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Discovering anti-fascist mass graves on British soil

IBMT Chair Jim Jump looks at efforts to unearth the tragic fate of Spanish Republicans and other prisoners used by the Nazis as slave labourers on the Channel Islands. This article was originally published in ¡No Pasarán! 1-2020.

 

Forced workers on the Channel Islands being watched by visiting German officers.

 

As campaigners continue to press for the exhumation of tens of thousands of Franco’s victims from unmarked graves across Spain, could it be that, here in the British Isles, there are also mass graves of anti-fascists?


This is the startling suggestion being made by a leading forensic archaeologist, who says there is a cluster of unmarked mass burial sites in the Channel Islands. They contain the remains of slave workers, including many Spanish Republicans and Soviet prisoners of war, who were used by the Nazis to build fortifications on the islands during their occupation from 1940-45.


The claim is being made by Professor Caroline Sturdy Colls, who says that Hitler’s forces killed many more prisoners than official records state, especially on Alderney. It amounts to ‘possibly the biggest murder case on British soil’ of modern times.

 

Along with Alderney, Jersey, Guernsey and the other islands off the French coast of Normandy were the only part of the British Isles seized by the Germans during the Second World War.

 

Sturdy Colls is an expert on ‘Conflict Archaeology and Genocide Investigation’ at Staffordshire University, and has spent nearly a decade investigating Nazi war crimes on Alderney. She believes that a conservative estimate of the number of people in mass graves on the island would be at least 700 – double the number of bodies found in exhumations that took place in the 1960s.

 

Between 1,500 and 2,000 Spanish Republican refugees in France were shipped to the Channel Islands to build the ‘Atlantic Wall’ defensive system. They were subject to brutal treatment alongside 14,000 other slave workers. These included Jews, captured Red Army soldiers and prisoners from more than 20 other countries.

 

An unknown number of them were worked to death or executed. Some bodies were thrown into the sea, according to Sturdy Colls, or even pushed into concrete by SS guards. Reports also point to prisoners being herded into a railway tunnel where they would be machine gunned. Some estimates put the number of dead on all the islands as several thousand.

 

A few surviving Spaniards made the islands their home after the war and provided harrowing eye-witness accounts of conditions. 

 

 

Caroline Sturdy Colls, pictured on a publicity shot for her TV documentary (Smithsonian Channel).

 

Sturdy Colls set out the results of her investigations in a TV documentary for the Smithsonian Channel titled ‘Adolf Island’. This was the name given to Alderney, which was home to several labour camps, as well as a concentration camp called Lager Sylt. The resident population was evacuated to the other Channel Islands.


Witnesses and survivors are quoted in the TV programme as saying that thousands died on Alderney. Their claims were backed up by Sturdy Colls’s team, who used drones and radar technology to locate previously unidentified burial sites.

Her revelations have stirred unease on the islands. The governing States of Alderney have hit back at accusations that it deliberately tried to block her investigations. Sturdy Colls said the project was nearly derailed after she was banned from conducting exhumations on the island.

The Alderney authorities say any investigation should be carried out by them and not by outsiders, and point out that an annual memorial service is held for Nazi victims each year at the island’s Hammond Memorial.

Sturdy Colls plans to write a book about her studies. ‘This is about re-humanising them [the prisoners] and being able to give their stories a voice,’ she told Fox News in June last year.

 

 

Posted on 28 May 2020.