alderney are often over-looked, as the labourers included, Indo-Chinese (Annamites, Siamese: that is to say from modern-day Thailand and region) North Africans (the Moroccans, Algerians were often referred to as 'Arabs' and 'Berbers' and many of the North African group were Berbers) There were also Black Africans on the Island as well from Sengal, West Africa who were all employed through-out the French Atlantic Coast and the Channel Islands and were employed as labour on Alderney. Some of these were captured components of the French Free Army, taken at the Fall of Dunkirk in 1940.

The proceedings of the Nuremberg War Trials also noted the following in regard to North African forced labour: 'North African labour: Between 17 August and 6 November 1942 the home country received two contingents of workers from North Africa; one composed of 5,560 Algerians, the other of 1,825 Moroccans. These workers were immediately compelled to do direct forced labour, which brought the number of North African workers enrolled in the Todt Organization to 17,582.'

Dr Glees estimated that perhaps as many as 16,000 prisoners were brought on to Alderney in total, and it must be recalled that prisoners were being constantly moved on and off the island and we do not have any real documentation showing the transports on and off the island. There is the distinct possibility that there were no surviving witnesses for entire groups of prisoners and that the disparate reports of death rates in different groups of prisoners, such as the Ukrainians just cited may reflect that fact. Prisoners who were interrogated by the British could at best only provide a very limited view of what was going on the island and they were almost certainly only saw what they were permitted to see by the Nazis. My research of the ITS has shown that contrary to the established historical account, that only SS Baubrigade I.I was sent to Alderney, the index cards make it clear that the SS Baubrigade I.II was sent to Alderney as well, another group of up to a thousand prisoners.

While Dr Glees's figures are one of the most generous estimates of prisoner numbers, there is prima facie evidence that this could even be flawed and too conservative and one could readily double this figure as a new conservative figure with justification and Weigold and Kemp are now arguing even higher numbers of up to 70,000 which could too have justification. I would favour a figure of some 40,000. If we count the huts in the prisoner compounds and accept Kondakov's account, that up to 320 prisoners were in each of the 4 prisoner huts he saw in Helgoland, the potential numbers go up considerably, since the three main camps had around 20 huts each, even if they were not all used for prisoners. Ten huts at maximum load could have contained up to 3,200 prisoners at one time. It may also be observed that in the parallel camps in NW France, Allied intelligence showed that the Germans added and removed huts as the camps waxed and waned in numbers, so it is unlikely that any of the huts were unused.

It is important not to just restrict our understanding of prisoner numbers to the main camps, as the evidence shows that there were other camps and commandos associated with other work-sites, some of which may have temporarily had large numbers of slaves. Another way of estimating prisoner numbers is to make an inventory of all of the work-sites on the island and estimate the numbers of prisoners needed to complete the works in a limited time-frame and even a cursory analysis shows that a core group of 4,500 slave workers simply could not have completed all of the multitude of tasks on the island and that an understanding of work-sites and the means of contracting workers for the sites gives a much better indication of real numbers.

If we examine Davenport's inventory of German Defences on Alderney, he surveys no less than 54 groups of defences and most of the groups of defences consist of multiple concrete structures, tunnels and earthworks, etc,. giving some indication of the many hundreds of constructions across the island and the sheer scale of manual labour required to complete them in a short time-frame.

Also, critically, the organisation of the OT itself gives prima facie reasons why the prisoner numbers may have been larger than thought. The OT organised large projects into 6 month periods and most of OBLs (Oberbauleitung = basic self-contained building organisation within OT operations)in the West had a strength of 10,000 to 16,000 men, of which between 10 to 25 percent would be Germans / collaborators and the rest, workers for the OT. This was considered to be the smallest unit able to cope with the construction of large-scale installations, without at the same time being considered unwieldy. If the work on Alderney utilised a single OBL (or most of an OBL, sharing it as part of the 'Insel Einsatz' with Jersey and Guensey)one might conclude that there may have been a minimum OT workforce of 9,000, to 14,400 forced labourers in any 6 month period during the main phases of construction on the island, shared between the 3 OT camps, with Lager Sylt being a separate consideration. This figure seems to be coherent with Kondakov's account if we assume half of the huts in each camp were used for forced labourers. Furthermore, the division of projects into 6 month periods also provides one mechanism explaining the movement of prisoners on and off the island as they are moved from one project to another.

