Dramatic new evidence of Nazi war crimes on British soil has been uncovered by a leading forensic archaeologist who has discovered a cluster of unmarked mass burial sites in the Channel Islands.
Professor Caroline Sturdy Colls has located a number of areas on Alderney where hundreds of missing slave and forced labourers are feared to have been buried during the German occupation of World War II.
Her research, said to be first detailed scientific examination of Nazi atrocities on the island, has concluded that the number of deaths caused by Hitler’s henchmen, including the SS, was ‘far higher’ than official records state.
The official toll of forced and slave labourers who died on Alderney between 1940 and 1945 currently stands at 389 – a figure based on exhumations that took place in the 1960s at the request of the German War Graves Commission.
The death toll of forced and slave labourers on Alderney during the Nazi occupation of the island (German troops pictured after the invasion) is feared to be far higher than previously thought
The number of deaths caused by Hitler’s henchmen (soldiers pictured), including the SS, are believed to be greater than official records state after new grave sites were discovered.
A leading forensic archaeologist has discovered a cluster of unmarked mass burial sites in the Channel Islands, including the tiny land mass of Alderney
But Prof Sturdy Colls, an expert on ‘Conflict Archaeology and Genocide Investigation’ at Staffordshire University who has spent nearly a decade investigating Nazi war crimes on Alderney, believes that a ‘conservative’ estimate of the number of people who perished on the island would be at least 700.
The Holocaust expert describes her findings, which she made with the help of drones, ground penetrating radar and by examining hundreds of aerial photographs, as evidence of ‘possibly the biggest murder case on British soil’ in modern times.
Much of her research has focused on what remains of the site of Sylt, a notorious concentration camp built in secrecy and run by the SS, and an area called Longy Common where victims of the Nazis were buried in marked graves.
Following the liberation in 1945, the marked graves of more than 200 former prisoners were discovered at Longy Common, dubbed the ‘Russian cemetery’ by Hitler’s killers.
In addition, a much smaller number of unmarked graves there were documented by officials.
Professor Caroline Sturdy Colls (pictured ascending steps from old underground tunnel system on Alderney) belives her new evidence points to ‘possibly the biggest murder case on British soil’ in modern times
Many of those murdered at Sylt suffered appalling deaths: some were beaten to death by ‘extremely brutal’ guards, others were shot, while there were also cases where prisoners died of malnutrition.
Details of Prof Sturdy Colls’ findings will be revealed in a major TV documentary called ‘Adolf Island’, which will be screened in the UK on Tuesday (June 18).
‘For the first time in 70 years it has been possible to prove that there are unmarked mass graves and individual burial sites on Alderney that have never been documented,’ she says in the programme.
‘This shows new evidence of Nazi crimes and it demonstrates how little we actually have known up to this point about what happened on Alderney during the occupation.’
For decades, the true scale of the atrocities inflicted by the Nazis during the German occupation of the Channel Islands has divided professional opinion.
Estimates about the number of people who perished in Hitler’s camps on Alderney, just eight miles from France, have varied enormously while there have been allegations from critics on the quiet island that visiting authors, experts and researchers have sought to ‘sensationalise’ the issue.
The Nazi occupation was a dark and sinister chapter in the history of the Channel Islands (Guernsey house pictured), one which caused enormous embarrassment to Winston Churchill and his war-time government
Now for the first time there appears to be scientific proof about the number of deaths inflicted by the Nazis in one of the most unlikely outposts of the Third Reich.
The Nazi occupation was a dark and sinister chapter in the history of the Channel Islands, one which caused enormous embarrassment to Winston Churchill and his war-time government.
Even today, more than 70 years later, it is one that the local authorities are not keen to be reminded of. Prof Sturdy Colls says officials blocked her plans to excavate at the location of Sylt, meaning she had to rely on ground penetrating radar and non-invasive methods to reveal the truth about ‘Adolf Island’.
During World War ll, Alderney was the most heavily fortified Channel Island as part of Hitler’s so-called ‘Atlantic Wall’.
Nearly all of its population was evacuated to England. Four camps were established – named after the German islands Borkum, Helgoland, Norderney and Sylt – to house labourers.
During World War ll, Alderney was the most heavily fortified Channel Island as part of Hitler’s so-called ‘Atlantic Wall’. Prof Sturdy Colls visited these battlements as part of her groundbreaking research
The most notorious one was Sylt, an SS facility with a particularly brutal regime.
Following the Nazi invasion, labourers were transported to Alderney from Germany to work on Hitler’s quest to build an impregnable fortress on British soil.
At first they went there voluntarily, but later forced and slave labourers were dispatched to the island.
Many of the 6,000 people sent to Alderney were immigrants trapped in Germany, alleged political prisoners and men deemed to be unfit to be soldiers by the Nazis.
Prof Sturdy Colls said: ‘My current research, which is still ongoing, suggests that more than 350 people are unaccounted for.
‘Sixty five of them might well have been buried in unmarked graves discovered in the 1960s but that leaves at least around 285 bodies unaccounted for and brings the total death toll on Alderney to more than 700.
German soldiers are given a lecture in the grounds of Victoria College, Jersey, during their occupation of the Channel Islands
The expert used drones, ground penetrating radar and by examining hundreds of aerial photographs, as evidence
‘This is my conservative estimate of a minimum number of missing individuals based on rigorous research.
