Norbert Beernaert

  • Date of Birth: May 13, 2024
  • Date of Death: 2009
  • Place of Birth: Geraardsbergen, Belgium
  • Date of Deportation: Arrived in Alderney December 1940
  • Address when Deported: Geraardsbergen, Belgium
  • Place of deportation: Alderney
  • Sites deported to: Norderney,

By Daan Stokvis

Norbert Beernaert, born in 1924 in Geraardsbergen, Belgium, remained open throughout his life to discussing his experiences on Alderney during the Second World War. “The war is never over. Some people don’t like to talk about it, but I talk about it all the time. I was a little hero in this town when I returned,” he would assert, referring to his birthplace.

Before the German invasion of Belgium and France, Beernaert worked as a butcher’s apprentice. However, at the age of sixteen, he and his older brother were conscripted into the Belgian army, only to be separated due to German bombings in France. Beernaert found himself seeking refuge in the south of France with the help of a French soldier. Unfortunately, the soldier had to rejoin the army, leaving Beernaert alone and resorting to stealing food, which led to his imprisonment in Saint-Chaptes camp, near Nimes in France.

After France was defeated, the Germans assumed control of the camp, sending Beernaert to Cherbourg in Normandy. From there, in December 1940, he boarded a ship to Alderney, beginning his forced stay on the island. Initially, Alderney’s atmosphere was surprisingly relaxed, allowing Beernaert to freely roam the town of St. Anne, witnessing the aftermath of war, with damaged houses, broken doors, and scattered books.

However, circumstances took a turn for Beernaert and the other prisoners when more Germans, mainly from the Organization Todt, arrived on the island. He was subsequently moved to the new Norderney camp, where the German authorities designated him as a butcher in the kitchen. Most of the rest of the camp inmates had to do Organization Todt (OT) work. The harsh conditions in the camp demanded long working hours, starting at 6 o’clock. In the afternoons, Beernaert worked on preparing the main meal, usually consisting of soup transported by trucks to the different work sites on the island. The rationing system was stringent, with one loaf of bread shared between two men initially and later reduced to one loaf for five men.

In the camp kitchen, Beernaert worked alongside Russians. These men were primarily prisoners of war and civilian workers from Ukraine who were captured by the German military and brought to Alderney to work on various construction projects, including fortifications and bunkers. For the Russian laborers in Alderney, life was harsh and challenging. They were subjected to brutal working conditions, inadequate shelter, and meager rations. Beernaert befriended one of his ‘Russian’ colleagues, Jean Novak, but he tragically died in Alderney after consuming home-made whisky. Beernaert made a coffin for Novak and buried him himself. After the war, Beernaert tried to visit this grave, but it was exhumed. Novak was one of the many Russians who died. Germans considered the Russians expendable, and as the war turned against Germany, their fate became increasingly precarious.

By 1943, as the German military faced big losses on the Eastern Front, the conditions for the Russian laborers on Alderney worsened. German propaganda intensified the dehumanization of Russians, labeling them as enemies who has to be defeated at all cost. Many Russians in Norderney left by 1943, and their ultimate fate remained unknown to Beernaert during the war.

Despite the hardships and death surrounding him, Beernaert endured until December 1943 when he, and the rest of the Norderney camp, were moved to Cherbourg by the German authorities. There, he remained under German control until June 6, 1944, when the Allied forces landed in Normandy.

After the war, his experiences on Alderney continued to have a big impact on Beernaert’s life. Besides talking about his war story with people like historians, he returned to the island several times. On his last trip, in 1979, he was photographed during the 35th anniversary of the evacuation of the Norderney camp (see picture).

During his life, Beernaert did not want to forget the horrors that happened on the island. In Norderney camp, he saw several people being buried in one grave, caused by the high death rate of more than five people a day in 1943 and 1944. He has tried to locate the graves of his fellow-prisoners, but due to the absence of records and the challenge of verifying names, this was not successful. This website and the research into the deaths on Alderney are a new effort to find the perished fellow-prisoners of Beernaert.


Interview Beernaert with C.W. Partridge (13-5-1979).

Bunting M. The Model Occupation : The Channel Islands Under German Rule, 1940-1945. HarperCollins Publishers; 1995.


  • Cemetery / Mass Grave
  • Concentration Camp
  • Forced Labour Camp
  • Prison
  • Worksite / Fortification