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March 2024 Issue [Folio]

The Holocaust Angle

How a group of NIMBYs rewrote Alderney’s history
Illustrations by Daniel Liévano

Illustrations by Daniel Liévano


The Holocaust Angle

How a group of NIMBYs rewrote Alderney’s history

Atop John Weigold’s mantle, flanked by a pair of candlesticks fashioned from antique fragmentation grenades, hangs a landscape, one of the few artifacts of the artistic career he retired early from paramilitary work to pursue. In it, a dark copper statue sits—its face obscured by the hood of an ankle-length cloak, like a grim reaper in repose—amid barren branches in the snow. The painting strikes a relatively pacific tone in a house filled with military memorabilia, but the statue itself is stationed outside a castle in Budapest’s City Park, where it depicts a twelfth-century notary who chronicled the history of the Hungarian people and whose identity is unknown. “It reminds me of myself,” Weigold told me. “Anonymous.”

Weigold, too, is a figure shrouded in mystery—a self-proclaimed recluse at the center of what has been a coordinated, and often unruly, effort to rewrite the history of the place he calls home. When he first visited the English Channel island of Alderney as a child, on vacation with his parents from Essex, he sensed what he remembered as a “dark energy.” At the age of sixteen, he did his O-level history project on the abandoned World War II fortifications that dot the island. One day at dusk, he was using a metal detector on an undeveloped patch of grassland called Longis Common (pronounced “lawn-jee”) and felt a sudden chill. The atmosphere had turned somber. “I didn’t know at the time,” he recalled, “but I was actually metal-detecting on a mass grave.”

The existence of a mass grave on Longis Common was hardly established history—not in the Seventies, and definitely not in 2010, when Weigold began to reexamine things as an adult. Though Alderney was occupied by the Nazis, it hasn’t generally been regarded as part of the Holocaust, or even as a particularly significant part of World War II. As Richard J. Evans, author of the acclaimed Third Reich Trilogy, wrote to me over email, “In the larger scheme of things, Alderney was extremely unimportant.”

According to Weigold, this attitude is the result of a massive cover-up executed by the British government in the postwar period. When he moved to Alderney to paint, after an education at Sandhurst and years in the army, Weigold also returned to his O-level research. On his wall he pinned up two evidence boards (“like you have on American TV shows”) and started connecting the dots. In the alternate history he constructed, tens of thousands of Holocaust victims were worked to death, and many may have been cremated and buried on Longis Common—a finding that, when he first publicly released it in 2017, was denounced as a conspiracy theory. And it might have been left at that, another crackpot proposition in a supposedly “post-truth” moment, if the existence of a mass grave on Longis hadn’t proved convenient for a consortium aiming to halt the construction of an electrical interconnector in their relative backyards.

Holocaust denial has been outlawed in at least eighteen countries. It is widely considered not only anti-Semitic but dangerous—a historical revisionism that refuses to acknowledge either the humanity of slaughtered Jews or the culpability of German perpetrators and Eastern European collaborators. Less condemnation has been reserved for its inverse: for the theories that don’t minimize or dismiss, but instead aggrandize what Weigold has called the “orgy of beatings, torture, starvation, recreational killing, crucifixion, and systematic mass murder” carried out by the Third Reich. Even today, there are those who claim that as-yet undocumented Nazi atrocities are waiting to be uncovered—amateur historians circulating obscure documents, devising unsubstantiated hypotheses, and weaponizing the term “Holocaust denier” against all who disagree. And because that label is so damning, because the Holocaust occupies such a singular role in the public imagination, it’s not difficult for other, more cynical people to use these unproven accounts to serve private ends. Six years ago, I found myself a pawn in the public relations strategy of a few such individuals. Over the time I’ve known them, their plan has succeeded—not only in blocking the interconnector, but in revising the historical record itself.

A few days after I started poking into the situation on Alderney, in the fall of 2017, I received a phone call from a New York number I didn’t recognize. The caller introduced himself as Matthew Diebel, a journalist who’d grown up spending school years in England and summer holidays on Alderney. “I’m seen as a sort of Svengali figure,” he told me. At the time, I was a student in London, and I had been trawling local news sites to find a subject for a final project in a documentary filmmaking course. I’d spotted a piece about a protest against a cable that, as I discovered after clicking a few hyperlinks, was set to run through what some believed to be forgotten war graves, and had started contacting the people who’d been quoted. Someone had evidently passed my contact information to Diebel. Though he’d moved to the United States decades earlier, he still brought his family back to Alderney most Augusts. “Everybody’s saying, ‘Here he is sitting in his apartment in New York, why does he care about it?’ ” he said. “But just because you’re three thousand five hundred miles away doesn’t mean you don’t care.”

He was incredulous that I had found the island by chance, with no personal connection. That skepticism, an undercurrent in many of my early conversations with people who have ties to the island, was at least partially warranted. Alderney is a speck off the coast of France, three and a half miles long and a mile and a half wide, with a population of around 2,000. And everything about the island, from its finances to its history, has to do with being unnoticed, and fairly unnoticeable. Dwarfed by Guernsey and Jersey, the more significant landmasses in the English Channel, Alderney is only slightly larger than its neighbors Herm and Sark, the latter of which is notable for having been, until 2008, the last feudal state in Europe. Alderney is still run by a structure established in the Middle Ages, the democratically elected council known as the States of Alderney, which consists of a president and ten part-time States members and is invested with next to no authority. Essential services like education and emergency health care are provided by Guernsey, where Alderney’s population is sometimes referred to as “two thousand alcoholics clinging to a rock.” The corresponding legal designations are arcane, perhaps deliberately so. There are three British Crown Dependencies: the Isle of Man, the Bailiwick of Jersey, and the Bailiwick of Guernsey, of which Alderney is technically a part. Each dependency plays host to a “low-taxation jurisdiction”; in Alderney, there is no capital-gains tax, no wealth tax, no inheritance tax, and there are competitive income-tax rates. The island, in other words, is a tax haven—a label that one Bailiwick resident described to me as “derogatory.” (Still, he said, “We’re up there with the Cayman Islands.”)

In the Fifties, Sixties, and Seventies, Alderney was a magnet for displaced colonialists—military men who had no interest in returning to the United Kingdom and its pre-Thatcherite attitudes toward income redistribution and the social safety net. The latter part of that era is remembered as a sort of heyday for Alderney, a time of prosperity and plenty. But as British fiscal policy grew less progressive, and the colonies ran out of personnel to repatriate, the island’s economic fortunes abated. In the early days of the internet, Alderney took advantage of its jurisdictional positioning to become a mecca for offshore online gambling, but as the web evolved, the island’s infrastructure couldn’t keep up, and most of the business migrated to Guernsey’s faster servers.

Today, Alderney runs to a certain extent on tourists, and on the people its lifelong residents still, in their less charitable moments, consider tourists—the wealthy Brits who own vacation homes on the island or move there in old age, bringing their untaxed savings along with them. Alderney’s population is part “blow-ins” (second-home owners and retirees) and part “natives” (people whose families have mostly been on the island for generations and whose names are pronounced in the old Norman patois). Any animosity between the groups had long been unspoken, according to a tacit and for the most part mutually beneficial arrangement. The natives depended on the blow-ins to keep renovating homes, and the island remained attractive to blow-ins because on Alderney, as its boosters like to say, time stands still. With its beaten-down cars and cobbled streets, its quaint shops with scarcely a chain in sight, Alderney feels like a trip back to the U.K. of a half-century ago. Nothing ever changes. Or rather, nothing did change, until August of 2016.

