Due to the ongoing COVID-19 situation we have had to postpone the showing of the temporary exhibition Leave to Land: The Kitchener Camp Rescue, 1939. As the Library remains closed, our latest blog shares some of the key texts written about this period for you to read at home. Why not use this time of lockdown and social distancing to learn more about this relatively unknown aspect of the Second World War and Jewish refugee history?
The Wiener Holocaust Library has an important collection of documents relating to the history of the Kitchener Camp which have been donated by both individuals who worked at the camp and by those who fled persecution in Nazi-dominated Europe. The Library’s new online exhibition, The Kitchener Camp, 1939-1940, highlights some of these collections which offer a unique insight into the experiences of these individuals during their time at the camp and their lives after.
In November 1938, 30,000 German Jewish men had been taken to concentration camps where they were subject to torture, starvation and arbitrary death. This book tells the remarkable story of how the grandees of Anglo Jewry persuaded the British government to allow them to establish a transit camp in Sandwich, in East Kent, to which up to 4,000 men could be brought while they waited for permanent settlement oversees – known as the Kitchener Camp.
“Collar the lot!”: how Britain interned and expelled its wartime refugees by Peter Gillman and Leni Gillman
A detailed account of British internment policy during the Second World War, including the tragic tale of the Arandora Star. On 2 July 1940, the Arandora Star was sunk by a German U-boat and two-thirds of those on board drowned. Travelling aboard the ship were 1,500 internees being deported to Canada from Britain. The authors interviewed survivors in Britain, the US and Australia.
Internment during the Second World War: a comparative study of Great Britain and the USA by Rachel Pistol
The internment of ‘enemy aliens’ during the Second World War was arguably the greatest stain on the Allied record of human rights on the home front. Internment during the Second World War compares and contrasts the experiences of foreign nationals unfortunate enough to be born in the ‘wrong’ nation when Great Britain, and later the USA, went to war.
In the first comparative history of internment in Britain and the USA, memoirs, letters, and oral testimony help to put a human face on the suffering incurred during the turbulent early years of the war and serve as a reminder of what can happen to vulnerable groups during times of conflict.
Tens of thousands of refugees, mainly Jews, were given shelter in Britain between 1933 and 1939. After the outbreak of the Second World War, it was the remote seaside towns of Westward Ho! and Ilfracombe in North Devon that would eventually become home to more than 3,000 Jews.
As German troops overcame much of free Europe and Britain turned from defence to attack, many of the Jews of North Devon were enlisted into the war effort. Men joined the Pioneer Corps, women worked on the land or with the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS), others became vital members of the scientific apparatus of war, or took part in heroic acts of espionage. At the same time, their North Devon home became a coherent community with the establishment of cultural and religious activities that became an integral part of the life of the evacuees, as well as the immigrants and their British hosts.
At the start of the Second World War, there were estimated to be 75,000 ‘enemy aliens’ living in Britain, each a potential security risk. To screen these, Enemy Alien Tribunals were set up, with the first tribunal judging only 569 cases serious enough to warrant internment. The Isle of Man was chosen as somewhere secure enough to hold them. But when Italy entered the war in 1940, the tribunals’ workload grew and, by the end of the year, the number of ‘enemy aliens’ on the island had risen to 14,000.
With the use of diaries, newspapers and personal testimonies, Island of Barbed Wire looks at the selection, arrival, living conditions and, ultimately, repatriation of the internees.
Memoirs of a Polish Jew, born in 1918 in Upper Silesia. Fred Pelican and his family moved to Germany, and in 1938 he was arrested while trying to leave the country and was sent to Dachau. Six months later he was released and emigrated to England. He subsequently served in the British Army, was nearly captured in Dunkirk and ended the war as an interpreter at the British Army on the Rhine (BAOR) headquarters, helping to investigate war crimes.
Grey Dawns: illustrated poems and life in Nazi-Germany, emigration and active service in the British Army during the Second World War by Harold H. Rossney
Grey Dawns is an extraordinary collection of Second World War poems and biographical details which veteran Harry Rossney wrote during his lifetime to reflect his experiences of war. It conveys the fear and struggles of a life lived for six and a half years under Nazi tyranny, and the reality of war as witnessed by Harry in the British Army. His poems reflect what he experienced after the Normandy landings in 1944.
Edited by historian Helen Fry, who knew Harry personally for over a decade, this collection was published to mark the 70th anniversary of D-Day in 2014.
Suggested further reading:
The Wiener Holocaust Library holds a number of books and documents relating to this subject, some of which are listed below:
- Sport under unexpected circumstances: violence, discipline, and leisure in penal and internment camps by Dittmar Dahlmann
- My 77 years: an account of my life and times 1883-1960 by Norman Bentwich
- Some Victims of the Nazi Terror by The Kitchener Camp Committee
For more related sources, try a search for any of the following keywords in our Collections Catalogue: Rescue, Kitchener Camp, Refugees, Jewish History, Internment camps.