This Small Island Has a Dark History

Look closely at this tiny, idyllic island: Victorian-era fortifications dot the windswept coastline. A concrete anti-tank wall disrupts a quiet beach. Overgrown greenery covers bunkers and tunnels.

This is Alderney, where the 2,100 people who call the island home do not lock their cars. Where the streets are quiet and the pubs (nine of them) are lively, and the roads don’t have traffic lights. And where reminders of World War II hide behind most corners.

This fiercely independent island in the English Channel, roughly 10 miles from France, is at the center of a debate about how to remember Nazi atrocities and live mindfully among sites where misdeeds occurred — and how to reckon with the fact that Britain never held anyone responsible for running an SS concentration camp on its soil.

Alderney residents today enjoy a deep love for the place, a yearning for a peaceful and quiet lifestyle and the added benefit of low taxes.Credit…Cristina Baussan for The New York Times

Alderney, a British Crown Dependency and part of the Channel Islands, has an independent president and a 10-member parliament. (King Charles III is its monarch, but Rishi Sunak not its prime minister.) The Channel Islands were the only British territory occupied by the Germans during World War II, and Alderney was the only one evacuated by the British government. Shortly after, as Germany occupied parts of Northwest Europe in June 1940, German troops moved to the island.

The Nazis built four camps on Alderney. Helgoland and Borkum were labor camps run by the Nazis’ civil and military engineering arm. The SS, the organization that was largely in charge of the Nazis’ barbaric extermination campaign, took control of two others, Norderney and Sylt, in 1943.

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