It had been another idyllic summer on Alderney—a season of picturesque seaside vistas and rowdy pub nights culminating in the annual Alderney Week festival. That year, the theme was Cartoons and Comics, and on Cavalcade Day, superhero-filled floats inched down Victoria Street, the island’s main commercial stretch, cheered on by a thousand onlookers, even in the rain. Acrobats on stilts, a marching band, and throngs of costumed children processed through the town and up to a carnival on an open field called the Butes. The twenty-two-year-old Roisin Gaudion, a daughter of one of the oldest island families, had been crowned Miss Alderney, and she presided over the week’s festivities. Over the course of six days, blow-ins and natives alike took part in events like the sandcastle contest, the town crier competition, the talent show, the go-kart race, the pig race, and the Daft Raft Race—in which teams braved the open waves on homemade boats. On Prohibition Night, attendees donned flapper gear for an extravaganza on the Butes that included a mock police raid. For those too young for a Jazz Age gala and too old for carnival games, Corporation Quarry filled with music and dancing into the early hours of the morning.2 And on the final night of Alderney Week, in a custom that traces back to a medieval fertility rite, thousands lit torches at the Island Hall and advanced for a second time down Victoria Street and up to a bonfire on the Butes. All according to tradition, all according to plan.

In retrospect, it’s clear that the London-based company Transmission Investment made a critical error in holding its public presentation just days after the torchlight march, when most people even loosely affiliated with Alderney were on-island. On August 10, more than one hundred people crowded into the Island Hall to hear the company’s representatives announce a new venture: an undersea cable that would run across Longis Common and link the French and British electricity grids. Called the France–Alderney–Britain interconnector project—FAB, for short—it would reportedly cost £500 million and was scheduled to be completed by 2020. What Transmission Investment expected in the Island Hall was the kind of pat on the back it received in the town of Budleigh Salterton, where it had held an event focused on the U.K. side of the project the previous month. In Alderney, the plans should have been even more warmly received. FAB was a homegrown concept, after all, devised not by some international conglomerate but by two local boys.

Back in 2004, Paul Clark and Declan Gaudion had started kicking around an idea. Clark was a newcomer, having moved to the island only three years earlier, but Gaudion, then deputy harbormaster and volunteer coxswain of the lifeboat crew, had lived there all his life; his family had been on Alderney since the 1500s. Down at the harbor one day, as Clark remembers it, he had been gazing out at the waves when he thought back to an article he’d read about tidal energy. The tides surrounding Alderney were many times more powerful than any used for renewable energy generation; harness them, he realized, and he could provide clean electricity to the island and secure its economic future, as well as his own. Gaudion pointed out that, due to a legal quirk, Alderney owned its seabed, and the company Alderney Renewable Energy (ARE) was born. The two men recruited a few investors, brought the plan to the States of Alderney, and in 2008 were awarded a lease of 48 square miles of seabed. But, as they soon discovered, in order for the project to make financial sense, the turbines would have to generate far more energy than Alderney’s small population could make use of. The excess would need to go elsewhere.

What was required, they thought, was a cable that would allow Alderney to export its electricity to one of its neighbors. At the time, France had enough power, much of it nuclear: It had so much, in fact, that plans were in the works for a series of interconnectors that would allow the country to off-load its energy to the U.K., where electricity prices were typically higher. If one of those interconnectors stopped over on Alderney, Clark realized, he’d have a route to market. By the time a few suits from Transmission Investment, ARE’s partner, showed up at the Island Hall, the cable looked like a sure deal: the governments of Alderney, France, and the U.K. were all on board, and Clark and Gaudion were on the verge of a long-awaited success.

Unbeknownst to them, a rebellion had been brewing all summer long. The homeowners on the eastern end of the island had spent the preceding months making known to one another that there could soon be construction at their doorsteps. To say that Matthew Diebel’s brother, Gerry, was alarmed by the FAB proposal would be an understatement. “I’ve even described it as rape,” Gerry told me. “It was that aggressive for me.” He wasn’t the only one who felt violated. When Transmission Investment made its presentation, rattling off promises of cheaper electricity, better broadband, and fiber-optic cable, the company’s representatives were in no way prepared for the vitriol with which they were received.

After the consultation, a group of like-minded individuals, many but not all with homes near Longis Common, began to formalize their opposition. The Alderney Power Debate Group, as it came (perhaps misleadingly) to be called, met on a regular basis at the home of Lucy Mellor, a neighbor and friend of the Diebels’ since childhood. Gerry started a website,, where he anonymously posted the group’s findings, and the local builder Nigel Dupont had custom bumper stickers made. Soon, cars across the island bore the slogan fab off (or, for the more mild-mannered drivers, say no to fab). Dupont adorned his own van with an extra-large sticker that read fab my ass.

The controversy quickly came to dominate life on Alderney, laying bare the class divisions that had long existed beneath the community’s serene veneer. Protests were staged in Mannez Quarry, op-eds written for both of the island’s print-only newspapers. When Gerry’s web page was traced back to his server and judged irredeemably biased, the real debate was moved to Facebook, where a page labeled alderney debate (no hassles, all welcome) generated scores of angry comments each day. Families were split, friendships destroyed. Gerry was shunned on the street and—especially hurtful—in the sailing club.

Not everyone appreciated the members of the Alderney Power Debate Group’s image of themselves as the island’s saviors. In fact, some pointed out, a suspicious percentage of them didn’t live on Alderney year-round. Many of the islanders—particularly those in the native coalition—welcomed the new venture as a potential source of jobs, even as a kick-starter for the local economy. They viewed the dissenters as undeserving of a say in the matter, part-time residents with little stake in the economic health of the island. As the frequent poster Carl Flewitt wrote on Facebook, the whole FAB upset was produced by “a few lunatics obsessed with property values and disruption to one of their multiple holiday homes.”

Much of this Matthew Diebel told me on the phone, and the rest I pieced together later. Amid all the ruckus, few stopped to ask why the anti-FAB activists had come to Transmission Investment’s presentation so prepared to make a fuss. Years later, some would recollect that the twenty-seven-year-old Alex Snowdon—who that fall would campaign successfully for a seat in the States of Alderney—had been walking on Longis Common one day, when he’d seen a rig along the FAB route and decided to alert nearby property owners. But that was not the case. A few years earlier, Snowdon had been a gardener, and on one of his landscaping jobs he’d started talking to a man who’d impressed him with tales of Alderney’s suppressed history. That man was none other than John Weigold—since then, the two had spoken frequently about preserving the island’s wartime sites. In 2016, they would both learn of a rig boring holes directly into what Weigold believed to be a mass grave.

“I was the first one who said the Holocaust was on Alderney,” Weigold told me. An imposing man with a crew cut and a default conversational mode that tends toward the militaristic—numbered lists, counted out forcefully on meaty fingers, are often involved—Weigold is not easy to interrupt, let alone contradict. But while it’s true that he was, back in 2017, something of a lone voice on the island, he was nowhere near the first to question the official story.

Like the other Channel Islands, which Churchill deemed strategically unimportant, Alderney was left to the Nazis. But unlike the others, it was evacuated, its residents loaded up on boats and sent to the British mainland in June 1940. By the time of their long-awaited homecoming more than five years later, the island had been devastated. Buildings were destroyed, houses and businesses looted, and the Nazis left behind an elaborate system of bunkers and tunnels, as well as four camps named after German holiday destinations: Lager Helgoland, Lager Borkum, Lager Norderney, and Lager Sylt, the last two of which were, for a time, run by the SS. But whatever happened on Alderney during the half-decade it was inhabited by enemy soldiers, much of the evidence was ignored. According to the widely accepted narrative, the camps had housed mostly Russian laborers tasked with building defensive fortifications as part of Hitler’s Atlantic Wall, which was meant to defend continental Europe and Scandinavia from the Allies. Some of those workers died, the death toll was 389, and, for a long time, it was left at that. If there were whispers that something more perverse or calamitous might have transpired, they were branded libelous, sensationalist, or otherwise untrue.

