Report sheds light on Nazis' murder of hundreds in the Channel Islands

Horrors of Britain’s Nazi concentration camps revealed: Report details how hundreds of Russian, French, German and Jewish prisoners were starved or beaten to death in hidden Alderney camps

  • Crimes were detailed in report compiled by intelligence officer Captain Theodore Pantcheff in 1945
  • A complete copy of the report was being held in the Russian archives and has only just come to light
  • The largest group sent to concentration camps on Alderney were Russian, Polish and Ukrainian prisoners
  • French Jews and German and Spanish political prisoners were also imprisoned on the island
  • The Channel Islands were occupied by the Nazis after Britain deemed them not important enough to defend 

A shocking report reveals how hundreds of Jews and political prisoners were starved or beaten to death by the Nazis’ during their occupation of the Channel Islands in the Second World War.

The memo, titled Report on Atrocities Committed in Alderney, 1942-1945, was written by intelligence officer Captain Theodore Pantcheff for the British Government after the island was liberated in 1945 following Nazi Germany’s defeat.

It has come to light after the Sunday Times obtained a rare copy which was being held in the Russian archives.

Pantcheff obtained the testimonies of 3,000 witnesses, including former prisoners of war, German soldiers and civilians.

The officer uncovered evidence of mass graves as well as horrific stories of how SS troops who were guarding inmates were given bonuses of extra leave for ‘every five dead prisoners’.

The largest group sent to the two concentration camps set up on the island – Lager Sylt and Lager Norderney – were Russian, Polish and Ukrainian prisoners of war and civilians, along with French Jews and German and Spanish political prisoners.

In total, at least 700 people died at the labour and concentration camps on Alderney, and more died travelling to or from them.

A shocking report reveals how hundreds of Jews and political prisoners were starved or beaten to death by the Nazis’ during their occupation of the Channel Islands in the Second World War. Pictured: German officers outside the Alderney branch of Lloyd’s Bank, which they turned into their headquarters

The memo (parts shown above), titled Report on Atrocities Committed in Alderney, 1942-1945, was written by intelligence officer Captain Theodore Pantcheff for the British Government after the island was liberated in 1945 following Nazi Germany’s defeat. It has come to light after the Sunday Times obtained a rare copy which was being held in the Russian archives

After the Nazis defeated the Allies in France in June 1940, new Prime Minister Winston Churchill had to make the difficult decision not to maintain the defence of the Channel Islands because they were deemed to be of no strategic importance.

It meant that troops who were stationed there left extremely quickly, leaving islanders at the mercy of German invaders.

Whilst Guernsey and Jersey continued to have large civilian populations, most residents of Alderney had been moved out – making the island the perfect location on which to build four labour camps in 1941.

Two of these sites were turned by Hitler’s murderous SS into concentration camps in 1943.

Pantcheff’s report reveals how Vernichtung durch Arbeit’- which translates as extermination through labour – operated there.

In total, more than 6,000 people were taken to Alderney by the Nazis.

Workers were forced to carry out 12 hours of ‘heavy construction work’ each day, whilst being fed starvation diets of ‘thin cabbage soup’ for lunch and dinner and coffee ‘without milk or sugar’ for breakfast.

Pantcheff obtained the testimonies of 3,000 witnesses, including former prisoners of war, German soldiers and civilians. The officer uncovered evidence of mass graves as well as horrific stories of how SS troops who were guarding inmates were given bonuses of extra leave for ‘every five dead prisoners’. Pictured: German soldiers parading through Marais Square, Alderney, during their occupation of the Channel Islands

They were housed in damp and structurally unsound barracks and were not given a single day off a week.

Their work included the laying of cables and the building of bunkers, tunnels and walls.

NAZI OCCUPATION OF THE CHANNEL ISLANDS  

In June 1940, the Allied forces were defeated in France. 

The UK government decided the Channel Islands would be too costly to defend and began evacuating military personal and equipment. 

Prime Minister Winston Churchill was reportedly reluctant to simply abandon the oldest possession of the British crown but succumbed to the reasoning of military advisers. 

Thousands of residents of the channel island fled to mainland Britain to avoid the incoming Nazis. 

On Alderney, the most northerly of the main Chanel Islands, the vast majority of the 1,400 natives left the rock that is just three square miles in size.  

Many people evacuated from the larger Guernsey and Jersey but a large portion of the population opted to stay. 

The Nazis were unaware the Allied forces had stopped protecting the islands and over the next two weeks began reconnaissance fights over their shores. 

In total, 44 islanders were killed in a sequence of raids on the ports by the Luftwaffe.  

The Nazis soon occupied the islands, which became the only part of the British Empire conquered by the German Army. 

German authorities changed the time zone from GMT to CET in line with the rest of the Third Reich. German occupation also saw the island change to driving on the right hand side opposed to the left.  

