Norderney Concentration Camp

Country Channel Islands
GPS 49° 43' 41.88" N, -2° 10' 37.2756" W
Address Near the Saye Campsite, Alderney, Channel Islands
Dates Active Summer 1942 – June 1944

Channel Islanders Imprisoned in Norderney Concentration Camp
Wilfred Henry Duport, Walter John Gallichan, Douglas Haig George Le Cocq, Gordon Augustin Prigent


By Roderick Miller

Four Channel Islanders are known to have been imprisoned in Norderney Concentration Camp (Lager Norderney, Baubrigade I, often misspelt ‘Nordeney’) in the island of Alderney in the Channel Islands. Prior to the German occupation of the Channel Islands on 30 June 1940, the circa 1500 residents of Alderney were mostly evacuated to mainland Britain, and some to Guernsey where they would stay for the remainder of the war. The Germans immediately began to fortify the island as part of the so-called ‘Atlantic Wall’ Nazi defensive fortifications, since they saw the island as essential to the conquest of Britain. The Nazi Organisation Todt (OT) built at least four camps on the island, all of them named after Frisian Islands in the North Sea.

The Frank Falla Archive’s use of the term ‘concentration camp’ generally follows the guidelines of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Most concentration camps were, at least until the very end of the war, also ‘labour camps’. Most labour camps, however, were not concentration camps. The difference between a labour camp and a concentration camp is that a camp designed purely for labour was usually operated by the OT or another Reich labour group, and the workers were usually voluntary, or ‘semi-voluntary’ in the case of some Eastern Europeans, and were marginally paid. As paid ‘assets of the Reich’, such workers were also generally cared for in terms of basic nutritional, shelter, and medical needs. The chances of surviving such a labour camp were good. A concentration camp, on the other hand, was run by the SS (more specifically, the SS Main Economic and Administrative Office, SS-WVHA) and followed the Nazi Vernichtung durch Arbeit (‘elimination through work’) policy. Specific groups of peoples, starting with Jews, Slavic Eastern Europeans, and Sinte Romani or ‘gypsies’, were subject in concentration camps to a policy whose goal was to murder them while at the same time exploiting every last calorie in their bodies to contribute to building the Nazi empire. By minimally investing in the nutrition, shelter, and medical care of the forced labourers, and simultaneously forcing them to perform hard labour at every waking moment, the Nazis ensured that they could benefit by their labour and at the same time eliminate their opponents, since Jews, Slavs, and Sinte Romani were considered ‘enemies of the Reich’. The Nazis were, in the most brutal form imaginable, getting a maximum profit with a minimum investment. The chance of surviving most concentration camps was low in comparison with the much milder labour camps.

Sylt camp in Alderney has been widely accepted in Island and other literature as a ‘concentration camp’, and is often called ‘Alderney Concentration Camp’, an unfortunate misnomer since the name suggests falsely that there was only one concentration camp in Alderney – though the implication that the entire island was a concentration camp may be more accurate in light of the collusion of interests of the SS-WVHA, the OT, and the German military there. An overview of post-war testimonials of Alderney survivors reveals that in fact, the ‘elimination through work’ policy may have been active to some degree in every major camp on the island, and there is ample evidence that this specific policy of mass murder was actively utilized in Norderney camp. [6]

Norderney Concentration Camp was constructed in summer 1942 by forced labour prisoners as part of the programme to build the Nazi ‘Atlantic Wall’ defence system. The Germans dropped the first shipload of prisoners off in Alderney without any guard supervision, the desolation of the island serving as a virtual prison:

We sailed to Alderney and disembarked with no food, no German guards and no shelter. It was very cold. We could have been in Africa for all we knew. […] The next day it was lovely weather and we began to look around. All the windows in the houses had been shattered and the doors were broken off their hinges. Books were scattered everywhere. There was no sight of any Germans. […] The first man to die in Alderney was an American called Williams; he was born in 1915 in Boston, Massachusetts. I know because I made his cross. He’d fought in the International Brigade. There was a motorbike lying on its side by the road. It was a booby trap, but he didn’t know and he went over to pick it up and it blew him up. […] After several days without any food or water, about twenty Germans arrived with some horses and we started to build Norderney camp. — Belgian survivor Norbert Beermart [1]