The day after the island was liberated, an Evening Times headline trumpeted the existence of mass graves of alderney. George Pope, one of the few islanders who had stayed behind during the occupation, told the Times that he had seen prisoners who were “absolutely starving, like living skeletons,” and that thousands of people, including both Russians and Jews, were buried on Longis Common. But the British government hastened to discredit him as a collaborator, and MI19 soon sent in twenty-four-year-old Theodore “Bunny” Pantcheff to produce an account that kept the death toll low. Pantcheff did not dispute the fact that the prisoners were treated abominably—twelve hours of hard labor each day, on a “starvation diet” amid “arbitrary beatings.” But though he and other investigators described an inmate population culled from many different nations, the British stuck to the story that the camps had housed exclusively Russians. In 1945, the British handed over the Pantcheff Report to the Soviet Union for possible use in Nuremberg, declining to prosecute war crimes themselves. (Repeatedly over the course of decades, the British government insisted that Sylt Commandant Maximillian List was dead, despite having information to the contrary; he lived out the rest of his life in Hamburg.) There was a small cemetery on Longis Common, but it contained individually marked graves, each topped with a cross. In 1961, the bodies were exhumed and sent to mainland Europe for reburial.

Little attention was paid to Alderney’s wartime history until the early Eighties, when a slew of documents were declassified, and the South African journalist Solomon H. Steckoll began to sift through them. Writing in The Observer, he declared, “One of World War II’s most closely guarded secrets—the existence of an SS death camp on British soil—has come to light after 36 years.” But Steckoll’s work was distressing to, among other people, Pantcheff, who in 1981 published a book-length version of his report that had the explicit intention of proving that there was “no extermination camp, no Auschwitz, nor any ‘cover up.’ ” That assertion was challenged yet again in Guardian writer Madeleine Bunting’s controversial 1995 volume The Model Occupation, but even the London Review of Books called it “defamatory” and full of “distortions and sensationalizations.”

These same charges have also come to haunt Weigold, who believes he’s been “slagged off, misquoted, vilified” for his theory. “Everybody gets on their high horse, and I’m accused of being sensationalist,” he said. “It’s not sensationalist. It’s pure quantity surveying.” What Weigold means is that since the existing documents can’t be trusted, he’s had to resort to his own math. According to him, the Nazis had already suppressed proof of crimes against humanity before Pantcheff came along. Alderney was the last place in Europe to be liberated, a full nine days after Germany’s formal surrender. During that time, Weigold argues, the Nazis had ample opportunity to incinerate their paper trail. Afterward, the British had little incentive to get to the bottom of a story that could threaten their flattering war narrative. In Weigold’s telling, Pantcheff spent the rest of his life on the island, keeping a lid on the story and proselytizing to a younger generation of local historians. Since his death in 1989, Trevor Davenport, the president of the Alderney Society, and Colin Partridge, former chairman of the Court of Alderney, have both written books about the island’s fortifications and have defended Pantcheff’s legacy.

Given that the existing reports were subjected to multiple whitewashes, Weigold believes, the only way to reach a valid assessment of what happened on Alderney is to make comparisons to similar situations for which good records do exist. To arrive at his “conservative” death toll of between forty thousand and seventy thousand, he carried out a series of calculations, factoring in the calories in the rations of soup allotted to the laborers each day, the quantity of concrete they poured in proportion to the total mass of the Atlantic Wall, and the attrition rates from the labor program at Auschwitz. When I sat down with him, Weigold walked me through his logic, and displayed on his flatscreen TV a series of Royal Air Force photos of Longis Common taken during the war. In these he pointed out a circular structure he had identified as a cremation pit, as well as patterns of disturbance that, he explained, not only signified the presence of mass graves, but also that the island was used to exterminate French Jews.

Though extensive Nazi records do exist—of shipping routes, of prisoners transported to and from the island—there is no documentation to prove either claim. Nor is there solid evidence for Weigold’s assertion that the Germans planned to launch V-1 missiles laced with sarin gas from Alderney to the English coast, a conclusion he arrived at through an appraisal of the shape of one of the tunnels. And nor is there merit to his allegation that the single letter from Heinrich Himmler to Commandant List indicates the island’s centrality to German chemical weapon development plans—or that Alderney’s code name “Insel Adolf” is further confirmation of the same. The computations Weigold used to arrive at his death toll, moreover, are riddled with errors that range from faulty premises to wild extrapolations.

Most perplexing of all is Weigold’s argument that Alderney’s history should revise our understanding of the Holocaust writ large. Weigold (whose surname is German, not Jewish) is convinced that the Nazis’ forced-labor program was so vast that it may have taken more lives than the Holocaust—the definition of which is traditionally restricted to the persecution and murder of Jews. There are various estimates of how many people died in the Nazis’ labor program, most falling around 2.5 million. But according to Weigold’s work, between five and seven million forced laborers were missing after the war, with no known graves. “Six million for the Shoah fits right in the middle,” he said, meaning that it should not be the “dominant part of the Holocaust.” In his view, Alderney is a textbook case of “extermination through labor.”

Though the idea of a Nazi extermination through labor program is subject to dispute among historians, it is agreed that the goal of the Organization Todt, an engineering arm of the Nazi apparatus, was efficient building. In general, and specifically on Alderney, when OT laborers were found to be living under conditions not conducive to their continued usefulness, the Third Reich leadership tried to course-correct. At various points during the war, reports of undernourishment on Alderney reached Berlin, and representatives were sent to investigate. The improvements that were ordered seem to have had minimal effect—possibly due to the on-island brigade’s sadism, or possibly because of the logistical problem of shipping food through the Channel—but conditions on Alderney do not seem to have been universally murderous (a given, for Weigold). Throughout the war, prisoners deemed “unfit to work” were returned to the Neuengamme parent camp in Germany, where 80 to 90 percent of them survived, at least initially. In June 1944, most of the foreign labor force on Alderney was withdrawn to the continent, where workers were needed to make repairs after bombings.

Weigold does not acknowledge these facts, since he views any German records as likely doctored. Being worked to death, he told me, was “a far nastier way to die” than the “conventional Holocaust means,” such as the gas chamber. Jews in Hungary and Poland, he said, “had a relatively easy way out.” When I brought up the camps where Jews, too, were underfed and forced to work—the Arbeit signage at the gates, the emaciated piles of bodies photographed after liberation—Weigold called these “fringe cases.” He envisioned on Alderney something like a tomb of the unknown soldier for all the forced laborers. “Any one of those missing five to seven million could be on Longis Common,” he said. “Therefore, it could be a site of pilgrimage.”

“So this wretched little island in the middle of the Channel, which no one could give a fuck about, is actually a kind of pilgrimage site for everyone?” the historian Adam Tooze said months later, once I’d finished laying out Weigold’s reasoning. (I’d decided to consult Tooze after I spied a few pages of typed-out passages from his second book, The Wages of Destruction, in one of Partridge’s research binders.) Tooze was surprised to learn of the laborers’ rations, a Weigold premise I was able to verify through numerous survivor testimonies. But, Tooze explained, the error Weigold makes is assuming constants where the numbers were highly variable—not just from camp to camp, but from month to month. “Clearly some really terrible things happened on this island,” Tooze said, “but these folks are cosplaying something else.”

