British Pows and the Holocaust: Witnessing the Nazi Atrocities 9781350985605, 9781786731944

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Table of contents :
Cover
Half-title
Title
Copyright
Contents
Acknowledgements
Introduction
1. British POWs: What They Saw and Understood
2. British POWs and Jewish POWs: A Common Experience?
3. Jewish POWs and Jewish Inmates
4. The Reaction of British POWs to the Outworking of Nazi Anti-Jewish Policies
5. Comparisons
6. The Limits of POW Testimony
Coda
Notes
Bibliography
Index
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British Pows and the Holocaust: Witnessing the Nazi Atrocities
 9781350985605, 9781786731944

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Russell Wallis is an independent historian. Prior to this he was a research fellow at the Holocaust Research Centre at Royal Holloway. He is the author of Britain, Germany and the Road to the Holocaust (2014), also published by I.B.Tauris.

‘This meticulously researched book uncovers a story that has taken too long to be told. Wallis reveals that British POWs were uniquely placed to see for themselves the unprecedented crimes committed against Jews by Germans. Using eye-witness testimony, he reveals that conventional notions of courage and gallantry, fear and timidity cannot explain the actions and reactions of POWs who witnessed the greatest of crimes. This was previously merely a footnote to Holocaust scholarship; Wallis, therefore, opens up a whole new vista on the tragedy, which he relates in a moving, accessible and compelling way that will spark interest beyond academia.’ Sarah J. Butler, Honorary Research Fellow, Royal Holloway, University of London

BRITISH POWS AND THE HOLOCAUST Witnessing the Nazi Atrocities

RUSSELL WALLIS

For Professor David Cesarani

BLOOMSBURY ACADEMIC Bloomsbury Publishing Plc 50 Bedford Square, London, WC1B 3DP, UK 1385 Broadway, New York, NY 10018, USA BLOOMSBURY, BLOOMSBURY ACADEMIC and the Diana logo are trademarks of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc First published 2017 by I.B. Tauris & Co. Ltd. Paperback edition first published 2020 by Bloomsbury Academic Copyright © Russell Wallis, 2017 Russell Wallis has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988, to be identified as Author of this work. For legal purposes the Acknowledgements on p. vi constitute an extension of this copyright page. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or any information storage or retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the publishers. Bloomsbury Publishing Plc does not have any control over, or responsibility for, any third-party websites referred to or in this book. All internet addresses given in this book were correct at the time of going to press. The author and publisher regret any inconvenience caused if addresses have changed or sites have ceased to exist, but can accept no responsibility for any such changes. A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library. A catalog record for this book is available from the Library of Congress. ISBN: HB: 978-1-7845-3503-2 PB: 978-1-3501-5216-8 ePDF: 978-1-7867-3194-4 ePub: 978-1-7867-2194-5 Series: International Library of Twentieth Century History, vol 97 Typeset by OKS Prepress Services, Chennai, India To find out more about our authors and books visit www.bloomsbury.com and sign up for our newsletters.

CONTENTS

Acknowledgements

vi

Introduction

1

1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6.

British POWs: What They Saw and Understood British POWs and Jewish POWs: A Common Experience? Jewish POWs and Jewish Inmates The Reaction of British POWs to the Outworking of Nazi Anti-Jewish Policies Comparisons The Limits of POW Testimony

27 47 58 64 113 125

Coda

209

Notes Bibliography Index

218 253 261

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

I would like to thank all of those who have made this study possible. The Holocaust Educational Trust commissioned me to undertake the research and I would particularly like to thank Martin Winstone, Alex Maws and Karen Pollock for their help and support. Also thanks to Martin Bright, who brought this story to the attention of the HET. I would like to place on record my gratitude to the staff of the Imperial War Museum Collections department, who were always gracious and helpful. My thanks also go to Dr Sarah Butler for combing through the manuscript in fine detail and providing many suggestions, all of which helped improve the work. Amy Hopwood MA was kind enough to plough through the manuscript and provide me with invaluable feedback. Finally, I am, of course, indebted to the late, great Professor David Cesarani, who was both catalyst and inspiration.

INTRODUCTION 1

Background By the end of June 1942 the global prestige of the British Army had reached its lowest ebb.2 Effectively pinned down in Britain after the doomed continental forays of early summer 1940, British prime minister Winston Churchill sought to take the fight to the Axis in North Africa. By mid-1942 even this strategy looked forlorn. Tens of thousands of British, Commonwealth and Empire troops now languished in Axis hands. Ultimately, up to 200,000 were to find themselves incarcerated, with the majority captured in the first half of the war.3 Not only was this a serious drain on Allied resources, it left those in enemy hands facing months and years of depravation, boredom and hardship. They were held all over Germany and the occupied lands, spending their war in and around towns and villages with names now long forgotten except in local lore. But in many of these out-of-the-way places, another event was playing itself out. Supposedly shrouded in secrecy, the Jews of Europe were being stigmatised, marginalised, starved, worked to death, shot or eventually gassed.4 It is widely assumed that British POWs saw little of this, with only a handful witnessing anything at all. In fact, captured Britons saw and understood a great deal more than anyone has so far realised, yet their story remains largely untold. Despite the exponential growth of Holocaust scholarship since the 1980s, POWs and their interaction with the persecution and murder of European Jews has never been the subject of a comprehensive study. They have existed at the margins of a

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growing discipline, warranting little more than sensationalist memoir or journalistic excursion. Although in the eyes of their captors POWs and Jews were obviously two very distinct groups, their paths often crossed. German authorities were always organising and reorganising, moving slave labourers in order to meet challenges caused by the shifting fortunes of war. To an extent the same was true of POWs, who were also moved around, especially during the latter stages of the conflict. POWs saw terrible things and word spread. The very nature of POW camp life, the long days and the incessant boredom, made men hungry for information, so news travelled fast. Fresh arrivals, transferees, returnees and escapees were all plugged for information. Gilbert Horobin, captured in Crete and then transported to former Polish territory, wrote that prisoners were eager to welcome ‘newcomers – a choice aperitif to our familiar diet of speculation and gossip.’5 Richard Pape, a gruff red-haired Sergeant Navigator from Yorkshire, was struck by his reception at Lamsdorf in Upper Silesia, the largest of all POW German-run camps, where British prisoners outnumbered the rest.6 On arrival he was greeted by an enthusiastic bellow of: ‘Quiet, everybody! . . . New arrivals up . . . new arrivals up . . . latest news . . . latest news!’7 This intense desire for information informed a lively chatter culture that pervaded the POW population. The latest information about atrocities of all kinds set the wires humming. It was devoured, told and then re-told, cutting through the Nazi regime’s desire for secrecy. However, British detainees did not just hear about the violence at the heart of Nazism, they also saw it with their own eyes; after all, they were present when Jews were transported, humiliated, starved, brutalised and murdered. Moreover, evidence suggests that they were also fully cognisant that Jews held a particular place in the Nazi mind. They broadly understood that Jewish people were the primary focus of Nazi rage for no other reason than they were Jews. It is a common conception that British POWs reacted to Jewish suffering with compassion, humanitarianism or heroism, a view that has been largely dictated by a series of ghost written memoirs. These have held sway in the popular imagination partly because historians have either shown scant interest or reacted to these publications with a sense of indulgence and credulity that would rarely be afforded to other aspects of Holocaust historiography. Two memoirs in particular exerted a heavy influence on this comforting image of British valour, namely those

INTRODUCTION

3

of Charles Coward and more recently Denis Avey.8 Both of these owe their success, at least partly, to the contexts in which they were published. Coward’s memoir, The Password is Courage, rode the wave of popular demand for an heroic retelling of the war in 1950s and 1960s Britain. Avey’s account, The Man Who Broke Into Auschwitz, pays homage to modern attitudes towards the Holocaust, adopting a more sombre tone that is in keeping with a generation schooled in the Nazi genocide. Despite their inherent differences the two accounts carry certain similar motifs. In particular, a consistent factor is the character of the self-deprecating English hero cutting a swathe through the Nazi monolith using little more than home-grown ingenuity. Failure to challenge this literary trope and a lack of rigour in the assessment of primary source evidence has led to the widespread conception that regardless of circumstances, the presence of Britons, particularly in the Auschwitz camp system, acted as a guarantor of civilised values in the midst of a Nazi universe.9 This book will show that such an unqualified conclusion is, frankly, unfeasible. In order to construct an accurate picture of the ways in which British POWs reacted to the Holocaust it is necessary, first, to build a context in which to situate their accounts. Contemporary POW accounts only make sense when placed in an appropriate framework and lack of both general and specific context is a glaring weakness in the existent literature on the subject. Its absence, along with reticence to engage critically with the subject, has allowed myths to emerge and to take root. If allowed to go unchecked, these will facilitate not only a false view of the experience of British POWs, but also of the Holocaust itself, thus providing (unintended) sustenance to odious pseudo-theories espoused by Holocaust deniers. From the outset, therefore, it seems necessary to state that the quest for historical accuracy will be important for this survey. This statement is perhaps more controversial than it sounds, after all, some keen intellects have questioned whether historical accuracy is a realistic aim and have even denied the possibility of objective knowledge about the past.10 This book will oppose that view by building a textured background and applying due diligence to the interpretation of available sources. Accounts written nearest in time to the events they describe, providing they are consistent with the historical record, will be given precedence on the basis that they are less susceptible to the vagaries of memory and the distortion that can be created by obeisance to market

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forces and cultural fashions. Those written later will be properly scrutinised for consistency with the earlier sources. All sources will be situated within a well-developed Holocaust historiography.

How Men were Sucked into the Armed Forces The logical place to start then is back in Britain itself: specifically, the lead up to war. The shadow of war and atrocity had loomed over interwar Britain. A succession of nation-aggressors had committed widespread atrocities against innocent civilians. Whether it was the Italians in Abyssinia, the Italians and Germans helping nationalist rebels in Spain or the Japanese in China, these things had vexed British popular opinion. The emergence and rising influence of Nazi Germany was a growing shadow on the public mind. Britons responded to increasingly ominous news with a mixture of optimism: a stubborn hopefulness that permanent peace was not only possible but also achievable, and pessimism: a deep-set fear that the world as they knew it was on the verge of catastrophe.11 In some ways, Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement policy grew out of these seemingly oppositional forces. In the spring of 1939, shortly after it became apparent that the prime minister’s drive for peace had failed, his supporters argued that the interregnum between the signing of the Munich agreement on 30 September 1938 and the German invasion of Prague on 15 March the following year had bought Britain crucial time to rearm. This reasoning, of course, did not take into account the loss of 35 Czech divisions, which enabled Hitler to reposition at least an equivalent number of forces on Germany’s western frontier.12 The French quickly realised that the destruction of Czechoslovakia was more than a loss of prestige; it had left their borders exposed to a well-armed and well-trained Wehrmacht. As far as they were concerned it was simple. Britain, the prime mover in the failed policy of appeasement, was responsible for making up the difference in the number of armed men facing the German military threat.13 The fear that pervaded French opinion was that Britain was only ready to fight to the last French soldier.14 In the weeks and months after Munich, the British government was forcefully optimistic about the possibilities of peace. Elsewhere, pragmatism was much in evidence. There was widespread discussion concerning how best to organise the nation’s manpower in order to meet

INTRODUCTION

5

a potential crisis. In late 1938 and 1939, British citizens, buffeted by international affairs beyond their control, were gradually immunised from complacency and idealistic pacifism. These were replaced by what might be described as grim realism. The public considered what its response should be. They debated or argued with friends and acquaintances, and, eventually, as war approached, large numbers buckled down to get involved.15 Mass involvement, however, was hampered by a tardy government approach towards the encouragement of volunteerism, which, in turn, was the direct result of unrealistic assessments about the international situation made by an increasingly out-of-touch Cabinet clique.16 Exacerbating British difficulties were fundamental problems with the military, which, to be fair, would have plagued any government faced with the task of preparing for national crisis in 1938. Notwithstanding the tension between the need for military recruitment and the necessity for skilled labour in order to keep industry pumping, underlying the debate about whether government should encourage enlistment in the forces was the thorny issue of peacetime conscription. It was an issue that demanded consideration of a fundamental question in any liberal democracy: how much of a role should the armed forces play? Discussion in political circles spilled over to the press and metamorphosed from calls for a ‘voluntary national register’, through to appeals for a compulsory one ‘linked to the voluntary system’, and finally to demands for outright conscription.17 On 23 January 1939, four months after Munich, Chamberlain broadcast a National Service Appeal over the BBC in which he held firm to the voluntary principle. ‘Compulsion’, he told the nation, ‘is not in accordance with the democratic system under which we live, or consistent with the tradition of freedom which we had always striven to maintain.’ He was confident that enough volunteers would come forward to fill the gaps.18 As if to underline the broad commitment to democratic freedoms, the broadcast was followed by an all-party National Service rally at the Albert Hall.19 By spring of the same year, a pamphlet entitled National Service was delivered to every household in the United Kingdom, promising to guide its readers in ‘the ways in which the people of this country may give service’. Even though the government call remained ‘to peace and not to war,’ the second half of the pamphlet was dedicated to advice on serving in the military. Senior politicians were increasingly aware that the public was

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champing at the bit. The phrasing of Chamberlain’s accompanying message and the foreword by Lord Privy Seal, Sir John Anderson, who had been given ‘direct responsibility for an intensified campaign of persuasion to get the men and women needed’, implied that the pamphlet itself was published in recognition that the public were keen to enlist or be ‘useful’ in other ways.20 Proof of widespread public engagement was evident even before the Munich crisis reached its climax in the final days of September 1938, as large numbers got involved to one extent or another with Air Raid Precautions. This was matched in the following months by a huge groundswell of interest in the Territorial Army. Numbers enlisting were such that by the beginning of autumn the strength of the Territorials ‘was greater than it had been since its constitution after the Great War.’21 However, at this point, official rejection of major continental deployment in favour of ‘limited liability’ saw many of these recruits directed into home defence, especially anti-aircraft batteries. It was Leslie Hore-Belisha, the Minister for War, who transformed this trend, arguing instead for a counter-offensive force that would potentially engage German ground forces on the continent. It took a few precious months but Chamberlain finally accepted the need for a fundamental change of policy. By March 1939, the government announced that it was planning ‘a Field Force of more than nineteen divisions, including nine infantry divisions, one motorized division, one armoured division, and two cavalry brigades from the Territorial Army.’22 The opposition Labour Party, which had spent the 1930s gingerly extracting itself from a pacifist position, voting against defence estimates until 1937 and abstaining in 1938, voted with the government in 1939.23 One week later Germany took Prague. In response to this, Chamberlain went to the Commons and fulminated against Hitler’s betrayal. The public response was immediate. The day after the speech, National Service Centres in London, Birmingham, Leeds, Manchester and Glasgow experienced one of their busiest ever days. Less than two weeks later, the prime minister announced a plan to double the size of the Territorial Army.24 Nonetheless, French opinion was still not satisfied. Only conscription would do. After reviewing a number of options, on 25 April the Cabinet decided to call up ‘all men in the year of their twentieth birthday.’ This measure, the War Office estimated, would produce a quarter of a million

INTRODUCTION

7

new recruits. These men would train full time for six months and then be assigned to the Territorials for a further three and a half years.25 The following day, Chamberlain publicly justified peacetime conscription by telling Parliament that Britain was faced with ‘new’ and ‘exceptional conditions’, which could in no sense be called ‘peace-time’.26 The move towards conscription sent a clear message to the public. Its military value was certainly less than the accompanying furore, but it was a symbolic turning point, one that showed that Britain might mean business after all. Talk of conscription chivvied thousands more into joining the Territorials, partly because time spent there would count towards national service. Thus, by the end of April 1939, local Territorial units had sucked in 88,000 more men. A good example of the rapidity with which men signed up was the London Rifle Brigade, which, as Peter Dennis, historian of the Territorial Army, points out, ‘had taken twenty years to reach full strength’ but then raised a second unit within hours.27 This was but one example of a nationwide trend. The main problem facing the Territorials was not lack of men, but lack of equipment. This was, by all accounts, a major source of frustration, however, these difficulties were sufficiently overcome that, by early 1940, three Territorial divisions arrived in France to join the others in the front line.28 By the outbreak of war the British Army as a whole looked reasonably formidable. It contained ‘53,287 officers and 839,410 other ranks.’ In reality, however, it was ‘neither a homogenous nor a fully trained fighting force.’29 A large proportion of these men were relatively recent recruits who needed between 18 months and two years of training before they could be properly effective against German opposition. After war was declared political divisions over conscription melted away. The National Services (Armed Forces) Act obliged all men from the ages of 18 to 41 to register. Prior to this, August 1939 had witnessed the passing of the ‘Emergency Powers Act’, the provisions of which were vast and far reaching. As the Daily Telegraph commented it ‘affects every individual man and woman in the country’.30 The Act was renewed and built upon the following year with additions that ‘enabled the limitations on compulsory military service to be swept away’.31 Ernest Bevin, Minister of Labour and National Service in the wartime Coalition government, used his new powers as sparingly as possible,

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hoping instead to rely on what he called ‘voluntaryism’.32 In fact, during the first few months of the war, volunteers, both under and over the present call-up age, outnumbered conscripts. Every few weeks the government would issue proclamations calling on men of a particular age group to enlist. The first was made on 21 October 1939 for men between the ages of 20 and 22. By summer 1940 the age cap had risen to those in their mid-thirties. A year later men of 40 were obliged to join up and by December 1941 the age of conscription rose to 51. By June 1941 the Army consisted of 2.2 million men, only 0.7 million short of its 1945 peak.33 Perhaps in contrast to World War I, cynicism of authority among the ranks was more widespread.34 Partly fuelled as this attitude undoubtedly was by the interwar literature of ‘disillusionment’, cynicism alone does not, by any stretch of the imagination, convey the whole truth about British attitudes towards the military.35 World War I had been an awful experience, but, as historian Gary Sheffield points out, ‘it was also, for many survivors, the most important and rewarding period of their lives’.36 Enthusiasm for military life passed onto the next generation by the existence, for example, of a ‘thriving nostalgia market’ for the Great War.37 The steady stream of recruits during World War II was also partly due to the fact that Britain was a ‘semi-militarised society’. Great swathes of people could remember fighting in a major conflict and an even greater number had experienced a total war society.38 So the prevailing feeling among volunteers and conscripts was that each person ‘should do one’s bit’. Furthermore, by the end of the 1930s, Germany had been at the centre of so many international crises that a good number signed up specifically to fight Hitler. This is one reason why Ernest Brown, Bevin’s predecessor at the Ministry of Labour and National Service, invoked the spectre of ‘Hitlerism’ and the ‘Dark Forces’ which threatened Britain’s existence, when doling out advice about ‘joining up’ in a pamphlet of the same name issued in 1940.39 Joining Up offered ‘tips’ and advice about how best to approach a ‘new life’ in the military, ‘happily and with confidence’. It sought to domesticate the soldierly experience, even vowing to those who did not yet measure up, that the Army would ‘mother you up to standard.’40 Men who viewed the armed forces with suspicion were reassured that those who were prepared to make sacrifices and ‘do his bit at some cost to himself’ would be treated with compassion.41 After registration, men

INTRODUCTION

9

carried on with their normal lives until they received instructions to report for a medical examination, probably at a local drill hall or something similar. The Medical Officer, or ‘MO’, then conducted a ‘thorough’ examination, including eyes, ears, throat and feet. After testing reflexes, new recruits were asked questions about general health and were told to strip, so that height, weight and chest could be measured. Another doctor examined muscles and joints, yet another would ‘pry into your all-important digestive organs,’ while a dentist would ‘look at every tooth in your head.’ Only after all this would a new recruit meet the ‘interviewing officer’, who was described as ‘a sort of guide, philosopher and friend to the soldier-to-be.’42 Joining up promised to fit new recruits ‘snugly into the new order of things’. The modern Army was, according to this publication ‘indeed a family affair’.43 Such language was clearly designed to allay popular fears about introduction to military life and however ludicrous it sounds, evidence from individual recruits suggests that it was not far from the truth. Anthony Cotterell, a feature writer at the Daily Express, registered for the Territorial Army and wrote a detailed account of the first ten weeks of his military experience. After receiving his call up letter, telling him to present himself on 15 March 1940, he laughed aloud to himself because ‘the whole thing was so awful, it was funny.’ He had a comfortable life and was not keen to give it up, describing himself as an ‘unconscientious objector’.44 When the time came for him to catch the train from Waterloo he noted it was packed with young men who each carried with him ‘the same aura of nervous anticipation.’ Each one was dressed to impress, ‘shoes had been shone, faces scrubbed, trousers pressed, hair slicked back.’ According to Cotteral, you couldn’t see who had been a clerk and who had been a navvy.’ However, it was all very restrained, no tears, no commotion. A coterie of worried parents was there, uncertain how to send their boys off as men, resorting to the occasional, ‘Good luck, boy’ and ‘look after yourself, lad’. When the train got going, everybody was, ‘desperately anxious to be friendly. It was “After you” and “Have a fag” all the time. There was a lot of conversation; bewailing our fate fervently but not bitterly. And all those jokes about the sergeant-major.’45 Already, it seems, a community was forming. On arrival at the barracks, 20 in all, each stained various shades of brown, it turned out that their allocated sergeant was ‘a very pleasant, soft-spoken, stocky West-Country man’. Before long they were led to the

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dining room, which was long, narrow, light and bare. Each metal-topped table sat eight men, two of whom were detailed to collect the food, which on this occasion was ‘stewed meat, potatoes and beans followed by stewed apples in gelatinous custard’. This was the first taste of a communal life that would become all too familiar. As Cotterell stated: It was no worse, no better than I expected. I ate it greedily. In the face of this dramatic change of life, normal critical standards are almost completely suspended. The fact that bread is piled on the table and passed by a series of hands doesn’t mean a thing. Someone else’s spoon being used to serve the stewed apples doesn’t seem distasteful at all.46 Later each man was fitted with a uniform and spent his first night sharing his sleeping space with 23 others. Cotterell’s new comrades included a cross-section of society: ten from London, ten from the country; ten worked indoors, ten outside. As well as himself, they included a tobacconist, a grocer’s assistant, a lorry driver, a waiter, a dyer, a wireless mechanic, a butcher, a loom worker, a chauffeur, a printer and two clerks.47 All were inducted into unfamiliar tasks and skills and by the fifth week of training they had got to know each other very well. After all, ‘when you eat, sleep, work and play seven days a week together it doesn’t take long.’ By the tenth and final week, life had taken on a distinctly new hue. Almost all recruits had reached a stage where they belonged ‘in as well as to the Army.’48 ‘Being a soldier,’ Cotterell observed: isn’t just a job, it’s a life story. You are never free of officers and N.C.O.’s and they are never free of you. You are in the army twenty-four hours every day: in it as absolutely and completely as you are in your own family.49 Military life brought with it a new frankness. ‘Everyone’, he affirmed, ‘swears a lot in the army. Just one word.’ He did not quite know how to impart this to his more sheltered readership, but settled for telling them that ‘it starts with the sixth letter of the alphabet.’50 New recruits swore more than anyone. However despite this new found freedom of expression and apparent camaraderie with ‘no social outcasts’ and

INTRODUCTION

11

particular habits or traits ignored, Cotterell’s mention that his unit had ‘all the personalities of every community’ hinted at underlying tensions that also occurred in non-military life. There was ‘the funny man, the know all, the musician, the ugly ducking, the handy man’.51 In addition, there were Jewish recruits. That his unit also included Jews is only evident from a ‘red hot tip’ he provided in the fifth week of training, which was: ‘when possible sit next to a Jew at breakfast. He gives you his bacon.’52 It was an innocuous enough comment but notable, because whereas others were identified by personality traits, Jews were classified for other reasons. So what was it like to be a Jew in the British Army? Without exception, Jews felt themselves to be part and parcel of the liberal democratic cause. Cyril Sherwood served with the 91st and 94th Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiments in Britain and North Africa, later going on to become an intelligence officer in Egypt. He recalled that on joining up, ‘we were aware that the war was for a good reason, we knew what the Germans had been up to and how successful they’d been so far, the cruelties and so on, so we thought it was the right thing.’ He recalled a speech his father had made at the synagogue urging young people to enlist and the positive response it received.53 Even those who had little interest in politics were aware of bigger things happening in the world around them. According to family legend, Monty Fish received his family name from his Lithuanian grandparents. Dropped off at the London docks, they were told by the captain of the boat that they had arrived in New York. Such was their confusion and their inability to speak English they registered their name as the first thing they smelled upon arriving. Fish, who worked in his uncle’s shoe factory during the 1930s did ‘not really’ care about politics, but even he testified to ‘murmurs coming through’. He recalled that in 1936 they had a relative to stay from Germany. Fish ‘knew something was going on’ and that ‘it wasn’t good’. By 1938, he continued, ‘we knew what was coming.’54 Like other Jewish recruits, Fish said his background did not matter to those in his army unit. However, he also identified ‘certain NCOs who seemed to be a bit hard on us because we were Jews.’ According to Fish: ‘when it came to something important, they put all the Jews on one side and never included us . . . we complained about it actually to a Jewish officer and he said there’s nothing you can do.’55

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Leslie Hardman was desperate to join up as a Jewish chaplain in 1939 but was only accepted in 1942. He eventually ended up serving in North West Europe working with survivors at the newly liberated BergenBelsen concentration camp. When asked by his interviewer whether he had experienced any anti-Semitism in the British Army, he confidently replied ‘not at all, not a sausage’. However, he admitted that ‘other colleagues complained.’ He provided one example of a Jewish soldier who was stationed in an Ak-Ak battery in Ware, Hertfordshire, who had been locked up for taking too much time off for Jewish holidays. There was, it seems, an underlying suspicion of Jews in some quarters of the army, but the general experience of the Jewish recruit was positive. The way in which Jewish veterans talked fondly of their wartime service is a testament to this. Army dentist Julius Green provides another interesting picture of Jewish recruits in the British Army, this time referring to those sent to France with the British Expeditionary Force in 1940. Green joined the British Territorials as an officer in the Army Dental Corps. On 24 August 1939, he was ordered to report to 152 (Highland) Field Ambulance of the 51st (Highland) Division at Dundee.56 Arrival in France coincided with the celebration of Passover. Jewish members of the forces were designated a hall at which they were able to hold a service. Green commented that the place was ‘full of troops of all branches of the service’ including ‘Cockneys, Micks, Jocks, and Taffies’, all ‘practising Jews’. A Rabbi was present to read the Hagada, the traditional story of the Exodus from Egypt. Following this they partook of the ritual feast, the Passover Seder. The Rabbi made a short speech in which he explained that due to the shortage in France, Kosher meat had been sent over from Britain. As Green recounted, this ‘was greeted with applause during which a voice from the back of the hall was heard to proclaim, “Christ am ah gled the meat’s Kosher – ah wouldnae have enjoyed my effing Seder otherwise!”’57 Green paints a picture of Jews largely at home in the British Army. But there was one group of Jewish servicemen for whom army life was not so smooth. These were men who had managed to escape Nazi Germany or, from 1938, Austria or Czechoslovakia and had made their way, sometimes after a period in a concentration camp, to Britain. The British government set up recruiting offices for non-British volunteers in October 1939. Thousands who had already suffered at the hands of

INTRODUCTION

13

Nazis and had been rejected by German society presented themselves for military service. They were to find this a highly paradoxical experience. These erstwhile refugees had indeed found safety when they reached British shores, however, they also found themselves in a society that treated Jews, especially foreign Jews, with wariness or, at worst, outright hostility. The British government’s desire to use this important human resource for the war effort was tempered by recognition that the public was generally deeply suspicious of the group as a whole, a group that was doubly ostracised by their official classification as both ‘enemy’ and ‘alien’. Enemy aliens were therefore initially prevented from entering the mainstream military and were only able to enlist in the Auxiliary Military Pioneer Corps. They were set to work on anything from general labouring to light engineering works. The Daily Telegraph reported on ‘Hans, a junior clerk from Leipzig’ who had spent 18 weeks in a concentration camp. He and his colleagues, including a dress-designer from Berlin and a Jewish violinist from Cologne, were digging out earthworks and had shifted 5,000 tons to date. The same article quoted a British colonel of the corps: We should put these Poles, Germans, and Czechs in the vanguard of our army of invasion. They know what to do with the Nazis, because they know as no one else in the world what the Nazis are capable of. Their road-building is useful work but foremost in their minds is the determination to keep strong and fighting for the day when they fight back.58 Despite a contingent being sent to France with the British Expeditionary Force in 1940, these soldiers were unable to officially hold a weapon until 1943. It was a gradual and incomplete thaw. On return from France, many found that relatives or friends had been interned. Fear of invasion in mid-1940 fed the invective of scaremongers such as the Daily Mail’s star reporter, George Ward Price. Ward Price, who had done so much to present Hitler in a positive light during the previous decade, took the opportunity to stoke the fire of British antiSemitism telling his readers that enemy aliens were mostly Jews and implying that this small, beleaguered community was infused with spies. In mid-1940, invasion fears coupled with latent suspicion of

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Jewish refugees, ensured vilification found a ready audience. The incarceration of enemy aliens impacted upon Jewish soldiers returning from battle. As one member of the Pioneer Corps said of his experience after the Dunkirk evacuation: thousands of enemy aliens in khaki, happy to be safely back from France, saw their own families suspected and interned as dangerous. I cannot pretend there was no bitterness, but discipline proved stronger than shock.59 Slowly, however, the fifth columnist scare of 1940 subsided and attitudes towards former refugees from Germany or German-held territory changed. Hundreds more men were released from internment and accepted service in the Pioneer Corps.60 At the same time the Corps was combed for those possessing technical expertise. These men were drafted to other units such as RASC (Royal Army Service Corps), RAOC (Royal Army Ordnance Corps) and eventually, REME (Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers).61 It was not until 22 April 1943, however, that Sir Percy James Grigg, Secretary of State for War, announced to the House that ‘aliens of enemy origin may be considered for direct enlistment into any corps’. This was a major step forward, only tainted by the caveat that the Royal Corps of Signals remained out of bounds, presumably because of fears that individuals might communicate with the enemy.62 Even so, the move was welcomed by non-British servicemen who had for so long agitated for the ‘right to fight.’ Enemy aliens thus went through a rather tortuous process before acceptance into the mainstream armed forces. Nonetheless, once there, existence was still a persistent negotiation. They were, after all, a mixed crowd of foreigners and some had already served under different flags, for example, in Germany or Austria in the Great War or in the International Brigade during the Spanish Civil War. Now they had to learn different salutes, different ways of marching and different arms-drill. Some young British NCOs made things difficult. One ex-Berlin businessman, for example, was ‘treated harshly and victimised’ by an anti-Semitic Sergeant Major.63 More common however, was the tension that existed in the way the public perceived them. This concerned identity. How did they as soldiers make the transition from being German to being British? After all, as one newspaper article stated, in England:

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People just couldn’t understand why they fought against their own country. ‘If you fight against your own fold you are a traitor,’ they were told by the villagers in the pubs near the camps. And traitors they would certainly be in the eyes of the common enemy.64 So, as the article continued, ‘the Pioneers fall between two stools.’ The notion that Pioneers would be perceived as traitors on return to the Continent, raises the spectre of what would happen to them should they fall into enemy hands. Certainly, they potentially had more to fear than the ordinary soldier should they be captured. However, in practice, as we shall see, they broadly benefitted from the protection afforded by international law. In this sense, they were the same as most other British soldiers. The recruitment and training of soldiers did much to forge a collective identity and a sense of common purpose. It certainly made military men fitter and more self-respectful than most had ever experienced in civilian life. In addition, many acquired particular skills or honed those they already possessed. However, in some ways the essentially positive experience of becoming part of a fighting unit, although it generally toughened up the men, also perhaps contributed to the sense of desolation that accompanied capture by the enemy. It must have been difficult for prisoners of war to escape the feeling that their military training had gone to waste. In any case, Army training only gave cursory attention to the Prisoner of War experience. Anthony Cotterell recalled that sometime in the first ten days: the sergeant read us a chapter on how to behave when taken prisoner. We are forbidden to tell the enemy anything except our rank, name and number. It seems that we are obliged to tell the enemy this under international law. Unfortunately there is no international law to prevent the enemy interrogating us further. But happily the law definitely says that he cannot punish or penalise us in any way for refusing to give other information. ‘Or that’s what it says here,’ observed the sergeant sardonically.’65 So military training probably fortified the men but did little to prepare them for the shock of captivity. Even less so, would it have prepared them for the inhumane acts that so many of them were to witness or hear

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about. Nonetheless, background knowledge would not have been entirely lacking. British POWs were, by and large, drawn from a cross section of society. They came from a population that was well informed about international crises and heavily engaged with the issues. Newspapers, radio, cinema newsreels and a network of interest groups kept debates cooking. Humanitarianism was alive and well in interwar Britain but the philanthropic urge had its limits. Whether African, Asian or European, the British public showed that the diversity of victim was no barrier to empathy. Most overseas targets of mass violence – and in some cases their oppressors – could be cast and then re-cast in the British imagination to make them worthy of support. Victim groups could move from being considered as ‘outsiders’ to ‘insiders’ with a surprising degree of alacrity. Society could be mobilised to support a rich variety of foreign victims, but when Jews were in the firing line the level of support was noticeably less than for others.66 How then would British POWs, products of interwar Britain, react when faced head on with Nazi treatment of Jews? British POWs came from a liberal society, one that could cope with, and indeed encouraged, a broad range of views. These views were well represented within the nearly 200,000 Britons that spent much of their war behind German barbed wire. It has been suggested that liberalism placed limits on what adherents to its tenets were able to understand, especially when it came to Nazi treatment of Jews.67 One thing, however, is clear from the evidence set out below: that they emanated from a liberal society and took those values with them to war did nothing to prevent British POWs from understanding what was in front of them. They saw and were aware of atrocities on a grand scale. They also recognised the existence of a hierarchy of victims and that Jews were bottom of the pile. In fact, most POWs even readily acknowledged the ‘gulf in experience’ between themselves and Jews under German rule.68 Their wartime and postwar testimonies commonly acknowledged that Jews suffered worst, that there was a complete disregard for Jewish lives, and that Jews were being systematically murdered. The evidence below shows that the treatment of Jews evoked a range of POW responses that were in accordance with their liberal values: from empathy and compassion to indifference and blatant anti-Semitism.