Norderney housed its prisoners in wooden barracks, and according to testimonials of Spanish survivors [2], the camp had no guard towers, barbed wire fences or posted sentries. At that time, the entire staff of the camp was only two officers and four guards. This stands in stark contrast to the common image of a concentration camp, but makes more sense when considering that the entire island of Alderney is only three square miles in size, one fifth the size of the Auschwitz Concentration Camp complex. Not only is the island small, but it has a barrier better than any wall to prevent escapes: the sea. There were a few daring, successful escapes from Alderney, but the Nazis probably reckoned that a few escapes were worth the savings in not having to build security structures, especially since all available material on the island had to be used for building the Nazi ‘Atlantic Wall’ defence system. Archaeological investigations [4] and objects still on site suggest that fences were installed later in the camp, perhaps in following with the general Nazi practice of placing Slavic Eastern European forced labourers under guard.

Channel Islanders Walter Gallichan and Gordon Prigent had been assigned to work as civilian labourers for the OT at the Soldatenheim or ‘soldiers’ home’ in Alderney. 18-year old Prigent had apparently been ‘branded a troublemaker after a dispute with the Germans over a job at the airport on Jersey, and sent to Alderney.’ [1] Prigent and Gallichan were caught sneaking into the office of a German officer to listen to the BBC and were sent to Norderney as punishment.

Up to 1500 prisoners were incarcerated at any one time in Norderney and were made to perform forced labour for the Nazis under brutal conditions there. The prisoners consisted primarily of Ukrainians, Russians and other Eastern Europeans, together with a number of Western Europeans, including Spanish Republicans, North Africans from Algeria and Morocco, and French Jews. According to survivor accounts, prisoners often described in Island histories as ‘Russian’ were, in most cases, actually Ukrainian nationals from the Soviet Union. Anti-communist sentiment in Britain made many loathe to use the term ‘Soviet’, thus the ‘Russian’ tended to be used as a blanket description for all Slavic Eastern Europeans.

Prisoners were subject to substandard living conditions, exposure, malnutrition, beatings, and even summary executions. Other contemporary witnesses [1] state they saw guards beat people to death on a regular basis, and that by early 1943 up to ten people were dying in the camp every day. Prisoners were required to hold down other prisoners whilst the camp officers or guards administered beatings. Corpses were stripped of all clothing and identification and buried in mass graves, with three prisoners having full time jobs as gravediggers.

The prisoners performed forced labour for up to 16 hours per day, 7 days a week, building concrete walls with concrete-mixing machines, with occasional 24-hour work periods interrupted only by half a day’s rest. Breakfasts consisted of a cup of herbal tea that ‘tasted like copper’. Lunch was a thin cabbage soup, and dinner more cabbage soup with bread and occasionally 10-15 grammes of margarine. Prisoners slept in lice-ridden barracks on pallets using straw for warmth, as there were no blankets.

Unlike most SS-run camps, there were no barbers in Norderney so the prisoners had no way to cut their hair or shave. No drinking water was available in the camp, and if prisoners got thirsty their only source of water was to suck on grass. Disease was rampant and the few prisoner doctors had no medication at their disposal. According to one report, a doctor in the German Navy, whose name remains unknown, saved hundreds of lives by having many prisoners evacuated to Cherbourg.

The first French Jews arrived in Norderney in July 1943 and were placed into a separate section of the camp, called ‘Norderney II’ according to some accounts [3]. The Jewish prisoners were required by the Nazis to wear the yellow Star of David patch and had white stripes running on both sides of their trousers. Most of them were only in the camp for a few months, and it appears that less than a dozen died there. One survivor, Dr. J. M. Bloch, testified that they were forced to work for 60-hour stretches with 12-hour rest periods. Many of the Jews who survived Norderney were later deported from France to concentration camps in Germany and extermination camps in Eastern Europe.