Weigold’s theory could have been simply the latest unorthodox history of Alderney’s war years, destined to be denounced as overblown and promptly forgotten. When he published his findings, in a series of 2017 Daily Mail articles co-authored with Colonel Richard Kemp, a retired army officer, the Channel Islands Occupation Society raced to call them “fake news.” But by then, they’d already been quietly integrated into the fight against FAB, where they were used to assemble what Matthew Diebel would describe to me as the “Holocaust angle.”

“I plead totally guilty to being NIMBY,” Diebel quipped, when I stopped by his apartment on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. An experienced newsman—he wrote pun-filled headlines for USA Today and the New York Post—he had been using his expertise to aid the anti-FAB cause. “I’m the media consultant,” he told me proudly. He had sent a series of letters to the Alderney Journal and the Alderney Press railing against FAB, and he was one of the most prolific posters on the Alderney Debate Facebook page. As a result of his prodigious efforts, Diebel was seen by some as an intruder. “Is a political campaign in our island being orchestrated from Diebel’s office in New York?” one poster suggested on Facebook.

The FAB deal, Diebel believed, had been arranged “behind closed doors” and in “smoke-filled rooms.” Several States members were keen advocates of the project. Diebel alleged that several local politicians stood to profit from the deal, and laid out in detail the shady dealings he suspected—whose daughter was whose assistant, who played a “major role” in whose wedding, who had once advised which company. The seven-page pitch document Diebel had been sending around to journalists bore the header: corruption, conflict-of-interest eyed as tiny island is divided by huge power grab. In it, he quoted Clark as saying, in an interview with Utility Week in 2012, “We can write our own laws.”

But the corruption angle, though seemingly close to Diebel’s heart, was far from the only one he was employing. On Facebook, he suggested that Russia might attack the cable; in emails to Jewish journalists, he highlighted the potential mass grave on Longis Common, which he thought could be used as “a cudgel against FAB,” he later told me. “I wasn’t thinking, oh, these poor souls on the Common,” he said. “I was leveraging something I knew would have a powerful impact.”

It did. Through Diebel’s initiative, he claimed, several pieces in the Israeli and international Jewish press had appeared, each zeroing in on the threat to the “graves at Alderney’s ‘Little Auschwitz,’ ” per a 2017 Times of Israel headline. On the Facebook page, these reports were regarded by some as a sideshow. “Conjecture and media being led by the nose by a tabloid journalist in NY who has recently embraced the Jewish faith,” one poster complained. While it wasn’t true that Diebel had converted to Judaism, his wife serves as the executive director of the prominent Upper West Side synagogue Rodeph Sholom—a fact he’d been mentioning in introductory emails to journalists. Over time, though, he would come to reflect on “having first raised the alarm that the FAB cable could be dug through Jewish slave laborers’ graves,” he later said. “To be brutally honest, it was kind of cynical.”

Not everyone was cynical about the prospect of Jewish remains. When journalists took Diebel’s bait, they often needed to quote someone who could serve as an authority, representing the perspective of British Jews. That person was Marcus Roberts, director of the British Jewish organization JTrails. Weigold had first reached out to Roberts a few years earlier, after a post about Alderney appeared on the JTrails website. At Weigold’s urging, Roberts had concluded that the official death toll was not only an underestimate, but an egregious one. Though he had described Weigold as “quite bullying and controlling in some ways,” over time he had become his “major co-worker,” feeding him documents, an aerial photograph, and other evidence. Weigold was, as Roberts put it over email, “the éminence grise” of the anti-FAB fight. “Without John, I wouldn’t be in the picture,” Roberts said.

But while the two found common cause, they had somewhat divergent objectives. Whereas Weigold’s goal was a memorial for slave laborers and a revised history of the Holocaust that decentered Jews, Roberts was interested in memorializing Alderney’s Jewish victims. Though according to the Pantcheff Report, only eight Jews were buried on the island, Roberts called Alderney the “epicenter of the Holocaust on British territory.” He believed it therefore had a special significance for Jews—a fact that was clear to me from our first phone call in November 2017, when he spoke freely only once he had confirmed I was Jewish.

From the articles I’d read, I had conjured an image of JTrails as a large non-profit with an office and a full staff. But Roberts, I soon gathered, was not only JTrails’s director but its founder and sole employee. At some point in our call, he put a hand over the receiver to tell a child that supper was nearly ready. Yet Roberts remained on the phone well past dinnertime. For the next two or so hours, he unraveled a yarn about his research into the island, his poor treatment there, and his quest to commemorate its neglected Holocaust history. Alderney, he said, was “a parish pump on steroids” and “a banana republic with no bananas.” Though the work was unremunerative, he was doing everything in his power to stop FAB—to the detriment of his other projects, his family, and his health. “It’s taken over my life,” he confessed.

A few days later, I visited Roberts outside the town of Banbury, at the English cottage that doubles as JTrails’s headquarters. In his cramped study, surrounded by stacks of paper and boxes piled up to the ceiling, Roberts used Google Earth to show me Longis Common, the suspected cremation pit, and several areas he believed to be burial grounds. Afterward, he demonstrated his drone—he was studying for a certification that would allow him to use it to survey ground disturbances on Alderney, once he was able to raise money for the airfare.

The previous year, Roberts had traveled to Alderney along with Rabbi Abraham Ginsberg, the executive director of the Committee for the Preservation of Jewish Cemeteries in Europe, whom he’d recruited to the cause. Together, they made a presentation about a potential memorial, an idea that was perhaps even less popular than FAB. One islander told them that “if we dared to mention the word ‘Holocaust’ or ‘mass grave’ in relation to Alderney that we’d be run off the island,” Roberts recalled. In a letter to the editor of the Alderney Press, a woman named Norma Williams opined that she did not want to see the island “on the map as a sort of Auschwitz type memorial misery tourism hot spot.” In another letter to the editor, Arthur Wheeler opposed the memorial on the grounds that it might draw Jewish tourists, with their “unkempt beards, Homburg hats and pigtails”—which, Wheeler theorized, would put the island at risk of terror attacks. It would be “like flies attracted to fresh poo, so far as ISIS is concerned.”

Wheeler further expressed frustration at the “extraordinary claim that because Jewish bodies MAY lay under Longis Common and according to Jewish Faith, such bodies may never be disturbed, then no underground works could or should ever be undertaken.” He was referring to what had become a central tenet of anti-FABism. Elsewhere in the world, when a planned construction project coincides with a suspected burial site, archaeologists are called in to determine what’s underground. But on Alderney, the anti-FAB advocates proclaimed, no such surveying was permissible. As Roberts had helpfully informed them, halachic law forbids digging into land in which Jews are interred. The rule is not always respected today, even by Judaic authorities. Rabbi Ginsberg himself was formally censured by the Conference of European Rabbis in 2020 for allegedly accepting large sums of money in exchange for publicly endorsing the Lithuanian government’s plan to build a convention center over the Old Vilna Jewish Cemetery. The Committee for the Preservation of Jewish Cemeteries in Europe, it seemed, was in the business of selling permission to dig into Jewish graves.

Roberts, however, had no desire to be bought off. The prospect of a cable through Longis Common felt personal to him, he said, because a relative in the Netherlands had been forcibly conscripted into the Nazi labor program and never returned. “I think of my mother’s cousin Jan and what happened to him,” Roberts told me. “I wouldn’t like to think anyone was going to go digging him up so they could make a few bucks.” Roberts hoped my documentary would draw attention to the Jewish graves on Alderney, and over email, he wished me well on my journey. “Alderney will be a great filmmaking challenge,” he wrote. “Just remember to take your Prozac before you go!”