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The intrinsic values of British POWs, although important, are not the only context for evaluating POW reactions. There are number of contextual elements to consider, including what life was like behind the wire for POWs, the development of the Nazi slave labour policy, the evolution of Nazi aims concerning ‘destruction through work’, and the growth of the concentration camp system. How these various contexts collide forms the crucible in which we can assess the available evidence and build an accurate picture of POW responses to what they saw and heard. As a general rule, what Britons saw and heard genuinely shocked their liberal sensibilities. Yet their responses cannot be characterised as humane, neither can they be described as uniformly selfish. Indeed, the evidence laid out in this book questions whether binary definitions such as ‘heroic’ and ‘cowardly’ lose their meaning in the particularity of the Nazi concentration camp universe. Primo Levi, an Auschwitz IIIMonowitz survivor, believed that Allied prisoners of war held sufficient advantages to ensure they were not dragged into the ‘grey zone’: that concept of camp society in which concentration camp inmates were tainted by the outworking of Nazism. This study reveals that, although British POWs generally occupied a position that was somewhat removed from the epicentre of the ‘infernal system’ known as National Socialism, many were sufficiently close to be touched by its degrading influence.69 This is not to say that Britons lost their ability to discern right from wrong, what Levi calls their ‘political or moral armature’.70 Due to the regular provision of food and relatively benign treatment, they did not reach that level of desperation that forced concentration camp inmates to indulge in ‘great and small complicities’ in order to survive.71 Nevertheless, British POW responses, whether they were morally decent, morally repugnant or anything in between, were warped by the system in which they unwittingly found themselves bound up. Choices that at almost any other time or place would have been simple, such as whether to offer someone in need a cigarette, food, or even just sympathy, were made infinitely more complex by the upside-down values that ruled in the camps and the work places of the German colonisers. Mostly, however, when it came to exercising moral choices and putting those choices into action, British POWs experienced stasis in the face of overwhelming circumstances. Of course, there were mitigating conditions and the POW’s predicament should not be underestimated. The very fact of incarceration, let alone the horrors that

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were witnessed at close quarters, meant their senses and sometimes their bodies took a battering. Some even lost their lives. Every attempt should be made to understand the hunger, the hardships, the enervation and sometimes desperation experienced by POWs condemned to spend the war at the behest of their enemy.

The POW Experience The dominant narrative in modern Britain drastically oversimplifies and distorts the general POW experience.72 Popular conceptions of POW life currently reside on successive strata of semi- and fully fictionalised accounts that are deeply imbedded in the British national consciousness. These layers need to be stripped away before a better understanding can be reached of how a British soldier faced months and years of incarceration by the enemy, an experience made all the worse by a gnawing lack of certainty over when it all would end. But the unknowable span of confinement was not, by any means, the only source of apprehension. The POW experience was characterised by lack of certainty. As the 1942 Red Cross publication, Prisoner of War, the ‘first authentic account of the lives of British prisoners of war in enemy hands’, astutely observed: In practice the treatment of prisoners of war in food, clothing, housing, entertainment, discipline, varies greatly between camps and at different times in the same camp. Whether a camp is comparatively ‘cushy,’ as the soldiers say, whether it is administered with severe discipline, or with bare or hostile justice depends on the temperament of the camp commandant.73 In other words, in the life of a POW, nothing was as certain as it perhaps appeared from the outside. Alongside this sense of disconcerting changeability, captured men still had to endure ‘the mental siege of prison life, with its weapons of frustration . . . boredom [and] depression.’74 Nonetheless, despite hours of forced contemplation, during which POWs meditated on the seeming pointlessness of their existence, according to their captors, they fulfilled a very definite purpose. In fact, all belligerents saw POWs as a ‘desirable commodity’.75 They were valuable on a number of counts: tangible proof of military success,

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propaganda fodder for an anxious public, and leverage, providing insurance that good treatment was meted out to the captured on all sides. They were also a source of intelligence, but in this sense they were not as useful as most might imagine. POW escape tales are replete with sneering Gestapo agents, dungeons and ‘punishments’, but serious interrogation was, in reality, reserved for those deemed to hold ‘specialist or technical knowledge’.76 The beatings and torture endured by captured agents of the Special Operations Executive, a group of highly trained secret operatives who worked behind enemy lines to disrupt the German war effort, was, generally, not the experience of the average POW.77 Take, for example, Jacob Gewelber, who in peacetime was a Constable in the Palestinian Police Force, but had joined up as RAF ground crew and was stationed at Maleme in Crete before capture in 1941. After transfer to Germany, he was imprisoned in Dulag Luft I and ‘kept in solitary confinement for three days.’ A German officer entered his cell with the intention of conducting an interrogation, but ‘left immediately’ because Gewelber was not a flyer.78 Gewelber’s experience is representative of the majority. As POW historian Charles Rollings points out, ‘little or no effort was made by the Axis forces to question the vast majority of British and Commonwealth prisoners . . . Even senior army officers generally met with little more than perfunctory questioning.’79 Instead, the reality of the immediate postcapture period was more complex and unsettling. POW historian Adrian Gilbert detects a sense of ambivalence in the recently ensnared. On the one hand, they were ostensibly out of the firing line, relatively sure of food and shelter and protected by the security of the Geneva Convention (even though most POWs only had a vague idea of what that entailed). On the other hand, capture could also bring with it a sense of hopelessness, fear, apprehension, shame, anger or a mixture of each. Commissioned and non-commissioned officers would, for example, worry about the men they so recently commanded, while non-officer ‘other ranks’ could be resentful that they had been compelled to capitulate.80 Added to this was a general unpreparedness for surrender. As Gunner James Witte of the 414th Battery, Essex Yeomanry, one of the first to be captured in North Africa, explained, When I signed on the dotted line way back in 1936. I never believed for one moment that I would ever become a prisoner of

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war. I imagined that when you went out into action you could get wounded or even killed. Anyway the unbelievable happened and I found myself in the bag.81 The transition from fighter to captive was by no means an easy one.82 Incarceration cut these young men off from the war, from family, from friends. The taunts of their German guards concerning the potential fate of their loved ones at home did not help, especially in 1940 when it looked likely that Britain would fall. After a brief stay in a temporary holding centre, POWs were passed to a transit camp, known as a Dulag, then, after appraisal, sent to a Stalag or an Oflag.83 At the transit camp men were registered with the Red Cross as Prisoners of War. The information was passed to the British government, who then informed the next of kin, perhaps alleviating one source of anxiety.84 The point of capture often determined the route prisoners would take. Soldiers seized in France after the rout of Allied forces in early summer 1940 spent a brief period in transit before they were shipped further east. Those captured during the military debacles in Greece and Crete, which occurred throughout April and May 1941 respectively, spent a torrid time in either Corinth or Salonika before the long journey to Germancontrolled territory in the north. The largest German haul of prisoners came from the North African campaign. The desert war, as Adrian Gilbert points out, ‘with its rapid and far-ranging armoured thrusts overwhelming slow-moving infantry formations and fixed defences – made significant captures almost inevitable.’85 These men were held, often under difficult conditions in Italy, before the arduous peregrination northwards. The transition to the final destination, however, was rarely smooth. Whether on forced marches or stuffed into cattle cars for an arduous rail journey, the experience could be considerably debilitating especially when deprived of food and water. Locked in carriages, sometimes for days at a time, POWs were provided with the most basic sanitary arrangements. The stench of the bucket that acted as a shared toilet permeated the carriage and the contents spilled over with regularity on anyone in close proximity. Arrival at camp therefore came as something of a relief. But relief was tempered by the humiliation of the initiation procedure. Each man was head-shaved, deloused and registered. Mug shots, fingerprinting and the divulgence of personal details provided

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confirmation, if any were needed, of quasi-criminal status.86 It has become obligatory to mention that POWs quickly referred to themselves as ‘Kriegies’ after Kriegsgefangen, the German for Prisoner of War. Ironic domestication of the German term indeed says something about British attitudes, but its casual retelling should not be allowed to overshadow the strange and dour circumstances to which many found adjustment extremely difficult. Lance Corporal Doug LeFevre, for instance, spoke of the: terrible feeling of being a prisoner. The nearest I can describe it is having a good kick in the pants. The whole world had collapsed. After all our efforts, all our mates’ efforts, all the loss of life, we had achieved nothing.87 Most other-rank POWs were normally held in purpose-built ‘barrack-hutand-barbed-wire’ camps.88 A central camp, which held thousands of POWs, normally acted as a base for numerous smaller satellite camps, which housed labour detachments.89 For example, Lamsdorf was the designated camp for about 18,000 prisoners. Records show that, as of 11 December 1941, 4,517 men were in the camp itself, while the rest were spread throughout 234 sub camps (16 of these were ‘formed exclusively of British Jews’, but more about that later).90 Whether in the main camp or a sub camp, living conditions were rudimentary. Sanitation, bedding, clothing and food were never of a high standard and overcrowding often exacerbated daily problems.91 Sergeant Bob Watchorn kept an extensive journal during his time as a POW. He was captured after crash-landing during a bombing raid over Germany and recorded his feelings after arriving at Lamsdorf in early September 1941: We had 3 tiered beds, damp, lousy beds stinking with constant use by thousands of other prisoners . . . No fire or coal, the urinals smelling awful, it was quite miserable. The under officer (corporal) in charge of us was a Ukrainian and a bad, bullying type. We were counted about 6 times a day and our kit was searched every week.92 Clearly, the environment and circumstances were difficult, nevertheless, Articles 18 and 43 of the Geneva Convention stipulated that each camp

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could designate a POW who was able to intercede on behalf of prisoners with the camp commandant or other representatives of the German hierarchy.93 The ‘Man of Confidence’ could be given the job for a number of different reasons, for example, because he was the highest-ranking NCO, or he was elected from within, or in smaller camps he could be appointed by the Man of Confidence at the base camp. As well as acting as intermediary between captives and captors, he was expected to arbitrate conflicts and impartially distribute supplies. In larger camps a small team of men acted as his support and were allotted various subordinate tasks. One of the plum jobs was the distribution of Red Cross parcels. However, as Gilbert points out ‘there can be little doubt that some of these men engaged in corruption, siphoning off food and cigarettes’, thus causing considerable bitterness.94 The Man of Confidence did not always inspire the confidence of the men he represented. There were, however, a select few, as shown below, who were widely recognised as worthy advocates by both captives and captors. When the Red Cross made one of their regular camp inspections, it was the Man of Confidence who was entrusted to represent the views of the majority.95 Details of these visits provided information on the state of the camp and welfare of the prisoners. These were sent to the British government. They contained information on camp population, camp description, food, clothing, medical facilities, conditions of work, pay, efficiency of correspondence between POWs and their families, religious services, library facilities, frequency of Red Cross parcels and prisoner complaints and requests. This system acted as a general surety against German excesses or neglect. The Red Cross after all, was the principle arbiter between the German and British governments during a period in which diplomatic relations between the belligerents were practically non-existent.96 Despite these safeguards, everyday life was something to endure rather than enjoy. For instance, POWs had to deal with the effects of enforced proximity, made worse by overcrowding. As Gilbert states, ‘to walk into a crowded barrack block for the first time was to endure an assault on the senses. New prisoners were overwhelmed by the smell from unwashed bodies and night latrines.’97 On being shown to his new barrack at Lamsdorf, Richard Pape described it as ‘a sardinepacked chamber of fantasy and sweaty flesh.’98 Privacy was non-existent. Captain John A. (Jack) Vietor wrote:

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Rarely in life does a man find himself in a position of compulsory intimacy with others. There is always an opportunity for an occasional respite. In our circumstances there was none. Regardless of an individual’s tastes or inclinations he was forced to live, eat and sleep in daily association with a heterogeneous group of individuals. As the camp was constituted there was no isolated nook where a man might spend an hour in seclusion.99 Lack of solitude was perhaps most apparent in the toilet arrangements. Put bluntly, shits were shared. Men sat beside each other on ‘forty-holers’ and sometimes had to make do with sitting on a pole precariously balanced over a pit full of excrement (D. Swift at Szubin noted that in freezing temperatures ‘the excrement built up like cathedral spires’).100 Independence was a thing of the past, a point that needs to be remembered when assessing the claims of ex-POWs, such as Coward and Avey, who have subsequently wished to emphasise their ability to act in secret or outside the knowledge of others. None of this was helped by lack of food. Hunger was a fairly constant companion, at times pervading thought and conversation. W. Bennett, who was an early arrival at Lamsdorf, recalled that ‘we never stopped thinking about the subject of food,’ an obsession aptly demonstrated by Bennett’s portrayal of dividing up the bread. It was, he wrote, a work of art . . . every slice had to be measured exactly, for any difference in size would cause arguments and heated words about cheating. Only the bravest of us would take on the job of cutting up the loaves, for there were not many sharp knives to be had, either, which made the task even more difficult. The problem was solved by cutting up a piece of cardboard, and numbering it from 1 – 9, and then drawing lots as to who should have which slice of bread. This may all seem very petty nowadays, but when there are hundreds of hungry men, desperately hungry, it all becomes deadly serious.101 Even though prisoners relied on the supply of Red Cross parcels, lack of regularity was a nagging issue.102 However, most ex-POWs were quick to praise the work of the Red Cross. As J. Tonkin, a prisoner of war in Crete, Greece and Germany recounted:

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We received our first Red Cross food parcel at Stalag VIIA [Moosburg] on August 1st 1941, just prior to leaving for Munich. It was an unforgettable moment and provided the first real meal any of us had received since we were taken prisoner.103 Such was its significance; the date had apparently seared itself on Tonkin’s memory. According to Red Cross specifications, POWs were also allowed a ‘Next-of-Kin Quarterly Parcel’. This might contain chocolate, soap or clothes.104 Such packages were both a nutritional lifeline and a source of comfort. Parcels also provided goods for trade or bribery in an environment where the value of ‘luxuries’ was determined by scarcity. Illegal trade was encouraged by the German system of paying POWs for their work in camp money, which could only be exchanged for commodities such as toothpaste and razor blades in the camp canteen.105 That food would be traded suggests that hunger was not always a pressing issue. Red Cross parcels often arrived according to schedule. After a visit to Lamsdorf, for example, on 11 December 1941, the Geneva representative stated that ‘British Red Cross parcels arrive regularly.’106 The same report suggested that transport difficulties between the main camp and labour detachments created a supply problem to the latter. To combat this, Camp Leaders sent ‘large quantities of parcels at the same time, up to about 4 to 6 distributions in advance.’107 Depending on the efficiency and trustworthiness of the local Red Cross trustee, this could have created food and supply surpluses in the sub camps. Food was sometimes scarce, sometimes less so. This needs to be considered when the generosity of British POWs faced with starving Jewish slave workers is assessed. Cigarettes and tobacco could be sent separately by arrangement with a relative in the UK. These also became a useful trading commodity in the camp. Like other black market products value went up or down according to the amount that were in circulation.108 Sometimes small units of men would form ‘cooperatives’, pooling their goods for the benefit of each member. On occasion though, the formation of groups could destabilise camp life. Segregation already existed in each camp at a number of levels. Class, religion, army status (regular or territorial) and ‘race’, were all causes of disharmony. Factionalism could even lead to the formation of gangs. Lamsdorf inmate E. C. Herwin reported that a gang of Glaswegians ‘exercised mafia type power’. He recorded in his camp

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diary on New Year’s Day 1944 that ‘the razor gang were at work last night – two chaps badly mutilated about the face and genitals.’109 Even the camp leader could have little impact on such activity. Although friendships were undoubtedly forged in adversity, the easy camaraderie portrayed in postwar films was little more than an invention. The harsh reality of having to work for the enemy only exacerbated the problems. In the majority of cases work consisted of hard physical labour or performing tasks that were mind-numbingly boring. On the whole, for the German authorities, the headache of keeping enemy soldiers fed, watered and housed was offset by the opportunity to use them as a ready pool of cheap labour. Officers did not have to work and NCOs could opt out, but the majority of other ranks could be legitimately employed for non-war related work under the terms of the 1929 Geneva Convention. Other stipulations included: only those who were physically fit could be employed, all POW workers had to be paid, hours of employment were not to exceed those of the local population, POWs could not be allocated ‘unhealthy or dangerous work’ and conditions could not be ‘rendered more arduous by disciplinary measures’.110 As the war progressed and Germany was beset by a mushrooming labour shortage, these stipulations were increasingly ignored. The acute shortage of workers can be traced back to mid-1941, specifically, Germany’s invasion of Soviet Russia in which military manpower was at a premium. The German government sought to overcome the resultant shortfall by using slave labour from the occupied territories. Fritz Saukel was appointed general plenipotentiary for labour mobilisation on 21 March 1942 and ‘set in motion one of the largest coercive labour programmes the world has ever seen.’ Drawn from across the occupied territories, by the autumn of 1944 nearly 8 million foreign workers were effectively slaves to German industry, accounting for 20 per cent of the workforce.111 The Third Reich, as Adam Tooze points out ‘was a society playing host to at least as many foreigners as the “multi-cultural” Germany of today’.112 British POWs thus found themselves working alongside foreign workers from across the greater German Reich. So, the lot of a POW was not one to be envied. Contrary to popular accounts, the experience was generally one of disenfranchisement from the war effort, of debilitation and misery. Private Les Allen of the 1st Bucks Regiment, captured early on in the war, told of learning to

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play chess. When a chessboard arrived courtesy of the Red Cross, he and his friend Danny ‘played chess for many, many hours’. He continued: It was a way of relieving our boredom, fits of depression and giving us the opportunity to forget the many hours of my life, that I would rather forget. In fact, I can honestly say that I owe my very existence, if not my sanity to that board.113 Instead of involvement in a great cause, POWs were confronted with a shrunken world in which the seemingly inconsequential took shape as the most important. It was not a world populated by heroes, but by real men struggling to come to terms with an extended period of humiliation at the hands of the enemy. This was the reality and grand claims to have bucked the German system should be treated with scepticism until proven otherwise. Indeed, claims that British POWs performed heroic deeds for Jewish victims of Nazi brutality should be rigorously investigated. In order to do this, it is first necessary to establish what POWs saw and heard when in transport, in camp, or out on working parties.

CHAPTER 1 BRITISH POWS:WHAT THEY SAW AND UNDERSTOOD

For British soldiers captured in the early part of the war and transported eastwards, the first atrocities they heard about were those committed against Poles. They were the first widespread atrocities committed in World War II and were carried out using troops who were imbued with anti-Polish prejudice, all done according to a preconceived plan. Before the German invasion of Poland, the respective hierarchies of the Security Services and the Wehrmacht reached an agreement. Following victory ‘some thirty thousand people would be arrested, based on lists of names . . . compiled in advance.’ Members of ‘the aristocracy, Catholic clergy, and Jews’ were to be liquidated because they were deemed ‘hostile to Germany and the Reich in enemy territory behind the front lines.’1 In addition to the officially sanctioned murder of Polish intelligentsia came a ferocious assault against ordinary civilians, especially those deemed to be obstructive to German aims.2 In scenes that were strikingly reminiscent of atrocities committed by German forces in Belgium during World War I, this new generation of invaders exacted widespread violent revenge, based on the smallest of pretexts.3 Old-style German militaristic methods of waging war conveniently dovetailed with new ideas forged in the Nazi imagination.4 It became a racial war of annihilation. As Richard Evans writes, ‘almost everything that was to happen in the invasion of the Soviet Union from June 1941 onwards was already happening on a small scale in the invasion of Poland nearly two years before.’5

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Some Germans, however, had doubts. Wholesale massacre prompted Lieutenant Colonel Helmuth Stieff, head of Group 3 in the Operations Department of the General Staff, to write to his wife stating that he was ‘ashamed to be German’. He continued: The wildest imaginings of propagandists who make up atrocity stories are tame compared to the crimes that an organized gang of murderers, robbers, and looters is really committing here, supposedly with the tacit consent of the highest levels.6 Yet isolated members of the German senior staff were not the only ones who were alarmed by the atrocities. In 1940 D. C. Mason, a Royal Engineer, was captured near Poperinghe, Belgium. Within a short time he was transferred to Lamsdorf. He wrote of the relaxed atmosphere around the camp before the end of 1940, how ‘it was possible to stroll around the Stalag’, visiting friends or comrades with a degree of freedom that would have astonished those who arrived later in the war. However, Mason was able to pinpoint the moment when this pre-atrocity complacency was shattered. ‘Something happened’, he wrote, something ‘very sinister, and surely horrendous.’ It made him ‘aware that a barbaric atrocity had been perpetrated by the German invaders of Poland’. Roaming around the camp, he noticed a group of prisoners gathered by the main entrance gate. Two German soldiers had brought a Polish youth into custody, and while one of the guards reported to the camp office the POWs pressed the young man for news. Mason continued: It transpired that the lad had lived with his parents and a sister on their farm in Poland, where they had been happy and contented, and had worked very hard at their occupation and source of livelihood. Then following the invasion of their homeland by the Germans, a detachment of SS troops had arrived at their farm. They were absolutely brutal and sadistic. They dragged the youth’s parents out of the farmhouse, and wilfully shot them both. Not content with these vile murders, they next grabbed his sister and dragged her screaming outside the farm. There they tore her clothes off, stripping her naked. They then tied the distressed girl to a tree, and the SS troops then repeatedly raped her. Finally after satisfying their lust one of the SS thrust a bayonet into the girl’s

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womb, and then slit her stomach open. The Polish youth had been forced to watch this appalling atrocity.7 Mason had no doubts that the young Pole was telling the truth and seemed even to identify with the ideals of family, hard work and living off the land. These elements combined to create a context that emphasised the shattering events that followed in the youth’s story. The survivor was merely a ‘lad’, whose innocence and family had been torn away. Although Mason’s description of the rape and murder of the youth’s sister could be described as gratuitous, it also showed that he fully comprehended the awfulness of the violence. Certainly the account seems to have burned itself onto Mason’s memory. Although the SS allegedly carried out this atrocity, incidents such as these occurred on a daily basis through the winter of 1939– 40, committed by a mixture of regular German troops, ethnic German militias, SS Einsatzgruppen and Order Police.8 But it was not just the awfulness of the crimes that stayed with Mason. The powerlessness of the POWs to intervene or to even call for justice also seems to have had a profound effect. As Mason wrote: All our chaps were absolutely stunned at the news, but felt helpless. There was of course nothing that we could do to help the youth. The despair in his eyes and his pleas for help, as the guard dragged him off to the Stalag cell-block remain with me to this day. Mason and his fellow internees were not the only ones to have heard about German brutality towards Poles. V. West had been captured on 22 June 1941 and arrived at Lamsdorf in late November via Salonika and then Stalag IVB Mu¨hlberg, near Dresden. West developed friendships among the Palestinian contingent in the camp. He talked with one in particular, Moische Feinelbaum, a tall, young civil engineer ‘who was a mine of information on the Nazi brutality in Poland.’ Through him, West and his fellow POWs picked up information about who was being targeted. They heard how ‘intellectuals and the officer class’ were singled out, along with ‘educated Poles of any culture’. From what West gathered, the Nazis had particular hatred ‘for Poles claiming to be Volksdeutsch’.9 As well as hearing about German savagery on the vibrant camp grapevine, West also witnessed it for himself. The barbaric

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treatment of Russian POWs made a particular impression and contributed to his general understanding that German forces were committing widespread atrocities. Like Mason, West’s testimony was written after the event as an unpublished memoir, therefore, elements could have been subsequently added. However, unlike a minority of POWs who gained significant publicity, neither portrayed themselves heroically. In fact, West was even happy to name his source. That the information came from a Palestinian Jew makes sense because some of those captured were recent e´migre´s from Europe who were multi-lingual and able to understand news transmitted in Polish, German or Yiddish. Although Mason’s testimony is strong on specific details that are indicative of eyewitness testimony, West’s is notable less for detail than for the level of strategic knowledge. It seems that British POWs captured early on in the war understood German troops were carrying out something systematic: a wide-ranging policy with defined objectives, involving the murder of Poles on a largescale, particularly the Polish intelligentsia, in an effort to ‘decapitate’ Polish society.10 However, as German forces consolidated their position in Poland, the focus of their collective rage shifted. Instead of Poles, Polish Jews were increasingly subject to harsh treatment and measures that were designed to isolate them from the rest of the population.11 For German service personnel and citizens in occupied territories, Jews, Evans states, ‘scarcely qualified as human beings at all’.12 This is partly because in the eyes of the invaders, Polish Jews were very different to most of those living in Germany itself. Whereas in Germany, most Jews had been conscious members of a westernised community, in Poland, Jews constituted ‘a distinctive national minority’ which amounted to over three million souls, ‘the largest proportion of Jews living in any European state.’13 The majority of Polish Jewish men dressed differently to Christian Poles, wearing beards and sidelocks in accordance with Judaistic tradition. Most worked as small-scale traders, shopkeepers and artisans and were very poor. According to Evans, ‘to the incoming Germans these were “Eastern Jews”, a wholly alien and despised minority regarded by most of them as non-European, to be treated with even greater contempt and mistrust than the Jews of Germany itself.’14 When German authorities took steps towards separating Polish Jews, who, in the racial hierarchy were deemed lower than ethnic Poles, from the rest of the population,

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the presence of British POWs helped puncture the dark shroud of secrecy insisted upon by Nazi leaders. After capture in May 1940, D. Swift of the Royal Sussex Regiment was transferred to a town he knew as ‘Shubin’, located ‘at the bottom of the Polish Corridor’. He was probably referring to the Polish town of Szubin (Schubin in German), a few miles north east of Poznan´. In early 1941, Swift was transferred to Stalag XXIB in Poznan´ itself. Here he encountered local Jews whose lives had been catastrophically transformed by the arrival of the Germans. Thousands of books from the Jewish library had been confiscated, Jewish schools closed and Jewish shops taken over. Those who were not deported to the General Government, a vast racial dumping ground to the east set up by German authorities, were forced into over 20 ‘camps’ in the Poznan´ area. At this stage of the war, Jews were just as likely to be forced into particular buildings as ‘camps’ in order to separate them from the rest of the population; in effect this process constituted an early form of ghettoisation.15 From 29 November 1939 Jews were made to wear the yellow Star of David and became forced labourers on ‘public works, construction, gardening and transport projects’ throughout Poznan´.16 British POWs stationed in Szubin and thereafter in Poznan´, were able to witness the steady deterioration in conditions endured by Jews in the area. When he first arrived in 1940, Swift noted that ‘Jews still had a little freedom but had to live in a ghetto and wear a large yellow Star of David sewn on their jackets and do menial jobs.’ Along with his comrades, Swift was presently moved south by cattle truck to Poznan´ and ‘Fort Rauch’. Not far away from their new accommodation was ‘another fort filled with Jewish women.’ He noted that ‘all their hair had been shaved off and they went out daily with guards, doing labouring jobs like cleaning and shifting piles of old bricks etc.’ Next, Swift reported that ‘things were getting terrible for the Jews’ as they were given ‘hard labour jobs with little to eat, drink or wear’.17 Even at this early stage of the war POWs worked side-by-side with Jewish labourers. Swift noted that the ‘German “steigers” or civilian bosses on construction sites had the power to hit and kill Jewish workers with a pick axe handle, or anything; telling the other Jews to tip their loads of soil over the body to cover it up.’ For Swift it was plain that the ‘bosses and SS guards had the power of life and death over the Jews.’ POWs were sometimes even able to see inside Jewish labour camps.