‘These calculations are based on the records we have – of course my research has also shown that the Nazis destroyed many of their records and, as they took the time to destroy them, it begs the question what they contained that they didn’t want the world to know.’
She went on: ‘My research has also demonstrated how Sylt connected to the Nazi concentration camp system in Europe and shown that it was certainly part of it.
How Professor Sturdy Colls gathered the dramatic new evidence
As Holocaust expert Professor Caroline Sturdy Colls was unable to carry out forensic excavations on Alderney, she had to use so-called ‘non-invasive’ methods to investigate unmarked graves remain on the island.
She says she has used the same techniques at numerous genocide sites across Europe, leading to the successful identification of graves.
The methods included using ‘airborne LiDAR’ – a remote sensing technology – which measures the height of a ground surface and other landscape features using laser pulses. This allows archaeologists to visualise and locate features which are often difficult to see with the naked eye.
The LiDAR results showed subtle depressions in the landscape indicative of buried remains (at Sylt and Longy Common) and graves (Longy Common).
She also used ‘Ground Penetrating Radar’ (GPR) – a geophysical method that emits radio waves into the ground and records the time and strength of these signals as they return to an antenna.
Different buried materials affect the reflection of the radio waves.
Natural soil layers and features that interrupt these layers (referred to as ‘anomalies’) can be recorded, and 2D and 3D data plots of the subsurface are then created.
Anomalies may include structural remains, backfilled pits and graves, and other buried materials.
By comparing her various survey data with aerial photographs, witness testimony and other documentary evidence, she was able to locate a number of areas on Longy Common consistent with former and potentially unmarked individual and mass graves.
Reports by British liberators and aerial photographs from 1943-1945 suggested that an unmarked communal grave was present within the cemetery (on the east side) and in this area significant ground disturbance and a feature consistent with a long trench was identified in the geophysical data (from GPR and resistance survey).
Aerial photographs from 1943-1945 also show areas of ground disturbance outside of the cemetery boundaries – most notably in two areas to the north and west. Geophysical surveys revealed ground disturbance in both of these areas.
‘Of course, to 100% confirm the presence of human remains on the island, forensic archaeological excavations would need to take place,’ Prof Sturdy Colls told the Mail.
‘Some people have tried to claim that what happened on Alderney was not part of this system and to downplay the crimes perpetrated there.
‘However, Sylt was a sub-camp of Neuengamme in Germany and it was run by the Nazi SS Death’s Head Unit.
‘Many of these guards were extremely brutal and they saw treating the prisoners badly and killing them as a sport.’
According to her research, many prisoners who survived for years in other SS camps, died with weeks or months of arriving in Alderney.
Many causes of death are incorrectly listed on death certificates based on comparisons with witness testimonies to cover up the ways in which people really died, she said.
Recently declassified documents and materials previously unavailable in Eastern Europe and Russia provide new information about the nature of death and burial on Alderney.
‘My research has shown that the official death toll of forced and slave labourers on Alderney which stands at 389 based on exhumations that took place in the 1960s is too low,’ she said.
‘I have found strong evidence that there are additional unmarked burials on Longy Common. Features that are consistent with additional mass and individual internments have been located within the cemetery.
‘Two further areas of probable unmarked graves outside the cemetery have been identified in aerial photographs and my survey data.
‘These areas were unlikely to have been searched by the 1960s exhumation team and so it likely the bodies remain there.’
She said her research confirms witness reports that people were killed in a variety of ways and their bodies disposed of via burials. To a lesser extent, bodies were thrown into the sea or buried in pits at low tide, or pushed into concrete.
During the making of ‘Adolf Island’, Prof Sturdy Colls discovered a letter from SS chief Heinrich Himmler to the camp commander on Alderney making it clear that should the island be invaded by the allies, all inmates were to be executed.
There were no gas chambers on the island so the SS is said to have rehearsed how they would commit mass murder by herding all the prisoners into a railway tunnel where they would be machine gunned.
As a much respected figure who has worked with the UK police on many high profile ‘no body’ cases, looking for murder victims, her findings will be difficult to ignore – even by critics on Alderney keen to consign the Nazi occupation to history.
Ahead of the film on Alderney, she told the Mail last night: ‘In the past there have been various people who have written sensationalist pieces about the German occupation of Alderney. I am trying to do this from a forensic perspective.
‘Be very honest about what we do know, and what we don’t know. What we have found in our research is very clear evidence about these additional graves. Very clear evidence about how the SS concentration camp functioned. It is important this site is protected.
‘There are people in the local government and in the local community who have actively blocked the work that we have done. They don’t want this story to be told. That’s a shame because it’s not telling the story of the people who suffered on that island.
‘I am in consultation now with a number of international organisations, and local bodies in Alderney as well about the results and next steps.
‘Any excavations of those graves would have to be very carefully planned. Some of the victims may be Jewish. The majority are most likely to be from Eastern Europe, although not all Jewish.
‘I think morally we have a responsibility to address this issue. It’s an important part of British and international history, the people who were there from other countries.
‘We have got this forensic evidence about something terrible that happened on British soil, and now we have to find out if these non-invasive findings are correct so we don’t get this toing and froing between people who want to downplay it and those who want to sensationalise it.’
Adolf Island will premiere on Tuesday, June 18 at 9pm on Smithsonian Channel in the UK and on Sunday, June 23 at 10pm in the US.