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Nazi concentration camp Sylt on island of Alderney revealed by archaeologists

For for the first time since its destruction at the conclustion of World War II, a concentration camp on the island of Alderney has been studied by archaeologists — revealing new information about the site where Nazi soldiers committed atrocities against prisoners.

The remote island in the English Channel was home to several concentration camps during the war and archaeologists have been utilizing ground-penetrating radar to understand its structures at one known as Sylt.

“This work has shed new light on the German occupation of Alderney and, crucially, the experiences of the thousands of forced and slave laborers who were sent there,” Professor Sturdy Colls said in a statement to Antiquity. “Historical, forensic and archaeological approaches have finally offered the possibility to uncover new evidence and give a voice to those who suffered and died on Alderney so many years ago.”


Pictured, overhead drone footage of the Sylt site from 2017. INSET: a picture showing the memorial plaque installed by a Sylt survivor in 2008 on the gate posts. Witnesses from the war say the front gate of the camp had a sign over it with the words ‘SS-Lager Sylt’. (Colls et al/Staffordshire University/Antiquity)

Among the discoveries at the death camp that was run by the SS was a tunnel from the soldiers’ bathhouse, below the barbed wire fence and into a villa outside of the camp. In addition, the team found barracks, kitchens, toilets, bathhouses, gateposts and the remains of perimeter fences.

The gateposts were also where the Nazis displayed their brutality, a witness explained to The Daily Mail.

“At Lager Sylt, we saw a Russian, he was just hanging, strung up from the main gate. On his chest he had a sign on which was written: ‘for stealing bread,'” the former prison told the British publication.

Others were left hanging for days and whipped or had cold water poured over them all night until they died, according to archived testimony.


Pictured, the prisoner kitchen cellar. The SS canteen was larger than the prisoner kitchen, even though far fewer people ate there. (Colls et al/Staffordshire University/Antiquity)

“In my barrack, there were around one hundred and fifty men, or perhaps a few more. There were approximately this many in every hut,” former Sylt prisoner Wilhelm Wernegau told Antiquity, recalling the cramped conditions.

The overcrowded environment was exacerbated by the atrocious treatment, according to Wilhelm, who said: “We had straw blankets and throughout the time on Alderney we suffered terribly from lice.”

The researchers, led by academics at Staffordshire University, used lidar and geophysical survey data to reveal what was beneath the surface at the site. Archaeologists produced a digital map; they did not conduct any physical excavations at the site. Their findings were compared to historical blueprints of the camp that survived the war.


Pictured, a bunker on Alderney, likely built by slave labor from Sylt and the other camps. They were starved, beaten and tortured by the occupying Nazis and forced to toil away erecting part of Hitler’s ‘Atlantic Wall,’ meant to protect France from attack. (Colls et al/Staffordshire University/Antiquity) (Andree Stephan/CC BY 3.0/Colls et al/Staffordshire University/Antiquity)


Historians believe the combination of cramped conditions, lice, and general mistreatment is thought to have contributed to a typhus outbreak at the Sylt, which may have killed up to 200 prisoners. 

The number of inmates hit 1,000 at Sylt, at least 103 of whom died, according to Nazi records. However, many more likely perished. In total, according to Antiquity, at least 700 people died at the labor and concentration camps on Alderney.


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