“It’s not everybody’s cup of tea, living on a rock three miles long, one and a half miles wide. There’s no sophistication here,” Nigel Dupont told me when I dropped in on him at his home overlooking Longis Common. “If you want sophistication, go to Jersey.” A member of an old Alderney family, Dupont runs a construction company called Tickled Pink, and primarily wanted to impress upon me how special the island was. “There’s a unique way of life here,” he said. It was “a real tight-knit community” where “very few people lock their homes, very few people lock their vehicles.” All this, in his view, FAB endangered.

If in the outside world the mass grave was the main reason to reroute the cable, on the island it wasn’t so much as an anti-FAB talking point—of which there were many. Repeatedly, I was regaled with paeans to the island’s beauty, its slow pace, and especially its safety. I couldn’t understand why the cable might constitute a security risk, until I learned that an anonymous memo had circulated postulating that FAB would “present a significant terrorist threat” and outlining scenarios like “explosive attack,” “armed saboteurs,” and “a 9.11 style” offensive. Moreover, the document explained, due to the influx of foreign workers of “African or Middle Eastern origin,” the island would face “a whole catalogue of illness and disease” as well as an increase in “theft, shoplifting, assault, sexual assault, child abuse, drunkenness, drug abuse, drug trafficking.” Though many dismissed these warnings as far-fetched, not to mention xenophobic, the message seemed to have stuck. And even if FAB didn’t expose the islanders to terrorists, it would certainly expose them to construction, light pollution, and noise.

Not only was Alderney’s government in the pocket of FAB, as its detractors told me, and not only would the cable disrupt two of the best beaches on the island, but it would subject the island to obtrusive eyesores. According to a clandestine file that made the rounds, plans had already been drawn up for a massive converter station, which would be needed if the interconnector were ever built. “I am basically opposed to the idea of living on the edge of an industrial estate, and by and large that is what it would become were FAB to go ahead,” Geraldine Whittaker said, sitting in front of a taxidermied zebra in her home office. A former executive at PricewaterhouseCoopers, Whittaker lived with her husband in the grandest mansion on the island. But if the converter stations were installed in Mannez Quarry, she said, Alderney “would lose its charm as far as we were concerned, and we would go elsewhere.”

Flabbergasted by this line of argument, Paul Clark drove me down to Mannez Quarry to see for myself. At the time, it was being used as a dump for old Christmas trees and other detritus, and we watched as trash bags were unloaded from a small lorry. “Our beautiful, beautiful Mannez Quarry,” Clark said, gesturing around. “It’s like a swamp,” he joked. “Drain the swamp!” By that point, Clark had left ARE, but he was still invested in seeing the cable come to fruition. If the destruction of Mannez Quarry was what the islanders were worried about, Clark had a solution. “Ideas is what I do,” he told me. Back in his office, he showed me a model of an artificial hillside, which he lifted to reveal a converter station lodged in the quarry. It would be a landscape-restoration project, he said, recontouring the hillside to its appearance before it had been blasted out in the mid-nineteenth century. “FAB will happen,” he declared, and any opposition was “NIMBYism” and “green-eyed jealousy.”

From the moment I first arrived on Alderney, I had found myself embroiled in what a Transmission Investment development manager would later characterize to me as “conspiracy and cloak-and-dagger stuff.” Leaked documents proliferated, secret rendezvous were planned, and unprintable accusations flamed freely. There were so many theories about my presence on the island, ranging from the banal to the absurd, that the Alderney Press ran an article for the express purpose of debunking them. (It also devoted considerable column space to a photo of me I hadn’t realized was being taken, as well as an appraisal, by the elderly male reporter, of my physical appearance.)

One of the first mornings of my trip, Michael James, a silver dealer who splits his time between Palm Beach, Knightsbridge, and Alderney, knocked at the door of the cottage where I was staying. “I thought it would be great,” he said, handing me a sheet of paper, “if in your documentary someone slipped this under your door anonymously.” It was a double-sided list of anti-FAB bullet points. I declined to ask why he had not simply slipped it under my door anonymously.

“The story of what’s happened here is: big business hits small island,” James said. The people living near Longis Common had, in his view, seen “their human rights breached.” An old friend of Gaudion’s, James had been supportive of ARE’s tidal plans for more than a decade, and had gone so far as to try to bring in investors. Since then he had backpedaled: it was wrong, he now believed, and the island’s valuable natural resource, its tidal power, was being “privatized for the benefit of a few individuals rather than for the benefit of the entire population of Alderney.” Needless to say, some saw it differently. “That’s not how a capitalist economy works,” Clark said. “Alderney does attract a lot of capitalists, and they become incredibly communistic when Declan and I might make some money.”

The high-minded anti-FAB posturing was disagreeable not only to active stakeholders, but to older natives as well. Louis Jean, a pro-FAB States member at the time, told me his father had helped clean up the island in the Forties, alongside the former forced laborers. If there had been mass death on the island, Jean reasoned, someone would have mentioned it. In his opinion, rumors of mass graves were “a distortion of history” and “very spurious indeed.” Besides, he showed me what he believed to be “definite evidence” that the allegations of a starvation diet were untrue. Wearing a herringbone jacket and a checked tweed hat, he held out for examination a large cooking vat brought over by the Germans. “These prove that there was feeding on a mass scale here,” he said. He cited the existence of ladles and saucepans as well. Also in his collection: an SS mug, a Nazi gravy boat, several German telephones and sirens, and a signed photograph of Hitler. In his backyard, he cultivated the species of potatoes initially seeded by the occupying forces, “to ensure that they carry on” (and also “because they’re very good potatoes!”).

Francis Simonet, a pro-FAB States member who had recently lost reelection, likewise thought the mass grave stories were “absolute nonsense.” He’d been evacuated to Glasgow during the war, and when he came back at the age of ten, he saw the island as “a great adventure playground.” He explored all the trenches and bunkers, collecting whatever artifacts he could. Besides the small cemetery, he said, “I saw no evidence whatsoever of any other disturbed ground at all on Longis Common that I could identify as being used for burials.” He had spoken to the German prisoners of war, and no one spoke of mass murder. He hadn’t found the Germans to be monsters. One even married a local girl and remained on the island to raise a family. To Simonet, it was a lesson on the nature of war. “People are people,” he said, and “a war’s a war: lots of things happen in war that are extreme, regrettable, and so on.”

What I encountered, in that first visit to Alderney, wasn’t quite denial; it was a certain frankness, an unwillingness to project grandiosity onto wartime history. In recent years, there had been multiple attempts to settle on a shared narrative—a three-part film consisting of interviews with elderly residents about their evacuation and return, as well as an original musical, Island Story, on the same subject—but there is scarcely a need to remind the islanders of the occupation. It would be difficult to live on Alderney without recognizing its traces. Most houses have bunkers in their yards. A large structure, later nicknamed the Odeon, was built to observe Allied ships; and much of Alderney’s infrastructure was constructed by the Nazis.4 A portion of the home of the former commandant of Sylt, modeled after Hitler’s chalet in the Bavarian Alps, is still standing. (It was expanded and relocated to the eastern side of the island, where it was owned by William and Gabrielle Tate, a Yorkshire couple who’d retired young to enjoy “a simpler way of life.”) The commandant himself, meanwhile, had reportedly remained on the island as a ghost: a local Island FM correspondent, Krystina Page, told me she’d summoned him from the beyond one day when she was lost in the brambles at Lager Sylt.