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Swift reported that a working party of POWs passed one of these camps in the area and saw SS guards letting their ‘dogs chase and savage the Jews around the compound, while German boys twirled the feet of hanging Jews’. He was also able to gain some understanding of the ideology that drove this maniacal behaviour. Swift observed that SS guards ‘did not want to soil their hands on unclean Jews’ therefore they ‘always put their gloves on before bashing hell out of a Jew.’ POWs did not necessarily have to be out and about to see what was going on. On one occasion, two Jewish women ‘came by our camp crying bitterly followed by a guard’ and the POWs ‘could only conclude that they were going somewhere they wouldn’t be coming back from’. Such an assumption could only be made because they had already seen for themselves the new brutalised reality for Poznan´ Jews. Swift even noted the ‘posters were put up in the streets of Poznan, giving the death lists of those who had been executed.’ For Swift it seems that these things were part of a new norm. He mused that: To see a column of Jewish forced labour workers shamble by was like looking at a set of sub humans. They walked unsteadily, weakly, their backs bent as they hobbled along, their faces showing the hopelessness of their situation.18 From what they saw and heard, Swift and his fellow POWs understood that, for the occupiers, Jewish lives were cheap. They were both moved by Jewish suffering and frustrated by their own impotence. As Swift stated, ‘our hearts went out to them, but we could do nothing.’19 This sense of powerlessness permeates POW accounts of interactions with persecuted Jews. This is partly because the vast majority of Britons spent their war, not on the run, but firmly incarcerated with little or no hope of escape. S. V. Mackenzie confirms this, adding, ‘only a minority of prisoners of war were ever keen to jeopardize their own lives or the precariously stable lifestyle of their fellows by making or supporting escape attempts.’20 It is then a common misconception that most British POWs were constantly attempting to escape or thinking about how they could do it. This particular invention probably had its origins in the account of one particularly ingenious bid, a three-man tunnel dug under a vaulting horse at Stalag Luft III, Sagan (now Z˙agan´ in western Poland).

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The Wooden Horse, published in 1949, became an immediate bestseller and shortly after was made into an equally successful film.21 Its success somehow gave impetus to the myth that by attempting to escape POWs provided a perpetual diversion to German authorities and therefore had a ‘good’ war, even behind the barbed wire. Such notions were continually reinforced for later generations because of seemingly interminable repeats of the 1963 film The Great Escape. The reality was different; only a minority ever escaped and then, normally, only for a while. Those that made this courageous or reckless decision spent time travelling around occupied Poland and had access to places and information normally denied to the average prisoner. Because these individuals were relatively few and far between, on re-arrest they became objects of interest for camp populations starved of news. One such individual was Richard Pape. The Polish town of Cze˛stochowa was 60 miles north of Auschwitz. It was here that one escaped British POW was able to piece together evidence about the particular plight of Jews in the town. Pape was shot down and captured in 1941 when returning from a bomber raid over Berlin. Briefly incarcerated in Lamsdorf before volunteering for a work party based at one of the Upper Silesian mines, he escaped with the help of a Polish POW in early 1943. They found their way to Cze˛stochowa, latterly made famous by Art Speigelman’s Maus, and made contact with the Polish underground.22 Cze˛stochowa was situated in a district that was made up of ‘predominantly Polish and Jewish populations.’23 A massacre of Poles and Jews had already taken place on 3 September 1939 when the Wehrmacht entered the town, after which, Cze˛stochowa Jewry, renowned for its business, cultural and social activities, was steadily denuded of its position and possessions. Physical and psychological persecution characterised the period of occupation.24 A Jewish ghetto was established on 9 April 1941, ‘the largest in the Radom district containing more than 50,000 Jews’. Within 18 months the majority of the inhabitants had been deported to the Treblinka death camp or executed on the spot.25 The remaining 4,000 Jews were pushed into a diminished ghetto and then transferred to two labour camps that served HASAG; the third-largest privately owned German company during wartime, which used concentration camp labour to manufacture armaments.26

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By the time Pape arrived in Cze˛stochowa in early 1943, only this remnant of 4,000 Jews were left, but they were still a common sight in town. As Pape observed, The streets of Czestochowa were teeming with German uniforms. As we turned into the main thoroughfare leading up to the cathedral at the top of the hill we passed a number of German military police screaming at a pathetic party of Polish Jews whom they were herding along like so many head of cattle.27 Pape’s companion urged him to keep moving and they slipped into an old church. He was made to wait while his fellow escapee fetched the priest, who was in contact with the Polish underground. After what seemed like an age, the priest finally showed up. Pape wrote: ‘I shall never forget the way he looked me straight in the eye and asked: “Are you a Jew?”’ Only after Pape protested that he had ‘no Semitic blood’, did the priest arrange for them to be taken to a place of refuge. They eventually made their way to the station, where Pape could not help but notice that the walls ‘were splashed with big posters screaming a campaign of hate against the Jews.’ One in particular ‘registered itself vividly’ on his mind. It portrayed an old Jew with a beaked nose and skull cap busy dropping dead rats into a mincing machine while from the other end sausage was issuing into a bowl. The caption read: – ‘No more Jewish food shops for Poland. We must exterminate Jewish poison as we would exterminate rats.’ Putting together all he had seen and heard, Pape concluded: A violent pogrom was in swing against all things Jewish in Czestochowa. The Germans had restricted all Jews to the Ghettos, and Jewish property and businesses had been seized and confiscated. [A] nun told us that it was a common sight in the town to see former Jewish business and professional men, clad in rags, sweeping the streets with German guards, a pistol in one hand and a whip in the other, standing next to them.28

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Evidence that Jews were being targeted was compelling. Pape’s testimony implies that he understood the clear distinction between the treatment of Poles and Jews made by the occupiers. Like the nun, Poles in Cze˛stochowa were probably either forced to be ‘bystanders’, watching former community members reduced to poverty, and made to work under a brutal German regime; or like the priest, they seemed to endorse the anti-Semitic attitude of the German invaders.29 By the time Pape left, he knew that Jews had been objectified, scapegoated, stripped of their possessions and livelihood, then ghettoised. It is significant that Pape’s account was published in 1953. This was a period in which it is commonly assumed that Britons did not understand the violent core of the Holocaust or that Jews were the principal victims.30 Yet, Pape’s account, arguably written when the national hunger for wartime tales was at its height, contains clear and unambiguous messages about the fate of Poles and Jews. For example, he wrote of ‘public exhibitions’ in the market square of Cze˛stochowa, in which Polish women had their heads shaved for ‘disobedience’, signifying their failure to ‘consort and fraternise with the soldiers who sought to gratify themselves’. After re-capture, Pape spent time in a Gestapo prison where he was forced to listen when, in an adjacent cell, Jewish women were ‘forcibly assaulted’.31 He was also an eyewitness when eight of these women were murdered in cold blood.32 Pape had seen enough to be convinced that the German occupiers saw Jewish lives as worthless and exploitable. We can only speculate as to whether he shared this information with fellow POWs on his return to captivity, but it can perhaps be assumed that he did so on two counts. First, he thought these things worth including in a book written ten years later. Second, the voracious appetite for news and gossip that pervaded the POW camp population virtually ensured his observations were passed on. Pape was no hero and made no claims to have helped any Jews, he could only comment on the ‘fearless’ countenance of one particular Jewish woman condemned to die.33 After all, contrary to popular notions of British ‘heroes’, Pape, according to his obituary, was neither ‘an officer nor a gentleman’, but ‘in every sense a right bastard.’34 Once again, even when examining the outspoken and pro-active Pape, the evidence points to impotence in the face of atrocity. A sense of paralysis is also evident in the words of Major L. W. Lauste who, unable to help, stood and witnessed the loading of Jews onto a train

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in one of the final waves of deportations from Sosnowiec to Auschwitz. Transports from Sosnowiec did not occur in an unbroken succession but rather were carried out in waves between May 1942 and August 1943.35 As a precursor to transportation, ghettoised Jews were subject to Actions (Aktionen), a euphemistic cover for ‘roundups, theft, despoliation and killing.’36 Large numbers of reinforcements from various agencies such as security police, order police, gendarmerie, SS auxiliaries and sometimes the Polish police, were brought in to enforce compliance in what was, to say the least, and despite the involvement of the Jewish councils and the Jewish police, ‘a coerced enterprise.’37 Ghettos or specific areas within them were blockaded, after which Jews were forced out of their dwellings normally at a time least expected, such as late at night or early morning. They were then made to assemble at a particular point, but this was no orderly process. The journey to the collection point was accompanied by humiliation, violence and death. Sosnowiec survivor Dawid Fischer witnessed one of the first ‘actions’ in the town. The Jews had previously been driven to the working class district of Srodula, where they were forced to live in terrible conditions, however, during the roundup: 18,000 were gathered in a sports-field. Here began the selection of ‘rechts’, ‘links’. Ruffians directed the selection by whim. Often young and healthy people were directed to deportation. For this selection even mothers with children had to appear. Terrible incidents of separating families occurred. 6,000 to 8,000 victims were deported. The people were left without food on the field for three days and 3 nights while there was heavy rain.38 The Jews were then marched to waiting trains at a time pre-arranged between the German National Railroad (Deutsche Reichsbahn) and the SS.39 More violence ensued as the assembled Jews were forced onto the train. Once inside the carriages, there was no food, no water but rather a heavily traumatic ‘sensorial disconnection’ with the outside world, one that was ‘intimate, disturbing, and taboo-breaking.’ Simone Gigliotti calls the experience ‘one of the most intense bodily assaults for Jewish victims under the Nazi regime.’40 By the final ‘action’ in August 1943, the one seen by Lauste and his colleagues, the Jews of Sosnowiec knew what was coming and many had hidden from those

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who hunted them. However, this had tragic consequences. Fischer revealed that: During Aktions mothers with children hid in cellars. After an Aktion, sometimes there were 20 children found dead who had been strangled either because of lack of air or if the child were crying then people in the cellar strangled the child fearing that the crying of the child would bring the Germans. It was necessary only to put a pillow or comforter over the child to strangle it . . . In addition, as a result of the way the Jews of Sosnowiec were treated, according to Fischer, ‘many dead bodies were loaded on the transport to Os´wie˛cim’.41 Lauste and his fellow POWs were on their way to Lamsdorf via Sosnowiec. Although relieved his train journey had ended, the alleviation of Lauste’s own discomfort was immediately offset by the scenes he witnessed on an adjacent platform: As we drew into the station another line of trucks on the other side was being loaded with women, children and old men. There was a hell of a noise of shouting Germans, screaming women and children. The guards armed with machine pistols, some with rifles were ramming these poor folk into the trucks, forcing as many as they could into each truck. Their outer garments were thrown onto the platform, no doubt to enable more folk to be forced into each truck. The guards with their whips [and] gun butts were unmercifully beating and thrashing the folk into the already bursting trucks. It took the guards . . . all their strength and brutality to force the doors shut. The guards with their machine pistols rode high up on the ends of the trucks ready to fire on anyone wanting if it were possible . . . to escape What Lauste described was unmitigated cruelty, both physical and emotional. He saw for himself the verbal and physical violence meted out by the Germans, and recognised the anguish of the deportees. However, it was the specific realisation that horrified parents had to watch helplessly as they were separated from their dead children, whose bodies were ‘tossed onto the platform like rag dolls’, that helps to verify

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Lauste’s testimony. Lauste was also able to provide a fairly unique insight into the aftermath of the loading procedure, specifically the behaviour of the onlookers. He described how the ‘girls of the station staff were rummaging amongst the clothes so recently discarded by the humiliated and terrified people.’ Lauste thus testifies to the callous attitude of nonJewish civilians who showed no shock at the horrific scenes and no sympathy for the victims. Indeed they were clearly prepared to benefit from German brutality towards Jews.42 Such scenes prompted Lauste to look out for more. The plethora of Jewish slave labour, signified by the yellow star and still at work in Sosnowiec when the POWs were marched through the town, further helped him realise that something significant was afoot. Lauste and his colleagues had been so disturbed by what they saw that they ‘started shouting protests’, but they were told to ‘shut up’ and did so, thus confirming their powerlessness.43 Towards the latter part of the war a labour shortage that threatened to undermine the German war effort reached epic proportions, the stipulations in the Geneva Conventions that prevented POWs from performing war work were increasingly ignored. Britons found themselves working alongside Jewish slave labourers, albeit under very different regimens. This was especially the case in Upper Silesia where camps holding POW labour detachments were dispersed amongst a vast network of slave labour camps surrounding the Auschwitz main camp, the effective administrative centre. Historian Franciszek Piper outlined ‘Auschwitz’s specific features’. It was a ‘prototype’ for a ‘new generation of camps that combined physical elimination of masses of people with the exploitation of manpower.’ These elements, although appearing ‘strange bedfellows’, worked in a ‘symbiotic nexus’.44 In other words, when conceptualising ‘Auschwitz’ it helps to envisage not just the main camps (Auschwitz I, Auschwitz II-Birkenau, and Auschwitz III-Monowitz), but also the environs of Auschwitz as both a production site and a gigantic killing field. Jews who were made to work were, on the whole, slated to die.45 What then was life like for inmates? Yisrael Gutman, the Polish Jewish historian and Auschwitz survivor, paints a chilling and poignant portrait of those who were ‘lucky’ enough to have been chosen not to die immediately. Arrival in Auschwitz, he writes, ‘marked a radical and irrevocable departure from one’s previous existence’. Hemmed in by double rows of barbed wire, an electrified fence and eyed by guards in strategically placed watchtowers, the prisoners were also isolated by the

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seemingly endless square miles of open space patrolled by the SS, beyond the camp borders. Upon arrival ‘the prisoner was stripped not only of all personal possessions but also of his or her identity.’ Body hair was shaved, disinfectant applied, and the body tattooed with a number to replace the name. Issued with ill-fitting ‘striped camp fatigues, the fabric stiff with dirt and sweat’, identification marks denoted the category of prisoner.46 Gutman continues: Every day in the life of a prisoner was filled with unbearable tension and superhuman effort, emotional turmoil and terror, continuing without respite for months on end. The prisoner’s day was also hollow, empty, and mirthless, lacking any novelty and enveloped in everlasting gloom. Despite the stress, with the everpresent danger the Auschwitz prisoners could never lower their guard, all their energy going to maintain permanent vigilance. Furthermore, the prisoners enjoyed no privacy; day and night they remained in tangible proximity to others. Spoiled food provided no nourishment. Incessant hunger was also a source of ceaseless torment and anguish. The daily regimen of the prisoner, whose name was replaced by a camp serial number, was punctuated by duties and orders from morning until night which had to be performed quickly and accurately. In addition to personal responsibility for inadequate performance, the prisoner had to bear the burden of collective responsibility. Sleeping and waking were regulated as well. Each morning the prisoner had to draw on every ounce of strength to survive.47 At its height, the Auschwitz network of camps covered an area of 40 square kilometres and contained 150,000 individuals who were forced to endure similar trials to those described by Gutman. POWs were scattered in work detachments across the same area. Whether based at Blechhammer, Heydrebreck, the mines at Jaworzno and Libia˛z˙ or at I. G. Farben (Interessen-Gemeinschaft Farbenindustrie AG), via the E715 work detachment, British prisoners saw and heard about the atrocities, and the vicious mania that ruled. So who or what was driving this mania? By 1942, Germany found itself engaged on numerous fronts and particularly against two powerful enemies: the United States and the Soviet Union. Increased demands

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along with a desire to maximise profit placed enormous pressure on German industry to keep up the production of materiel. As a consequence, the web of complicity that bound Farben and other industries to Nazi aims became inextricable. Willing exploiters of slave labour with a broad acceptance of principles behind ‘annihilation through work’, Farben management found themselves pulled in several directions. Firstly, the broad aims of the Nazi regime as expressed at the Wannsee Conference, that ‘Jews fit for work were all programmed to die’, were sometimes temporarily superseded by the exigencies of war.48 In other words, there was urgent war work to be done and Jews were an acceptable form of labour, but the readiness of Farben management to impose policies that encouraged debilitation and death was largely undiminished.49 There is no other way to account for the large death toll. In addition, the firm was caught between the short-term demands of the Reich government, from which it had taken substantial subsidies, and the long-term goal of market competitiveness. According to Peter Hayes, by 1942 Farben ‘had appropriated more than 100 million marks out of an eventual investment of 776 million for a factory complex covering roughly 20 square kilometres’.50 Its managers sometimes tried to tread a fine line, but all too often compromised with the ideologicalracial imperatives espoused by the SS. The nature of this compromise could not be described as reluctant. Instead the relationship between the two was characterised by an interactive dynamism ultimately geared towards ever-increasing radicalisation. As production fell behind schedule and the need for speed counteracted the drive for quality, a progressive (or regressive) thrust developed, resulting in ‘a steady barbarisation at I. G. Auschwitz, as the increasingly illogical buna plant partook more and more of the brutal madness that ruled its setting.’51 From late 1943, British POWs were thrust into this environment and despite the inverted values that pervaded they were able to comprehend a great deal about what was happening around them. They understood, for example, that in a hierarchy of suffering, Jews were at the bottom. As Robert Ferris, who worked at Farben, stated just after the war: ‘There were civilian workers of other nationalities such as Russians, Poles and French who were forced to work for the Germans . . . Of course the Jews were treated the worst of all.’52 Likewise, Dennis Greenham was also aware of the pecking order at Farben. British POWs were ‘treated by far the best’; after this came Polish, Russian and French ‘forced workers’

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who had ‘some liberties’. However, lowest on the list were concentration camp inmates and of these, he stressed, Jews had it worst. Unlike others, ‘they had no privileges’. Greenham outlined a localised network of antipathy designed to ensure Jewish inmates in particular would endure the most miserable existence until they died. These included ‘the SS and the Gestapo’ as well as ‘capos who were mostly criminals’, ‘foremen’, ‘Meisters’, and engineers ‘all of whom carried guns’. Together they imposed both systematic and random terror of which the routine degradation of Jewish inmates was a central tenet. POWs witnessed the daily debasement of inmates, which, for their captors, was an essential element in the destruction process. Not long after the war, Douglas Frost recorded that: One of the usual punishments was to make the inmates carry bricks wherever they went, for each slight infraction. Sometimes an inmate would carry as many as 5 or 6 bricks. These he would have to take wherever he went, to eat, to sleep, everywhere. Also, just to amuse themselves, the Germans would ride their bicycles and have inmates trot behind them wherever they went, as dogs.53 POWs even became familiar with the stages in the process of decline.54 Britons were allowed to light fires in the work place in order to keep warm and to cook. Eric Doyle noticed that Jewish inmates would sometimes attempt to take advantage by stealing some moments by the flames, however ‘they were so far gone that they would stand over the fire and their gloves could be burning and they would not know the difference.’55 These inmates had become inured to the world around them, somehow oblivious to pain and therefore dangerously close to death. These were either Muselmann or ‘Muselmann in the making’, camp slang for those who in Monowitz survivor, Paul Steinberg’s words, were ‘not long for this world’.56 The work detachment E715 has gained a particular notoriety for its proximity to Monowitz, the concentration camp that housed Jews who worked at Farben. However POWs based at the Libia˛z˙ and Jaworzno coalmines within the Auschwitz network were exposed to similar horrors. Work details E561, E562 and E596, originally comprised of Palestinians, came to be dominated by Britons. They were there to supplement the main workforce made up of inmates from Auschwitz and therefore worked in close proximity to Jewish civilian slave workers.

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D. Hustler worked at one of the coalmines in Upper Silesia and saw these Jews close up. For twelve hours at a time, day and night, they were made to shift coal wagons to and fro and move the cumbersome pit props from the wood yard to the pithead. He noted their ‘thin inadequate clothing’, their ‘Dutch clogs’ and that they were ‘guarded by SS and dogs’. Hustler was close enough to see ‘pus oozing from tear ducts and ears.’ His matterof-fact tone when reporting that ‘a few died at work every day and some were shot or beaten to death’ suggests that he and his fellow POWs were used to seeing these things.57 Although POWs did not see selections for the gas chambers take place, they witnessed the effects as workers they recognised suddenly disappeared, never to be seen again, so it was hardly surprising that they gained notoriety in the wider community. From the number of those who mentioned them in their postwar testimonies it can be assumed that this inhuman process made a lasting impression. Leonard Dales, for example, was informed by a young Polish Jew about the procedure that took place at the gates of Monowitz. He was told that ‘an SS man would pick out those who were weaker and copy down their tattooed number. Those whose numbers were taken would be exterminated at the gas chambers.’58 The pervasiveness of this knowledge loomed over the inmate population. Each one plagued with the minute-by-minute knowledge that their lives could be snatched away. The very unpredictability of the ‘process’ increased trepidation and fear and this sense of desperation experienced by inmates did not go unnoticed by Britons working at the Farben factory. Frederick Wooley, a Liverpudlian, confirmed that because of this persistent threat ‘all the inmates were in constant fear’.59 Douglas Frost stated in his affidavit that ‘the inmates were so frightened of being sent to the gas chambers because of illness or injury that they would often come to work hiding their cuts and sores rather than report sick.’60 Robert Ferris remembered: one case of a man who broke his wrist. His 15 year old son who was also working there, was in tears – not because his father’s wrist was broken but because he knew that they would never bother to cure him but would send him instead to the gas chambers.61 Ferris even knew about selections that took place at the hospital block in Monowitz. Inmates, he said, ‘were only allowed to stay there for a

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fortnight. In general, if any inmate became sick, instead of being cured he was done away with.’62 British POWs also witnessed open-topped trucks filled with standing inmates heading off towards Birkenau. It was, according to Charles Hill, ‘generally understood that if an inmate was off for more than a certain number of days and was considered unfit for work, he would be gassed.’63 Furthermore, talk about gas chambers was, according to Eric Doyle, ‘as common as regular dinner conversation’.64 As such POWs were even provided with specific details about the methods used to dupe those about to be gassed. Dales was told by a Dutch Jew ‘who had worked in the camp where the crematoria were’ that the victims were given the impression they were going to have a shower but ‘many times when they realized what was happening, terrible scenes would take place but they were nevertheless forced into the gas chambers at pistol point by the SS.’65 Such terrible information about the prelude to gassing was supplemented by gruesome details about what happened afterwards. Dennis Greenham told of a ‘large group’ of Hungarian Jews who arrived in 1944 and were ruthlessly exterminated at Birkenau within a few short months. Greenham reported that the ‘strong ablebodied [sic ] ones came to the Farben plant to work but all the rest, including women and children, were gassed and burned. There were so many of them that the crematoria were not adequate and it was necessary to dig trenches to burn the balance outdoors.’66 Many exPOWs later recounted that they could smell the cremation of bodies at Birkenau several kilometres away.67 Given their daily proximity to inmates at Monowitz, the POWs based with E715, who were housed in Camp VIII and later Camp VI just outside the Farben site, it is understandable that they were privy to the process of mass killing. However, there is evidence that knowledge about the gassing of Jews circulated much further afield. Kenneth Lovell, for example, who, according to his postwar testimony was actually incarcerated in Monowitz for 24 days as a punishment for attempting to escape, was first told about ‘the mistreatment, the gas chambers, burning and hangings’ during another period of incarceration in a camp near Mooseberg, Bavaria. O. Dover was taken prisoner at Cassell in Northern France and eventually found himself in a camp in Bromberg, north east of Poznan´, over 250 miles away from Auschwitz. He wrote in his unpublished memoir ‘A Guest of the Nazis’ that:

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During the snow clearing period we used to see the Jewish population; men, women and children in very poor clothes with the Star of David painted on the backs of their outer clothing. We were very distressed to see them being herded into trucks by the Gestapo and SS to be taken to concentration camps, to be gassed or executed and never to see each other again. We knew these extermination camps were around but our army guards . . . always denied that they existed.68 Horace Charters, Man of Confidence for the E715 work commando whose job was to represent the men’s needs to their captors and to the visiting Red Cross representatives between February and June 1944, commented ‘even before I got to Auschwitz the name was a dreaded name wherever I went’.69 The notoriety of Auschwitz and its central function was the main reason why J. M. Green was able to understand the significance of a stationary train in a siding at one of the stations he passed through. As a dentist, Green had an itinerant role within the Upper Silesian POW population and on one occasion on his way to Lamsdorf in 1944 he and his companions saw on an adjacent platform ‘closed trucks from which an intolerable stench issued.’ The gun-wielding SS who guarded the train threateningly waved them away. Green explained in his 1971 memoir: We walked back with the moaning and whimpering from the trucks in our ears. It was almost too much for me and even my guard was visibly shaken. The trucks contained Hungarian Jews who were being transferred to an extermination camp for ‘processing’. The sound has never left me and I still hear it.70 Once again, POWs were moved by what they witnessed but unable to act. It seems likely given Green’s roving brief, that such information would have been relayed from camp to camp. It was relatively common for trains to have to wait on the tracks for days before the poor incumbents were subject to selection in Birkenau.71 The presence of these static trains was another reason why the concealment surrounding the extermination process was compromised. Wolfgang Scheffler was correct when, in his study of deportation procedures, he argued that they ‘vitiated even the strictest regulations for secrecy.’72

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Another opportunity arose for interaction between POWs and inmates as Soviet forces advanced and inmates were evacuated from the camps, followed, a few days later, by POWs. Both POWs and inmates walked along digressive routes criss-crossing the eastern lands of the shrinking Reich.73 Ostensibly, these forced marches were probably about moving slave labour for use elsewhere but in effect, they became an excuse for lower ranked German troops to oversee and engage in an orgy of killing. It is doubtful whether British POWs needed confirmation about German attitudes towards Jews, nonetheless the evidence was plain to see, especially in the initial period after leaving the camps as weakened inmates fell victim to hunger, exhaustion and murder. As D. Hustler wrote, during the ‘first weeks or so’ of the march they ‘frequently passed piles of concentration camp prisoners bodies at the side of the road.’74 John Adkin, from Tulse Hill in London, also testified that inmates had been evacuated ‘a few days before us’ and while on the march ‘we frequently saw frozen inmates. We could see their arms and legs sticking out of the snow’.75 Others however, came across groups of Jews still clinging to life. For example, Hans Paul Weiner, a Palestinian POW of the 608th Company of the Auxiliary Military Pioneer Corps, remembered overtaking ‘a column from a concentration camp.’ Inmates were pulling ‘one or two carts’ that were ‘full of frozen bodies.’ The column ‘moved so slowly’ that he originally ‘thought it was stationary’. He told how those still alive were barely able to stand and implied that many were near death.76 Others witnessed more overtly violent scenes. In the course of informing British authorities about German war crimes on his return to Britain, Private J. Nall a Scot from the East Surrey Regiment wrote about an incident on 2 February 1945. He was in no doubt that he had been in the presence of German atrocities and knew perfectly well who were the intended prey: We passed a column of Jews who were under guards of the S.S. These Jews were not able to march through lack of food or clothing. One of the guards was marching behind these Jews, and men who could not keep up with the march were having their heads split open with a revolver by this guard, who after doing this pulled them on to the side of the road. Half an hour later another guard of the S.S., following up the column, shot any Jew that was still living.77

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Overall, POWs witnessed and heard about, in real time, the murderous policies of the Nazis towards Jews. It is, by now, clear that they had little difficulty understanding what was happening. So, how did they react? For the sake of thoroughness, we need to start, not with what Britons saw and heard of the concentration camps or how they interacted with inmates, but with the interaction that took place in the POW camps themselves between those classified as British POWs and those classified as Jewish or Palestinian POWs.78

CHAPTER 2 BRITISH POWS AND JEWISH POWS:A COMMON EXPERIENCE?

