In the first step of a never-realized plan to invade Britain, the Nazis occupied several of the islands in the English Channel, among them Alderney—on which they then built four forced-labor camps. Archaeologists are now investigating the largest of these, known as Sylt. Robert Philpot writes:
[Sylt’s] inmates were mostly Eastern Europeans, although there was also a large contingent of French Jews. The French prisoners dubbed Alderney “le rocher maudit”—the accursed rock—underlining the brutality of the wind-swept, sea-beaten, and remote island. Its prewar civilian population of 1,400 people had been evacuated by the UK when, deeming them too difficult to defend, it pulled out of the Channel Islands after the fall of France in June 1940.
In a bid to disguise its crimes, the SS demolished much of the camp in 1944. That effort, combined with the fact that, for many years, the presence of concentration camps on British soil was something of a taboo subject, meant that Sylt was often dismissed as having been “destroyed” or “dismantled.”
There is, according to the archaeologist [leading the study, Caroline Sturdy Colls], “a long legacy” which goes back to immediately after the war when the British government was “not necessarily keen even to acknowledge that these camps existed on British soil.” That legacy also meant that a lot of archive material remained classified for many years.
The scale of the horror perpetrated on Alderney is hotly debated. Official accounts after the war figured that less than 400 of the slave laborers died on the island. Seventy years on, though, some historians and military experts suggest the workforce and the death toll have been grossly underestimated. . . . . Sturdy Colls . . . believes at least 700 slave laborers died, while labeling the figure a “very conservative estimate.”