Matthew Offord – 2021 Speech on Holocaust Memorial Day

The speech made by Matthew Offord, the Conservative MP for Hendon, in the House of Commons on 28 January 2021.

In last year’s debate, I spoke about the only concentration camp on British soil, on the island of Alderney. Lager Sylt and Lager Norderney contained Russian and Polish prisoners-of-war, as well as Jewish slave labourers. I raised the issue of undisclosed and unrecorded burial sites of murdered inmates and told the House:

“Rabbinic law dictates that the grave sites of Jewish people should not be disturbed.”

However, I expressed my personal view that

“unmarked graves, mass graves and locations of bodies hidden by their murderers are not proper graves in themselves, and I believe that it is appropriate for the identification of bodies to be undertaken”—[Official Report, 23 January 2020; Vol. 670, c. 492.]

Some people took my words as advocating a full exhumation of the Channel Islands, but that is not necessary or even desirable. The burial site on Alderney was designated and formally marked by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission as an official war grave, but it was deaccessioned by the CWGC in 1961.

Back in July 2019, my right hon. Friend Lord Pickles, head of the UK delegation of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, along with the deputy head, Sally Sealey, and Dr Gilly Carr, a member of the UK delegation, visited Alderney. The purpose of the trip was to make an assessment of the island’s holocaust-related heritage sites after the revelation of new geophysical evidence and the potential presence of further bodies in a mass grave on Longis Common on Alderney.

Putting aside the religious issues, it has been stressed to me that opening mass graves is not as revealing as one might imagine that and that gains in knowledge are slight compared with the moral and spiritual costs of disturbance. Knowledge already exists about the sites, and the combination of non-intrusive means of investigation, world war two aerial imagery and research of the records should be sufficient to tell us, with some certitude, what lies beneath Longis Common. I have been advised that a considerable amount is already known about what lies beneath that ground. That is because the British Government are still sitting on embargoed files that detail what they found at the cemetery after the war and their own excavations at the cemetery. Today, I am calling on the Government to find the missing records of the 1961 exhumation, and the detailed records that the UK made of each set of remains by the British excavation in Alderney. We have a duty to ensure that no one is left behind. I ask the Government to play their part and do the right thing by releasing all information and documents in their possession.