If there were unresolved tensions—between remembering and repurposing, being haunted and coming to peace with the past—they had been baked into the annual calendar. Each December, the islanders celebrate the anniversary of their Homecoming Day. Each May, they hold a service for those who died during the occupation. Each August, they host all-night bunker parties. And while the States had made no attempt to preserve the bunkers or any of the four camps, in 2008 a former inmate had installed a small plaque on the gates to Lager Sylt. The Hammond Memorial, built on the border of Longis Common to commemorate the laborers, was more prominent still. It was not exactly the world-class monument Weigold and Roberts dreamed of, but that was back in 2018—before the Odeon was reopened as an exhibit about the occupation; before William Tate ran for office, and remnants of the commandant’s house became part of the president’s house; before certain members of the anti-FAB contingent underwent a conversion.

Once I left Alderney, James began to refer to me over email as Erin Brockovich. It was his hope that I would expose the corruption on the island, which was “rather like the Watergate scandal” in his opinion. His messages had subject lines like “you coild [sic] not make this up ??? I am crying with laughter,” and contained hundreds of pages of documents supposedly proving conflicts of interest. In 2019, someone acting under the pseudonym Spartacus sent a mass email to many of the island’s residents enclosing a zip file full of many of the same leaks that James had sent me. (A second, competing Spartacus had been writing pro-FAB articles for the local paper.)

FAB itself, by that point, was looking less and less certain. After Brexit, interconnector projects were on hold. In the meantime, ARE stopped paying for its seabed license, which was then revoked; a lawsuit ensued. When the island agreed to what was, from the anti-FAB partisans’ perspective, an insufficiently punitive settlement, a group of them approached lawyers in London to try and prove “endemic corruption,” the benchmark for the Ministry of Justice’s involvement in a Crown Dependency. Eventually, the ministry refused to take up the case and directed the coalition to the Guernsey Police, in what James referred to as an “amazing FOB off” (to me) as well as “an obfuscation and complete abdication of responsibility” (to the ministry). The Guernsey financial crime team did visit the island in 2020, but its investigation was soon closed. “I feel somewhat helpless against these dark forces of evil,” James emailed me.

As accusations of FAB corruption foundered, James began to grasp around for new tactics. Earlier, he had written to me that “the Second World War grave site is possibly the most effective handbrake,” but along the way he became convinced—not only of the mass grave, but also of the more esoteric elements of Weigold and Roberts’s research, like the cremation pit and the V-1 site. Soon enough, he was forwarding me YouTube videos about the importance of Holocaust education. During the island’s COVID-19 lockdown, he snuck out of the house to lay a purple wreath on the gates to Lager Sylt.

In 2021, James went on Twitter as “Alderney truthseeker,” and by then the truth in question had nothing to do with FAB corruption. He was posting firsthand accounts by labor camp survivors, deportation records, archival news stories. It was around that time that he became a trustee of JTrails. In a selfie video shot outside the National Archives in London, James announces that he and Roberts are going to “prove once and for all that the British government knew about the atrocities in Alderney in June 1944.” He seems to be under the impression that this will take roughly an hour. “The further I dig, the worse this whole thing is,” he reports in an “after” video direct-to-camera. “This has been for me, like, the biggest cover-up that I’ve ever, ever heard of, and it happened on British soil, and I think it’s pretty shocking and it all needs to be exposed.”

As Diebel’s energy waned, Roberts later told me, James had taken over the “PR campaign,” and was quoted approvingly in several media outlets. “Michael’s now the star,” Snowdon said. “He’s spreading the word internationally, and something will happen because he’s got it into lots of papers.” According to Dupont, James had “whipped up the whole Jewish community.” He also encouraged Piers Secunda, a prominent sculptor he knew, to come to Alderney, where he made a mold of a structure he suspected to have been a Nazi execution wall—a piece that Roberts and James hoped could be included in the prominent Holocaust memorial soon to be built next to Westminster. But while James’s and Roberts’s research was in some sense the impetus behind Secunda’s London exhibition Alderney: The Holocaust On British Soil, he omitted their names from his extensive bibliography—a betrayal that infuriated James, especially on Roberts’s behalf. Over the years, James had often taken pains to clarify that he was “not to be confused with some ‘conspiracy theorist crackpot,’ ” as he wrote in an email to government officials, citing the professional credentials of members of his family. “I am a good person who has been driven mad by the frustrations of the U.K. Government over Alderney,” he explained elsewhere.

“I may have been approached by a Russian operative posing as a Latvian researcher, to plant potential disinformation,” Roberts emailed me. He also believed that Whitehall was in cahoots with Transmission Investment. But he was most alarmed by the incursions of a rival researcher, an archaeologist whom he believed may have been greasing the wheels for the company to desecrate the mass grave. It was through Caroline Sturdy Colls that Roberts had originally learned of Alderney. Back in 2009, she was a graduate student at the University of Birmingham, and because she had hoped to pioneer the field of “Holocaust archaeology,” her adviser asked Roberts to counsel her on proper halachic approaches. At the time, he wrote a letter in support of her doctoral research at Treblinka, where she assured him she was planning to use only non-invasive techniques. But once her permission had been granted, Roberts said, Sturdy Colls went back on her word and dug into the mass grave connected to the camp’s first gas chamber. (Sturdy Colls insists that she used only minimally invasive techniques, and that her work was carried out with the permission of the Chief Rabbi of Poland.) Ever since, Roberts has been convinced she was trying to pull a similar stunt on Alderney. “Caroline seems to make it her lifelong ambition to dig up these graves,” Roberts said.

When FAB was first announced, she had offered her services, writing that “a forensic archaeological excavation of the area of proposed disturbance is essential and must be completed in advance of any of the cable construction works” and that she “would be happy to advise.” Later, she returned to the island to shoot a documentary for which there were plans to dig up the Longis Common mass grave on camera, in front of survivors who would be brought back to the island. “The site excavation will be an emotional climax to the film,” reads the leaked draft proposal, which Sturdy Colls maintains she did not write. Though the States refused to give her permission to dig on Alderney, Sturdy Colls completed a documentary anyway, and the Smithsonian Channel aired Adolf Island in 2019.

The film’s chief purpose seems to be chronicling the drama of Sturdy Colls’s defeat at the hands of the islanders and resultant indignation. “This is a critical moment in Caroline’s investigation,” a narrator says when she is denied access to Longis Common. “She has never been this close to discovering the missing bodies that she believes are hidden here. But the closer she appears to get to the truth, the more hostile the locals become.” That hostility is cast, unambiguously, as Holocaust denialism. “I have never in my entire professional career experienced anything like I’ve experienced on Alderney,” Sturdy Colls says to the camera, “all because they want to forget the memory of people who were brutalized and murdered on this island.” Several negative reviews were written in the local press, and Partridge penned a memo laying out a series of “completely untrue statements, matters of fact,” in Sturdy Colls’s narration. In an eighteen-page complaint to Staffordshire University, where Sturdy Colls was by then a professor, Roberts accused her of the “exploitation of Jewish remains for commercial gain and public entertainment.”

Sturdy Colls was undeterred. Three years later, she followed Adolf Island up with a textbook of the same name, co-written with her husband, Kevin Colls. Though it contains the inconclusive results of her attempts to survey Longis Common and other areas with lidar, the book is ultimately a synthesis of the existing scholarship and the information available in various archives. “What started as an archaeological investigation,” she explains, “turned into a large-scale missing persons case.” Concurring with Weigold’s assertion that the Germans partially destroyed their records, Sturdy Colls goes on to cross-reference those very records—death certificates, burial registers, and transport lists—with survivor testimonies and postwar reports by Pantcheff and others, to produce a list of victims of around thirty nationalities.