Residents were forced to sell their cars and houses; speak German in schools; give up weapons, boats and cameras; and had limited access to beaches. 

Hitler believed the occupation of the islands had value as a propaganda tool. As a result, they became heavily fortified. 

Hitler sent one-twelfth of the steel and concrete used in the Atlantic Wall defence network to go to the Channel Islands. 

The islands were some of the most densely fortified areas in Europe, with a host of Hohlgangsanlage tunnels, casemates, and coastal artillery positions.

Forced labour camps were built on some of the islands, with so-called volunteer camps springing up on Guernsey and Jersey.

This forced labour led to the creation of bunkers, gun emplacements, air raid shelters, and concrete fortifications.

In 1942, camps on Alderney, called Sylt and Norderney, were built to hold a few hundred forced labourers.  

However, a year later, on March 1, 1943, they were placed under the control of the SS-Untersturmführer Maximillian List, turning them into concentration camps. 

He was succeeded by SS-Obersturmführer Georg Braun in March 1944. Both men were long-serving members of the Nazi party. List ordered the ‘security to treat the prisoners harshly’ and Braun was ‘brutal to excess’, according to archive information.

The labourers were forced to build coastal defences as part of Hitler’s ‘Atlantic Wall’ and it is thought 20 per cent of the camp’s population died in the first four months alone.

Sylt concentration camp was closed in 1944 and the SS destroyed much of it to hide their crimes. 

During D-Day on ‎6 June 1944 the British troops bypassed the heavily armoured islands. 

It took until May 9 1945 for the Nazis on the islands to surrender, 24 hours after VE day for most of Europe.  

Guernsey and Jersey were liberated by British troops and ships on this day. Sark was liberated on 10 May 1945, and the German troops in Alderney surrendered on 16 May 1945. Prisoners of war were removed from Alderney by 20 May 1945. 

Alderney was the last German garrison to surrender following the conclusion of the war.  

Pantcheff referred to several witness statements to explain that the ‘common cause’ of death in 1943 was starvation, ‘assisted by physical ill-treatment and overwork’.

He said that workers were almost never allowed to report sick, unless their physical condition meant work was ‘impossible’.

Despite harsh winters, foreign workers did not appear to have been given ‘any additional clothing’, Pantcheff said.

He said ‘arbitrary beatings were a daily occurrence in Norderney and Helgoland camps.

‘Workers were beaten for the most trivial offences, against harsh regulations, such as failure to execute drill movement properly, or endeavouring to acquire extra food from the garbage pail.

On occasion workers were beaten for no reason at all. The beatings were carried out… on all parts of the victims’ body, the fist, foot, stick…’

The SS also ‘competed’ for extra leave by ‘shooting prisoners for the smallest offences’.

One sick game involved throwing a cigarette butt on the floor and then shooting whoever tried to pick it up.

Another witness in the report described how the walls of Norderney commander Karl Theiss’s office were repainted ‘three or four times’ to remove blood stains.’

Witnesses also described the presence of mass graves. One claimed 300 to 400 Jews were buried in this way at Longis Common on Alderney.

Despite the horrors detailed in the report, only a small number of Germans were ever punished for their crimes in the Channel Islands.

Pantcheff’s report included a list of Nazis’ names and the crimes they had been accused of, but the UK did not bring prosecutions.

Whilst the contents of the report are now mostly available in the National Archives, they are spread across a number of individual documents

It is rumoured that a full version of the report held by the British Government was thrown away years ago to create storage space.

The Plantcheff report gives further detail to what was previously known about war crimes committed by the Nazis in the Channel Islands.

In January, Conservative MP Matthew Offord called on the Government to release documents about a mass grave at Alderney.

In a Commons debate following Holocaust Memorial Day, Mr Offord (Hendon) said: ‘I’ve been advised that a considerable amount is already known of what lies beneath the ground.

‘This is because the British Government is still sitting on Embargoed files which detail what they found at the cemeteries after the war and their own excavations of the cemetery.

‘So today I am calling on the Government to find the missing records of the 1961 exhumation and the detailed records that the UK made of each set of remains by the British excavation at Alderney.

‘We have a duty to ensure that no-one is left behind and I ask the Government to play its part and do the right thing by releasing all information and documents in its possession.’

In a debate to mark Holocaust Memorial Day last year, Mr Offord advocated excavating the graves to identify the bodies.

However, he said in January that he had changed his mind as Jewish law forbids the transfer of remains from one grave to another, even if it is to a more respected site.

He told the Commons: ‘I expressed my personal view that unmarked graves, mass graves and locations of bodies hidden by their murderers are not proper graves in themselves and I believe that it is appropriate for the identification of bodies to be undertaken.

‘Some people took my words as advocating the full exhumation of the Channel Islands but that is not necessary or even desirable.’

