Internees of War

I promised a follow-up to the Guests of War post to explain the other, more sinister reason my dear protagonist and her little sister had to leave England in 1940.  And just to go by the titles of these posts, doesn’t “internees” sound a little darker than “guests?”  Like the accomodations aren’t quite as plush?

England’s panicked response to the war went deeper than just shipping children out of the cities and hanging blackout curtains in windows.  In January 1940, the government began rounding up British residents born in Germany, Austria, and Italy.  Like the Japanese-Americans who were taken from their homes for no reason other than their ancestry, these “enemy aliens” had committed no offense other than being born in the wrong country.  They were taken to northern England for questioning, and while most went home within a few days, some stayed in detention centers on the Isle of Man.

Some of these internees were Jews or members of other groups Hitler

Into the Arms of Strangers--great book and documentary about the Kindertransport and how Germans were treated in England

 persecuted.  A few were even Jewish children who came to England from Germany on the Kindertransport trains in 1938 and 1939, but who had come of age during their time in England.  Refugee status apparently didn’t exempt you from the questioning, but one curious loop-hole did: for the most part, German women who had married English men were not questioned.  (This was discovered by my fabulous roommate-at-the-time, Megan the Amazing Librarian-Wizard.)  Probably sexist views of the time that these German women couldn’t do anything to sabbotage England’s war efforts, but I’m sure these women were grateful.

General public sentiment was all for the internments early on, or at least looked the other way.  After all, Germany was the enemy and might invade at any moment.  But one incident in July 1940 reversed this opinion.  Several internees who had been kept on the Isle of Man were put on a ship, the Arandora Star, which was bound for the British dominion (and formal penal colony) Australia.  The ship, which was British but full of German citizens, was torpedoed by a Nazi U-boat and sunk, killing one-fourth of the passengers.  Internments stopped after that, but suspicion still ran high.

My girls are the products of an English father and a German mother, and the discovery of the internments was one that set my whole story into motion.  Their German housekeepers are passengers on the Arandora Star and after their father dies, their mother is terrified the questioning will start again and she will no longer be protected.  They are saved from being “internees of war” and become “guests of war” instead, and for almost five years, I have tried to imagine what that dicotomy must have been like.

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One Response to Internees of War

  1. Jennifer says:

    And history seems to constantly repeat itself. Some lessons are hard to learn…but sometimes I think fear motivates our actions in time of war and despite what we “know” from past experience and despite the fact that things are different now (from how people were treated in WW2), people still judge, and fear, and treated others differently.

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