At some points, it is difficult to differentiate Sturdy Colls’s findings from those of Roberts and Weigold. The conditions she reports are appalling: dysentery, lice, typhus, a diet of watery soup and occasional bits of bread, and regular beatings. In the accounts from which she quotes, witnesses describe corpses loaded onto trucks and dumped into the sea, workers falling into wet concrete and left to die in the foundations of fortifications, and an exercise in which prisoners were led into a “tunnel of death,” where they would be suffocated or shot in the event of an invasion. She is adamant that “mass burials did exist on Alderney, contrary to claims that have been made since the war,” that the British carried out a second cover-up, and that the official history was “sanitized.” She also repeats some of Weigold’s other statements—like that Maximillian List had a direct line to Himmler, or even that the code name “Adolf Island” has a special significance. Yet she simultaneously asserts that the research done by Roberts and Weigold has “muddied the waters.” Pinning the precise number of Jewish victims at between ten and a few hundred, she vehemently disputes the report, promulgated in The Times of Israel and elsewhere, that ten thousand Jews may be buried on Alderney. She is categorical that, when it comes to the overall death toll, “figures in the tens of thousands simply cannot be supported.” In a stylistically typical combination of hubris and hedging, she declares that her book “presents, for the first time, a more definitive account” of the number of deaths, which she puts at between 701 and 986: two to three times the official version, but vastly short of Weigold’s estimate.

To Roberts, this was outrageous. In the Alderney Press, he wrote, “Assertions that only hundreds died seem to be Version 2.0 of the British narrative of cover-up, ’nothing too bad happened here.’ ” That Sturdy Colls had stopped just shy of a thousand deaths looked to him like an attempt to minimize Nazi crimes. Weigold, too, had plenty of quibbles. When I visited him at home a few months after the release of Sturdy Colls’s book, he paged through a copy and stopped on a picture of what had been labeled a “wooden handgun” but was actually a flare signal pistol, he claimed. “She hasn’t a clue about matters military,” he said. But the most grievous instance of mislabeling, in his view, was that she had referred to the supposed cremation pit as a “rose garden.” (She had in fact called it an “ornamental garden.”) At this point in our discussion, Weigold broke into song. “I didn’t promise you a ro-ose garden,” he crooned in a rich baritone.

After I left him, Weigold emailed me to apologize for getting “a bit theatrical.” He’d reflected on his outburst, and decided he was fed up. “I have done all I can,” he wrote, “so I am retiring to paint my pictures!” He felt sidelined by the so-called professionals, and frustrated by the fact that his military perspective was not taken seriously. “Is that what history is about?” he said. “What about absolute truth? What about the people who died? Why should their memories be subjected to all this arrogant crap?”

That same summer, on the eve of Alderney Week, FAB issued a press release: the company had decided to stake out an alternate route, one that avoided the island altogether. By then, Gaudion had been rehired down at the harbor, and Clark had founded a sea salt company. (“Can you get a link into your article for me?” he asked.) Robert McDowall, their erstwhile supporter on the States and one of the central figures implicated in the corruption charges, had been appointed the third trustee of JTrails, alongside Roberts’s wife and James. “Now he’s suddenly a born-again Holocaust discoverer!” James kvetched.

Whether the cable had been rerouted in response to the anti-FAB efforts was open to debate—the company had long maintained that it was costlier to bring the cable ashore on Alderney—but the group claimed it as a victory. “I’m gloating a lot,” Dupont told me. “I’m just so chuffed,” James wrote over email: “It’s as though the Sword of Damocles has been removed, hanging over Alderney’s head.” When we walked down Victoria Street together, he was greeted as a hero. Applause broke out as he passed. “We won!” Geraldine Whittaker emailed him. “Heartfelt thanks to you. You have been tireless in the pursuit of justice.”

It was the start of August, sweater weather in the English Channel. All around, Alderney Week was under way. The festival brochure advertised a “gala spectacular,” Freemason open houses, a strong man “and strong woman” competition, a man-powered flying machine competition, a sandcastle contest, and two bunker parties—the last of which, on Weigold’s recommendation, I decided to attend. There were no directions in the brochure, but I found some youngsters willing to guide me, after midnight, up to the giffoine—the Norman dialect word for the farmland at the island’s highest point. As we approached in the pitch black, we saw a bonfire, its smoke stained a satanic medley of purples, blues, and greens. I split off from my group and ventured into the bunker, where Matthew Diebel’s daughter shouted a friendly hello. Music thumped deafeningly, DJed by the eighteen-year-old Daisy Livesey, whose father, a collector of Nazi memorabilia, had first danced with her mother at a bunker party in his youth.3 I, too, was asked to dance, by a young man who described the tradition as “a fuck-you to Hitler”; Weigold had described it as “making merry on a grave.”

There was no consensus, on or off Alderney, about what to do with the concrete structures whose assembly had taken the lives of so many forced laborers. In Adolf Island (the book), Sturdy Colls notes the summer raves with disapproval, pointing to a swastika she found graffitied on one wall. In her view, the bunkers ought to be protected not just against revelry, but against flora and fauna as well. (She quotes a paper by the Cambridge conflict archaeologist Gilly Carr that argues, rather anthropomorphically, “Vegetation has been an active agent in promoting the forgetting of these sites.”) But some on Alderney were heartened that weeds were beginning to cover the hideous reminders of the occupation. “We are very happy for them to disappear,” Gerry Diebel told me of the bunkers on his family’s property, “just to let the land reclaim them.” Others, like Patti and Mark Anderson, had bought sets of bunkers with the intent of cutting away the brambles and, as Mark explained to me, putting the ingenuity of the German architecture on display. (“You’re not supposed to say ‘German,’ ” Patti chided. “When you say ‘German,’ ” she clarified to me, “people get a bit offended.”)

If these options—to party in the concrete remnants of the Nazi occupation, or to allow them to disappear, or to preserve them for aesthetic appreciation—each seemed in its own way unsavory, there was always the possibility of memorialization. After his anti-FAB triumph, James turned his attention toward this goal. Some months earlier, he and Roberts had been “Holocaust hunting,” plodding around the island in search of slave laborers’ handprints, graffiti, and the like, when they spotted a hut they believed to have originated in Lager Norderney. “The hut to me is our legacy,” he said. “It’s being bought in JTrails’s name by me,” he said, “because I want Marcus to be the curator and guardian of it, and the custodian of it, for the rest of his days as his repayment from Alderney.”

That the hut was in fact a valuable relic was uncertain, but James described it as “the most important Holocaust item on British soil.” The plan was to encase it in glass and use it as the centerpiece for a memorial on Alderney. James also wanted to offer to loan it to the new Holocaust museum in London, which so far had not indicated plans to feature Alderney. In James’s view, this was a grievous omission. “Britain’s about to spend a hundred million pound on a Holocaust education memorial glorifying our British exceptionalism,” he said, “and even though we had nothing to do with this, we certainly had a lot to do with covering it up.” Only once the British government agreed to include Alderney in the memorial, and publicly stated that thousands died on the island, would James move on from his crusade. “Until they do that, they’re covering it up, and I think they are guilty of gross Holocaust denial,” he said.