He added: ‘Putting aside the religious issues, it has been stressed upon me that opening mass graves is not as revealing as one might imagine and the gains in knowledge are slight compared to the moral and spiritual costs of disturbance.

‘Knowledge already exists about the sites and the combination of non-intrusive means of investigation, World War Two aerial imagery combined with research into records should be sufficient to tell us with some certitude what lies beneath Longis Common.’

Former Sylt prisoner Wilhelm Wernegau recalled to the Daily Mail in 2017 how the camp’s cook was strangled by the SS because they did not like his food.

‘The Germans shot him right there,’ he said.

‘Another man was crucified for stealing, hung by his hands. When I got up in the mornings I saw dead bodies in the bunks around me.

‘Sometimes their lips, nose and ears had been eaten by rats. ‘There was a special hut where the corpses were piled.

‘Later, they were taken away, loaded onto trucks and dumped in the sea.

‘We were fed just water with a few bits of turnip floating in it, so life was a constant struggle for food.

‘I found a rubbish heap near to the construction site where I worked and was filling a bag with vegetable peelings and cabbage leaves when someone set a dog on me. ‘It attacked again and again, tearing all my clothing.

‘When it let go, I was beaten with a stick by a German. I was very weak at the time. There were about 500 men in my camp, and at least 300 died while I was there.’

Hitler, as well as Churchill, recognised the Channel Islands had no practical use in the war and their main function for the Nazi regime was as a promotional tool.

According to the propaganda of the Nazi party, ceasing the deserted and undefended islands was the ‘last stepping stone before the conquest of mainland Britain’.

Pantcheff referred to several witness statements to explain that the ‘common cause’ of death in 1943 was starvation, ‘assisted by physical ill-treatment and overwork’. He said that workers were almost never allowed to report sick, unless their physical condition meant work was ‘impossible’

SYLT: ALDERNEY’S MOST FEARED CAMP WHERE PRISONERS WERE KILLED AS SPORT 

Sylt had a reputation as by far the most fearsome camp on Alderney, with archived testimonies speaking of untold brutality and abuse. 

Prisoners were killed as sport, their deaths dismissed with a generic death certificate and their mutilated bodies used as decoration atop walls and gates. 

For sport, the SS guards sometimes used dogs to force prisoners through security fences. The prisoners were then shot for attempting to ‘escape’. The SS documented many such executions as ‘suicides’.

German soldier Otto Tauber, for example, recalled how four men were bound to the barbed wire fence atop a wall and whipped for killing and eating a lamb.

The gateposts were also a favoured place for the SS to perpetrate and display brutality. A former Norderney prisoner explained: ‘at Lager Sylt we saw a Russian, he was just hanging, strung up from the main gate. 

‘On his chest he had a sign on which was written: ‘for stealing bread’. Others were left hanging for days and whipped or had cold water poured over them all night until they died, according to archived testimony.   

Bodies were left to hang as a warning to others not to commit crimes. Even the German garrison on Alderney were aware that Sylt was a brutal camp, to which access was restricted, the archaeologists cconducting the latest research say. 

Photograph of the Sylt concentration camp taken in 1945. The Germans destroyed much of the camp in 1944 and little survived their attempts to eradicate evidence of their crimes 

While visiting Sylt in 1943, German corporal Otto Taubert explained that ‘no one [in the Wehrmacht] was allowed to enter the inner [prisoner] compound’. German Lieutenant D.R Schwalm stated that ‘access to the camp was only allowed with the permission of the camp-leader and then only in his presence’.

Historical sources confirm that the SS used food to enforce dominance and control.

Prisoners starved while their food rations were stolen by SS guards, who either ate, sold, traded or kept the supplies for themselves. 

One of the prisoner kitchens also became a killing site when, as former Sylt prisoner Wilhelm Wernegau recalled, the cook was strangled by the SS because they did not like his food.

The inmates of the slave labour camp lived their pitiful and short lives in constant fear.

One who against the odds survived recalled being marched to work and a fellow prisoner falling to his knees, unable to walk further.

‘The Germans shot him right there,’ he told The Daily Mail in 2017. 

‘Another man was crucified for stealing, hung by his hands. When I got up in the mornings I saw dead bodies in the bunks around me. Sometimes their lips, nose and ears had been eaten by rats.

‘There was a special hut where the corpses were piled. Later, they were taken away, loaded onto trucks and dumped in the sea.

‘We were fed just water with a few bits of turnip floating in it, so life was a constant struggle for food. I found a rubbish heap near to the construction site where I worked and was filling a bag with vegetable peelings and cabbage leaves when someone set a dog on me.

‘It attacked again and again, tearing all my clothing. When it let go, I was beaten with a stick by a German. I was very weak at the time. There were about 500 men in my camp, and at least 300 died while I was there.’

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