During World War II, approximately 1.5 million Jews were on active service with the Allied armies.1 They fought in the Red Army, the Polish Army, the United States Army and the British Army. Those in the British forces numbered approximately 30,000 and, along with their colleagues, were inevitably susceptible to capture and incarceration. Of course, the separation of the terms ‘British’ and ‘Jewish’, was in some senses a false one but any dissonance between the two, although certainly far from absent in British society before the war, was reinforced by their new circumstances once captured. Their German gaolers were, at least initially, intent on dividing Jews from the rest and this put them in a potentially precarious position. Once German forces closed in on the British position in northern France in mid-1940, British soldiers of Jewish descent were faced with the dilemma of whether they should keep their Jewish identity or hide it. Facing the likelihood of capture, some chose to jettison their dog tags, which gave details of their faith, and adopt a false identity throughout the war.2 One Jewish POW, for example, after capture, spent ‘the rest of the war in an East German P.O.W. camp as a devout member of the Church of Scotland.’3 There must have been temptation to take this path, but as a tactic it was certainly not risk free and carried with it the potential for considerable anxiety. W. A. Harding, a POW at Lamsdorf since early on in the war, knew one Anglo-Jewish soldier who was ‘in

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constant fear of being found out.’4 Others, like Norman Rubenstein, who had signed up for the Territorial Army during the Munich crisis of 1938, made a clear choice not to conceal his Jewishness and registered with the German authorities accordingly when he was captured in 1940.5 He and others did this in the face of official warnings from their superior officers. Despite his bravado, Rubenstein, doubtless like many others in his position, found it ‘impossible to shut out the thoughts about being a Jew, about to become a prisoner of war in Germany.’6 It must have seemed to many that their anxiety was justified because German camp authorities were often brazen in their attempts to root out Jews from the mass of POWs. In certain camps, men were made to form ranks and ordered to ‘step forward’ if they were Jewish. Harding reported: half a dozen stepped forward and were taken away. [The Germans] didn’t seem satisfied so one shouted, ‘Come, come, England is full of Jews there must be more of you’, I saw two more step forward . . . We were then ordered to drop our trousers and lift our shirts, were looked at and anyone seen to be circumcised was taken away.7 R. P. Evans was another who noted that POWs were asked whether ‘there were any Jews present’. One man stepped forward and this man was, Evans continued, ‘one of the bravest men I have ever met, because, bearing in mind the reputation of the Nazi regime for ill-treatment of Jews, he had no reason to expect anything other than persecution and even death.’ Although Evans was clearly impressed, his feelings on the matter soon changed because the following day the prisoner was, in Evan’s opinion, ‘rewarded’ for his admission by being given the job of ‘camp interpreter’, a job that turned out to have ‘certain “perks”’. This underlying suspicion of Jewish fellow prisoners was a consistent theme throughout the period of incarceration.8 Nonetheless, Evans was right about one thing, some Jewish POWs were in demand. They were co-opted by both German captors and British captives as go-betweens. It was recognised by both parties that those who had recently fled from continental Europe and joined the Allied forces could speak more than one language.9 Many of these turned out to be volunteer recruits from Palestine10 who were duly posted to the

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Pioneer Corps.11 Whether voluntary recruits or otherwise, the majority of Palestinian POWs had their first taste of captivity after the fall of Greece in April 1941. They were transferred to Germany shortly after under conditions that suggested they were being treated not as POWs but as criminals and subject to searches, interrogations and confiscations. Food was short, sanitation poor, names were taken, treatment was harsh. Historian of Palestinian POWs, Yoav Gelber, writes that the ‘period between capture and reaching a permanent Prisoner of War camp subject to Red Cross supervision and international treaties, was marked by apprehension, uncertainty, lack of rights, and isolation.’12 Nor did the situation necessarily improve on arrival at Lamsdorf in August 1941. Once incarcerated, they were prone to sporadic outbursts of prejudicial treatment from their captors. This was dependent on a number of elements, such as who was in charge of their camp or work party or whether there were points of contention between captives and captors. For example, Palestinian Jews at Niwka mine were beaten senseless by their guards who took their orders from a rabid Nazi.13 However, such anti-Jewish treatment was not just dished out by Nazis. The Commandant of Lamsdorf, Oberst Ritter von Poschinger, was not an overt Nazi, and according to contemporary descriptions had an almost avuncular disposition. Nonetheless, he authorised the beating of a Palestinian because he was ‘a Jew who refused to work.’14 Despite then, Evans’s suggestion that ‘many’ Jews were rewarded on account of their usefulness, plenty of Jewish POWs were in fact, subject to a harsher regime than their British comrades. Nonetheless, separation and rough treatment of Palestinian Jewish POWs did not seem to occur as a result of a central directive, rather it was carried out patchily and under certain conditions. There were certainly attempts within German circles to formalise prejudicial treatment meted out to Jews who had fled mainland Europe. On more than one occasion the British government was forced to intervene, making representations to the German authorities through the United States Government until 1941 and thereafter via the Swiss authorities.15 As a general rule, POWs, whether British or colonial in origin, may well have been ‘out of sight,’ but as far as the government was concerned they were definitely ‘not out of mind.’16 Despite the lack of diplomatic relations between warring nations, governments have always resorted to what G. R. Berridge calls ‘black market diplomacy.’17

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During World War II, the connections that remained between the British and German governments ‘largely boiled down to negotiations over POW matters’ and information reached British officials through a range of different channels.18 In the case of Palestinian POWs a report from a Geneva press correspondent reached the Colonial Office via an American Jewish newspaper. The Geneva-based Red Cross had found out by at least early July 1941 that the German government were ‘contemplating special measures’ with regard to Palestinian Jewish POWs who did not hold Palestinian citizenship. Many of these, the Red Cross report continued, were ‘stateless persons or citizens of Nazi-occupied countries’ who the German authorities regarded ‘as rebels guilty of treason against Germany.’ This meant that if caught, a significant slice of the Palestinian POW population could have been treated by German authorities as traitors or spies and as such would have forfeited any claim to protection from the Geneva Convention. The most likely destination for such prisoners would have been a concentration camp where they would have been exposed to the full force of Nazi anti-Jewish policies. However, the thinking of Nazi lawyers went further. They argued that because Palestine was ‘under an international mandate’ (it was actually under a British mandate) the recruitment of Palestinians into British forces was illegal. In the Nazi mind, this had ramifications for all captured Palestinian Jews. If their presence in the British armed forces was deemed illegal it was arguably a relatively small step to denying all members of this class of POW their rights under the Geneva Convention. As the Red Cross reported, German legal representatives were ‘trying to invent excuses for the subjection of the Palestinian Jewish prisoners to a very harsh regime, and even for sending some of them to be tried by military courts for treason.’ Perhaps as a prelude to a more widespread crackdown on Palestinian POWs, it was also believed that the German authorities were ‘considering’ denying Palestinian POWs the right to receive parcels sent by relatives or friends.19 However, some of these attitudes had already resulted in harsher treatment because, as the report stipulated, the German authorities were failing to properly house Palestinians taken prisoner in Greece. Unlike English and Australian POWs who were appropriately accommodated, ‘Palestinians . . . including 1,100 Jews’ remained un-housed, and at the mercy of the elements.20

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The Red Cross concluded by advising that the British government urgently give ‘special attention’ to the issue.21 Sir Cosmo Parkinson of the Colonial Office was unsure as to the accuracy of the information, but in accordance with his reputation for fastidiousness, he sent copies to the War Office and the Foreign Office.22 He was not the only one to do so. Lewis Namier, the historian and former Foreign Office official who had strong connections to the Jewish Agency for Palestine, also sent copies to the three departments. The information made its way up to the Colonial Secretary, Lord Moyne and through him, to the Foreign Secretary, Anthony Eden. If the allegations were found to be true, Moyne suggested, ‘strong representations should be made’ to German authorities pressurising them to house Palestinian POWs.23 The United States authorities, which at this point in the war was acting as the Protecting Power for Britons in German hands, were duly asked ‘to keep watch for discrimination against Palestinian prisoners of war.’24 The Americans duly investigated, reporting back that ‘no such discrimination against “non-Aryans”’ had been noticed ‘but that they would not fail to keep watch’. Somewhat naively, however, they added that it would be ‘impolitic to draw attention of [the] German Government to this category of prisoners of war.’25 It seems the interest generated by the Red Cross report in both British and American official circles, and the subsequent (tentative) intervention strategy, had the required effect. However, it should not be forgotten that in this particular negotiation (if it can be called that), British authorities had genuine leverage in the shape of German POWs. Should the Nazi authorities (perhaps susceptible to this form of ‘blackmail’ given their own expertise in the genre), overstep the bounds of acceptable behaviour; the British were not without clout.26 By 15 August 1941, the London Jewish Chronicle felt confident enough to report that Palestinian prisoners were being ‘treated’ in the same way as other British POWS and were receiving ‘five kilogramme parcels weekly from the International Red Cross.’27 However, it was not until November that the War Office finally received confirmation that 1,160 Palestinian prisoners, previously held in Greece without shelter, had finally been transferred to Lamsdorf.28 Fears for the safety of Jewish POWs were once again raised in the latter half of 1942 and early 1943 after the mass murder of European Jews became widely known in Britain.29 In February 1943 the Anglo-Jewish leadership made

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representations to the British government on behalf of Jewish POWs. Major N. Little, who worked at the Directorate of Prisoners of War in the War Office, wrote to Sir Harold Satow of the Prisoners of War Department. He had received a visit from Reverend M. Gollop, Jewish Senior Chaplain to the Forces on behalf of the Jewish Board of Deputies to ask ‘what action could be taken to prevent the segregation of Jewish prisoners of war in Germany.’ The Board’s primary concern was that ‘a deliberate attempt’ was being made ‘by the Germans to drive a wedge between Jewish prisoners of war and their fellowcountrymen in captivity.’30 Satow saw no objection to asking the Swiss, now the Protecting Power, ‘to try to find out whether Jews’ were being segregated but, like the Americans before them, recommended enquiries should be discrete for fear of placing ‘the idea into [German] heads.’31 He was hopeful that such measures would ‘allay pardonable anxiety in the Jewish community’. The Swiss reassured them that Anglo-Jews were not receiving ‘different treatment’ than other POWs apart from being ‘housed with Palestinians.’32 The mollifying Swiss reply carried with it a sting in the tale. Yes, Jewish POWs were safe, but they were subject to some form of segregation. On the ground though, it was often the intervention of the Man of Confidence that counted when camp authorities took matters into their own hands. In such cases the efforts of diplomats were of less immediate importance than the response of British NCOs on the spot. One particular Man of Confidence deserves special mention. Regimental Sergeant Major Sidney Sherriff joined the Welsh Fusiliers in 1919 and served in India and France. After capture he was quickly installed as ‘Man of Confidence’ at Lamsdorf and, as such, in the words of one of his charges, James Badcock, had ‘the most unenviable job in Germany’. Sherriff, he said, ‘was a leader in every sense. He always retained his dignity [and] his personal smartness’.33 According to those who were there, he was a good organiser, a strict disciplinarian and scrupulously fair. Jewish dentist Julius Green wrote that he ‘acted as a sort of shock absorber between the Germans and the prisoners’, adding ‘there are a number of men alive today who owe their continued existence to R.S.M. Sherriff.’34 This was no small claim, but from the available evidence, appears perfectly justified. One notable example of Sherriff’s impact came when German authorities at Lamsdorf attempted to withhold Red Cross parcels from

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Palestinian Jews. Assir Schustermann, designated spokesman for the Palestinian section, brought the issue to Sherriff’s attention. There followed a ‘four way conversation’ between Sherriff, Schustermann, Camp Commandant Oberst Leutnant Minsinger and the visiting Red Cross representative. The resulting report made by the Red Cross officer stated, ‘complete agreement was reached and it was emphasized that Palestinian troops would receive treatment absolutely equal to that of other British troops’.35 Yoav Gelber also commented on this incident contending that Sherriff, when faced with the German threat to withhold parcels, informed his captors that, should the threat be carried out, the British contingent would also refuse to accept parcels.36 This would have placed the camp authorities in a potentially embarrassing position, again raising the spectre of British reprisals. Sherriff, in other words, stood firm on behalf of Palestinian prisoners, taking a position that was not without risk.37 Sherriff’s family still possess a carved album presented to him in 1944 by grateful Palestinian repatriates.38 An attempt at Stalag Luft VI, Heydekrug (now Sˇilute˙ in Lithuania) to segregate Jewish prisoners also met with resistance from camp leader James ‘Dixie’ Deans. Deans had been captured in Holland after his Whitley bomber had been hit by anti-aircraft fire. He proved to be a very effective and popular camp leader. POW John Dominy described one remarkable incident. One of Deans’s team, responsible for organising morning parade, was ordered by the camp authorities to ensure that ‘Jews were to parade separately and be segregated in a single barracks.’ He refused to comply, prompting German ire. At that moment, Dominy stated: a greatly incensed Jimmy Deans arrived. In clipped German, he out-shouted them all; the order, he told them forcefully, would not be passed on. He sharply pointed out that the prisoners were members of the King’s Service and it was one of the rules of that Service that the faith of all denominations should be respected – ‘even bloody tree-worshippers’, . . . The Germans gave in.39 Efforts to segregate were then, at best, an attempt by the German authorities to foster ill feeling between Jewish POWs and the rest. At worst they were a tentative first step to something more pernicious and deadly. Although Sherriff and Deans stood up to German attempts

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to segregate Palestinian Jews, there is insufficient evidence to establish whether their attitude was representative of the whole. In contrast, there is evidence to suggest that British POWs were less than accommodating to their Jewish comrades. Yes, the linguistic abilities of recent e´migre´s from Europe could help place Jewish POWs in the role of arbiter between captor and captive, but this could prove a dubious honour. Certainly, there could be benefits, such as ready access to sought-after goods, which could be used in a lively black market, but the role could also prove extremely perilous. W. A. Harding, barely hiding his own anti-Jewish prejudices, told of a Jewish private who ‘wheedled his way into a position of go-between’. Harding thought that this man was in a position to benefit by ensuring possessions retained by POWs such as ‘watches, rings, wallets etc.,’ camp currency, could be exchanged for food such as bread and eggs. However, such an arrangement based on barter could end in tension or worse. Harding described a ‘violent bust up’ between the Jewish POW and a ‘cockney from Bethnell Green’ following accusations that the former was abusing his position in order to feather his own nest: The two men had to be kept apart when the cockney shouted ‘I’ll get you, you swindling Jew bastard’. He meant it, he was in a terrible temper over it so next morning at work the cockney said to us ‘There he is, now watch this’. The Jew was in conversation with a German site foreman when the cockney shouted out ‘Hallo – Hallo’, both looked round and the cockney pointing said ‘He’s a Jew’. The German touched the Jew on the chest and shouted back ‘Juden’, the cockney said ‘Ja Jew.’ A row started between the German and the Jew, when the Jew went flat on his back from an uppercut, who then was up, and him and the German exchanged blows. Two guards ran over and gave the Jew a beating, he had to take his boots off and one guard doubled him past us back to camp. He looked a bloody mess. I said to the cockney, ‘You’ve done a good job, you’ve given him a death sentence.’ He seemed quite unconcerned but said ‘Serve the bastard right’. On our return after work the Jew was in the guards’ compound standing to attention with his nose touching the barbed wire and a guard close by. He was still there next morning, then we never saw him again.40

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The anti-Semitic attitude behind this incident was not an aberration. Sergeant Bob Watchorn, for example, was on good terms with Indian POWs incarcerated at Lamsdorf, albeit based on a perceived position of colonial superiority. They used to bring him ‘spuds and wood’ and Watchorn observed with satisfaction that ‘the wogs thought quite a lot of me.’ However, he would have no similar dealings with Jewish POWs because, he reasoned, Hitler had a point: I don’t wonder at Hitler hating them they haven’t a good trait in them, they pander to the Germans with their knowledge of the German twang they are able to control all the rackets in the camp. They are a nasty lot. One Jew when he heard the Gestapo were going to search the camp asked me if I would lend him a crucifix so he could pose as an R.C. What I told him is nobodies business.41 Such attitudes persisted even after the evacuation of the camps in early 1945. Hans Paul Weiner recorded that at one point on the forced march, Jewish POWs were told to step forward by their German guards. Fearful of the consequences, Weiner declined to do so. He recalled, ‘the next moment I was violently pushed by somebody behind me, with the words unmistakably spoken in the East-End jargon of London: ‘You’re a Yid, aintcha?’42 Fortunately, no harm came to Weiner, but this could not have been known at the time. This then was one potentially serious effect of unpredictable latent antagonism towards Jewish POWs. Gilbert Horobin describes another effect of such attitudes. He had a Palestinian friend named Erwin, a Jewish doctor with a good knowledge of German who could communicate with the guards and ‘obtain items in exchange for cigarettes or tobacco’. As such he became a ‘valued asset’ to all members of the barrack because they ‘lived communally, pooling the individual ration’ and comestibles from Red Cross parcels. All took their turn in the various tasks that went with communal living, such as fetching an aluminium jug of boiling water from the cook house for making tea, sweeping, tidying and ‘emptying the piss bucket’. Horobin admitted ‘each of us had individual idiosyncrasies’, but Erwin came in for particular criticism because of his alleged lack of fastidiousness. While he was out of the hut, a meeting was held at which ‘the majority voted him out’ of the corporate arrangement. Horobin gave a clue as to

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the true motive of this exclusionary action on the part of the British POWs. ‘A sadder fact’, he wrote, and a disturbing one, was that as general conditions [in the camp] during that phase of the war deteriorated . . . in some huts minor frustrations and disagreements were blamed on the presence of a Palestinian, and in many instances the named scapegoat moved out so that what had begun as a welcome acceptance began to end as a segregation; the formation of a kind of ghetto in a slowly vacated and re-occupied area of the camp.43 The relationship between Jewish Palestinian POWs and British POWs was clearly far from straightforward and, as the pressure of POW life increased, Jews became scapegoats for general frustrations. Any success then on the part of individuals like Sherriff in stifling German attempts at segregation could be undermined by prejudicial attitudes from the British themselves. As Watchorn confirmed, Jewish POWs had ‘all been moved to one barrack’ and were effectively ghettoised at Lamsdorf.44 It was not just Palestinian Jews who felt the cold wind of British antiSemitism. Norman Rubenstein was a British Jew who was generally popular and quite influential among some of his fellow prisoners. However, an exchange with another POW demonstrated the kind of pressure that Jewish prisoners were under. George Cahn, a Jew from Glasgow, came to Rubenstein with a proposition. It was the custom in their barrack that one member of each room was left behind to clean up and sweep the room after the rest left the camp for work. This was carried out on a rotating basis. Cahn secretly suggested that Rubenstein got him the job permanently on the basis that they were ‘both Jewish’ and therefore should do each other favours. Rubenstein was outraged. He replied that if he preferred Cahn the British POWs would all believe that the Germans were right and that ‘Jewish people look after themselves.’ Rubenstein believed that it was precisely because they were both Jews that no favours could be given. Moreover, he continued, ‘because I’m Jewish, I fight that much harder, and because I’m Jewish, I take greater risks to prove to the other prisoners that Jewish people are just as tough and just as resolute as any British POW.’45 It would seem that Rubenstein recognised that Jewish POWs were left with a double burden. Not only did they have to deal with the deleterious effects of

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captivity, but they also were forced to prove their integrity to a far greater extent than non-Jewish POWs to avoid accusations from some of their comrades that were often just another form of anti-Semitism. Although it should be remembered that the memoirs of Jewish exPOWs emphasise the sense of unity that existed between themselves and the majority of Britons, it seems that they had to endure additional pressures. Life as a POW was pretty miserable but at each turn, Jews were faced with dilemmas others did not have to confront.

CHAPTER 3 JEWISH POWS AND JEWISH INMATES

In the life of a POW camp, Jewishness mattered. It also counted when Jewish POWs came into contact with Jewish forced workers. Accounts portray a sense of identification between these two groups who both found themselves in German captivity but in very different circumstances. Norman Rubenstein entered Stalag XXIA near Schildberg (now Ostrzeszo´w in Poland) in the winter of 1940–1. Even this early in the war, POWs found themselves working side-byside with Jewish slave labourers. When Rubenstein and his comrades were digging a canal working alongside these labourers who swept snow away from the banks, he was handed a note by one of the foremen, which turned out to be from a Jewish woman working in the same area. He deduced from the handwriting that this was ‘an obviously highly cultured person’ and she asked ‘when England was going to “come and save us?”’ Rubenstein was both moved and vexed by the note and, after two days, he replied stating that it would be ‘many years’ before the end of the war and advising her to ‘get out of the country’. He knew ‘it would be of little comfort to her and her family’ but gave the foreman food from his Red Cross parcel to pass on and promised to send more ‘as regularly as possible.’ A ‘week or so’ later, Rubenstein asked the foreman if he would take some more food to the woman, but the man ‘shook his head’ informing the POW that they had ‘gone’. He said that the Gestapo and SS had taken her with the rest of the Jews at night and that they were probably in the Warsaw Ghetto or a concentration camp, adding

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‘we don’t know and we don’t ask.’1 Donating his personal allocation of food to a suffering stranger was not something that came easily in a situation where food was at a premium and having enough became an obsession. But Rubenstein was clearly moved enough by the woman’s plight to make the offer and frustrated because of his inability to provide meaningful help. So, in deciding to give food regularly to a fellow Jew who he did not know but seemed to identify with, he made a choice that potentially impacted on his own wellbeing. That, in the end, his plan was overtaken by events does not detract from the fact that he was prepared to act with calculated selflessness. Julius Green also found himself identifying with Jewish slave labourers when he was performing dental duties at camp E3 near Blechhammer. He despaired when he saw ‘a group of emaciated slave girls’ with shaved heads and armbands sweeping the streets, guarded by ‘S.S. thugs and an Alsatian dog.’ This was not an isolated experience. He regularly saw inmates worked ‘from dawn to dusk with little food’ and ‘any who stopped work or fell down with exhaustion were flogged to their feet’. These workers, as Green correctly observed, were ‘hired out’ by the ‘local concentration camp’ to be ‘worked until nothing more could be got out of them; they were then murdered.’2 Green may have been appalled by what he saw, but his reaction was far from straightforward. First of all, he became used to seeing the violence. Green admitted that ‘one of the significant and terrible things about being in daily sight and contact with such horrors was that one became inured to it.’ He had to keep reminding himself that such treatment was not normal, that ‘those poor wretches were fellow human beings, very often fellow Jews.’3 Like Rubenstein, Green provides us with evidence of an internal struggle as to how he should react to seeing and knowing the fate of Jewish inmates. Life as a POW, especially one who travelled around and saw terrible things for himself was not easy, but he seems to suggest that being ‘surrounded by misery’ helped him to feel that he and his fellow Jewish POWs ‘were not too badly off’. On the other hand, his sympathy for inmates seemed to stem from knowing that ‘everywhere we looked we saw evidence of what, under other circumstances, would have been our lot.’4 Although Green told his story using the tone and language of a British officer, his musings show that, as a frequent spectator of anti-Semitic fury, his Jewishness was of consequence.5

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Cyril Rofe was a British Jew who adopted a Palestinian identity because he believed that doing so would increase his chances of a successful escape. He was another who witnessed the appalling treatment meted out to Jews in Poland. Having changed places with a Palestinian soldier, Simon Kacenelenbeigen, he and his new fellow prisoners were sent to Tarnowitz (now Tarnowskie Go´ry, about one hour from Auschwitz) making several train changes on the way. Each time they stopped at a station they were joined by ‘more Palestinians coming from different working parties’. At one station ‘a party of civilian Jews got off the train’ they were taking, escorted by S.S. men and wearing ‘the sixpointed Star of David not only on their lapels but also on their backs and on a knee of their trousers.’ Rofe noted that ‘they were mostly old men and when they were slow in crossing the lines, the Germans beat them to hurry them on.’ When their train finally reached Tarnowitz, a transport made up of cattle trucks stopped in front of the POWs. It was full of Jewish women. As the train pulled out one of Rofe’s Palestinian colleagues, a Joseph Luzemberg ‘threw them a handful of boiled sweets’. The starving women ‘scrambled to get just one.’6 On their march to the awaiting barracks Rofe’s company passed a Jewish forced labour camp. According to the POW, ‘there were several wooden barracks in a compound surrounded by a high barbed-wire fence, and the Jews were guarded by men from the Todt Labour Organization with dogs.’7 Once they were set to work, the Palestinian POWs regularly ‘came into contact with European Jews, gangs of whom’, according to Rofe, ‘were working everywhere.’ Daily contact allowed the Palestinians to see that the Jewish civilians: toiled long hours, so that the cumulative aggregate of their work was considerable. In charge of each group was a Jew appointed by the Germans. Armed with a whip, it was his duty to keep the others working. If he failed, he got twenty-five strokes when he returned to the camp. Jews had to doff their caps when speaking to any German and were not even allowed to use the latrines provided for other workers. A gang of them worked near us on the railway, marching to work long before we did and finishing long after us. They marched in threes, and it was a common enough sight to see the two outside men supporting the centre man who was too ill to walk. At the job he would be given a shovel against which he

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would lean, except when being watched, for the next ten hours. In the evening his friends would half carry him back to camp, so that he would not drop behind the marching column and be prodded on with bayonets by the guards. The Germans only allowed a very small fixed percentage of Jews to be excused work through illness. It required a very high temperature before a man was accepted as sick, and in no circumstances were more than the allotted number allowed. To discourage illness still further, when a man was ill for too long or became unable work as a result of the semi-starvation to which they were subjected, he was classified as unproductive and sent to Auschwitz concentration camp. So what kind of response did these things evoke? The Palestinian POWs organised weekly collections of ‘food, clothing, medicines, soap and cigarettes.’ Bribes were required in order to make sure these reached the victims but the response of the recipients was, wrote Rofe, overwhelming. The amount they gave was, he admitted, ‘little enough’, but it was received with ‘an undying gratitude’. Rofe believed that because help ‘came from Palestinians, from fellow Jews, many of whom had themselves only recently fled from European persecution’ it provided inmates with a sense of hope.8 In other words, Rofe suggested that it was not just the physical provisions that helped the inmates. Almost as important, as one French Jew told him, was ‘the sympathy, the friendship that could overcome all barriers, the smiles that could avoid the guard and leap the barbed wire’. Because this message came from an inmate it is difficult to refute, nonetheless, Rofe’s assessment that response of Palestinian POWs to the suffering of fellow Jews provided ‘something far greater – a new faith and a new courage’ is perhaps too optimistic. The grateful response of the inmates to small acts of kindness says more about the terrible conditions in which they were forced to exist and the upturned values of the Nazi system than anything else. Nonetheless, Rofe clearly wanted to believe that the offerings made by the POWs had been worthwhile, and it is probable that his sense of identification with Jewish slave labourers played a part in focusing that desire. Perhaps the most poignant testimony detailing interaction between Jewish POWs and Jewish inmates came from the papers of

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Hans Paul Weiner. Weiner was working at a mine in the area of Heydebreck, part of the Auschwitz camp network. Coal was dispatched from a ‘kind of silo’ into trucks below and odd pieces of coal would fall in the snow. Weiner wrote: We saw with awe about a dozen concentration camp inmates, in their striped pyjamas who were supposed to pick up these odd pieces, to return it to the trucks, with shovels. These prisoners, all with a yellow stars, were young and ghastly looking. They were walking skeletons, half frozen, their feet wrapped in newspaper inside wooden clogs, obviously near to death. They were so emaciated and weak, they had to hold on to the shovels for support to keep them upright and if one fell into the snow, he did not have the strength to get up again. I never forgot the fright in their eyes lying helpless in the snow, until two others hobbled near, to lift him up. The POWs wanted to do something to help but found it difficult to communicate. They asked whether the slave labourers spoke German, Polish, Yiddish, Russian or French, but they just ‘shied away in fear’.9 Then, out of desperation, one POW: raised his arms to heaven and shouted, ‘Shema Israel, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai Echad, (Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One)’ words of the beginning of a prayer every Jew will have heard a thousand times . . . then there was some reaction of disbelief with a gesture of ‘YOU? YOU?’ and we pointed at each other, ‘YES, YES’ all of us. Tears were then running down their faces – and ours – they may have thought we came to save them, but what could we do? Perhaps then there was something in the idea that Jewish POWs could be a brief source of comfort to inmates who had been ripped from their homes, transported hundreds of miles to barely exist in a harsh foreign climate (it was discovered that these were Greek Jews) and treated with, what must have seemed to many, incomprehensible brutality. To be so disoriented, so weakened, to see friends and family disappear or die in front of your eyes and then to be confronted with something so strangely

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familiar and so resonant; objectivity only goes so far when assessing the impact of this unexpected interaction. Despite this emotional scene, all the POWs could do was give the inmates the food they were due to eat that day and ‘a box of 20 Craven A cigarettes’.10 So, being Jewish and a POW counted in a number of significant ways. Fear of capture by German forces, each of whom had sworn a personal oath of allegiance to a rabid anti-Semitic leader, was just the beginning of the ordeal. Knowing that they were earmarked and a sitting target, the actuality of separation once captured must have seemed like the consummation of pre-captive anxieties. Targeted outbursts of violence by guards, or German officials straining at the leash for a more draconian anti-Jewish POW policy, did little to help. The perceived usefulness of Jews to both captors and captives perhaps acted as a respite, but it was a dubious blessing. The petty jealousies of fellow POWs could bring to the fore anti-Semitic prejudices that had thus far lain dormant. In fact, as well as enduring the same privations as others, Jewish POWs could be forced to act according to a more stringent standard so as to prevent the onset of familiar bigotry and possible segregation. That said there were striking examples of friendship and comradeship between British and Jewish POWs and postwar accounts testify to these. Ultimately, Jewish POWs whether British or Palestinian in origin, benefitted from the protection of the Geneva Convention, the protestations of British officials and the brave stand made by particular Men of Confidence. However, when Jewish POWs worked with or stumbled across Jewish slave labourers, they were beset by dilemmas. How could they help those so patently suffering such terrible depredations? A shared Jewish heritage was not enough to overcome a set of obstacles placed in the way by the stifling imposition of German anti-Semitic policies.

CHAPTER 4 THE REACTION OF BRITISH POWS TO THE OUTWORKING OF NAZI ANTI-JEWISH POLICIES

Generally, the majority of British captives were organised within a camp system specifically designated for the purpose of holding POWs. Some British prisoners, however, were incarcerated in concentration camps scattered across German-occupied territory. Reasons for their internment outside of the mainstream British camp populations varied, but these individuals found themselves in a regime that was altogether more draconian and life threatening. These Britons existed outside the protection of the Geneva Convention and were therefore subject to the whims of sadistic camp authorities and the plethora of debilitating factors that constituted concentration camp life. At one time or another, camps such as Buchenwald, Natzweiler, Sachsenhausen, Mauthausen, Dachau, Majdanek and Theresienstadt all held British prisoners.1 These prisoners witnessed at close quarters the daily tribulations of inmates and some did not live to tell the tale because they themselves were murdered. Flight Lieutenant Edward Callender, for instance, escaped from a POW camp and was arrested by the Gestapo. He was sent to Mauthausen and hanged on 17 May 1944.2 Those who survived were later able to relate a particular story of life on the inside of a concentration camp. Given their level of intimacy with day-to-day horror, it is possible establish whether their testimonies support existing theories about the British presence. Could this presence within the concentration camp system, as Joseph White suggests for Auschwitz, act

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as a guarantor of humanitarian values? Did British POWs, either explicitly or implicitly, challenge the Nazi racial hierarchy? In order to answer these questions it will be necessary to examine accounts from different camps. The amount of evidence unearthed so far dictates that three sites can now be examined: Buchenwald, Theresienstadt and the environs of Auschwitz; within the latter, specific attention will be given to British POWs based with E715 work detachment. A section is also given over to how British personnel reacted to the forced marches towards the end of the war. Finally, in order to provide useful comparisons, the way in which the British reacted to the suffering of Russian POWs will be explored, along with a brief investigation of how Britons interacted with their German captors.