Another Channel Islander’s name surfaces in the post-war testimonial of the Scottish shepherd Thomas Creron:

There was a Frontfuehrer over the O.T.s… He was about 40-50, 5’8”, thick-set, wearing horn-rimmed glasses. I am not sure I would recognise him again, but he is the man who was going to shoot an Englishmen named Le Cocq, for hitting an O.T. man who was hitting a Russian. He (Le Cocq) received 14 days in the O.T. prison by Newtown. This was a prison for foreign workers. –Thomas Creron, 17 May 1945, Alderney, TNA WO 311/11.

The ‘Englishman’ referred to is Douglas Le Cocq, a Guernsey resident whose full name is on a list of persons who had given statements to British intelligence officials as mentioned in a letter dated 2 June 1945 from Brigadier H. Shapcott to the Treasurer Solicitor (TNA WO 311/12). Le Cocq’s statement reads as follows:

One Sunday in March 1944, after dinner, 2 French women in my barracks drew my attention to an O.T. guard outside who was hitting a Russian. I went outside and remonstrated with the O.T. guard, who struck me on the back. I retaliated and knocked him to the ground. For this assault I was sent to prison for 15 days. There was a young Russian in the prison, which was on Longy Common, who was beaten every day, though for what reason, if any, I do not know. The food in the prison consisted only of one loaf every four days and some coffee, which was really water. In March or April 1943 (or 1944, I do not remember which year) I saw a dead Russian by the cookhouse at the rear of the barracks. He lay there till 11.00 a.m. HANS, a shepherd, was a German Flak soldier when not working on the farm, told me that he had shot him for stealing, potatoes I think.

Channel Islander Gordon Prigent witnessed his friend Walter Gallichan receive a severe beating with a spade from a camp guard, merely because Gallichan had not planted some cabbages spaced evenly. Prigent later recalled:

The guards made sure you did your work. They were always nervous of being caught being lenient because they might be shipped to the Russian front. We slept on straw and bare wood. I got very hungry; some chaps died of starvation. Once you’d been there nine months, the Germans thought you were so starved you weren’t fit to be on the islands any more, and they would ship you back to Germany to a camp which had gas chambers. I was lucky, I was only eighteen and I had stamina, but the ones over forty died. There were burials several days a week. They used to bury them on Longy Common. Us English didn’t get sick. Norderney was like the concentration camps in Germany without the gas ovens. There was a tunnel and one end was sealed. At the other end there was a machine gun. If there had been an invasion, we had two minutes to get in the tunnel and they’d have shot us all. If you dragged your feet – and we did, because we were exhausted and starved – they would whip you. If you were working too slowly they would beat you. One night they came in every hour to do a roll call; I was a bit slow getting out of bed one time and they hit me and knocked my teeth out. Chaps would just disappear. I saw people being hit, kicked at roll call, and then they’d disappear. – Gordon Prigent [1]

Gallichan and Prigeant were taken by boat to Cherbourg, but then inexplicably allowed to return to Jersey via Guernsey in July 1944. According to Mière, Prigent was allowed to sign up as a volunteer policeman, despite the fact that he had a criminal conviction from a German Military Tribunal and had just finished serving his sentence.

Channel Islander Marshall Johns was never a prisoner in Norderney, but he was in the hospital there for three months whilst a labourer in Alderney, and left this post-war testimonial:

At the end of July 1943 I went into the hospital in Norderney Camp, having suffered an accident to my foot, and I remained there for three months. During the time I was there a large number of Russian civilians were brought into the hospital and a large number died. I kept a record of their deaths in pencil on the side of my bed, and can say that 73 Russians, 2 Frenchmen and one woman died during that period. I knew that they had died as I would see the bodies carried through my ward from the ward next door on stretchers, and I was informed by the Russian orderlies of each death. The Russians who were brought into the hospital in my opinion mostly died of starvation and cold, as they lacked clothing. Most of them had only sacking tied around their feet. —Marshall Johns

Channel Islander Thomas Robins was also in the camp hospital in Norderey. He wrote:

On or about 9 August 1943 I went into the hospital which was in a camp close to a quarry on Long Common. I had been knocked over by an ox and damaged my legs. While I was there two or three Russians were brought into the hospital every day. They were wearing neither boots nor stockings, and looked thoroughly starved. I was at the hospital for seven weeks and during that time 41 of these Russians died. I know this number because my mate MARSHALL JOHNS who was in the hospital at the same time as I was used to write down the numbers of the Russians who died in a notebook. —Thomas Robins

