The British government’s Alderney lie erased the suffering of Jews

Lord Pickles’ Alderney Expert Review exposes a “stain on the reputations of successive British governments”


The site of Saye Farm, formerly Lager Norderney, one of four Nazi concentration camps on Alderney (Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)

May 22, 2024 20:18

Lord Pickles’ Alderney Expert Review has finally spoken. According to Pickles, the fact that the war criminals responsible for atrocities on British soil were never brought to justice is a “stain on the reputations of successive British governments”.

He is absolutely right.

Professor Anthony Glees, who has acted as advisor to the inquiry, today described a four-fold cover-up. First, certain officials claimed that all the victims of the Nazis on Alderney were Russians. This was a lie: there were at least 30 nationalities, including hundreds of French Jews.

Secondly, the authorities secretly decided to hand over the case to the Soviets in return for the perpetrators of the Great Escape murders (something revealed for the first time this week).

Thirdly, they knew that the Soviets took no action, but did not tell the British public.

Finally, when the French authorities asked for evidence of war crimes on Alderney against Jews to be provided in the case of two war criminals brought to trial in 1949, the British authorities said it didn’t exist. Another lie.

Lord Pickles has apologised for the cover-up and said it was for the British government to decide whether a formal apology is appropriate.

The Pickles Review was set up to address speculation about the numbers of victims on Alderney. The President of the tiny Crown Dependency, William Tate, committed himself to the memory of those who suffered and died on the island. Any real understanding of what happened on Alderney needs to address the suffering of these individuals.

Take, for instance, Robert Perelstein. Robert was born in Paris on 17 September 1882 and became a skilled carpenter and cabinet maker. He fought with the French army in the First World War and was wounded twice. He moved to Le Mans in 1925 where he worked in a furniture store, and in February 1938 he set up on his own as cabinet maker with a small shop to repair old and modern furniture.

After his first wife died, Robert remarried a Catholic woman in August 1939 and had a daughter named Mireille. At the time of the Nazi invasion of France, Robert was employed at a factory in Le Mans but he was to soon lose his job because he was Jewish.

On the 30 June 1942 Robert wrote a letter to a local official pleading with him not to force him to wear a Yellow Star with the word Juif on it. He said: “Being of Jewish descent, I have never practiced this religion. I am currently deprived of my job as a result. I am French above all, born in Paris; I completed my military service, I served the entire 1914-18 campaign…If I am seen with the Jewish star, the bosses will be forced to fire me. I joined my services there on 7 January 1941.

“I have always done my job as a carpenter. I will therefore find myself without resources, my savings are slipping away quickly… I have a wife and a young child and I dread the bad days; in the workshop this gentleman would not ask for anything better than me returning to my work, but with wearing the yellow star this is impossible for them, what should I do?

“In the almost twenty years that I have lived in Le Mans... I have never been involved in or concerned with … politics. I am a worker and we will soon be reduced to poverty; Perhaps it would be possible for you, Mr. Prefect, to obtain an exemption for me from wearing the star just to get to my place of work.”

Robert’s plea fell on deaf ears and on 22 February 1943 he was arrested by the Gestapo at his home and never saw his wife or 4-year old daughter again.

He was interned at Drancy and on 11 October 1943 he departed for Alderney on Transport 641 along with hundreds of other French Jews. Spared the gas chambers because he was the spouse of a Catholic, Robert and hundreds of other French Jews with similar marital ties with “Aryans” were transported to Alderney to work in horrific conditions.

Two months later Robert was dead. His death certificate states he died from “extreme” exhaustion.

Robert’s grand-daughter, Séverine Landeau, told the Sunday Times in 2021 that her grandfather’s fate had cast a shadow over the family that has endured for decades. Even today, she said, her mother, 81, is reluctant to talk about it. “She always tried to hide that her father was deported as a Jew. It is a part of her life that she always wanted to hide,” said Landeau.

“Being born in 1939 she lived through the war and really suffered,” Landeau added. “She did not have to wear a yellow star, but the other children often insulted her and called her a ‘dirty Jew’. Whenever she saw German soldiers come to the school she was really afraid, given that her father had been deported.” Later, she did everything she could to hide her Jewish maiden name. “She was always worried it all could start again, against her and us. She was always afraid of antisemitism.”

Robert’s story is not unusual for the tens of thousands of French Jews murdered by the Nazis. But Robert died on British soil.

After the island was liberated in 1945 the British Army began uncovering the scale of the war crimes on Alderney and began the efforts of giving the victims a dignified burial. They erected a board adjacent to the graves inscribed: “Here lie the bodies of eight French nationals of the Jewish faith who died during the German Occupation 1941-1945”.

Robert’s body was later exhumed by his family and he is now buried in Le Mans.

This week’s official government report into the atrocities of Alderney suggests more than 1000 might have perished as a result of over-work, starvation, disease, beatings and being executed. The story of the brutal sadism of the Nazis on Alderney is not just a Jewish story. The clear majority of those who died were from the Soviet Union. Many Jews survived but their suffering should not be understated.

One Spanish Republican prisoner on Alderney, John Dalmau, wrote about his experiences and described a so-called “dance of death” when the Nazis took revenge for particular bombing of German cities He said: “fifty or more political prisoners and Jews were made to jump by firing bullets at their feet. When one was hit and fell, another bullet was fired, this time in the head. This continued until the last man had fallen.”

Dalmau also described how “slave workers were shot and thrown over the cliff”.

The findings of the Alderney Review are shameful and there should be a period of reflection to consider what this means for Britain and its relationship with the Holocaust. If Glees is right, justice for the 50 British servicemen who were executed in the Great Escape was put above those thousands who suffered at the hands of the Nazis on Alderney. Take a moment to think about that. The British government’s lie that the victims were all Russians simply erased the suffering of the Spaniards, the Czechs, the Poles, the Germans and Jews like Robert Perelstein. It also denied them justice.

May 22, 2024 20:18

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