Buchenwald Buchenwald main camp was established in mid-1937. Situated northeast of Weimar in east central Germany, it covered an area of 257 acres, later expanded to 470 acres.3 It originally consisted of 33 wooden barracks, 15 two-storey stone buildings, and various other structures such as hospital, kitchen, laundry, canteen, storerooms, workshops and a drill square, all on the exposed slope of Ettersberg Hill. Other buildings were added later, so that by 1943 there was also a disinfection building, a railway station and a brothel. The obligatory three-metre-high doublelayered electrified barbed-wire fence enclosed the camp and two highlevel guard towers facilitated a panoramic view of the complex. Until 1939, when they were posted to the front, the job of guarding the camp fell to the SS-Totenkopfstandarte 3 ‘Thuringen’. The older men of the Concentration Camp Reserve replaced them and in July 1944 2,700 Luftwaffe personnel were added. SS-Standartenfu¨hrer Karl Koch ran the camp until December 1941 and SS-Oberfu¨hrer Hermann Pister succeeded him. Overall, Buchenwald acted as ‘a concentration camp, production site, military base, and civilian SS settlement.’4 Initially, the inmate population consisted of German civilians perceived as harmful to the Nazi state. They were classified as political prisoners.5 But, the makeup of the inmate population diversified as the war progressed, expanding to include Russian POWs, ‘professional prisoners’, common law prisoners, ‘asocials,’ homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, political prisoners, British and Allied POWs and Jews.6

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According to a postwar report completed for the British security services by Karl Posso¨gel, an ex-inmate of Buchenwald, the first mass transport of Jews arrived in August 1938 from Dachau ‘consisting mostly of Austrians, including many learned men, artists [and] musicians’. In November 1938, numbers of Jewish men in the camp were swelled by the arrival of those rounded up after Reichskristallnacht. These men were ‘driven up the hill from Weimar station in double time, by guards using their rifle butts and bayonets’. Those who fell behind ‘were shot on the spot.’ The ones that made it through the gate into the inner camp were made ‘run the gauntlet of serried ranks of Blockfuehrer armed with clubs.’ They were then: herded together in temporary plank huts without any heating or floor, and in an unbelievably restricted area and for days were given no water. This part of the camp was partitioned off with barbed wire, and was guarded by professional criminals, who speculated on the large sums of money and valuables which the Jews possessed and extracted payment of RM100 notes for a cup of dirty water. Cases occurred of these cut-throats inspecting false teeth and killing Jews who had large gold fillings so that they could pull out these fillings.7 Clearly, the culture of brutality was in place before the war began and Jews were deemed particular objects of hatred. Only the advent of a typhus epidemic in December 1938 forced the German authorities, which were afraid of the disease spreading, to improve conditions for Jews by placing them in normal camp buildings. Inmates were initially put to work clearing forests, quarrying, or working for local firms. As the war progressed, a network of sub camps supplemented Buchenwald main camp and prisoners were allotted to the manufacture of armaments at a newly constructed factory adjacent to the main camp. Conditions at work and in the camp were generally terrible. There was a ‘bare minimum of food rations, clothing, and shelter’. In most cases, they were subject to the cruelties of the guards as well as prisoner overseers and foremen. From 1943 though, it was the Communist inmates, those identified with a red triangle, who exerted most control within the camp hierarchy. The length of their imprisonment, a shared outlook and their ability to organise themselves

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meant that, as a group, they became a stable entity in a shifting environment. This and the fact that they were not racially reprehensible to the SS enabled them to work themselves into positions of influence. Outbreaks of various diseases, such as dysentery and typhus, were common.8 After the outbreak of war, Jews had continued to arrive and die through ill-treatment, murder or deportation so that, according to Posso¨gel, by mid 1944, there was only ‘one block of Jews’ left in the camp.9 This soon changed as Buchenwald experienced a rush of new inmates due to the advance of the Red Army and the forced the evacuation of the eastern camps. By August 1944 it held 43,500 prisoners and by February 1945 112,000 people were squashed into appalling conditions. One third of these were Jews.10 In August 1944, 168 Allied airmen were plunged into this environment. Eleven of these men were from Australia and New Zealand, but the majority were British. Upon arrival by cattle truck from Paris they were treated with the usual brutality handed out to new inmates.11 Their identity discs were confiscated and their demands to be treated according to the stipulations of the Geneva Convention fell on deaf ears. A Special Operations Executive (SOE) agent, Forest YeoThomas, already imprisoned in Buchenwald, witnessed their arrival: They were stripped of their clothing, completely shorn and dressed in filthy rags and then made to live out in what was called the small lager, which was a particularly vile and filthy enclosure within the main camp. The Commandant of the camp used to go and visit them periodically and insult them, called them terrorfliers, and murderers, and threatening them with dire penalties for having bombed Germans. They were treated in violation of all conventions.12 One of the airmen, Colin Burgess, later recalled that ‘food consisted of a small daily ration of the rough black [bread], a third of a litre of soup, and coffee’, which was always cold by the time it arrived. They had to line up for ‘appell’ – roll call – each day and suffered occasional beatings.13 The POWs arrived at Buchenwald at a time when the surrounding factories became an increasingly viable bombing target for Allied planes. They were able to witness the impact of the bombing, but were also able

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to confirm that bombs were not the only problem for slave labourers. Burgess described one particular air raid when the bombs fell approximately 200 yards away from the airmen. He recalled streams of terrified workers running out of the factories only to be met by German guards, who ‘shot them down in their scores. Political prisoners, Russian slaves and Jewish children alike were torn apart by the machinegun fire.’14 Following the air raid, the Allied airmen were informed that their position in the camp was under review, but disease, dysentery in particular, had already started to take its toll. Lack of proper accommodation meant that even escaping from the elements was no easy task. One place of refuge was Block 58, a ‘windowless hut thirty metres long and eight metres wide’, a space that had to be shared with others infested with lice. The inmates of this hut included some 500 ‘German gypsy boys aged six to sixteen’.15 The presence of children at Buchenwald is discussed by historian Bill Niven, who states that by December 1944, ‘more than a third of the camp’s inmates were under twenty years of age’, many of them ‘without a single relative.’ However, this was another shifting element of the camp population because the young had been ‘frequently transported back out of Buchenwald’, sometimes to Auschwitz where they were murdered.16 But, thanks to the Camp Elder and Communist, Erich Reschke, some children were saved from transportation. In 1943, Reschke was instrumental in persuading the SS that the children should be collected together in order to teach them ‘German order and discipline’ and prevent them from wandering around the camp in search of food. This was achieved by assigning them to a specific barrack, Block 8, which held approximately 2,000 youngsters of various nationalities, mostly Jews. Block 8 was relatively tucked away and this helped to keep the children ‘out of sight from the SS’, freed them from assignment to work details and gave them ‘a degree of protection against transportation’.17 Such actions by the Communists were motivated more by political and ideological opposition to the Nazis than specific concern for Jews. Nonetheless, the creation of Block 8 arguably saved hundreds of young lives, even though most children were not so lucky. The Allied airmen were clearly aware of children in the camp and Burgess admitted that they were deeply affected when, without warning, the SS hauled the ‘gypsy children from Block 58, herded them into a group, and surrounded them with carbine-bearing guards’ before

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loading them into a large van, which was driven away to an unknown destination. According to Burgess, a rumour spread round the camp that the vehicle was ‘an elaborate gas chamber.’ This is interesting, not because it was true but precisely because the rumour had no substance. After all there is no evidence that gas vans, as used at Chelmno, were in operation at Buchenwald and it is highly unlikely that the inmates would have thought up for themselves the concept of a gas van used to kill the inhabitants.18 The very existence of such rumours show that information about the mass murder of Jews filtered throughout the concentration camp network, again rending the veil of secrecy surrounding the extermination programme. But it was not just the fate of children that POWs at Buchenwald were able to witness. As Burgess observed, ‘acts of grossest perversity were committed daily throughout the camp’.19 Britons were even coerced into performing some of the unsavoury tasks that went with mass death. For example, airman Bob Mills was forced to push a cart that was used for the daily collection of the dead from around the camp and take it to the crematorium. Welshman Terry Gould, who was shot down on 2 June 1944, confirmed ‘it was like hell to us, we saw so many atrocities. People were dying all the time through lack of nourishment and typhus.’20 Death by disease was clearly a daily occurrence, but the airmen were also confronted with more overt forms of brutality. It was quite normal that they witnessed a man, who for some minor infraction, was ‘handcuffed to the entrance gate and left there to die of thirst and starvation’. In addition, bodies ‘left hanging on the gate sometimes for several days’ served as a warning to other inmates. POWs were also ‘compelled to attend executions.’21 Such was the relentless nature of the horror that, according to Burgess, shock gave way to ‘numbing inurement.’22 Nonetheless, and despite such barbarity, this did not prevent British POWs, or indeed all inmates, from understanding that Jews were especially targeted. Posso¨gel confirmed in his report that in Buchenwald it was common knowledge that Jews in particular ‘died through privation, ill-treatment or murder’. He noted that these everyday methods proved ‘too slow to the central authorities and so large transports of Jews were sent to other camps’ including Gross-Rosen, ‘Lublin’ [Majdanek] and Auschwitz. He was convinced that the ‘manner of transport in nailed-up and barbed-wire protected goods wagons was

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by itself enough to kill a percentage.’ Buchenwald was intrinsically linked to the wider network of camps throughout the greater German Reich, even the extermination sites in the east. Again this information filtered throughout the camp population. Posso¨gel’s testimony, given immediately after the war, shows that killing Jews was part of Buchenwald’s modus operandi, that it did not operate in isolation from other camps and that these things were common knowledge. There was a regular flow of inmates from the east, such as a transport of Poles in spring 1943 who provided information on the ‘execution sites in Auschwitz’. Posso¨gel also provided details of some of the more mundane connections between the eastern camps and Buchenwald: In connection with the mass murder of mostly Dutch Jews in Auschwitz Concentration Camp by gas it must be mentioned that the clothes of these victims were sent by hundred thousands into other Concentration Camps and Ostarbeiter Camps – also Buchenwald. Since no striped cloth had been prepared since 1943, these civilian clothes, with paint markings, were given out. Hardly any of these suits was without large stains of dried blood. Numerous children’s things were included. Not only were Jews and others in western camps regularly transported to sites specifically designated for mass murder, but their blood-stained clothes were ferried back to those same camps for re-issue. No wonder Burgess was able to make the connection between Buchenwald and other extermination sites when he wrote that: One day a party of 500 Jews who had been brought into Buchenwald were massed for despatch to Auschwitz. These men had been forced to work in a synthetic petrol factory near Leipzig, and some had been burned terribly when the factory was bombed by the Americans. These terrified individuals were marched to the railway station and crushed into four cattle trucks. Those close to death and unable to walk to the siding were piled onto carts drawn by other prisoners, who were forced to push them along Caracho Road, [the main road into Buchenwald Camp] at double time. The strongest in the carts struggled feebly to raise their heads from beneath the pile of dying and dead, but many died on the trip to

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the station. Their bodies were simply flung through the open doors of the cattle trucks.23 The level of detail in this evidence suggests Burgess was an eyewitness to these events. Not that he was able to help the victims. In fact, there is nothing in the testimony of Allied airmen incarcerated at Buchenwald that shows they were able to aid Jews, Gypsies or anyone else destined for death. Unlike the Communists, POWs were only temporary residents (most staying only a few months before transfer to POW camps) and therefore they had comparatively little time to ingratiate themselves into the camp system. Nonetheless, they still had enough time to organise themselves into a recognisable entity amongst a population grouped according to political, national or religious affiliation. Largely responsible for this was the airmen’s commanding officer, Squadron Leader Phillip Lamason, of the New Zealand Air Force. He ensured that discipline was maintained by organising a chain of command while inside the camp. Lamason caught the eye of Yeo-Thomas, who wrote in his postwar report that ‘by his dignified bearing and courage and coolness [he] made a great impression, and there is no doubt that it is mainly due to his resourcefulness’ that the airmen were only temporarily housed at Buchenwald.24 Despite Lamason’s concern for the plight of his men, there were still limits to what he could achieve in the camp. It took all his energy to keep his own people from harm, let alone other inmates. However, the airmen were not the first Allied combatants to arrive in Buchenwald. Shortly beforehand a contingent of SOE agents had been transported there from Fresnes prison in Paris. Two of these, YeoThomas and Christopher Burney, provide evidence that illuminate the limits of British influence and compassion respectively as well as affording crucial insights into concentration camp life. Their accounts need to be understood in context. They were not average POWs but members of the elite SOE, a clandestine organisation that in July 1940 sprang from pre-existing elements of the British secret service at the urging of those in the highest echelons of British government.25 This was something new and different: handpicked agents, whose political reliability was ‘complete’, had to be able to work with ‘absolute secrecy’ and ‘fanatical enthusiasm’ behind enemy lines.26 Agents were required to ‘coordinate, inspire, control and assist the nationals of the oppressed countries’ to fight back against their subjugators. To do this they had to

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master guerrilla warfare, sabotage and subversion.27 The level of preparation for each agent reflected the difficulty of the task. A fourstage training plan, including Preliminary, Paramilitary, Finishing Schools and pre-deployment briefing, honed their natural talents and abilities. The first two aspects toughened them up, while the third and fourth prepared them for specialist tasks.28 These individuals were imbued with a particular form of mental toughness and adaptability. If anyone were equipped to help stricken inmates, it would be them.29 Commander Forest Yeo-Thomas, a decorated SOE war hero, was captured on 21 May 1944 while assisting the Free French in the development of their resistance movement.30 His postwar statement provides a blow-by-blow account of his time in captivity. In it, he details his arrival at Gestapo Headquarters in Paris and the extensive torture that followed.31 After transfer to Fresnes Prison in the same city, he was kept in solitary confinement for four months, assaulted by guards, and locked in a punishment cell on scant rations, with no light, no bedding and no means of washing. He was moved to Royallieu-Compie`gne internment camp and then to Saabru¨cken ‘reprisals camp’ (Neue Bremm Gestapo Camp) before transfer to Buchenwald in summer 1944 with a number of other agents. Here they were told to strip for disinfection before they were marched to ‘a special isolation block enclosed in barbed wire’ situated within the camp. Even by SOE standards Yeo-Thomas was considered something special. White Rabbit, the postwar account of his wartime exploits, sets the bar for subsequent tales of wartime derring-do, only, in his case, the claims were true.32 His resourcefulness in the face of intense adversity was verified by many of his erstwhile colleagues. Nonetheless, his reaction to incarceration in Buchenwald, and later Rhemsdorf, where he was confronted with the remorseless killing of Jews, helps provide a unique insight as to what was possible and impossible for a British captive to achieve in extremis. His experiences and responses can therefore be used as a litmus test for assessing the claims of others. Yeo-Thomas was the senior British officer at Buchenwald and took it upon himself to organise his fellow SOE agents into four groups overseen by a staff hierarchy. Within three days he had managed to attain ‘a pretty good idea of the internal organization of the camp’. He established that an SS overseer commanded the camp with the aid of about 6,000 troops. Shedding a rather different light on Communist activities, he also found out that ‘all the internal organisation was in the hands of the German

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internees’ who ‘were in general even more brutal than the S.S. guards.’ Not long after arrival Yeo-Thomas turned down a request by three representatives of the German Communist Party, the ‘Kapos of the canteen, of the barbers, and of the Effektenkammer,’ to aid them in ‘maintaining order in the camp’.33 He did not trust them sufficiently to commit himself or his men to the task. Yeo-Thomas also quickly became aware of the workings of the socalled Guinea Pig Block. He particularly noted the work of Erwin Oskar Ding-Schuler and ‘a medical captain of the S.S. named Schidlewski’. The former was responsible for the experiments on human beings’ whilst the latter went ‘round the out-lying commandos and select[ed] prisoners who were to be executed as being incapable of sufficient work’. Here was clear recognition that the German camp authorities had little regard for life and were in tune with the broad Nazi aim of extermination through work. Yeo-Thomas tried to co-ordinate what was historically a splintered resistance movement within the camp but time was fast running out for him and his comrades. On 10 September 1944 the names of 16 agents who had been interned at the same time as Yeo-Thomas were called out over the camp broadcast system with instructions to report at the main door.34 They were executed by slow strangulation on the night of 11/12 September. None of the men were tried. Polish and Russian groups within the camp fed back details of their murder to the remaining Britons. This was, according to YeoThomas, too much for the German communists who ‘withdrew into their shells’, stating as their reason ‘that they did not approve of officers as they were not considered to belong to the proletariat.’35 Over the next few days, more SOE operatives were taken away and murdered. Yeo-Thomas was understandably getting desperate for himself and the remaining six of his men. So he devised an escape plan. The idea was to, first, get as many of them as possible admitted into the ‘guinea pig block’ and, secondly, to substitute the identities of his men with dead inmates, in an attempt to avoid future detection. This could only be achieved with the help of inmate Eugen Kogon and his boss Ding-Schuler, over whom Yeo-Thomas claims to have exerted a degree of influence by threatening him with postwar prosecution for war crimes. By exerting influence over Ding-Schuler, he was also able to involve the kapo in charge of the ‘guinea pig block’, Arthur Dietzsch, because ‘it was impossible for any substitution to take place without his knowledge’.36

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By late September, with inside help, he had successfully transferred himself, Lieutenant Heszel of the French Secret Service and Captain Harry Peuleve´ of the SOE to the block. Although necessary for survival, this proved to be an extremely risky ploy and what they saw there was shocking in its barbarity. They witnessed ‘many of the experiments carried out by the S.S. on prisoners.’ Prisoners were brought in in batches of 30, given injections of typhus germs, placed under observation and treated. Dutchman and fellow prisoner Jan Schalker informed him that experiments had been carried out on prisoners with phosphorus. Victims were inflicted with ‘grave burns’ and subsequently treated. If they recovered they were given typhus, so it was ‘very seldom that any “guinea pig” ever came out alive.’ About 90 per cent of them died as a result of the experiments.37 In order to demonstrate how much of a risk Yeo-Thomas and his fellow SOE agents were taking by swapping identities with dead French prisoners, it is worth quoting this part of his postwar statement at length: At the beginning of October there were a considerable number of Frenchmen who were dying of typhus and it was decided that we should be substituted for suitable Frenchmen as and when they died. This involved some rather trying experiences and Captain Peuleve´ had a very narrow escape. The man whose identity he was to take was dying extremely slowly, and on a certain day an order came from the Commandant of the camp for Peuleve´ to be executed, whereupon he being in perfect health Arthur Dietzsch immediately gave him about half a dozen injections which resulted in a terrific temperature and made him extremely ill so that when the Commandant of the camp asked for him to be sent up to the execution post Arthur Dietzsch replied that he was unable to move. The Commandant thereupon sent an ambulance to fetch him. Arthur Dietzsch then appealed to Doctor Schuler to speak to him, which he did, but the Commandant was adamant and insisted on executing Peuleve´. The NCO in charge of the ambulance came into the ‘guinea pig block’ and had a look at Peuleve´ who by then was in such a sorry state that even the hardened S.S. Medical Officers realised that he could not be moved and reported accordingly to the commandant. The Commandant then phoned up to the hospital and ordered the German senior

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NCO there to take the syringe full of poison and inject the poison into Captain Peuleve´ who at the time was lying in the bed opposite the man he was going to impersonate. The German NCO came into the ‘guinea pig block’ and was met by Arthur Dietzsch, who pointed out to this NCO that so far he (the NCO) had never been guilty of ill-treatment towards prisoners and that it was a great pity that, so near the end of the war, he should have to compromise himself, whereupon the NCO became rather worried and asked Arthur Dietzsch to do the dirty work for him. Dietzsch pretended to be very reluctant but eventually allowed himself to be persuaded, and, accompanied by the NCO, walked into the ward where Peuleve´ was lying. He took the syringe pretending to inject it into Peuleve´ stuck the needle into the pillow, and emptied the syringe and returned it to the NCO who took it and reported to the commandant of the camp that he had duly executed Peuleve´. About half an hour after this incident the Frenchman died and Peuleve´’s number was painted on his thigh and he was sent up to the crematorium under Peuleve´’s name. This left five men more for substitution.38 Clearly then, the process of substitution was no easy task, but on Friday 13 October 1944, Yeo-Thomas’s identity was substituted for a Frenchman who had just died, whereupon, under his new identity, he was sent to the slave labour camp at Rhemsdorf. Such was the rate of death dolled out to Jewish inmates at this new camp that Yeo-Thomas called it a ‘Jewish Extermination Lager’. He had not escaped, but he had managed to buy himself some time. Rhemsdorf was a relatively small sub-camp of Buchenwald which, according to Yeo-Thomas, was commanded by Obersturmfu¨hrer ‘Rudi Keun’, whose girlfriend was the local undertaker. It seems to have been common knowledge at the camp that Keun, as a matter of policy, would provide her with ‘10 or 12’ bodies per day to keep business buoyant. Thus the Commandant would use the slightest pretext to murder inmates in order to meet that quota. He had more than adequate help from his staff who included Rottenfu¨hrer Hagan. Yeo-Thomas, in another example of how information travelled through the camp system, specifically mentioned that Hagan ‘came from Auschwitz where he had the reputation of being one of the most brutal men in the S.S.’ When

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Yeo-Thomas arrived in Rehmsdorf on 9 November 1944, he estimated that ‘there were approximately 6,000 Jews in the camp, all in rags and half starved.’ They were principally there, he reported, for the purpose of providing Jewish labour for the BRABAG synthetic petrol factory near Zeitz.39 They were forced to get out of bed at about 4 a.m. before standing, often for hours at a time, in all weathers inadequately dressed. Yeo-Thomas reported that those who collapsed were beaten in order to make them rise, although in the majority of cases they stayed where they fell. Work commandos were then marched out of the camp, closely followed by a cart dragged by inmates who picked up those who failed to reach the work place. As a final indignity, those who fell were subjected to abuse from ‘women and children’ from a nearby village who ‘would spit on them, kick them and call them “filthy Jews”’, before they were carted back to camp. Under his assumed identity, Yeo-Thomas was given a job in the hospital (in camp lingo, revier). It consisted of three huts, each was ten yards wide by 30 yards long into which were crammed about ‘400 to 500 men’ who slept on four-tiered bunks in conditions that were ‘absolutely appalling’. There was no sanitation and many inmates ‘were so weak from starvation that they could not move from their bunks.’ There were no bedpans or bottles, so men ‘fouled their bunks and it percolated through from bunk to bunk.’ Because of his job at the hospital, YeoThomas was also able to gain an insight into the terrible conditions prevailing elsewhere in the camp. Men were brought in daily with fractured skulls, jaws, arms, legs, and ribs, all due to beatings received from the SS guards. In most cases these injuries proved fatal. He reported that men were ‘forced to walk, or rather stagger’ to the hospital where they often collapsed and died ‘within an hour of their arrival from starvation and exhaustion.’ When the hospital was too full the Commandant would, according to Yeo-Thomas, ‘select very arbitrarily . . . about 50 per cent’ of the ‘sick whom he considered would not be able to work again and they would disappear never to be heard of again.’ He added: I have personally carried over a thousand bodies from the revier to the charnel house, and in view of the fact that I myself then weighted slightly less than eight stone and was very weak it will be realised how emaciated the corpses were that I had to carry.

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But before each body was taken out, the mouth of the deceased was routinely examined for gold teeth.40 In April 1945, Yeo-Thomas, who had spent five months at Rhemsdorf, was marched out of the camp with other survivors. The testimony of Yeo-Thomas raises some issues. Firstly, is it exaggerated? Was his postwar report an exercise in self-aggrandisement? This is unlikely because, in the process of telling his story, Yeo-Thomas specifically names individuals who were in a position to verify his account. These included Eugen Kogon, who later wrote the seminal work on Buchenwald, The Theory and Practice of Hell, and went on to become a university professor at Darmstadt and a key figure in the European federalist movement. He also referred to fellow officers such as Harry Peuleve´, members of the French resistance and even perpetrators who were subsequently named by others in postwar prosecutions.41 None of those who survived contradicted him. Furthermore, as he stated towards the end of his report, ‘My main concern . . . is the punishment of the guilty parties in Rehmsdorf’ and, following his return to Britain, he worked tirelessly to this end making several trips to the continent. He did this even after many months living in debilitating conditions and while his health was failing. Verification of this is contained in a separate report detailing Yeo-Thomas’s postwar activities.42 The second point is that Yeo-Thomas’s testimony reveals the constraints under which he had to operate. His training, skills and resourcefulness could not, in the camp environment, translate into meaningful opposition to the brutal regime. He was entirely unable to influence what was happening to Jewish inmates. In fact, it was all he could do to prevent his own demise. Even the targeting of SOE agents in Buchenwald by the German authorities could not be met with open rebellion. Instead Yeo-Thomas was forced to assume a false French identity and effectively hide himself from view. From that point, his existence became increasingly precarious and personal survival dictated his daily regimen. The limitations of what Yeo-Thomas was able to achieve on behalf of victims are evident in the following passage. Despite the awful task of carrying the bodies and stacking them up day-after-day, he did not want people to think: we were indifferent or callous; we lived in the shadow of death, we knew that we might at any time ourselves be laid out in this same

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hut, naked and stiff. Though we could not render the last rites, we always did our best to treat the remnants of our fellow prisoners with all the reverence we could. The only thing we could do was uncover ourselves as we laid each body down and stand for a few moments in silence, for we were constantly watched, as if we were too long the SS men would curse us and aim blows at us.43 Ultimately, although Yeo-Thomas was keen to uphold to the best of his ability the dignity of those who had died, his compassion made little difference in the context of camp life. The strictures placed upon him and his fellow inmates were simply too great to overcome. Yeo-Thomas provides a good comparative model for those who claim to have acted heroically when faced with the cataclysm of human carnage induced by the relentless onslaught of Nazi ideology in action. Yeo-Thomas was one of a group of SOE agents in Buchenwald. Another of these was Christopher Burney, who also wrote an account of his experiences. Published in 1945, it is a narrative that has not received much attention from Holocaust scholars. This is surprising, especially given how much it reveals of both concentration camp life and contemporary attitudes towards the Jewish tragedy. Born in 1917, Burney had a privileged upbringing, but before the war spent time in a variety of part-time jobs.44 After joining the South Wales Borderers on the Supplementary Reserve, he was recruited to the SOE in 1941 and dropped into France the following year. He was captured after only a few months active service.45 Following an extended stint in solitary confinement at Fresnes Prison, he was transported to Buchenwald. It was this experience that he recorded in The Dungeon Democracy, a memoir remarkable both for its raw insights as well as its reflective prose.46 After arrival at Buchenwald, Burney managed to set up ‘a resistance movement of a kind’. However, as M. R. D. Foot, the leading British historian of the SOE and French Resistance, explained: Burney made an intelligible, disastrous mistake in setting about this laudable if hopeless task: he selected his men on his own assessment of their character, without regard to their political views. Consequently his group was early interpenetrated by some of the more admirable of Buchenwald’s communists, who kept their own party informed of this rival organization to their own

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and kept Burney away from the communists’ few dozen hidden sub-machine-guns. When in the end the camp guards ran away, Burney and his surviving SOE companions . . . were lucky not to be liquidated before the Americans arrived a few hours later.47 Burney’s failure to effectively challenge the incumbent camp elite in some ways conditions the tone of his memoir. However, this was not his only motivation for writing. His postwar account of time in Buchenwald was written, he said, because he had: suffered enough at the hands of the Nazis of the elemental sufferings of mankind, of brutality and hunger and cold and fatigue, to be able to understand and speak of them at first hand . . . I saw with my own eyes far worse suffered by others. I have watched men die in filth and squalor and the stench of their own rotting flesh.48 Burney was someone who understood the horror of camp life. He acknowledged that he had suffered something of it himself, but recognised the suffering of others was greater. The torture of the seemingly perennial roll call, the effects of starvation, the outworking of the aspiration of destruction through work, human experiments, the ‘pre-historic savagery’ and systematic mass murder were all noted. But Burney was not inured by the horrors of the camp, neither was he struck dumb by trauma. Also, he was no casual observer, for his writing was infused with a deep sensibility to human suffering. Take, for example, his description of roll calls. They took place, he wrote, on the Appleplatz, ‘that square of mud and stone at the top of the camp’, which saw ‘more men die than most of the battlefields of history.’ What was supposed to last 15 minutes stretched out with seeming interminability and he told of a time when it lasted a full 36 hours, each man standing rigidly to attention the whole time: There was no wind, which was broken by trees or warmed by sunlit fields before it reached the Platz. They came, fresh and raw from their birthplace, from the snows of the far north, the alps of the Russian tundras, wet and cold from the Atlantic, and explored with their virgin icy fingers every cringing corner of each

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quivering body and then passed on warmed and delighted with the last treasured calories of this human jetsam, of which most had forgotten God or such spiritual values as they may have had, and had abandoned themselves, and in their turn been abandoned to the primitive care of keeping their hearts beating and the thin blood running in their veins.49 Burney was a man who had observed the suffering of others at close quarters; he had studied it in detail, seen its effects and did not remain unmoved. He wrote of the hospital, freshly built in a new forest clearing, in which ‘prisoners could die as miserably as before but in more formal surroundings’. He relayed to his British readership the hideous details of experimentation on humans – the phosphorus burning ‘without anaesthetic, of course’, the ‘hormone treatment of homosexuals’ and the injections of typhus.50 However, Burney deciphered that ‘the key to the system was work’, indeed he saw it as ‘the logos around which revolved the whole cosmos of camp life.’ Anyone who did not work sufficiently hard for the overly exacting supervisors was ‘likely as not to be executed for sabotage’ or sent to the quarry ‘generally with the comment that he need not return in the evening’. Burney explained that they would be murdered by ‘one of several expedients, the most fancied of which was throwing his cap across the sentry-line and [his guards] forcing him to fetch it. The sentries, laconically obeying the letter of their orders, shot him as he crossed the line.’51 Burney noted that every inmate had to work but that ‘who worked where, who had the soft jobs and who must surrender his life to the quarry or the roads’ was of no concern to individual overseers. The allotment of workers was instead the prerogative of what Burney termed ‘the fungus aristocracy’. What then did Burney mean by the ‘fungus aristocracy’? Well, the camp guards were not the only ones of whom inmates had to be wary. There were other threats to life and limb that were subtler but no less deadly, which had their root in the division of power in the camp population. He noted how, in the food-deprived camp domain, German Communists who held positions of influence, ‘had all the soup they wanted and often took more than they could eat themselves in order to give it to their friends.’ It was also possible for them to get other lifegiving treasures such as extra bread, sausage or margarine. In what Burney perceived to be a tyranny of the few over the many, the amount of

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extra food they consumed was ‘of such proportions that some hundreds could have received daily that little extra food which . . . meant the physical difference between starvation and near-starvation’. However, it was not merely the physical effects of malnutrition that needed to be considered because, as Burney observed, the mere promise of the possibility of food provided the fortunate few with ‘the greatest moral support of all, which was the certainty of being able to look forward to relief.’ He continued: A man who is really hungry and who can calculate that tomorrow or the day after or even next week he will be given an extra 200 grammes of bread or an extra litre of soup, lives on that hope and stifles the despair of helplessness. Fair-minded men, who thought of their fellow-prisoners as comrades in distress and considered their position as a responsibility to them and not as a power to be wielded for their own whim, would have [distributed left over food]. Nothing was easier; but it was never done and those who have seen the pitiable state to which thousands of prisoners were reduced by starvation, who have seen men too weak to stand and yet who made a weight of skin and bone which could be carried in the crook of a woman’s arm, can wonder at the inconscience of those others, who, well-fed themselves, denied the poor wrecks even that little of which they freely disposed.52 Burney’s judgement was written from the point of view of an inmate who was not part of the influential inner circle and perhaps underestimates the way in which the camp system warped the values of the inhabitants. However, it was a damning judgement from someone who was there and had a good idea of how those who occupied positions within the ruling strata were in a position to help those who were not. The many thousands who were in need of help were spread across a localised system of camps.53 Burney identified the ‘Work Office’ as the centre of the operation and accordingly ‘the keystone around which’ the German authorities ‘could build their dungeon.’ He saw how labour and extermination coalesced; that their intrinsic interconnectedness created the ‘logic’ of the camp experience. Some parts of this network of camps had achieved a degree of local infamy, such as ‘Dora’ (Mittelbau-Dora)

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producing ‘V-bombs’, or Ohrdruf, where the death rate, according to Burney was ‘2,500 a month’.54 Others, such as Ploemnitz [Plo¨mnitz] where they did nothing but dig until they died, or the old salt-mines at Halberstadt, which poisoned hundreds, or the petrol factories at Merseburg and Zeitz, where Jews were sent two thousand at a time, worked till they could work no more, and then sent back to Buchenwald to be killed or die slowly of starvation, or to Auschwitz to be gassed.55 Burney’s insight reveals something that should not be forgotten by modern historians seeking to find nuance in the murderous Nazi system of slave labour. This is that the view of the victim should not be underestimated. From the victim’s perspective, daily survival was not something that could be taken for granted and depended less on the implementation of overall policy than the capriciousness of those who wielded local power.56 Burney knew that the SS was responsible for requesting overall numbers of slave labourers but he also came to understand that the elite prisoner-staff ‘to a certain extent . . . had the power of selection.’ If a prisoner was ‘undesirable’, in other words was perceived as a threat to the predominantly German hierarchy, then his name could be included on the list of those sent to one of the external camps. Burney remembered that French prisoners were particularly targeted, with ‘nine out of ten’ being sent ‘to the bad camps.’ This is precisely what happened to Marcel Michelin, the tyre manufacturer, who had been a member of the French resistance, but was also labelled by elite communist inmates ‘a capitalist.’57 The potential of inclusion in a transport to the outlying camps was the source of ‘great terror and the chief of the weapons with which the rulers of the camp not only disposed of their enemies actual and potential, but held the rest of the camp in the subjugation of fear.’58 Burney was perceptive enough to know that the nature of concentration camp life splintered community, exacerbated selfishness and reinforced the existing hierarchy. Those who had more wanted more. It was not enough, Burney wrote, ‘to have enough for today and let the morrow take care of itself; one must have more than enough, so much that the possibility of poverty would disappear completely behind the horizon.’ Thus the ‘class distinction grew sharper between the camp