18-year-old Wilfred Duport is the last Channel Islander known to have been in Norderney, in June 1944:

On 18 June 1942 I went to Alderney with the second party of 30 men who went on order of the States of Guernsey to do farm work for the Germany. We were billeted in the barracks at the O.T. farm. […] In June 1944 I was in Norderney Camp, where I was sent as a punishment for not working. I was not ill-treated, but when the Americans came and bombed Alderney there were two Frenchmen outside their barracks when they should have taken shelter, and the O.T. Lagerfuehrer, whose name I do not know, took a tommy gun from a sentry and shot them. I could recognise him if I saw him. While I was at Norderney an O.T. worker informed this Lagerfuehrer that he was too ill to go to work and the Lagerfuehrer struck him to the ground and kicked him in the face and body until he was only just able to move off to work. This man dropped unconscious when he reached his work and was taken in an ambulance to hospital, where he died the same day. —Wilfred Duport, May 1945, TNA WO 311/11.

The Lagerführer referred to is most likely Norderney commandant Adam Adler, and Duport’s testimonial is the only known contemporary eyewitness account of murders committed by an officer in Norderney Camp. Although the accuracy of the description of the bombing raid as having been conducted by ‘Americans’ is uncertain, the allies, and especially the RAF, did conduct 22 air attacks on the Channel Islands during the course of the war, resulting in 93 people’s deaths, many of them OT workers.

Archaeological investigations [4] have revealed that the Nazis began to destroy Norderney Concentration Camp as early as March 1944, well before D-day in June 1944, previously falsely assumed to have been the motivation for dismantling the camps. According to May 1945 British intelligence reports, the timber from the dismantled camps was used to supplement fuel on the island in winter 1944-1945, and other materials were requisitioned for finishing the Atlantic Wall defence works. It is likely that the failing German military situation had reduced supplies available to Alderney even by March 1944, and that the OT and SS had to requisition their own supplies for continued construction works. When Alderney natives finally returned to the islands in late 1945 and 1946, they found many of their homes missing roofs, having been stripped for timber, and that most metals that could be pried away from buildings, such as wrought iron fences and gates, had been stripped by the German occupiers.

Allied troops landed in Alderney to accept the German surrender on 16 May 1945, perhaps one of the last territories to still have active German troops, over a week after the German unconditional surrender on 8 May. The German personnel were taken into custody as prisoners of war and removed from Alderney on 20 May. The Alderney native population began returning to the island in December 1945.

British intelligence officer Major F. F. Haddock was placed charge of investigating crimes against humanity in Alderney:

There is a cemetery on Longy Common, Alderney, which contains some 250 odd graves marked by crosses, of which I have a list provided by the German authorities. These names are mostly Russian, and the rumour is current that each grave contains more than one body. In support of this one Spanish witness speaks of having seen 15 to 20 bodies placed in a grave, and another of having seen three coffins containing bodies placed beside one open grave. […] Quite apart from the brutal treatment there is plenty of evidence that prisoners in these camps, particularly Russians, were systematically starved. […] Major Hoffmann, a technical officer of the German H.Q. on the island, and described by a number of witnesses as the Commandant of the Island, when interviewed about the number of Russian deaths, stated glibly that ‘it was only to be expected when prisoners were systematically under-fed and over-worked. — Major F. F. Haddock, letter to Brigadier H. Shapcott, 22 May 1945, TNA WO 311/11.

On 16 July 1945, Patrick Dean of the British Foreign Office wrote to Brigadier Shapcott suggesting a British Military Tribunal try Germans suspected of crimes against humanity in Alderney, but only if the victims of the crimes were multinational. Dean suggested that if the victims were solely Russian, the case should be tried elsewhere by a Soviet tribunal. Dean asked Shapcott if Russians only died in concentration camps and if Russians were the only group of victims in Alderney. In his reply on the same day, Shapcott responded correctly that Russians also died in OT camps, but was incorrect in answering that Russians comprised the only group of victims in Alderney. Shapcott had full access to Haddock’s reports, and apparently either disbelieved, disregarded or failed to register Duport’s account of the murder of two Frenchmen in Norderney. Shapcott was probably unaware at this time of the deaths of French Jews un Alderney. It is possible, however, that Shapcott’s response to the Foreign Office that ‘only Russians’ died in Alderney may have played a role in the eventual decision not to carry out trials for crimes against humanity on the island. A full British intelligence report in Alderney was given to the Soviets, but the report is no longer to be found in the British archives, existing only as a copy Russian translation in the Russian archives.