Holocaust denial was not, it turned out, something of which the British government enjoyed being accused. Already, the steady drumbeat of media generated by the anti-FAB press machine had rattled some in London, and Lord Eric Pickles, the United Kingdom’s special envoy for post-Holocaust issues, had taken note. In 2021, he had traveled to the island with Carr, a member of the U.K. delegation to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, to propose a series of fairly discreet ways, such as installing QR codes, to mark significant sites. In his remarks, Pickles seemed chiefly preoccupied with the inconvenience inherent to the preservation of structures built by the Nazis. “The biggest challenge is it’s been a while since the Second World War,” Carr echoed. When there was time for comment, former States member Sue Allen said she was “appalled” at the prospect of turning the island into a “Holocaust Disneyland.”1 Another former States member, James Dent, agreed. “Many of us are nervous that we should not become some sort of macabre theme park for Holocaust tourism,” he said. The QR code plan stalled, and Carr later stepped down as Alderney representative after a video emerged of her describing the locals as “hostile” in a lecture at Cambridge.

In Dent’s view, all the focus on whether the islanders had ignored past crimes distracted from suffering in the present. “The talk is about memorializing the Holocaust, but why not do something about the problems in the world right now?” he asked. He was particularly troubled by the island’s unwillingness to accept refugees—in the Alderney Press, Roberts had objected to the idea of repurposing areas that had housed slave laborers as “crass.” On the whole, Dent found the way that Jewish religious law had been marshaled against FAB distasteful. “They don’t want the ground disturbed. Fair enough. Nobody knows exactly what there is there to disturb, and people have suggested ways of finding out what there is to disturb, but that seems unacceptable to people,” he said. “I think some people would prefer it remains a great mystery.”

In that mystery, even absent the threat of FAB itself, the press about the potential mass grave not only failed to quiet down; it intensified. Reporters at papers like the Guardian breathlessly reproduced assertions that never-before-seen documents had been unearthed—including files that were already readily available. In article after article, speculation about “state censorship” and “the Nazi horror camp on British soil” continued to proliferate. “Why did the British government let evidence of German war crimes on its soil remain in obscurity?” asked one reporter. Another wrote, “The momentum towards full disclosure may now be irresistible.” And then, last summer, it did prove irresistible. In July, Pickles announced an inquiry into the death toll on Alderney, in collaboration with Yad Vashem. There would be, as Labour MP Margaret Hodge told the Guardian, “no more lies and no more cover-up.”

If there is a political utility to conspiracy theories, it’s that they can nudge public attention toward things that have been whitewashed, kept secret, or left unexplained. It took a series of wild allegations—together with the fanatical exertions of a group of second-home owners—to force the U.K. to reevaluate its half-century-long insistence that there had been fewer than four hundred exclusively Russian deaths on Alderney. Since August, a panel appointed by Pickles has been working to compile a report, set to be released this May, that will include a scrupulous accounting of Alderney’s victims. “There is confidence on the team that we’ll be able to come to a realistic number,” Pickles told me. A member of the group planning the new London Holocaust memorial, he also hopes to use the space to showcase a list of Channel Islands victims.

Alderney may be a popular destination for money laundering, but over the past six years, the island has been used for a different kind of laundering too. As the Holocaust has been written back into Alderney’s history, the marks of the anti-FAB fight have been washed away. None of the press coverage that greeted Pickles’s announcement so much as mentioned the cable, let alone the unholy alliance between amateur historians and property protectors; their heavy-handed influence has been scrubbed from the story, as some of them have slipped seamlessly into their roles as champions of Holocaust remembrance. At the outset, they could not have anticipated how successful their publicity campaign would prove—but they were able to use the Holocaust as a “handbrake” or a “cudgel,” because the Holocaust, too, has political utility.

Hundreds of Holocaust memorials dot the globe, and hundreds of millions of dollars are spent preserving the structures the Nazis built. Each year, two million visitors travel to Auschwitz, where the camp is kept so spick-and-span it makes the visitor center look antiquated by comparison. It’s clear from the messaging in and around such places that they are supposed to remind the world to “never forget” and “never again” tolerate such heinous crimes against humanity. What’s less clear is whether the power of Holocaust memory is used only to further humane ends. It’s unclear—when an unverified assertion of Holocaust mass graves can be played as a trump card; when Jewish burials are treated as more sacrosanct than other burials; when it’s seen as offensive to reuse Nazi structures not only for dancing, but also for sheltering refugees—that there’s always a one-to-one correlation between memorializing the dead and respecting their memory.

According to Weigold, the point of the inquiry is to stifle his views; it “will seek only to substitute the post war government cover up with a contemporary academic one!” he wrote in an email. Pickles, he thought, hoped to “discredit my findings.” On this subject, Weigold is not delusional. In the announcement, Pickles was quoted as saying, “I hope this review will put to rest conspiracy theories,” and he further cited the need for “accurate numbers to free them from the distortion of conspiracy theorists.” On the phone, Pickles referenced attacks on Twitter and anti-FAB articles as primary motivations for his involvement. The thirteen-person panel, moreover, includes Sturdy Colls, her husband, Kevin Colls, Carr, and Partridge, all of whom have been openly skeptical of Weigold’s findings.

Though the government has released an open call for documents and data, as of this writing, Weigold, James, and Roberts have all refused to share their research; they have offered what they consider to be informal guidance, especially on archives. “So far, they’ve been reluctant to submit their evidence to proper academic scrutiny,” Pickles told me. “They seem to want to submit it to just about everybody else.” To Roberts’s mind, volunteering his research would mean endorsing whatever report the panel produces. “I have been placed under considerable pressure to subscribe to the Inquiry and to hand over all my sources and thereby be bound by its findings,” Roberts wrote over email. “Our formal participation is hampered because key members of the Inquiry have branded our work ‘conspiracy theories,’ ” James explained. “I have not submitted anything to the panel as it would be a waste of time,” Weigold emailed me.

But even if the panel ultimately dismisses them as conspiracy theorists, the announcement itself bears Weigold’s traces. His goal from the outset was to change our perception of the Holocaust broadly construed, and while he may not have been the first to say that the Holocaust happened on Alderney, he was the first to name it as a site of extermination through labor. To my knowledge, he and Roberts were the only people to make this argument—that is, until the official government press release on the review. “The camps in Alderney were significant in the history of the Holocaust,” it explains, “because they provide evidence of extermination through labour (Vernichtung durch Arbeit).”

“More people probably died in Alderney in those four years than had done so in the preceding two hundred,” Alderney’s late president Jon Kay-Mouat wrote long ago, in the introduction to a former laborer’s memoir. Estimates, he added, varied between four hundred and five thousand. Each year, on the anniversary of the liberation, Kay-Mouat brought former slave laborers back to the island for a ceremony. The citizens of Alderney fed the survivors, and gave them wine, and everyone sang and cried and prayed together. “Alderney’s people have never been unaware of the grim terror that reigned in their absence,” reads a 1979 Guernsey Evening Press and Star article about the tradition. The island had forgotten and remembered, revised and disputed, over and over, and yet the unfathomable facts were never fully absorbed, and could always be discovered again. The island’s dark history could be woven into a narrative to serve one purpose or another—for profit, or to stop a cable—but, no matter how many times the truth was supposedly revealed, it maintained the capacity to shock.

On Alderney, there may have always existed an ambient conspiratorialism—a feeling that, as Gerry Diebel told me, “something was awfully wrong, and that it had been going on for a long while.” Diebel was talking about FAB, but it was the same attitude—the same mania for leaking documents and decrying shady business—that came to characterize the fight to revise the island’s history. “The unlocking of the mysteries of the Nazi occupation, have become more important to me than FABlink, that was just the catalyst,” James wrote me. “No one knew there was a Jewish Concentration camp on British soil,” he said. “If it had not been for FABlink this story may have lay buried forever.” He was aware that others were skeptical of his motives. “Some might say that we’ve utilized the graves, the Holocaust, whatever, to slay FAB,” he said. “But the actual reality is that we’ve used FAB to bring out the truth.”

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August 2021

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