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aristocracy . . . and the common herd.’ Burney noted that ‘one of the signs by which an aristocrat could be known’ was ‘a solid surplus of the world’s goods’. A prisoner who had a spare pair of trousers, a whole loaf of bread or smoked regularly ‘would be treated with a marked deference by his poorer neighbours’.59 The ‘real wealth’ of the camp, then, lay in the hands of the ‘ruling class’. This consisted of ‘the Lagera¨ltestern, the Block Chiefs, the chiefs of office and working parties, and their satellites, the foremen, the Stubendienst,’ as well as their friends who were ‘given soft jobs in the hospital or one of the stores or offices.’ These men were, by the time Burney entered the camp, almost exclusively redtriangle Communists, having seen off the challenge of the green-triangle criminals. Burney had little time for Communism but found some of the men themselves ‘sincere and even likeable’. However, for him it was noteworthy that whether the privileged class consisted of ‘Greens’ or ‘Reds’, they were, in the last resort almost invariably Germans.60 Burney spent enough time in Buchenwald to understand some of the intricacies of what it took to survive. He knew that the camp was to an extent divided into the privileged and the rest but there were also ‘many resourceful independents’ extremely adept at ‘organisation’. Camp slang for this activity was ‘abkochen’, which Burney explained was: an untranslatable word. Its nearest English equivalent is ‘to scrounge’, which, however, misses many of the finer shades of meaning. It really covers the obtaining of any article by wheedling, menacing, cajoling, chicanerying, or by plain bluff, and can be honest or dishonest, honourable or dis-honourable according to its variety. There were few prisoners of any calibre who were not its advocates under one form or the other, and indeed their treatment of it was as good a reflection as any of their character. Burney clearly had some understanding of what Primo Levi later called the ‘Grey Zone’, that area of human ethical ambiguity, the urge of inmates to compromise with the reprehensible system that held them captive in order to survive, which was an ever-present aspect of the line between survival and death in the camp environment. Burney understood the forces that would drive this need but he also thought that there were too many that had compromised too far. He described how the core of the Lagerschutz, or camp police, after 1943 was comprised

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of German Communists but supplemented by many nationalities towards the end of the war. They were, he wrote, ‘almost without exception men of the roughest type, and little good can be said of them.’61 Their job, he wrote was to keep ‘two kinds of discipline: the one the discipline of the S.S. and the other that of the governing body’. However, it was always unclear to Burney whose sense of justice was being satisfied. He gave an example: In the late autumn of 1944 a transport of Jews was returned from the synthetic petrol works at Zeitz as being ‘no longer capable of working’. Many died in Buchenwald, but it was decided to send the remainder to Auschwitz for gassing. They were all in barracks in the Little Camp, and on the morning of their departure a squad of Lagerschutz was detailed to divide them into groups and march them to the station. Although nothing official had been given out about their destination, the wretches knew, as the rest of the camp knew, that it was beyond all doubt, and one would have expected that their fellow-prisoners would have taken the opportunity afforded to them by the S.S. to make at least their departure as easy as possible. The contrary was the case. Imagine a thousand walking skeletons, out of their wits, driven by starvation, brutality and overwork beyond the memory of things human, beyond all reaction save only the recognition of the imminence of death, and so dazed by this that they could neither act of their own accord nor understand an order. Their despair was more vocal than dumb, and the morning was filled with a low moaning, interrupted from time to time by a scream of frenzy, as they set about gathering up their few filthy belongings. Then the Lagerschutz came. They were led by their chief, a little cocky man, who swaggered like a sparrow sergeant and shouted like an angry frog . . . His men were armed with short rubber truncheons to make them feel brave among this crippled wreckage, and when they went in to the Little Camp we could hear the moaning rise as they sought to hasten the wandering Jews on to their last parade. There were a few prisoners standing along the road to watch them go. They came out by groups of a hundred, columns of five, hardly able to walk and shuffling along with arms linked so that

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none should fall. There was a Lagerschutz at the head and tail of each group. As they passed the first group of onlookers, one of them finished rolling a sort of cigarette made with a piece of newspaper and some dust scrabbled out of his pocket, and he limped out of the ranks towards the side looking from one to the other and murmuring: ‘Bitte, feuer.’ It was a Belgian Lagerschutz who was leading the group, who saw him, who came up behind him and struck him with his fist in the face so that he fell and lay moaning until some of his companions picked him up and took him into their rank.62 This is not merely an example of how a plethora of personal trade-offs led some inmates down a very dark road into collaboration, but is pertinent for other reasons. For example, it shows that knowledge about the existence of Auschwitz and what it meant was so common in the camp as to remain unspoken. Burney’s observations also provide another reason why it should not be so easy for historians to create a clear separation between the death camps in the east and the so-called ‘lesser’ camps in the west.63 It was commonly understood in Buchenwald that they were all part of the same network of work and death. Burney’s testimony also emphasised the suffering of Jewish inmates. His description of their state, severely malnourished, ‘beyond the memory of things human’, unable to understand or react to an order, shows that he identified the all-too-familiar figure of the Muselmann. Only in this case there were a thousand of them. The noises he describes, not least the intimate detail of the request, ‘Bitte feuer’, suggests that he was there. However, returning to the point Burney was making concerning the motives of the inmates who comprised the camp police, he had apparently heard the reasoning they adopted for their collusion with the Nazi system, probably from the mouths of those who dished out the punishment: . . . everything was covered by more or less plausible excuses. If the Kapos seemed a bit rough, it was because work had to be done or the S.S. would interfere. If the Block Chiefs and Lagerschutz were apt to hit out, it was because unless strict discipline was maintained the S.S. would take it into their own hands. If the hospital chiefs were inhospitable, it was because there were neither places nor medicine

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for everyone. And so on. And there was an element of truth in each; enough at any rate to satisfy the excused. What they did not see was that if the ends they claimed were just and sensible, the means they employed were outside all the rules of common decency and comradeship. But that was incomprehensible to minds as depraved with hate and selfishness as theirs. And Burney further mused: What could the judgment on them be? That they were guilty was beyond all doubt, and guilty of a most grave offence, in that they abused for their own ends positions which they could have used in the service of their fellow-men; in that they brought death and distress to thousands when they could have saved hundreds; in that they forgot the sacred rule, that who sets himself up as an aristocrat must first learn that noblesse oblige. But when I consider the sentence, I too, begin to make excuses for them. Not the excuses they would wish for, for I tell myself that their minds were twisted by the frustration of such freedom as they had had, then by the incitement of irresponsible agitation, and finally by the treatment they had suffered and come to regard as normal.64 Burney was conflicted. He felt a mixture of hatred and understanding for those who had ingratiated themselves into the structure of terror. He heard for himself the excuses offered by those who occupied these envied positions and had to admit that they were to an extent genuine, however, his contempt for their apparent lack of honour or humanity was clear. Burney was a remarkably astute and intelligent observer of camp life. He understood the suffering of others and viewed them with compassion. His account of life in Buchenwald contained pen-portraits of the various groups that comprised the camp population. Russians were ‘clannish and independent’ possessed ‘their own moral code’ and behaved ‘as members of a proud nation’.65 Among themselves, they were selfless, unlike Ukrainians who, according to Burney, were ‘shifty-eyed, cowardly, savage and ill-kempt’. Czechs were apparently ‘industrious’ and had pride in their work, while Slovaks were ‘silent’, ‘surly’ collaborators.66 Burney loved the French but thought they did not do themselves justice in

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Buchenwald.67 All were judged according to ‘racial’ criteria but also with Burney’s sense of slight superiority and with the apparent belief that he was upholding a certain British disinterestedness. One group, though, caught Burney’s particular attention. This was the Jews. No history of the camp, he contended, would be complete without mentioning them. For Burney, ‘they fell into three types’, German, Polish (including Baltic) and Hungarian’. The German Jews that were left in the camp, he believed, were only ‘subject to certain minor restrictions, such as being forbidden to smoke’. Generally, this group ‘knew the score’ and ‘managed to lead a fairly peaceful life.’68 As for the latter two categories, Burney understood the attitude of the SS was that: Jews were only fit to die, that economically they should at best die of overwork, but that under no circumstances should economic considerations improve their lot by dictating that, as man-power, they could more profitably be fed on a scale which would keep them at work longer than the time otherwise required for them to die of exhaustion. From the moment they came into S.S. hands they had to work, and no smallest expenditure was made either to make them capable of working harder or to make them last longer. It was, in Burney’s words, ‘constructive and productive extermination.’69 He reached this conclusion because he knew that the treatment of Jews in Buchenwald was part of a continuum and that their latest torment was the end of a long and desperate struggle against organised oppression and terror. He knew that Polish Jews under German occupation had largely been restricted to ghettos or sent to work camps. He also understood that a condemned Jew was ‘sent to Auschwitz, where in due course he passed to the gas-chamber.’70 When, in the second half of 1944, mass transports of Jews started arriving at Buchenwald, Burney saw it for himself. Upon arrival of a transport the camp speaker system would ‘call first for the Lagerschutz, to escort those who could walk, then for the Fire Brigade to clear the dead from the wagons, and then for the working parties to bring the rest down to the Disinfection [Unit] in barrows and carts.’ The Disinfection Unit was the place where Burney worked and he found it ‘almost unbearable.’ He wrote as one who was intimate with death:

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It was continuous, since convoys arrived the whole time, and we could never pass more than 150– 200 through in an hour. One time we never stopped for three days and nights, working all the time in an atmosphere of gas-gangrene, rotting wounds and dysentery. The four rooms of the building were littered with dead and dying, still forms, writhing forms and others which one thought dead, but which, if one watched closely, gave an occasional choking heave as they gasped their last breaths of air. Perhaps it was one of the worst things for the onlooker that they took such a time dying. But it was always so. The man who has been dying for days passes slowly at the end. Sometimes one whose heart-beat was only perceptible through a stethoscope would linger for a whole night.71 Burney told of how the dead were ‘piled in fifteens’ and that for the dying, ‘nothing was ever done to help’. The argument was that they would die later anyway, so it was better not to ‘clutter up the blocks with them or to waste precious medicine in an effort to save them.’ Towards the end of a transport, he and the other inmates would be ordered out. Those left alive were then under the charge of the chief SS WarrantOfficer and a ‘trusted medical orderly’. ‘By morning’, Burney observed, ‘all those we left’ had been ‘killed with an injection of phenol.’72 Burney found the cruelty with which Jews were treated ‘hard to forgive’. But there were other thoughts and emotions troubling him. This essentially humane commentator, perceptive witness as he was, had a particular issue. Simply put, he did not like Jews. He knew that the worst treatment was reserved for them, that in the camp hierarchy, Jews were commonly perceived as the lowest form of life. For Burney though, this was no excuse. It was the way Jews reacted to their own suffering that somehow confirmed to him his own preconceptions. He hated what he saw as ‘their obsequiousness’, which, according to the SOE man, they displayed ‘even to the S.S.’ Burney thought Jews ‘behaved more like animals’, because they fought among themselves, ‘robbing the dead and dying of their clothing.’ The Hungarian Jews were, in particular, for Burney, ‘a sadly degenerate lot’, whose ‘physical resistance was lower than any other group’, and as a result they ‘seemed to have yielded further to the Nazi process of de-humanisation than the others.’ A French professor provided Burney with what he believed was an ‘apt description’:

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‘Petits, laids, et mal foutus’, ‘small, ugly and malformed’.73 It was not surprising to Burney that this group only lasted an average of three months before they were shipped off to their deaths. As Burney wrestled with these things, he sought for himself a form of rationalisation that would cater for his own conflicting feelings. Feelings of horror at the pitilessness meted out to Jewish victims were offset by, what was, for him, their characteristically collective objectionable response. Surely, he thought, ‘sensible men would have realised that treatment such as they had endured must inevitably have affected their better natures’. ‘Sensible men’, he thought, would have therefore made an effort to bring themselves ‘back to humanity by behaving humanly themselves.’74 Jews, he believed, while suffering the worst kind of indignities were expected to react with the same kind of composure that he believed he would muster in similar circumstances. This was the opposite of empathy. Burney’s attitude amounted to a condemnation of the condemned because of a perceived racial trait. Perhaps most telling of all though, was his own self-diagnosis for a faltering empathy for Jews. Although he found their treatment difficult to excuse, with surprising honesty, he wrote, ‘to understand it was easier.’75 Nonetheless, he would not face his own prejudice head on and instead sought to excuse his own lack of empathy, if not hostility, to condemned Jews by blaming the excess of despair with which he was confronted. Burney believed that it must be a truism that ‘a surfeit of such misery boils down one’s compassion to a poor shrivelled attempt not to be brutal.’76 This was a revealing statement. Certainly, when faced with a sea of desolation it would be difficult for anyone to maintain perpetual compassion, especially when one was also hungry and weak. However, it was something else to say that confrontation with mass suffering evoked a barely disguised effort to refrain from compounding the suffering of Jews with further cruelty. In other words, when working among the seemingly endless numbers of those hanging on to life by a thread, Burney struggled to contain his own impulse to resort to the same brutality as that which he abhorred. This is why he was able to identify with one of his fellow workers, a Pole ‘who himself despised and hated the Jews and said so openly to me’. Burney continued, ‘I never in all my time saw him offer violence, whether verbal or physical, to one of them.’ This, apparently, was ‘not so the others’. So, Burney measured his own response thus: he could despise Jews but if he refrained from

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indulging his violent urges, then that could count as success. However, for those who gave in to their bestial urges in their treatment of Jews, Burney held such behaviour to be ‘another manifestation of their deeplyfelt inferiority.’ We can assume that, because Burney did not succumb, he felt himself to hold a superior position. For an account written so soon after his incarceration, and without the benefit of the well-developed body of Holocaust knowledge now available, the level of perceptiveness is quite astonishing. But Burney’s judgment of Jews sat at odds with his generally humanitarian outlook. He witnessed deep suffering at close quarters, perceived camp power structures and saw the effects that fragmentation of the camp population induced. He understood the importance of the aim of death through work for the Nazi system and revealed that Auschwitz and its function was common everyday knowledge. He also saw that Jews were at the centre of it all, that they were the primary target, a primary object of German policy and general hatred. Yet all this could not shift the deep sense of personal antipathy he felt for Jews. Burney not only broadly understood what he saw, his contorted attempt to justify barely contained anti-Jewish loathing, shows that he, like the others, was contaminated by the upturned morality of the camp but still retained what Primo Levi called a ‘moral armature’. He even imparted these things to a postwar British public. The Times Literary Supplement thought Burney’s contribution important enough to review. Their conclusion was significant. His account was ‘arresting’, it was also ‘entirely fair.’77 His sincere account ably demonstrates that a British presence within the Nazi system did not guarantee charity, it certainly did not equate to heroism, but instead more often revealed the ghastly truth, that Britons were not immune in a continent seething with anti-Semitism, a force that was still in evidence even after war and Holocaust.

Theresienstadt Although Buchenwald was, as shown above, intimately connected to the extermination camps in the east, the Theresienstadt Ghetto was specifically employed as a way station to death.78 Before transportation to the gas chambers the majority of Jews were first kept, over differing periods, in specified holding centres. In the west, these included places such as Drancy in France and Westerbork in Holland. In the east Lublin

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was used for this purpose, as was Theresienstadt (Terezı´n in Czech). Theresienstadt was a garrison town founded in 1780 by the Habsburg Emperor Joseph II in northern Bohemia, about 30 miles north-west of Prague. Its fortified structure with limited access and egress made it an ideal site for a walled ghetto. In the early years of the war it accommodated about 7,000 civilian and military personnel.79 The first Jews arrived on 24 November 1941.80 As a 1946 report sent to the Czechoslovak representative at the London-based United Nations War Crimes Commission stated, the ghetto went on to hold between 40,000 and 60,000 Jews at any one time. The same report recognised that Theresienstadt acted as ‘a sort of ‘transit-station’ for Jews sent to Auschwitz or other camps. This meant that conditions at Theresienstadt continually deteriorated.’81 Of the 140,000 who passed through the walled town, approximately 90,000 died at Treblinka, Auschwitz or elsewhere. Additionally, 33,000 met their deaths ‘in the ghetto itself’.82 Theresienstadt was actually made up of two separate sites, the town itself and the ‘Small Fortress’, which stood on the other bank of the Ohrˇe River. It takes minutes to walk from one site to the other. Originally designed to protect the main road from Prussia to Prague, the fortress had served as a high-security jail for the Habsburg regime. German authorities used the site as an affiliated prison to the German police prison in Prague, but also to hold those shipped to the Theresienstadt Ghetto perceived to represent a particular danger to the Reich. Surrounded by a moat and a double wall, the Small Fortress was under its own administration and, first and foremost, acted as a centre of terror. Norbert Troller, a former Jewish prisoner, described what it was like to enter: Entering the main gate, crossing a bridge over the foul-smelling moat, one felt and smelled decay, death, hopelessness, despair and damnation. Everything was built to crush you, to leave you no hope, to convey to you your nothingness, prepare you for annihilation.83 The site was divided into ‘4 so-called yards’, each surrounded by blocks of cells.84 Its inmates comprised those who were under investigation by the Gestapo, those waiting to be moved to German courts, some who would be sent on to other concentration camps and others who were due

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to be murdered. Altogether it held between five and six thousand prisoners. Although they were deemed ‘political’, many of them were Jews. Conditions there were much worse than in the ghetto. Brutal interrogations and torture were part of the daily regimen. Inmates were often liquidated either because they were ‘inconvenient’ or on the whim of the overseers.85 The camp commandant was Heinrich Jo¨ckel, who, according to the testimony of one POW, was ‘about 5 feet 11 inches in height, thick set with bull neck and greyish hair and a hooked nose’. His chief henchman, Stefan Rojko, was in charge of ‘discipline, executions, tortures and punishment generally’.86 The daily routine included four roll calls, to which prisoners were summoned ‘like dogs with a whistle, in a sharp run.’ Two hundred SS men supervised the prison and work parties. Prisoners were beaten as they marched to and from work, often resulting in death.87 British POWs started to arrive at Theresienstadt in the autumn of 1944. By the time they left the following spring there were 178 Britons incarcerated in the Small Fortress.88 Ostensibly, they were there because they had been caught attempting to escape. Gunner Kenneth Bone, originally from Ayrshire, arrived with three other Britons, a New Zealander and an American. The nature of their arrival was not dissimilar to that of the majority of POWs. They were immediately interviewed by an SS Oberfeldwebel, who, on hearing they were British, struck each of them ‘on the head or the face’ with a rubber truncheon. Uniforms and kit were confiscated, their heads shaved and they ‘were continually subjected to threats of violence.’89 The POWs were held in the dark cells and subterranean casements, which characterised the Small Fortress and which Troller describes: There were heavy iron crossbars on each door and small windows above the door. Inside was only one W.C., one dirty, slimy washstand, and one iron coal stove with a crooked stovepipe above the window to the court. Each [pair of] casement entrances was connected by a vestibule to the court. It was closed after dark by a heavy crossbarred gate.90 The cells were narrow, dark, damp and had the feel of a dungeon. They were also overcrowded, according to Bone, holding nearly a hundred in a space designed for 20.91 Another POW, Albert Currie of the Middlesex

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Yeomanry, reported that the lavatories were insufficient in number and had an intermittent water supply. As a consequence, ‘large quantities of filth flowed from the lavatories over the floor’, where men had to sleep with no blankets or paillasses.92 They were infested with lice, subject to illness and, during the winter, prisoners could easily suffer from frostbite. Food consisted of ersatz coffee in the morning, a litre of ‘watery soup’ at noon, and an evening ration of soup with 300 grams of bread.93 Against the odds, Lance Bombardier Edward Stirling managed to keep a small diary during his time in the Small Fortress. He reported that after a month in the same cell living on such meagre portions, the POWs were ‘weak as kittens and ruddy hungry.’94 Treatment of Britons was about on a par with the Russian POWs and Czech civilians with whom they shared their cells. All testimony taken from these British POWs in 1945 agrees on one thing, that Jews were treated worst of all. This was firstly apparent in the way camp authorities dealt with Anglo-Jewish and Palestinian POWs. Norman Rubenstein was immediately picked out when he arrived at Theresienstadt because he was a Jew. He was beaten up and abused by Rojko before being taken to see Jo¨ckel, who took his turn kicking and striking the POW. He was placed in a cell with a Palestinian Jew named Kobolovich. Albert Currie concurred with Rubenstein’s testimony and wrote that some POWs were ‘taken away and beaten and locked up separately because they were Jews’.95 However, according to a letter written just after the war by exinmate H. Glanville to the War Office, a Flight Lieutenant Sandman complained and ‘effected their release.’96 Another Palestinian POW, George Klauber, originally from Tel Aviv, acted as interpreter for the Britons, but this put him in a precarious position. When POW Stanley Wood became ill, Klauber asked the guards for a doctor three times. Another Palestinian, Shlomel Abramovitz, described what happened next. After the final request, he wrote, ‘three guards came in, one carrying a stick’ and they proceeded to strike ‘Klauber and Woods until the stick broke. He hit them wherever he could touch them’.97 Woods was taken to the hospital. Violence against Jews was an everyday part of life in the Small Fortress. It was therefore inevitable that British POWs would see it for themselves. We have already noted that Kenneth Bone was one of the first to arrive. He and his fellow inmates:

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had only been in a cell for 3 days when we were moved to another one recently occupied by Jews. Some Czech prisoners told us that the Jews had been beaten to death and judging by the state of the cell that was very likely. When we saw it there was blood all over the walls and floors . . . We saw bodies of Jews loaded in the lorries in sacks in the court-yard. I actually saw one of the Jews complete the sewing of a sack in which one of his own race had been placed. There was a definite drill for dealing with Jews. They were put on a starvation diet and from my observation it appeared that they got two issues of 250 grammes of bread and two bowls of soup in 19 days. They were carried out dead on an average of 10 per day.98 Currie more or less confirmed Bone’s observations. He reported in his postwar statement that there were about twelve Jews in an adjoining cell who ‘were only fed once a week with a litre of soup they received on a Thursday.’ He added some detail, which he saw for himself: ‘they were made on Thursdays to crawl on their stomachs towards where the food was being handed out’ and guards would ‘beat them’ as they did so. Like Bone, Currie testified that deaths occurred ‘daily’ and everyday ‘one would see handcarts go by carrying corpses.’99 Glanville wrote that one particular influx of inmates ‘had about twenty Jews in it’ who were ‘placed in a separate cell’. By ‘the next morning fifteen bodies were taken out to be burned.’100 Harold Woodward told war crimes investigators that on the day after he arrived he saw ‘a Jew beaten and shot dead’ and on average he estimated he saw ‘20 dead Jews each day’.101 Stirling added more particulars in his diary: Another method of killing off the Jews is to batter them on the head with a boot until they are unconscious and shove them in isolation cells and simply forget them. They have a Jewish death squad which buries all the dead. It reminds you of a butcher’s cart. I have seen it running with blood. Perhaps knowing that such scenes as he witnessed might be questioned, Stirling added, ‘and if you who read want to hear more just ask me (only don’t call me a liar) because as I write this book just across the way is a dead Jew laid out where he fell through starvation’.102

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British POWs did not just see these things from their cells. In March 1945 they were made to join working parties, digging tank traps alongside Jews who were forced to do the same work ‘with their bare hands.’ Many Britons were witnesses when, as Kenneth Bone testified, one of the Jews was accused of sabotage by being a minute or two late coming out of the lavatory. A German guard picked up a spade and struck this Jew on the top of the head and forehead. His head was split open and he fell to the ground unconscious. The guard then tossed up to see who would shoot him and the guard allotted to the job went up with his revolver in his hand but turned away; another guard took out his revolver and shot the Jew through the head and heart.103 Whether on a working party or locked in their cells, British POWs could do nothing to stop the violence. Unlawful incarceration in dingy crowded cells for extended periods and lack of sustenance, not helped by a dearth of Red Cross food parcels, incapacitated them and did much to enervate the body and sap the spirit. Exposure to the routine depredations handed out to concentration camp inmates would almost certainly have contributed further to a decline in morale. Sometimes, however, the suffering of certain individuals moved British POWs. In the cell next to Edward Stirling was ‘a young Jewess and a little boy.’ The boy’s mother had also been there but had recently died. Stirling wrote that they would often ‘hear the Jewess crying and the child too’. He implied that on one occasion the men tried singing, presumably (but this is not clear from the evidence) in an attempt to somehow distract them from their misery, but ‘the guards came in and bashed us and threatened to shoot next time.’104 There were also other, less compassionate reactions to anti-Jewish violence. Norman Rubenstein reported that, on seeing the dead carried past, one group of British soldiers joked that they were so thin they would ‘not be worth putting in the soup.’105 Such a casual attitude may be partially explained by persistent exposure to atrocities. Glanville stated that they ‘saw Jews and Czechs beaten so often that we became almost hardened to the sight.’ Whether it was seeing extreme violence on a daily basis, lack of motivation or the sheer inability to intervene on the part of Britons, Kenneth Bone was probably correct when he

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observed that ‘the Jews in the camp looked after their own people.’106 They had no other choice. British POWs witnessed for themselves the final fury of the Theresienstadt SS against Jews in the Small Fortress. Edward Stirling recorded in a diary entry for 4 April 1945 that, for a period of four full days, ‘the SS relentless hatred of the Jews was vented to the full. Each day you’d see the Jews’ fellow country men take the bodies out of the cells to the lime pit.’ The British were ‘very glad’ when they were ordered to ready themselves for evacuation of the prison. So they left, and after enduring days and weeks of marching they finally met up with American forces and the twelve German guards escorting the British POWs were overpowered. Stirling was given a rifle, a bayonet and ammunition. He continued, ‘the Hauptmann & 11 swines of Posterns were picked out by us & the Yank prisoners and we riddled them with bullets & left them where they dropped.’ But it was not the treatment of Jews that led Britons to take part in this violent act of retribution. As Stirling wrote: ‘We had told them before when they starved us and hit the boys that we’d get them & we did in the end.’107 Whether the principal motivation for newly released and re-armed Britons was justice or vengeance, their action (or reaction) was also doubtless a result of frustration. Cooped up and unable to respond whilst underfed and incarcerated, forced to witness all kinds of brutality and perhaps brutalised as a result, these POWs took matters into their own hands because they could not do so before. Like Yeo-Thomas and Burney in Buchenwald, those imprisoned in the Small Fortress at Theresienstadt were hemmed in by overwhelming circumstances. Now, following the theme of the interconnectedness of these camps in the overarching system of Nazi terror, the next destination in which POWs found themselves cheek by jowl with Jewish slave labourers was in the environs of Auschwitz.

The Environs of Auschwitz There were between 40 and 50 satellite camps built around Auschwitz ‘spread over a vast industrial area rich with natural resources.’ They provided an immense reservoir of slave labour ‘for the German war effort, as well as for work in mines, construction, and agriculture.’108 However, these did not constitute the only pool of workers, as alongside these

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satellite camps where slave labourers were kept, were hundreds of small camps housing POWs. The hub of these sub-camps was Lamsdorf, which the majority of British POWs counted as their base. This placed POWs next to Jewish workers who were at varying stages of failing health as a result of the Nazi slave labour policy. Contrary to some postwar accounts, which portrayed secondments to the smaller camps around Lamsdorf as punishments, they were actually ‘in great demand’ because of a common perception that ‘extra food was available.’109 Approximately 2,000 British POWs were based at one such site, known as Blechhammer, where there was also a Jewish forced labour camp.110 Blechhammer (now Blachownia S´la˛ska), was nearly 20 miles west of Gleiwitz. Thousands of male and female inmates from 15 European countries passed through this labour camp. In the Auschwitz network of camps it contained the next largest population to Auschwitz III-Monowitz.111 Living conditions there were typically atrocious, with 25 wooden barracks, each about 15 square feet, all desperately overcrowded. Sleeping on regulation two- or three-tiered bunks, inmates had limited use of the most basic sanitary facilities. Inadequate clothing, insubstantial rations and brutal treatment made them susceptible to fatal disease. Turnover of the camp population was fast. Regular arrivals made up for the depletions caused by workplace deaths, deaths in the camp and by systematic selections for the gas chambers at Birkenau. Inmates were used on construction, ‘excavating for foundations, building roads, structures, and transporting building materials.’ It was backbreaking work performed under the constant blows of kapos, who dished out ‘regulation punishments’ such as whipping, extra labour on Sundays, confinement and executions by hanging.112 British POWs working in close quarters witnessed this brutality. George Didcock was captured in Italy, later transported to Lamsdorf and thence, in early 1944, to E3 work detachment at Blechhammer. He was a faithful diarist. By April, Didcock was becoming familiar with the slave labour programme. His diary was littered with references to ‘the Jews.’ Whether noting their striped uniforms or the ‘numbers tattooed on their arms’, he was perfectly clear that Jews constituted a separate and distinct group in the eyes of their captors. Furthermore, his attention to detail suggests close proximity between Jewish and British workers. Looking through the wire into the Jewish camp, he was able to note the difference, for instance, between a normal parade, and one where inmates were being

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subjected to a rigorous search. On Saturday 27 May 1944, Didcock commented that the camp authorities had ‘tightened up on smoking at work’, but it was the Jewish inmates who were singled out for punishment. As a result of failing to obey, the POW recorded that a Jew was ‘beaten up and nearly killed this morning’. Didcock thought this was ‘a shame.’ He uttered the same expression of regret when, during an air raid, British POWs were allowed into the bomb shelter, whereas Jews were forced to ‘stay and work’. The day after one particular raid on 28 August 1944 he noted that ‘nearly 100 Jews [were] killed’. POWs were still digging Jewish bodies out of the rubble three days later. Didcock recorded other atrocities committed against Jewish inmates. On 1 September 1944, he revealed a degree of suppressed anger after witnessing ‘a German knocking a Jew about terrible’ which caused him write that ‘it’s a good thing we can’t do as we like yet.’ His comment suggests a desire for revenge, yet mostly he was more contained. Twice in successive months Didcock referred matter-of-factly to Jewish executions. One occurred on 28 September, which merely caused him to write that ‘a Jew was hung last night’ because ‘a detonator was found on him’.113 Another, recorded on 16 October, just stated that ‘two of the Jews were hanged last night for pinching.’ If Didcock actually witnessed these executions then it can be reasonably asserted that Britons were able to see into the Jewish slave labour camp with relative ease. If he did not see them, the fact that POWs were aware of these atrocities shows that the chatter culture was alive and well in work detachment E3. Although Didcock expressed no doubts about the veracity of the charges brought against condemned Jews, it is unlikely that he believed that the punishment fitted the crime; it was more likely that such outlandish treatment of Jews had become ‘common sense’. That this was probably the case can be seen from Didcock’s recording of seemingly mundane incidences alongside the recording of atrocities. For instance, he would remark on personal trials such as having to put on extra layers due to the cold, or lack of food parcels, or the lights going out in the same breath as having to work as ‘Jews were killed.’114 Overall, Didcock’s diary shows that very little could be done to ameliorate the condition of Jewish inmates and that in any case, daily exposure to these things evoked desensitisation. M. Newey also at Blechhammer, but with the E714 work detachment, supported Didcock’s testimony by recognising the

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particular predicament of Jews. Newey described how the Jews would be halted every morning by the main administration block, when: A huge S.S. man would ride down on his large sit-up-and-beg bicycle to search them. He would order, hands up and trousers down. Putting on a pair of immaculate white gloves, he would perform the distasteful task, of actually having to touch these vermin. Woe betide anyone found with as much as a saccharine found on his person. A savage scientific beating up would be his reward as a salutary lesson to the others. Newey’s account, written latterly, shows that the deliberate humiliations routinely dished out to Jewish slave labourers stayed with him. His reference to ‘vermin’ seems laced with sarcasm and his anger directed at the German staff. He recorded how, in order to ‘alleviate their suffering a little’, POWs would ‘cut off the crust of the bread and smuggle it to them.’ Grateful Jews, he wrote, often promised to repay them after the war because even a small piece of food was of extremely high value to Jews in the camp environment, although not necessarily a great deal to a POW in reasonably regular receipt of Red Cross parcels. A clue to the way we should read Newey’s evidence lies in his account of receiving soup from the German overseers. After getting his portion at midday on one occasion, Newey walked away from the crowd to eat it. He held it to his nose and recoiled because of the ‘horrible’ smell. He persevered by taking a small mouthful, which he promptly spat out. Newey was about to throw it away when he became aware of someone ‘behind a pillar’ with ‘a large pair of eyes in sunken sockets’. A ‘thin emaciated youth’ beckoned him to an empty building, where he whispered ‘Suppe, bitte’. After handing over the soup, the young Jew ‘wolfed the vile-tasting soup as fast as he could. He smiled his thanks and vanished.’ Newey continued: It was a very hungry group that assembled to be marched back to camp after work finished. We couldn’t get back quick enough to start cooking our evening meal. After sating our appetites, we sat down to take stock of the day’s happenings. Two chaps were arguing what the words ‘Nur Fur’ [sic] stood for. One argued that it meant, not for Jews and the other, only for Jews. To resolve the

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argument they went to ask the interpreter. When they asked him they pronounced it ‘Neuf Heure’ instead of the German ‘Nor Fear’. Keeping a straight face the interpreter said ‘Oh yes, that is French for nine o’clock’. They saw the joke and they all laughed and then he told them that it meant only for Jews.’115 So what can be made of this exchange? Certainly, it shows a vast contrast between the treatment of inmates and POWs. Whereas hungry POWs were able to cook their dinner, this was obviously an activity denied to starving inmates. It also shows that the way Jews were treated by the Germans was a subject ripe for the chatter culture. But, despite the serious subject, the tone of the conversation seems to be one of easy jocularity. The relief felt at the end of an exhausting day can, perhaps, explain this. Or, maybe, the exchange could be construed as a typical example of ‘British humour’, finding things to laugh at in the face of adversity. Whatever the reason, it does reveal that daily exposure to Jewish suffering and death could create a degree of insouciance. After all, Newey and the others were fully aware that when Jews were of ‘no more use to the Reich’, they ‘would be despatched to the gas chamber.’116 Another slave labour camp was based near the village of Heydebreck (now known as Ke˛dzierzyn-Koz´le), where there were also several British labour detachments.117 William Allen was interned there from the late summer of 1943 until the end of the war along with approximately ‘500 other British prisoners of war’. In addition, about another 250 were held in ‘two neighbouring camps’ and a further 1000 ‘in Bau Battalion 21’.118 Living conditions for POWs at Heydebreck, according to Frederick Bedlington, were not ‘too bad’.119 POWs mostly worked at a factory where prisoners, so E. V. Mathias, a member of the 1st Battalion Queen Victoria Rifles wrote, were detailed to clear uncultivated scrubland. Despite the stagnant water, a breeding ground for mosquitos, the work detachment was, he thought, relatively good.120 Mathias also detailed the dangerous work Jews were forced to undertake. The end of 1942 brought bombing raids to the area that left unexploded bombs lying around. The job of defusing and clearing them was given to inmates. Jews were organised into squads of four and forced to do the best they could with these bombs with ‘the only tools they had’. This was a ‘spanner and hammer for the man who was appointed to detonate the bomb and three shovels for the other Jews in order to clear the site.’