Investigations by British intelligence into crimes against humanity in Alderney were further hampered by the lack of documentation:

There are very few documents of any kind. All important records were sent to GUERNSEY or JERSEY before the capitulation. All prison officials, for example, were unable to give any details of the alleged crimes or sentences of the prisoners. And all other documents have been carefully destroyed. I have searched the more important places, such as the PLATZKOMMANDANTUR and the HAFENKOMMANDANTUR, as well as a number of billets and offices, and found almost nothing. Very little, in any case, of great value. – Sgt. Francis Bennett, Intelligence Corps, 25 May 1945, Alderney (TNA WO 311/11)

Later investigations managed to discover the identities of some of the Norderney personnel, however. The first commandant of Norderney was an OT-Hauptruppführer named Paul Orgis, who also ran Brauneck Labour Camp in Boulogne, France. He was replaced by an OT- Hauptruppführer named Karl Tietz, who ran Norderney until being sentenced to a prison term on charges of black marketing. The camp was run for a short period by OT-Bauleiter Theo Konitz, and from December 1942 by OT-Haupttruppführer Adam Adler, who carried the SS rank of Untersturmführer and sometimes wore the SS uniform. His deputy commander, OT-Meister Heinrich Evers, was noted for his extreme brutality to the prisoners. On New Year’s Eve 1943/1944, Evers held up a large package of unopened letters to the prisoners from their families, announced to the prisoners that letters had arrived, and then threw them in the stove and burned them. Adler and Evers were placed on trial by a French military tribunal the Reuilly barracks in Paris in September 1949 and received respective prison sentences of ten and seven years for the ‘inhuman workload’ and other ‘systematic maltreatment’ to which they subjected French Jews in Norderney. This is the only war crimes trial that was ever held for the mistreatment of Jews in the Channel Islands and the only substantiated trial of any member of the SS for war crimes committed on the Channel Islands. [5]. Had the French trial used the statements given above by Channel Islanders Duport, Johns, Prigent, and Robins as evidence, or had they been been tried by a British Military Tribunal, Adler and Evers would probably have been hanged.

Of an estimated 4,000 Spanish Republicans who performed forced labour in camps in Alderney, only around 59 survived, most of them having perished later in Mauthausen Concentration Camp. The exact number of prisoners who died in Alderney will probably never be known, but the US Holocaust Memorial Museum estimates that one in ten foreign forced labourers in Alderney died there.

Wilfred Duport, Gordon Prigent, and Walter Gallichan are the only Channel Islanders known to have been imprisoned in the Nazi concentration camp system in Alderney. Channel Islander Gordon Prigent survived and donated numerous audio recordings to the Jersey Heritage Archives of his experiences in Norderney. Walter Gallichan, 20 years old at the time of liberation, was sent to St Saviour’s hospital after the war but never properly recovered from the maltreatment he received in Norderney. He spent most of the remainder of his life in hospital until his death in 1988.

None of the sites in Alderney from the Second World War have historical protection status based upon that period of history. Most of the original buildings are no longer standing, but there are several partially buried bunkers and concrete structures still remaining, as well as parts of the original cobblestone roads.

Norderney is not to be mistaken for a comparatively benign civilian labour camp or internment camp: Norderney was a concentration camp and the site of crimes committed against humanity that brought post-war criminal convictions. Norderney has the unfortunate distinction of being the only former concentration camp site in Europe that hosts a holiday campsite instead of a memorial. As of date (2017) there is nothing on the site itself to commemorate the thousands who suffered and the hundreds who died there.

