The Island of Extraordinary Captives: A Painter, a Poet, an Heiress, and a Spy in a World War II British Internment Camp by Simon Parkin tells of the English internment of perceived fifth columnists during World War II. Mr. Parkin is an award winning writer and journalist.
- 432 pages
- Publisher : Scribner
- Language : English
- ISBN-10 : 1982178523
My rating for The Island of Extraordinary Captives – 4
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As much reading as I did about WWII, I somehow missed hearing about English internment camps. While the internment of Japanese Americans in the US gets more attention, England’s role in this xenophobic measure is left mainly untold. This, the author tells us, is because it negates the historical narrative the British want, or wanted, to be told.
To be fair, there were spies among the 73,000 prisoners, but the blanket policy was controversial even then.
Many of the 73,000 Germans and Austrians living in England, found themselves tagged as “enemy aliens” overnight. The government’s answer: a mass internment policy. One would think, that putting persecuted Jews, along with known fascists behind a fence would not be such a good idea, but at the time Churchill authorized the policy.
The Island of Extraordinary Captives Simon Parkin tells of the camps by following Peter Fleischmann, a Jewish aspiring artist, and orphan who got to England through the kindertransport. Through his eyes, we see the Hutchinson camp’s life on the Isle of Man for more than a year. The camp held more than a thousand captives, many of whom were luminaries in their respective fields, and many others were rising stars. Lawyers, writers, musicians, academics, and artists. Luckily for them, Captain Hubert Daniel, the camp’s commandant, was a humane person trying to make the best of a policy which he didn’t agree with.
Putting all those accomplished people in one place, it seemed, sparked their artistic brains and turned their prison into a cultural place of learning. Peter, later known as renowned artist Peter Midgley, learned much of his craft during those months from the famed Dadaist Kurt Schwitters, and made lifelong contacts in the art and academic fields.
The camp worked out for Peter, but many others were terrified of falling into Nazi hands when the invasion, which seemed imminent at the time, happened. Being trolled by Nazi sympathizers and fascists daily. There were even “suicide classes” held in secret – just in case.
This is an inspirational read, and does a fine job exposing Churchill’s government’s knee-jerk actions. Somewhere though, the book loses its narrative, when Peter’s journey is sidelined, and the account takes us in different directions.
Zohar — Man of la Book
Disclaimer: I got this book for free
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