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On one particular occasion a bomb had dropped close to one of the POW barracks, so Mathias and his friend Jack were able to observe the bomb squad at close hand. There are not many accounts of Jewish bomb diffusers because not many survived and, due to the obvious risk, observers were few, so it is worth quoting the account in full: The first part of the exercise was to place a metal bomb shelter near the hole. This was to protect the Jew guard who once inside could see the [other] Jews whilst he was secure. These round bomb shelters had an opening away from the bomb leaving a slit opening facing the bomb in order for the guard to see his team throughout. In the event of an explosion the guard would be reasonably safe while his team had no chance. As we approached the hut we drew the [German] guard into conversation and asked him permission to talk to the Jews. He was an amicable fellow and gave us permission to do so. We approached the crater rim and looked down into the hole, which was about 7 feet deep. It had been widened and deepened by the Jews to facilitate the work to be done to defuse the bomb. The diggers were standing above the crater whilst the poor man delegated to defuse the weapon was down the hole. He was a very emaciated, frail looking young Jew. He was dressed in the usual striped cotton jacket and pants with the [Star] of David thereon and his head was shaved of all hair. What shook me though was that he was astride a 250lb bomb. His legs were wrapped round it whilst this position gave him leverage to hit the spanner gripped to the boar head with a hammer. The appearance of Jack and I had interrupted his efforts and he was pleased to stop his work in order to talk to us in German. We threw him a few cigarettes and asked him about his job. He explained that his pals had cleared the site and he was now about to defuse it. He said that the normal life of a man was four bombs. He had personally defused five and this bomb was his sixth. I could see that the tension and strain was telling on him as his body, arms and face muscles continually twitched. He also spoke with a giggle, which made my spine creep. The rudimentary approach that these Jews were forced to undertake and the inherent danger of the bomb exploding struck Mathias. Despite his

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reference to the ‘amicable’ guard who was ensuring the Jews did their job, he knew that, in that environment Jews were entirely expendable. It was, he wrote, ‘a horrible, dangerous job in which the Jew had no chance . . . like a game of Russian roulette.’ From Mathias’s retelling, we can assume that there was also a considerable mental toll on the person assigned to bomb disposal. In addition to the obvious bravado Mathias showed by moving so close to the working bomb squad, he and his comrade also displayed a degree of humanity by talking to the unfortunate soul assigned the main task and handing over cigarettes. However, as the squad resumed their work Mathias was ‘glad to edge away to leave them to their destiny.’121 Like others, they were stymied by their status as POWs, but, perhaps not unnaturally, pleased to be able to walk away.

British POWs based with E715 Work Detachment On 16 September 1943, the first 200 POWs arrived at Camp VIII, a recently completed set of barracks surrounded by barbed wire, without watchtowers, approximately 750 metres south of the Farben plant as the crow flies and nearly two kilometres from Monowitz. The following week 660 more joined them. Conditions in the camp were primitive but liveable. The official name of the work unit was Kommando E 715, Stalag VIIIB, Lamsdorf. The prisoners were guarded by between 50 and 60 soldiers from the 3rd Company of the 515th Landesschu¨tzenbatallion from Sosnowiec.122 Each day prisoners were marched to Farben to work. At its high point, the prisoner population, mostly British, at Camp VIII reached 1,200. But, by January 1944 about 200 had been transferred to outlying camps near Blechhammer and Heydebreck with a further 300 transferred out between February and April. The remaining POWs in E715 were sent to Camp VI on 26 May 1944.123 Camp VI was similar to Camp VIII, in that it was enclosed in barbed wire but had no guard towers. It was situated on the southern perimeter of the vast Farben plant, separated from it by the main Auschwitz-Zator road. It was about half a kilometre from Monowitz. Although British POWs could not see what happened in Monowitz from Camp VI, they saw the brutalised treatment of inmates when working at Farben. Some were genuinely moved by what they saw. John Pascoe from Blackley, Manchester admitted that the condition of Jews was ‘like nothing [he] had ever seen before.’ He saw them:

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collapse from sheer weakness every day. One could hardly walk through different parts of the factory without witnessing some inmate dropping to the ground. Those that did were often beaten and kicked and told to get back to work. It was pitiful to see them struggle to their feet and try to stand up straight because of the fear that they would be declared unfit for work.124 Frederick Wooley agreed that it was ‘just heart-breaking to see how wretched and miserable they were.’ He knew that when they fell down ‘it was impossible for them to keep standing because they all were familiar with the slogan “Not fit to work, not fit to live.”’125 Norbert Wollheim, a Berlin Jew and Monowitz inmate, whose wife and three year old son were killed in Birkenau, commented in his postwar affidavit that the British prisoners he came into contact with ‘openly confessed their sympathy for us.’126 But a feeling of sympathy was often accompanied by a sense of fatalism about the fate of the Jews working at Farben. This is detectable in the words of Frederick Davison who mentioned two Jewish inmates in his postwar affidavit. One was Greek, the other Dutch and seeing them almost everyday; he would slip them food if the opportunity arose. One day, when the Greek did not show up, the Dutchman told Davison that ‘he had been taken to the gas chambers.’ Davison admitted that he was not surprised, adding: we all knew that this would happen because the previous week Straube the Farben supervisor, had watched the Greek work and could see that the man could hardly stand on his feet. He turned away from him and said ‘he is kaput – in another week he will be in the gas chamber.’ So Davison understood the inevitability of death for Jews too weak to carry on. He and others were forced to accept that Jewish inmates would die because the Germans had created a situation where the abnormal became normal. In this respect it seems POWs were not immune from Levi’s ‘Grey Zone’. They, too, were sucked in and forced to think within a contorted reality. In this environment then Davison’s small acts of kindness can only be applauded. However, even if he could have done more, there were

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massive risks involved in doing so, not for the giver but for the recipient. Duncan Little, in his book Allies in Auschwitz, highlights one example of a Jew from Poland, Israel Majzlik, who received a punishment of 15 lashes and was ‘also forced to work underground for an undetermined amount of time’ for merely ‘sitting down, smoking and talking with an English POW’. Little also mentions the existence of a friendship between Brian Bishop, from Portslade in Sussex, and a Jewish lawyer from France, which also had consequences for the latter. Bishop’s gift of material to fix his friend’s clothing was discovered by the guards. As a result, the lawyer was incarcerated in a ‘punishment box’, a confined space about two feet high where a prisoner was forced to crouch until released. Bishop never saw him again.127 POWs also described scenes that ended in tragedy. Sometimes handing over cigarettes or soup caused fights amongst inmates desperate for an extra ration.128 POWs saw scenes that ended in tragedy as in an incident described by Leonard Dales: one of our boys tossed a cigarette to a Jew who was loading some pipes. He scrambled down to get the cigarette and in doing so badly lacerated his leg. He didn’t seem so much hurt as scared when he said ‘I guess this is the end. It means the gas chamber for me’.129 This evidence, of course, calls into question whether such humanitarian acts were in fact acts of kindness at all, given what could be appalling consequences for Jewish inmates, a potentiality that POWs were aware of. Although not part of the E715 work commando, George Wyatt, a POW based at Szubin and Fort Rauch, shows an understanding of the awful dichotomy POWs faced. On occasion he and his comrades had tried to pass food to Jewish slave labourers but when discovered, the Germans ‘committed fearful reprisals’. For Wyatt there was only one thing they could do, they had ‘out of compassion . . . to avoid any apparent contact with them.’130 Acts that may have been essentially altruistic in origin took on an entirely different and potentially dangerous character once they were made manifest. The idea, therefore, that these acts can be characterised as offering a ‘helping hand’ to the condemned, as suggested by Joseph White, is too simplistic for the context in which they took place.131

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Furthermore, can acts of kindness be seen as entirely self-sacrificing given the disparity between conditions of POWs compared to inmates? For instance, handing over the midday soup to starving Jews when that soup was too disgusting for Britons to eat can hardly be described as selfless. Robert Ferris acknowledged that POWs ‘were fairly well treated, particularly on the question of food, since they were able to receive gifts from home and packages from the Red Cross.’132 These made a considerable difference to Britons because, as he stated, POWs were unable to live ‘on the ration’ doled out by their captors, even though this ration, according to Dennis Greenham, was ‘thicker and better soup’ than that given to inmates.133 Ferris conceded that ‘none of us could eat it,’ so ‘our boys used to forego it all the time.’134 Greenham confirmed that the midday meal ‘consisted of a bowl of evil-smelling soup that our boys wouldn’t eat’.135 Andrew Allen, in his testimony, indicates that Britons were only philanthropic when they could afford it. ‘When we were flush with parcels,’ he claimed, ‘we used to feed the Jew boys with the stuff that was sent up to us.’136 Notwithstanding Allen’s casual use of the anti-Semitic phrase ‘Jew boys’, his attitude hardly reflects outright generosity. It seems then that British POWs tended to give food to inmates either because they did not want to eat it or because they had a surplus. In addition, Chief Engineer Faust of Farben complained that ‘the English prisoners-of-war are showered with gifts [food parcels]. They hand out chocolate and cigarettes to Poles, inmates and probably the guards as well.’137 In other words, they did not necessarily single out for ‘beneficence’ those who suffered most. But, there were also other, harsher attitudes held by British POWs, as is evident from the testimony of Leon Greenman, a British Jew incarcerated at Monowitz. He had been arrested in Holland along with his Dutch wife and son, both of whom had been murdered on arrival at Birkenau. For Greenman, POWs varied in their attitude to Jews. On the one hand he benefitted from the kindness shown by some but, on the other, he experienced outright hatred. Greenman was initially desperate for a chance to break away from his work group in order to speak with Britons but was frustrated by the Kapos. However, on one occasion, Greenman wrote, he was asked by a ‘Kapo to try to get some cigarettes from the Tommies’ and it was following this that he took every chance to interact with POWs. Some gave him cigarettes and chocolate as well as slices of bread and soup, but others, he stated were ‘indifferent’ or worse.

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Greenman told of a snowy winter’s afternoon, when about six inmates ‘were pushing a large iron pipe on a wheel barrow’ and he caught a glimpse of a POW making his way towards the makeshift toilets. Having asked permission to go to the lavatory, Greenman stated: I entered the hut, approached the British POW and started to talk to him in English. He looked at me and asked ‘Who are you?’ I told him I was an Englishman, born in London; caught by the Boche in Holland; sent to Auschwitz with my wife and child. I said that it did me good to talk to the POWs whenever I could. He cut in, saying: ‘While you and I are suffering our loss of freedom, your mates, the Jews in London, are doing a good trade on the black market’. I was surprised and said: ‘My brothers are in the army. Not all Jews are working the black market.’ He shrugged his shoulders and went out of the hut. I felt lonelier now than ever. One of my own had talked like the Nazis. I rejoined my commando and did a lot of thinking about what the soldier had said. Now I wasn’t sure whether I was right in looking for the company of Tommies: perhaps there were others who talked like that.138 Greenman’s testimony illustrates the precarious circumstances of Jewish inmates working at Farben and imprisoned at Monowitz. For any Jew an innocuous brush-off could weigh heavily on their shoulders as they struggled to survive but, for Greenman, the harshness of his fellow Briton who could have provided him with reassurance and solace was particularly cruel. Instead of a connection brought about by a shared nationality, this POW saw Greenman not as another Englishman, but as a Jew, who by definition and association was part of a parasitic race taking advantage of innocent Britons at home. To characterise antiSemitism among British POWs then as ‘anemic’ and different and opposed to more extreme strands, as Joseph White does, is to miss out on the damage such prejudices could cause in the camp environment.139

British POWs and the Forced Marches As the Russian armies advanced westward in early 1945, the Nazi hierarchy ordered that the majority of concentration camp inmates march towards the interior of Germany. Although this sounds like it was

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a coordinated effort, the outworking was anything but. Orders came from different agencies and it is unclear which orders were to receive precedence. Reichsfu¨hrer SS Heinrich Himmler had commanded some months beforehand that ‘not a single prisoner from the concentration camps’ should fall ‘alive into the hands of the enemy.’ However, as Saul Friedla¨nder points out, ‘the decision about the fate of the inmates’ might have been ‘left to the camp commanders’ or to the higher SS and police ranks.140 The confusion that reigned in the Nazi chain of command, though, was nothing to the upheaval of the marches themselves. In practise these were meandering, tortuous affairs that were largely motivated by ‘administrative, economic, and above all military constraints’, and accounted for many types of victim. Daniel Blatman even argues that these marches represented a shift of Nazi ideological priorities away from Jews as the primary target of Nazi rage.141 However, the fact remains that the majority of those who embarked on the these desperate affairs were Jews and approximately a quarter of a million Jewish prisoners ‘perished from exhaustion, freezing, shooting, or being burned alive.’142 The strictures and cruelty inflicted on inmates in the camps and places of work continued on the forced marches. Evidence of this is found in the British war crimes files, which contain an account by four Australian POWs who were marched from Lamsdorf to Go¨rlitz. Sometime around 26 January 1945 the Australians passed ‘a column of Jewesses’ marching westwards into Germany. Temperatures were below zero and there was ‘about a foot of snow on the ground.’ The women, obviously in an extremely ‘bad physical condition,’ could ‘hardly keep moving’ and as one woman pulling a four-wheeled cart accepted a cigarette from an unnamed British POW, a guard hit her ‘with a rifle butt.’ The account does not record a response from the POWs and although not in a position to help the woman at the time, they were sufficiently outraged by what they had seen to file a report after liberation.143 Nonetheless, once again, even outside the camp and work environment, it is clear that humanitarianism had it limits. E. V. Mathias’s account of meeting a column of Jewish women further demonstrates that sympathy was not an alien concept to some British POWs. After setting out on the march in January 1945 the prisoners made good progress in spite of the wintery conditions, unlike ‘a column of people’ he and his comrades spotted up ahead ‘moving forward very,

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very slowly.’ This column was, in fact, a ‘battalion of Jewesses’ about 400 in number and guarded by the SS. It was, so Mathias reported, ‘an accident of fate’ that they saw a throng that ‘was in its death throes’. He wrote: One must understand that the weather was so cold that only a strong man, well-wrapped, could stand the cold. These poor things had only the flimsy pyjama type striped uniform to protect them. Their shaven heads and gloveless hands were freezing stiff and they had reached the end of their tether. I doubt if they had any underwear to provide them with warmth and it was amazing to me that they had the strength to have come so far. However, we were to witness their collapse. They were breaking ranks. Some were stumbling, some were crawling, many were lying on the snow with frostbitten legs, still trying to keep up with their friends by means of their hands clawing into the snow to push themselves forward. Then we were in the middle of them. I was marching over bodies, hands clutched at my legs pulling at my pants. My God, I thought, what is going on and then I saw their faces. They were all around us, begging to us, calling to us. It was bedlam. Guards and soldiers trying to separate us. P.O.W.’s crying . . . Though we were all used to death . . . this was something we had never before experienced. Our ranks broke as men threw chocolate and food to these poor women. I looked into their eyes as they struggled on the road. Great beautiful large eyes staring out of white stiff faces. The great tragedy of the moment was that whilst many of them were frost bitten to the waist and were dying, they still had the awful pangs of hunger. They screamed for food and yet food was no use to them anymore. It was their hour of torment and looking at [my friend] Jack, I could see tears in his eyes. Our guards, still trying to keep order, implored the P.O.W.’s not to feed them, saying ‘don’t feed them. They are dying. Food can’t help them now as they are too far gone.’ Their advice, I am afraid fell on deaf ears as most of the men parted with food and clothing. Eventually we had passed them and some semblance of order was restored. Nevertheless, we could still hear them behind us. Calling out in death throes to their companions and to God . . .144

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This heart-breaking scene left these POWs shocked and moved. Even though Mathias had been a POW since 1940 and had also spent time at Heydebreck working alongside Jewish inmates, it was clear that his senses had not been deadened to the suffering of others. Despite recognising that nothing could be done, his sense of humanitarianism had, after everything, remained intact. Even so, it appears that the willingly gifted morsels of food and items of clothing were of little or no use. Freddy Coster of the Territorial Army, was another who reported an encounter with a column of Jews marching away from a concentration camp: We had this Jewish soldier, Freddy Freid, with us. These women came past us, just in the loose-fitting dresses. So we were slipping them food, so the guards couldn’t see. But Freddy was doing it openly, speaking Yiddish to them. I tried to stop him. The women couldn’t believe it. He gave all his food away. The two guards waited with us when the column passed. Then came this very old Jewish woman, she could hardly keep up – she was at the end of her tether, she could hardly walk. This German officer was with her, pushing her along, prodding her in the back with his pistol. As she reached us she stopped. So the officer shot her in the head and she slumped to the floor. We had to hold Freddy back . . .145 Once again British POWs felt enough sympathy to give some of their own scarce rations to a column of female Jews. However, what Coster reveals is a degree of distinction between the level of empathy felt by the Jewish POW and the Britons. Perhaps this is understandable, especially as Freid was fluent in Yiddish and therefore was probably a recent e´migre´ from Europe. Like other Jewish POWs confronted with such suffering, Freid felt compelled to respond almost regardless of the consequences. On the other hand, Coster and his colleagues were keen to protect their fellow POW. It did not seem to matter to them that he was Jewish. Perhaps the most telling account though comes from M. Newey because of the stark contrast it provides between the types of victim that evoked British indignation. Newey and his comrades marched through the village of Blechhammer, where a lot of German civilian workers lived, those that had been employed by factories with close ties to the

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Nazi regime. These workers lined the streets offering cups of coffee and soup. Many had tears running down their faces because, according to Newey, ‘they were being left to face the mercy of the Russians: not a happy prospect.’ After crossing the Oder River, they met a ‘column of Jews’, mainly ‘young Jewesses’ who looked at them ‘with large appealing eyes, but there was nothing’ they ‘could do to help them.’ Further down the road, the POWs came across a Jew lying by the roadside who had no strength to continue. An SS soldier told them that they would ‘see to him once our column had passed.’ A short while later the Britons heard a gun shot and they ‘presumed the Jew had been put out of his misery.’ According to Newey, British POWs did not protest, it seemed to be accepted that the murder of a Jew was ‘normal’. This differed from a later incident involving the death of a POW. The lack of adequate food was beginning to tell on the British soldiers and after coming to a halt just before the Czechoslovakian border, one of the older POWs ‘wearily walked out of the column and sat down’ on the parapet of a small stone bridge. A young German guard ordered him back to the column, at which the POW ‘limply raised his arm and said ‘F-off’.’ The guard became hysterical ‘screaming F- F- F- at him then pointed his rifle at him and shot him, straight through the heart.’ Newey wrote: As the lad slumped to the floor, we stood dumbstruck in horror for a moment, then an angry roar as we turned to tear this animal to pieces. Other guards rushed up to protect him while others waved their rifles threateningly at us . . . The guard was led away with our cursing ringing in his ears . . . The guard [was] disarmed and marched, in solitude, at the head of the column as a punishment.146 Perhaps the POWs in the latter case were more inclined to protest because the victim was a British comrade and the protagonist was not a member of the SS, who the British knew to be particularly fanatical. However, there was a contrast between the apparent air of acceptance after the murder of a Jew and the rage that followed the shooting of a POW. The despatch of another Jew would have seemed commonplace, while the killing of a POW was exceptional. Even though encounters with Jewish marchers made an immediate and lasting impression on passing POWs, it seems that reactions to their suffering were mitigated.

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The level of difficulty experienced by POWs on forced marches was on a different scale to that endured by inmates, but it was still tough going. Hunger, cold and fatigue were ever-present and not a few POWs died on the marches. Remarkably, E. C. Herwin managed to keep a diary throughout his time in captivity and even kept it going throughout the long march west in 1945. Like others, he was preoccupied with keeping body and soul together, but an encounter with one of the death marches compelled him to write: 29.1.45 Terribly cold. Only 20km. to-day, but the going was tough. A large party of Hungarian Jewesses on the road. Some lovely girls but in pitiful condition. They were being flogged along by armed Hun guards. Herwin revisited his diary in January 1994. What he read sparked a more detailed recollection. He remembered that the women were: being herded northwards, and they passed through our column. Their guards and ours took the opportunity to bring us to a halt so that they could exchange news. We had in our party an American Jew who joined the Royal Canadian Air Force as a gunner [Ernie Gershater] . . . We halted for about 20 minutes in a place where nothing could be seen but endless miles of snow. Some of the girls spoke to our Jew. The youngest was aged 13. They were the remnant of a much larger party . . . They still had a long way to walk . . . None of the girls wore boots – their feet were bound with rags and sacking. They had been given no food for several days, and our impression was they would not last much longer. The guards carried rifles on their shoulders and each had a stock whip in his hand . . . Ernie was so moved at the plight of his fellow descendants that he could not contain his sobs and tears. Events such as these are indelibly etched on my mind, and they still surface in my sleeping and waking hours. Herwin was clearly affected by the women’s plight; after all, specific details of this chance meeting stayed with him for nearly 50 years. Nonetheless, the reaction of American Jew Ernie Gershater was, perhaps understandably, more visceral.147 It was common for British POWs to

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see themselves as belonging to a different category to Jews and somehow mentally separate from their suffering. More likely, Britons saw the plight of Jews and were able to take a degree of comfort from the fact that their lot was not as bad as it might have been. D. Swift remembered the day in May 1945 when the German guards finally took their leave. Swift took note of ‘a very small handful of Auschwitz concentration camp prisoners squatting about on the ground’. He continued ‘God knows how these had survived. One of them told me he had lost all his family in the gas chambers and ovens of Auschwitz. They were just sitting around in a trance, too far gone to do anything – spent’.148 Swift, too, recognised the disparity between the war experiences of POWs and the remnant of Auschwitz survivors. Britons could return to their families whilst inmates could not.149 L. W. Lauste was another who could not help but use the condition of Jews as a litmus test for his own. He wrote, with one eye on Jewish marchers, that as the trek had progressed ‘we thought that we were badly off but seeing these men made us know that we were doing well.’150 Lauste was able to appreciate the ‘gulf in experience’ between the treatment endured by POWs and that meted out to Jews.151 The difference between the suffering of Jews and others to that of POWs can be partly explained by the attitude of the German guards. There was a clear difference in the level of cruelty meted out to different groups under German control. M. Newey told of a British POW who managed to catch a rabbit, kill it and hide it under his coat. When caught, the German guard was in favour of shooting the offender ‘on the spot’, but was calmed by the arrival of the Man of Confidence and a German NCO. As Newey wrote, ‘not so lucky were two Russians in a column not far away who had been caught stealing potatoes. They were shot on the spot.’152 In the same way that that the Germans treated different categories of prisoner with different levels of brutality, the levels of British compassion also altered according to the nature of the victim. Thus, the response of Britons to the plight of Russians POWs provides a comparative model for British responses to Jews.

CHAPTER 5 COMPARISONS

How the British Viewed Russian POWs Almost without exception, British POWs acknowledged that in a hierarchy of suffering, Jews in German hands were treated worst. But, how did Britons react to other groups incarcerated in the inverted world of the camps? According to testimony, Germans treated Russian POWs, whose leaders had not signed up to the Geneva Convention, abominably. Unlike Jewish slave workers who were mostly housed separately, it was often the case that Russians were incarcerated in pens adjoining those of Britons. The proximity between the two sets of prisoners meant Russian suffering was particularly obvious. Britons saw it, heard it and smelt it. On capture in the East, Russians had, initially, been placed in camps with no barracks, washing facilities, mess halls or latrines. They were left to rot in fields enclosed in barbed wire and within six months of the German invasion in June 1941, 300,000 had lost their lives.1 Nazi plans for Russian territory envisaged death on a massive scale. However these plans changed in accordance with the shifting fortunes of war and it was decided to use captured Russians as slave labour to keep the wheels of the German war machine turning.2 On the long march West, even more Russians lives were lost to starvation and outright murder. Once incarcerated in more established POW camps they were provided with barely adequate food, clothing and shelter. Although and unlike the Jews, there was no deliberate policy of extermination, it was awful enough for the Russians and by the end of the war, of the 5.7 million

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taken prisoner, 3.3 million had perished.3 In other words, nearly 60 per cent died in German hands. Sergeant Bob Watchorn kept a log during his time in Lamsdorf and, in it he recorded the way Russians were treated. Watchorn was not without compassion for Russian POWs (even if he showed the opposite for Jewish POWs) whom he described as ‘nothing but skin and bone’ on arrival and covered with lice. Watchorn ‘threw them some cigs’, as did his fellow POWs, and was clearly moved by what happened next. The Russians ‘made one mad scramble for them’ and ‘after the crowd had been had been kicked away by the Germans 5 dead Russians were left on the ground.’ Those left alive were given ‘one loaf between 25 men and a tin of mint tea.’ Conditions for the Russians, however, only got worse. According to Watchorn, they ‘used to die in tens & twenties’, after which they were ‘thrown into a ditch & covered with quicklime.’4 A. Bennett was another who testified that the Russians were never far from death and had clusters of lice clinging to their clothes in bunches which ‘were as large as plums.’ What struck Bennett was that even when faced with such trials, ‘their spirits were not daunted.’5 Although Britons did not always respond sympathetically, the majority of accounts show that, like Watchorn and Bennett, Britons were stirred by the plight of the Russians.6 Cyril Rofe was at Teschen (now known as Cieszyn), due south of Katowitz. Even though the camp was still overcrowded with ‘about a hundred to a barrack’, he considered that conditions there were ‘infinitely better than in Lamsdorf’, with glass in the barracks’ windows and coal to keep them warm. At Teschen, British prisoners also had ‘proper cooking facilities’, a ‘weekly shower’ and laundry could be done once a week in a washhouse. In contrast, several hundred Russian POWs shuffled ‘around in wooden clogs, sick, starving and in rags’. Most of the British, Rofe continued, were ‘friendly with them’ but, at first, ‘afraid to go too close’ because they were riddled with lice. It seems, however, that Rofe and his fellow prisoners overcame their reticence to engage with Russians. Moreover, Britons went out of their way to help. POWs, who were not compelled to draw their daily ration, did so specifically in order to give it to the long ‘queues of Russians’ that waited every day ‘for it outside our barracks.’7 E. C. Herwin also recorded that British POWs deliberately interceded on behalf of Russians left to virtually starve when the German food ration dried up. As a result, they were allowed ‘to take a cart load of potatoes,

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bread, cabbage’ over to them.8 Herwin also described the way Britons shared ‘whatever . . . clothing’ they ‘could spare’, which they threw over the fence to Russian working parties as they marched past despite this being ‘forbidden’ and this could result, if spotted, in ‘a warning burst or two’ being fired form German machine guns. Given evidence of a somewhat trigger-happy attitude by some German guards, this perhaps shows that Britons were compassionate enough to potentially place themselves in harm’s way, even though it was the Russians who were most in danger of being shot.9 William Allen, based near Heydebreck, saw both Jewish slave labourers and Russian POWs singled out for terrible treatment. Whereas Jews were invariably placed in separate parties working more or less adjacent to British POWs, Russians and Britons were often placed in the same group. Working with them all day enabled Britons to see for themselves how young fit Russians had been transformed by German treatment so that they ‘looked and acted like old men.’ Being employed together in the same party enabled the British lads to help out in a practical way. Because the Russians were ‘too weak to work’, Allen testified, ‘our boys tried to cover up for them by doing some of the heavier work’, thus providing them with ‘a breathing spell.’ Even this, though, proved difficult and dangerous. If, as Allen stated, ‘the German foreman or supervisors caught’ Russians ‘resting or easing up on the work, they would beat them with sticks or anything else they could lay their hands on.’10 British doctors also, according to Rofe, did ‘all they could to help’ ailing Russians despite the ‘impossible task’ they faced. ‘They could alleviate a little suffering, give a few pills here, a little medicine there, but that was all.’11 Indeed, at least one Briton, so V. West a prisoner at Lamsdorf stated, made the ultimate sacrifice in order to help the Russians. Once it was known that some 40,000 Russian soldiers were incarcerated ‘over the hill’, a Captain Webster of the Royal Army Medical Corps, ‘laid down his life’ when treating Russians ‘amid scenes of indescribable horror’.12 Presumably it was while treating them that Webster contracted the disease from which he died. All in all, the help offered to Russians was predetermined, not opportunistic, as seems to have been the case with Jewish inmates. However, this could have been because Britons and Russians were placed in the same camp or because Russians were perceived to be fellow soldiers fighting a common enemy. It could also have been that

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Britons had a predisposition to help Russians, an inclination that was lacking when it came to the Jews. This sense of alignment between Britons and Russians lasted until the camps were evacuated. N. B. W. Castleton had been evacuated from Teschen, where he had been incarcerated since May 1944. It did not take long, in fact, only ‘a few minutes marching’ until he saw a sight he never forgot. A column of Russian POWs from the adjoining camp was also on the move. As the Russians passed a rubbish dump, in desperation some darted from their column to grab ‘an empty Red Cross jam tin’ in which they ‘stuck their fingers . . . hoping to find something sweet remaining.’ For Castleton, this ‘brought home’ the ‘plight of these abandoned souls.’ The following day they overtook the Russian column on the march. Castleton saw they had ‘made a portable tin stove and were roasting a few potatoes they had scrounged.’ A particularly draconian guard nicknamed ‘Genghis’, spotted this and rushed over ‘swiping the Russian over the head with his rifle butt.’ There was a ‘roar of condemnation’ from the Britons, which ‘increased to a crescendo.’ One British POW was beaten for his trouble, before other guards and an officer arrived to defuse the situation. However, later on coming across a column of about 500 Jews and another of Jewish women, according to Castleton, despite their pitiable condition, there were no protests from the British.13 The treatment of the Russians vexed some British POWs to the extent that they found themselves rationalising why they had to suffer. William Duncan, based at Kreuzburg (now Kluczbork) in Upper Silesia, attempted to gain an understanding of why they were treated so badly by talking to a German officer. He was told that it was all Stalin’s fault. The Soviet leader ‘had refused to consider any approaches from the International Red Cross’ instead ‘stating that any Russian in German hands could claim no protection from Russia.’ Moreover, Duncan was told that it was the ‘duty of a Russian soldier’ to ‘fight to the last breath’ and ‘if he allowed himself to be taken alive, then he was a traitor to Russia and, should he again come into Russian hands’ he ‘would be put to death’. The British POW seemed to accept the logic of this argument and as shown below, directed his sympathy towards the German people.14 This broad acceptance of, and sometimes empathy with, the German point of view, as we shall see, played a significant part in British attitudes towards their captors.