There is a memorial to forced labourers in Alderney located about 100 metres south of the Norderney Concentration Camp site called the Hammond Memorial. The French dedicated a monument there in 1951 and the memorial was expanded in 1966. There are yearly services at this site to honour those who suffered under the Nazis in Alderney.


 

[1] See Bunting in Sources below.
[2] See Pike in Sources below.
[3] See Fings in Sources below, pp. 203-204.
[4] See Colls in Sources below.
[5] See Cohen in Sources below. In a footnote on page 36, Cohen states that ‘In 1949 a Russian was sentenced to 25 years hard labour for war crimes committed whilst a Kapo in Alderney’, but does not specify what court pronounced this sentence nor where, nor in which camp in Alderney the Russian committed the crimes.
[6] The term ‘concentration camp’ was consciously chosen for Norderney based the following criteria: The commandant of the camp, while ostensibly an OT officer, was also an officer in the SS and wore the uniform. He was, moreover, from February 1943 directly subordinate to SS lieutenant Georg Braun; Prisoners, mostly Slavic Eastern Europeans but some French Jews as well, were murdered there under the ‘elimination through work’ policy; The commandant of Norderney and his deputy were tried and convicted of crimes against humanity after the war for their treatment of prisoners in the camp.

Further Reading
Carr, Gilly; Sanders, Paul; Willmot, Louise: Protest, Defiance and Resistance in the Channel Islands: German Occupation, 1940-1945, Bloomsbury Academic, London & New York, 2014.

Sanders, Paul: The British Channel Islands under German Occupation 1940–1945, Société Jersiaise, Jersey Heritage Trust, 2005. 1940–1945.

Sources

Bessenrodt, [Otto] Hauptmann Dr.: Der Insel Alderney, 2nd Edition, Deutsche Guernsey-Zeitung, Guernsey, February 1944.

Bunting, Madeline: The Model Occupation: The Channel Islands Under German Rule 1940-1945, Random House UK, 2nd ed., 2004, excerpts from Chapter 5, ‘Les Rochers Maudits’.

Cohen, Frederick: The Jews in the Occupied Channel Islands 1940-1945, Part 2, 2nd edition 2000, Jersey Heritage Trust, 2000.

Colls, Caroline Sturdy & Colls, Kevin: ‘Reconstructing a Painful Past: A Non-Invasive Approach to Reconstructing Lager Norderney in Alderney, the Channel Islands’, in Visual Heritage in the Digital Age, Ch’ng, Gaffney, Chapman (editors), Springer Science & Business Media, 2013, pp. 119-146 LINK

Crespo , Martí: Esclavos de Hitler: Republicanos en los campos nazis del Canal de la Mancha, Editorial UOC, 2015 (in Spanish).

Fings, Karola: Krieg, Gesellschaft und KZ: Himmlers SS-Baubrigaden. Ferdinand Schöningh: Paderborn, Munich, Vienna, Zurich, 2005 (in German).

Fowler, Will: The Last Raid: The Commandos, Channel Islands and Final Nazi Raid, The History Press, 2016.

International Tracing Service Arolson (publisher), Catalogue of Camps and Prisons in Germany and German-occupied Territories, Arolsen, 1949-1951.

Jersey Heritage Archives
Occupation ID cards for Gallichan and Prigent.

Megargee, Geoffrey P. (editor): Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos, 1933–1945, Vol. 1 , Part B. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum , Indiana University Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis, 2009, pp. 1354-1357, 1361-1362.

Mière, Joe: oral testimony collected for exhibition in the Jersey War Tunnels Museum.

The National Archives (TNA), War Office (WO):
TNA WO 311/11, ‘War Criminals, Channel Islands, General’
TNA WO 311/12, ‘Atrocities on Alderney’

Pantcheff, T. X. H.: Alderney Fortress Island: The Germans in Alderney 1940–1945, Phillimore, 1981, 2005 reprint.

Pike, David Wingeate: Spaniards in the Holocaust: Mauthausen, Horror on the Danube, Routledge, 2003, Chapter 1: ‘Captives in the Channel Islands’.

Sanders, Paul: The British Channel Islands under German Occupation 1940–1945, Société Jersiaise, Jersey Heritage Trust, 2005. 1940–1945, pp. 191-221.

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