An organisation that oversees Jewish historical sites is “very disturbed” by an MP’s campaign to exhume the remains of Nazi victims on the Channel Islands.
Conservative Matthew Offord has been criticised by Marcus Roberts, Director of JTrails, following the politician’s comments in Parliament.
Four concentration camps were built on Alderney during Germany’s occupation of the Channel Islands, including SS Lager Sylt which housed Jewish slave labourers.
Speaking in the Commons during a Holocaust Memorial Day debate, the MP called for graves on the island of Alderney to be dug up to identify victims.
He told Parliament he had to “tread carefully” on the issue as there was “some reluctance on behalf of the Jewish community.”
Offord added: “I know Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, who is my constituent, has been involved in this issue. Rabbinical law dictates that the gravesites of Jewish people should not be disturbed. And I have a great deal of sympathy with that point of view. However, I do have a belief that unmarked graves, mass graves, and the cases of bodies hidden by the murderers are not proper graves within themselves. And I believe that it is appropriate for the identification of bodies to be undertaken because people do need a proper resting place and the places and locations I’ve described, I do not believe, are proper graves.”
His remarks sparked concern from Roberts, who was “very disturbed” by the MP’s use of the “Holocaust Memorial Day debate in Parliament, to propose disturbing and moving the remains of victims”.
He added: “The offence and outrage caused by these sentiments in the community and outside the community cannot be underestimated, with one rabbi phoning me nearly in tears with the news and requests from Alderney and abroad, asking me to respond to the proposed disturbance and removal of the graves. Offord’s proposals could unwittingly facilitate the stated desire to expedite the France-Alderney-Britain cable link. The clearance of graves in the name of respect and science would finally and directly open the route to the giant UK/France project.”
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The MP responded, calling it a “highly sensitive issue”, insisting he has a “consistent record of standing up for Jewish burial rights and I am positive that no action will be taken without the consent of the Chief Rabbi.
“Absolutely no one involved in this, myself included, have any intention to facilitate the France-Alderney-Britain (FAB) cable link”, and that “as far as I am aware, no one directly involved in the negotiations are calling for the physical disturbance of human remains and are instead seeking a non-invasive solution that is acceptable for all parties. I realise that this is an extremely emotive topic, however, sensationalising it will do nothing but hinder the progress that has been made so far.”
Lord Eric Pickles, the government’s special envoy for post-Holocaust issues, told Jewish News: “Alderney contains important Holocaust sites that is why the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) have chosen the Island to be one of five sites to develop best practice in the safeguarding of historic sites. We are currently developing a partnership between IHRA, Alderney Authorities and local land owners.