While Pantcheff's report gives a representation of prisoner numbers, which has is often accepted as accurate, he himself admits that, 'it is difficult to give precise figures for the labour force for any one time...'. He goes on to day that the statistics are vague and he admits the flow of prisoners, to and from the island, also make it difficult to estimate numbers and because some the numbers were doctored as well by the Germans, for example in regard to pay and rations. His description of the organisation of the OT on the island does not address whether or not it represented a single OBL either, but since Devereux house on the island was the official Bauleitung HQ, it suggests that the island work-force was officially a sub-sector of an OBL, albeit a large one.

While this would suggest that the labour force on the island might not have been at the full number of an OBL, but since the greatest amount of construction work was going on, on Alderney, it probably had a larger share of forced labourers and the evidence suggests that slave workers were moved from Island to island.

Additionally, the role of Bauleiter implies executive control of two or more firms working for the OT and as we know there were at least 8 firms with contracts with the OT on the island, of which two were very large concerns. Deubau was a large company, who employed many sub-contractors, while, Sager & Wernerstrabag was a big firm employing at least 10,000 men, so the numbers employed were potentially large.

Furthermore, it is also clear that the strength of the labour force was dictated by the specification of the project, so large project would have consistently large labour forces. 'Specification of raw materials and of building parts had already been standardised, so had the costs of material and labour.' There appears to have been a consistency of specification across OBLs as it ensured that the productivity of different OBLs could be compared with each other. Therefore the scale of the labour force on Alderney was likely to be defined by the scale of the building projects in hand and the availability of labour, rather than by the size of the OBL.

A reading of the reports and testimony presents a confusing array of prisoner deaths. MI19 intelligence reports suggests that at the very least 800 died, George Pope reported that in 1942 alone, 1778 Ukrainians died out of a single group of 2,000. These numbers may represent the fates of particular transports of forced labourers to the island, rather than the global fate of a national group over the period of German occupation. Other prisoners give global estimates which suggests that at least 3,220 died, excluding those who died on vessels, or at Lager Sylt.

Mortality rates were claimed to be in excess of 50%, in some prisoner groups, though we also have the claims in the 'Report definitif' of an 85% global death rate of prisoners taken in France. However, what must be kept firmly in mind is that the majority of prisoners who were moved off the island were almost certainly killed elsewhere by the Germans and never went back home at the end of the war.

In terms of Sylt, we need to bear in mind that the death rates reported to Himmler by Pohl, of similar SS camps ran at least 10% per month and an even higher 20% per month, for mining and tunnelling projects. The evidence given at Nuremberg found for example that in September 1943 Pohl reported to Himmler that the natural death rate in the SS camps for the last 6 months of 1942 averaged 9.89 percent per month. It also found that,'Rudolf Hoess, chief of Amt D I, has estimated that in the industries with particularly severe working conditions, as in the mines, 20 percent of the workers each month either died at their work or were sent back for extermination because of inability to work.'

It may be conjectured that the major construction projects on the island may have consumed very much larger numbers of prisoners than previously considered and the tunnelling projects may need a separate consideration of their own as is being undertaken by other historians. We might speculate that a tunnel project with a labour force of 1000 men would have cost 4,800 lives over 24 months on the basis of SS estimates of a 20% per month attrition rate.

While the treatment of prisoners in the camps were broadly similar with conditions obtaining just across the Channel in other slave labour camps, conditions were worsened due to the isolation of the prisoners which meant they could receive little help and escape was impossible, but also large-scale scams by the SS and others, with food intended for feeding prisoners being diverted for profit, meant that the starvation of prisoners was even worse than elsewhere.

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