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How British POWs Viewed their German Captors So, how did British POWs regard their German gaolers? Certainly, prior to the outbreak of war there were perceived racial and cultural connections between Britons and Germans, which underpinned a desire to understand things from a German perspective. This was despite the four long years of awful conflict during World War I. In the aftermath of that conflict old connections had quickly been re-established and reinforced by a growing belief that Germany had been unfairly treated at Versailles. With remarkable speed a widespread view developed in Britain that Germany was not an aggressor but rather a victim. Broadly speaking, interwar Britons worked hard at understanding Germans and the German experience. It was a trend that lasted long after the Nazis came to power. Indeed, this perceived sense of connection between the two peoples continued after the outbreak of World War II. The way in which so-called ordinary Germans were viewed was very much a point of major public and private contention. Harold Nicolson, the respected and urbane commentator, mused in August 1941 that, ‘it may seem strange to foreign observers that the British people should embark upon the third year of the Second German War without having achieved any common or consistent opinion upon the nature of their enemy.’15 Even when evidence of the campaign of Jewish extermination became common knowledge, Britons simply could not agree on who was to blame. Was it a small clique of Nazis, or should ordinary Germans take their share?16 But did this sense of connection and understanding, however ambivalent, extend to those who had been captured and imprisoned by Germany and who had sometimes suffered at the hands of their German guards? Captive Britons were confronted with a particular conundrum. A traditionally strong inclination to see Germans in a positive light was challenged by attitudes and actions that were at odds with British cultural conceptions of common decency.17 However, the British response to such things depended on who the victim was. As shown above, greater outrage was shown for Russian victims of German brutality than for Jewish. Outrage intensified if the victim happened to be another British POW.18 E. C. Herwin, based at Lamsdorf, was appalled by the brutality inflicted on a ‘small tough Glaswegian private soldier’ who had been caught having sexual intercourse with a Polish

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woman when out with a work party. Having escaped from an isolation cell, the Glaswegian spent time hidden ‘in tunnels and barrack roof spaces’. One day however, Herwin was reading on his bunk near the barrack door when he heard ‘shouted words of command in German outside’. His fellow POWs in the barrack ‘froze’, but he ‘rushed outside and almost collided with the Scot’ who was running to get inside. The four German guards were ordered by an NCO to open fire and the Glaswegian fell dead. Herwin was ‘engulfed with anger and hatred for the Germans who had killed a member of our forces’.19 Herwin was not the only one who felt this way. A few POWs could not feel any warmth towards their captors because of what they believed were negative German character traits that in their opinion were common in the ‘race’. E. Dominy, along with other Britons, had been captured in 1940 and transported eastwards by rail. On arrival at their destination they were greeted by a ‘field grey reception committee’ and ordered off the train ‘amidst screams of raus, raus’ and ‘prodding bayonets’. Although, the prisoners had made friends with their German guard on the journey, Dominy was disappointed that even he ‘caught the excitement and shouted and prodded with the best of his comrades.’ This was only the first of many occasions where he witnessed German soldiers on the authority of an officer punishing POWS ‘with whom they had been on the best of terms for months.’ In Dominy’s experience, these soldiers did not regret their actions as they returned to their previously friendly state within a short time. Germans, he believed, were a ‘dangerous people to deal with and impossible to trust or understand.’20 Surprisingly though, Dominy’s view was not prevalent among fellow POWs because, even if victims were British, there was a tendency to mitigate incidences of brutality. It was not just Wehrmacht guards with whom Britons interacted. Most POWs while working, came across German civilians employed in industry, from engineers keen to use their skills as German industries expanded into occupied territories, to the Volksdeutsche (members of the ethnic German diaspora outside Germany’s borders in central and Eastern Europe), to the secretaries and bureaucrats that staffed government offices and private companies. But what did these Germans know about what was happening to Jews at Auschwitz? According to Robert Ferris, based with E715, they knew a lot. Ferris wrote in his postwar affidavit that it ‘was impossible to deny’ the mass gassings,

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‘everybody knew it was happening’ and some German civilians even ‘complained about the smell coming from Auschwitz.’21 This was not because gassing and burning thousands of bodies was seen as fundamentally wrong, but rather because it was perceived as an inconvenience. According to British POW testimony it was part of a task German civilians in the area broadly agreed was necessary. Even those who lived and worked in the wider Upper Silesian area could not miss how Jews were being singled out for humiliation and death. M. Newey recorded how civilians, including ‘German workers’ and ‘female typists and office staff’ at Blechhamer over sixty miles from Auschwtiz, regularly witnessed the humiliation and ill treatment of Jews who would be made to line up for inspection ‘standing there, their sex exposed for all the world to see.’ These Germans, Newey explained, ‘would just walk by’.22 Albert Seal was also appalled by the inhumanity of civilian workers who ‘stood around laughing’ when inmates collapsed and died in front of them. He was also shocked by his foreman, who when conversation turned to the gassing of people, ‘just laughed.’23 The inhumane treatment of Jews seems to have been a regular topic of conversation between Britons and their guards. In fact, the frequency with which it occurred meant the subject could not have been avoided. Charles Hill, a Mancunian, recorded one particular incident which he remembered ‘very clearly’ when ‘one of the inmates fell from a building’ in the early afternoon. As a result of the scream one of the Germans went out to see what had happened, when he came back the POWs were told, ‘it is only a Jew’ and the body was still there when they finished work in the evening.24 Such incidents prompted Britons to ask questions and the German overseers were only too pleased to explain why, in their view, it was happening. Hill, for example, was told that ‘the Jews had lost World War I for Germany and besides had all the money’25 while Ferris was informed by his German supervisor that ‘until Hitler came the Germans worked for the Jews and now the Jews were working for the Germans.’26 POW Frederick Davison made similar enquiries only to be told that ‘there were too many Jews and it was a good thing to get rid of them.’27 Dennis Greenham, a member of E715, spoke to ‘the Farben people (Foremen, supervisors, etc.)’ and came away with the impression that ‘the Auschwitz setup was, from their point of view, a very satisfactory arrangement’. This, according to Greenham, was because it allowed ‘them to accomplish the extermination of the Jews which they all

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ardently desired, and at the same time get something out of them while they were still alive.’28 Even though Greenham was only witness to a very small part of the atrocities committed against Jews throughout the German occupied territories, he thus neatly summed up the overall aim of extermination through work. Nonetheless, although Jews were the subject of discussions between Britons and their German captors, the inmates themselves were definitely not part of that conversation. This arguably created a form of exclusivity, which served to highlight the separation endured by Jews. In other words, POWs could broach the subject of Jewish suffering with their captors but, it was inconceivable that Jews themselves became part of that discussion unless out of German earshot. This does not suggest that Britons were somehow in league with their German overseers, but rather, that there existed a form of commonality between the two parties that underlined the privileged status of British POWs as compared with Jewish slave labourers. Furthermore, although some Britons expressed sympathy for Jews in their postwar statements, there is no evidence that they outwardly challenged German actions. Of course, any protest would undoubtedly have involved a degree of risk, however, it was equally possible for Britons to take the view that if German rage was directed against the Jews, then the chances of a more peaceful life for the rest were increased. Moreover, Britons sometimes formed friendships with their German guards. Ron Jones, in The Auschwitz Goalkeeper, remembered developing a relationship with his German civilian guard who he knew as ‘Meister Beave’. On the condition that Jones and three POWs shared their Red Cross rations, they were invited to the guard’s bungalow, confiscated from a Polish family, for a ‘big stew.’ Such cordiality is remarkable in the world they inhabited and suggests that relationships between Britons and Germans were not necessarily adversely affected by the morally bankrupt regime that the latter represented. Jones’s justification for the relationship was that ‘not all the Germans were as monstrous as they have been portrayed’ but this does not do justice to the complexities of the situation.29 It leaves an uncomfortable picture of Britons in a difficult situation whose loyalties were pulled in a number of directions. The context for the forming of such Anglo-German allegiances needs to be properly understood. Of course, these people were thrown together in highly unnatural circumstances. However, Germans based at Farben

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were guilty, not merely of passive acceptance, but also of actively promoting a culture of brutality. Some were directly culpable for deaths at the plant. Frederick Davison saw ‘murders being committed on 4 or 5 different occasions’ and commented that the ‘Farben civilians would never stop or attempt to prevent the SS or capos from beating or killing the inmates. As a matter of fact, they would often help them.’30 Moreover, civilians were not just reacting to the overbearing presence of the SS because they also carried out violence against the inmates on their own initiative. Indeed, Leonard Dales recalled ‘times when the SS would reprimand the foremen for taking punishment into their own hands since beatings and other punishments was considered the province of the SS.’31 This is shocking evidence because it subverts a common understanding about the ideological hierarchy that existed at the heart of the Holocaust. Of course the SS were a vanguard of anti-Semitic values, but Dales suggests that German civilians were not the coerced, reticent agents they often later claimed to be. Instead there was a murderous drive from below that had to be stifled by the SS who were sensitive about ordinary citizens encroaching on their sphere of influence. But, seeing and hearing German actions and reactions, did not necessarily mean British POWs translated this into anti-German hatred. In fact, evidence suggests that Britons used certain evasive mental techniques in order to overcome the differences between them. For a start, apologetic ploys could be used in order to justify distinctions between different elements of the German armed forces. Of course, like all selfdeception, this form of thinking contained elements of truth, but the end result was invariably to reinforce existing pre-conceptions. Stanley Doughty, based at Lamsdorf, for instance, believed that towards the end of the war, the older Wehrmacht guards ‘only wanted a quiet time and a quick end to the war.’ In his mind they were distinct from the Waffen SS troops who, in Doughty’s view, were ‘youngsters in their teens, blazing with arrogant Nazi zeal and superiority’. However, even here he excused the youths on the grounds that they had been ‘indoctrinated’ with Nazi propaganda ‘since the early years.’32 M. Newey also found excuses for the brutality of Germans. Although, on the one hand, the atrocities he witnessed at Blechhammer caused him to write that ‘the Germans treated the Jews as if they were vermin’ and ‘they just turned their faces away as if they didn’t exist’, on the other, he put this down to the fact that ‘even the normal decent German had been so brainwashed that he

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could hold no sympathy for them.’33 This attitude uncannily echoes one of the major debates occurring in Britain over the course of the war concerning the culpability of ordinary Germans in mass atrocity.34 The idea that ordinary Germans were just as much prisoners as the British was also quite prevalent. Denholm Elliott, who later found fame as an actor, was also incarcerated at Lamsdorf. On the forced march in 1945 he recounted how at the end of the first day POWs were herded into an enormous barn for the night, where he threw himself onto the floor in exhaustion. When he looked up a ‘young German officer’ was looking down at him. Elliott stated: I looked up and saw his face in the moonlight and it was one of such pathos as if he would do anything he could to stop all this horror but there was nothing he could do. He was locked into it every bit as much as we were and it was horrible.35 Whether Elliott was romanticising this incident is a moot point but the sentiment is clear. William Duncan had a similar attitude. He believed there were ‘a very big percentage of people in Germany’ who had ‘suffered under the Nazi regime and who for the sake of sheer existence’ had been ‘obliged to outwardly show no opposition’. The majority of Germans, the argument went, were being held in place against their will by a relative minority who were employed ‘purely on account of their political allegiance to the [Nazi] Party’. Moreover, he believed that ‘on the first opportunity’, they would ‘settle accounts long overdue’. In other words, given the right circumstances most Germans would rise up, defeat their Nazi oppressors and impart justice. Despite Duncan’s extended period of incarceration, again his views directly reflect those being propounded in Britain at the time, where a significant slice of the population thought that most Germans would overthrow Hitler given half a chance.36 In the meantime, Duncan believed, ‘the system was too strong’ for them to do anything about it.37 Such preconceptions were so strong that they could even be sustained in the face of murder. D. Swift was in the midst of a forced march towards the end of the war when he witnessed what had become a regular incident. One of his guards was ordered to ‘take a Russian prisoner into a field and shoot him.’ The guard was an elderly man and Swift did not know what the Russian had done to deserve the punishment. The guard

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made the Russian dig his own grave, let him say his prayers and then shot him. Swift’s sympathies however, lay not with the dead Russian but with the German guard, who he reported ‘came back shaken and trembling’ because ‘all he wanted to do was to get back to Vienna and peace.’ According to Swift, he was like ‘a lot of the older Germans’ who ‘did not like the war and did not want the war.’38 Swift and his comrades also formed a relationship with a German guard called Max while based at Fort Rauch, Poznan´. Max was a ‘strong bulldog of a man’ who ‘hated the Russians and the Jews, regarded them as scum – nothing was too bad for them.’ He had been a Nazi Party member since its early days and asked his British charges ‘I’m a Nazi . . . am I bad?’ They replied, ‘You’re all right, it’s what you represent’. That this German had made personal choices to join the Nazi movement and further its aims from the ‘early days’, that he was not coerced or did not seem to possess any mitigating reason for holding violent anti-Semitic views did nothing to prevent British POWs from viewing him with indulgence. After Max’s dog died, he was apparently ‘inconsolable and broken down with grief’, yet for Swift ‘the Germans were like that, very sentimental on the one side, yet capable of extreme brutality on the other.’ George Wyatt was another who was genuinely puzzled and could not get to grips with a ‘people who could treat us, their enemies in war, with civility and respect, and yet were equally capable of treating people that we saw as their fellow countrymen with the utmost depravity and inhumanity.’39 Often these two views of Germans worked side-by-side. Not infrequently, Britons judged both Germans and Jews according to certain stereotypical criteria, yet attempts to resolve this tension led POWs to find in favour of the captors. Despite what POWs had suffered themselves, despite the atrocities they witnessed committed against Jews, Russians, other nationalities and sometimes even against British POWs, there was a striking tenacity of faith in the ‘ordinary’ German who was seen as separate from and somehow prisoner to the Nazi authorities and, therefore, could not be blamed outright for either their passivity or their violent actions.40

Conclusion In many ways the reality of British POW life was the complete opposite of how it is portrayed in literature and films. Life as a POW was largely

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miserable, an empty, exhausting, attenuating experience that depleted the body and sapped the soul. Lack of privacy meant life was essentially communal in every sense, especially for ‘men of confidence’ who were constantly in demand to deal with complaints, ensure food was distributed fairly and to negotiate with their captors. Very little could be done without someone else knowing. Everybody’s business became part and parcel of a chatter culture, which was facilitated by endless hours of inactivity or mindless work. Subjects ranging from food to the activities of particular POWs or guards, the overarching German policy of extermination of the Jews, formed the basis of discussion. Often this discussion focused on what POWs had seen for themselves, from ghettoisation, transportation and concentration camps, to slave labour policies, forced marches, humiliation and brutality. They knew and talked about selections and gassings and understood that Jews were specifically targeted for death. British POW reactions were complex being based on a number of factors: their own experience, their intrinsic values, how they regarded Jews, whether POWs or inmates, Russians, Germans or others. Broadly speaking, what they saw shocked their liberal sensibilities, which also enabled them to see that what they were witnessing was just plain wrong. However, that same liberal base arguably facilitated a range of responses to the Jewish plight from outrage at their treatment to outright hostility towards the victims. Nonetheless, whatever the intrinsic values of British POWs, they were not enough to overcome or even dent the crescendo of violence that characterised the heart of Nazism. Moreover, POWs were sucked into that unresolved, problematical and perplexing matrix created by the transposed values of the Nazi worldview. They were sufficiently removed from its epicentre to hold onto an understanding of the difference between right and wrong, but they were sullied by their interaction with it. Traditional concepts of heroism and gallantry, cowardice and timidity are consequently insufficient to explain the reactions and behaviour of POWs faced with such overwhelming and unprecedented circumstances. It is therefore imperative that the claims of individual POWs, which have proved so popular, and therefore created a rather skewed view of the interaction of British POWs with aspects of the Holocaust, are treated with an appropriate degree of scepticism and investigated with historical rigour.

CHAPTER 6 THE LIMITS OF POW TESTIMONY

Just as faithfully as on other days, George Didcock recorded his thoughts in his secret diary on Tuesday 6 June 1944, the day the Allies landed on the Normandy beaches. One day as a forced labourer was much like another at Blechhammer, in the heart of ‘Auschwitz country’, however, today was somewhat different. By lunchtime they knew. At one o’clock a surge of excitement ran through the camp population. Didcock noted, ‘they say the invasion has started.’1 The news travelled with lightning speed throughout the camp system, even deep within the Polish interior. This was the chatter culture at its most efficient. But the joy was short-lived. With German forces now on the retreat in the East and the West and with the Allies seeking to press home their advantage, British POWs spread across the shrinking German Reich felt the effects of the onslaught. The lifeline represented by Red Cross parcels was compromised and deliveries became more erratic. The situation was exacerbated by the German decision to reduce food and fuel rations. Furthermore, as the Allied noose tightened, POWs, fully aware of what German authorities were capable of, felt an increasing sense of anxiety. Would they be used as bargaining chips in a vain effort to avoid the ignominy of unconditional surrender? Or, even more grim, would they be murdered in a final act of retribution?2 As German forces were forced to give way on each front, the camps in the heart of Germany became progressively more overloaded as occupants of camps in the East were marched westward. By the war’s end

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camps in the interior had expanded in size to a disproportionate degree. Any spare space, such as parade grounds or sports areas, became covered with canvass as men had to make do with even more rudimentary conditions than they had experienced before. Even those still in barracks were subject to a ridiculous degree of overcrowding, with many having to share bunks or having to make do with sleeping on cold floors.3 In addition to this increasing misery, many POWs found themselves excruciatingly close to bombing targets. The POWs were subject to this mayhem not for days or weeks, but for months. On 3 December 1944, George Didcock recorded that he Slept very bad, bombs going off all night, up early to fetch drinking water, got back just as the warning went again, opened gates and let us out and what a relief, planes didn’t reach here, knocked most of the houses down in the village yesterday.4 Even those on the forced marches westward were not immune from strafing or bombing. Bob Watchorn wrote on 18 March 1945: Have just been in the church during mass. The sirens went, and the noise of the planes makes our little wooden chapel shake. The bombers and fighters have been going over for 2 hours. They are now on their way back. Our ration of 1/8 of a loaf has just arrived, 1 slice per man. Germany is in an awful mess.5 There is little doubt that the final months of the war were a time of considerable suffering and apprehension for the prisoner of war population in Germany. When liberation came, provided it was affected by British and American troops, rather than the Red Army, the experience was generally quite jolly. Although those liberated by the Russians were mostly confronted by friendliness, there was also a degree of unpredictability. Once free, most prisoners focused on getting home but, as Adrian Gilbert explains: at the same time there was a lurking anxiety about what ‘home’ would be like, especially for those who had been captured early in

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the war. Would wives still love them – or even be there? And would children recognize or remember them? Some men had undoubtedly become institutionalized, and found the prospect of leaving their camps – with their fixed routines and certainties – a frightening one.6 D. Swift remembered that after the Germans had fled, most of the now ex-POWs felt no elation at all and just wanted to get home. They sat around dazed from their experience, apart from ‘one little bloke’ who was ‘as ’appy as fuck’.7 The problem of repatriating POWs had been given some real forethought. In 1944 British and American plans coalesced in the form of an Ex-Prisoner-of War section, known as PWX. Their decision to prioritise speed over chaos in getting the men home was probably the right one. British POWs, after transport to holding centres on the continent, were flown back to reception centres in the south-east of England. They were given a warm welcome, good food and new uniforms. Relatives were contacted, travel warrants issued and wages paid.8 They returned to families that had been relatively well-informed about their POW status by a plethora of voluntary and unofficial organisations that were also dedicated to keeping POWs in the forefront of the public mind. It is, therefore, highly questionable, as some individuals have suggested, that ex-prisoners were treated as failures, cowards or traitors.9 Certainly, returning members of the armed forces did not have to contend with defeated or divided homelands, as was the case for Axis POWs. In addition, the period after World War II is notable for tremendous social improvements that came about as a result of The Beveridge Report.10 Ex-POWs had just as much access to these health and state benefits as anyone else. Yet the return home could be very different to that which was imagined back in captivity. The very ordinariness of life, the resumption of pre-war trades and careers, the fact that life on the home front had been no picnic during the war years, tended to work against any idea of ex-prisoners receiving special treatment. They were also faced with the issue of having to assimilate back into family life, a more difficult task than many had planned for. Many returnees were subject to feelings of dissatisfaction, unease, and restiveness.11 RAF Sergeant W. P. Wood wrote:

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I suppose the most common sensation of a returning prisoner was one of anti-climax. It had been a long time coming and the imagination had created a sort of mirage. Life in England fell far short of this illusion of course . . . For some time, life in a house caused me a discomfort amounting to claustrophobia. I recall too a triviality and a lack of purpose in civilian conversation which produced at times a need to escape as strong as any experienced in Germany. Yet where could you go? Escape to the past was clearly impossible. Strangely enough, one felt most confortable in the company of other ‘kriegies’, a company so long and often irksome. Only their reaction and behaviour seemed completely logical, predictable and understandable.12 Despite latter-day claims that POWs were highly susceptible to mental disorders of various kinds, the majority merged back into wider society and got on with their lives. Nonetheless, as pointed out by S. P. Mackenzie, it was not long before it became apparent that there was indeed a strong public appetite for the reminiscences of former POWs. As noted above, these were supposed to follow a particular pattern and involve ingenious and ultimately successful escapes. There was good reason for this desire. Postwar Britain was a desperate place. The opening passage to David Kynaston’s Austerity Britain brilliantly encapsulates the conditions: Britain in 1945. No supermarkets, no motorways, no teabags, no sliced bread, no frozen food, no flavoured crisps, no lager, no microwaves, no dishwashers, no Formica, no vinyl, no CDs, no computers, no mobiles, no duvets, no Pill, no trainers, no hoodies, no Starbucks. Four Indian restaurants. Shops on every corner, pubs on every corner, cinemas in every high street, red telephone boxes, Lyons Corner Houses, trams, trolley-buses, steam trains. Woodbines, Craven ‘A’, Senior Service, smoke, smog, Vapex inhalant. No launderettes, no automatic washing machines, wash day every Monday, clothes boiled in a tub, scrubbed on the draining board, rinsed in the sink, put through a mangle, hung out to dry. Central heating rare, coke boilers, water geysers, the coal fire, the hearth, the home, chilblains common. Abortion illegal, homosexual relationships illegal, suicide illegal, capital

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punishment legal. White faces everywhere. Back-to-backs, narrow cobbled streets, Victorian terraces, no high-rises. Arterial roads, suburban semis, the march of the pylon. Austin Sevens, Ford Eights, no seat belts, Triumph motorcycles with sidecars. A Bakelite wireless in the home, Housewives’ Choice or Workers’ Playtime or ITMA on the air, televisions almost unknown, no programmes to watch, the family eating together. Milk of Magnesia, Vick Vapour Rub, Friar’s Balsam, Fynnon Salts, Eno’s, Germolene. Suits and hats, dresses and hats, cloth caps and mufflers, no leisurewear, no ‘teenagers’. Heavy coins, heavy shoes, heavy suitcases, heavy tweed coats, heavy leather footballs, no unbearable lightness of being. Meat rationed, butter rationed, lard rationed, margarine rationed, sugar rationed, tea rationed, cheese rationed, jam rationed, eggs rationed, sweets rationed, soap rationed, clothes rationed. Make do and mend.13 No wonder Britons wanted to dwell on the ‘glory years’ of the war, to remember that it had all been worthwhile after reality kicked in. This is why Prisoners of War became glamorous, and when they did through such films as The Wooden Horse, perhaps those tens of thousands of returnee prisoners wanted to feel they were a part of that glamour. Charles Coward was one such man. Coward had returned to Britain in 1945 having spent some of the war in the E715 work detachment. Like a plethora of others, he returned to a humdrum life in North London where work was difficult to come by. However, Coward, over a period of about nine years, pulled together a story about his wartime deeds that caught the attention of two journalists, Ronald Payne and John Garrod, who helped him write a book about his adventures. After publication in 1954, The Password is Courage became an immediate bestseller and Coward found himself in public demand.14 This is Your Life, the spritely biographic television show, devoted a programme to him in October 1960. His book was subsequently made into a 1962 film of the same name starring Dirk Bogarde, a popular movie actor who was then at the top of his trade. Not long after, still in the 1960s, when government records had not yet been released, Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial, education and research centre in Jerusalem, recognised Coward as ‘Righteous Among the Nations’. This award was given to gentiles for acting heroically on behalf

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of Jews during the war. Coward is one of very few Britons to have held such an honour, and in some ways, this is the reason that Coward’s narrative deserves particular attention. It dealt with subjects that other POW memoirs left out or glossed over, namely the mass murder and exploitation of European Jews. As such, Coward’s account helped to set the tone in Britain concerning popular understandings of what we now call the Holocaust. The Password is Courage was a story of its time, not so different in tone to many in the postwar period that sought to sate public demand. Coward claimed to have embarked on a litany of deeds, from escapes to daring feats of sabotage. However, his most astonishing claims relate to his time with E715. On arrival in Auschwitz, where he allegedly disembarked inside Birkenau itself, Coward claims he was installed as the Man of Confidence for E715 work detachment, apparently winning the immediate respect of his men.15 Portrayed as a selfless man of action, Coward professed to have faced down his German oppressors whilst at the same time winning them over with his decency and bearing. Moreover, Coward maintained that he was an eyewitness to the arrival of a Jewish transport, saw for himself the notorious selection process and, in addition, was present when Jews entered the gas chambers. Such sights, it was affirmed, prompted Coward to make contact with the Polish underground, who used him to smuggle weapons and ammunition to the Sonderkommando, the ‘special commando’ responsible for the day-today running of the gassing procedure at Auschwitz. These arms and explosives were then allegedly used in the 1944 Sonderkommando uprising.16 Effectively acting as the British government’s man in Auschwitz, Coward contended that he secretly provided them with details of the mass killing operation. As a direct result, the RAF, so the book informed its readers, dropped leaflets in the vicinity of Auschwitz. These exhorted Germans to rise up against the atrocities being committed there, a message that Coward further claimed was broadcast by senior British politicians over the BBC. Furthermore, Coward, in what was portrayed as an act of compassionate bravado, attempted to make contact with a British doctor incarcerated in Monowitz by swapping places with a Jewish inmate for the night. Finally, Sergeant Major Coward maintained that he had hatched a scheme in which dead bodies were substituted for live inmates thus facilitating the escape of nearly 400 Jews.

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In the years following the end of the war, such stories were widely consumed and Coward’s story, like many others, helped to lighten the gloom of postwar austerity. Whether they were believed or not is, of course, open to conjecture. However, when summarised as above, it might be assumed that to a modern, more knowing audience, Coward’s claims immediately seem somewhat questionable, especially when placed alongside the context laid out in the rest of this book. Yet The Password is Courage has proven extremely durable for over 60 years. In fact, it was given a new lease of life when Holocaust scholar, Joseph White, used Coward’s account as proof for his argument that the presence of British POWs at Farben acted as a mollifying force amongst cruelty and murder. White believes that ‘sufficient evidence has emerged to demonstrate that [Coward] waged a personal campaign against the mass murder of Jews while at E715’. This led him to the conclusion that ‘in extremis, Coward exemplified the British challenge to the Nazi racial hierarchy’.17 In so doing, White added intellectual weight to the narrative. Subsequently, Coward appeared as an heroic figure in Martin Gilbert’s 2003 book The Righteous: Unsung Heroes of the Holocaust and, in 2012, Lyn Smith included Coward in her list of Heroes of the Holocaust.18 As a final accolade, prime minister of the time Gordon Brown posthumously awarded Coward a ‘British Hero of the Holocaust’ medal in 2012. As shown above, the experience of other POWs proves that the very notion of heroism in the context of the Nazi domain is something that requires careful handling. It is now broadly accepted in academic circles that popular narratives of the POW experience, although often based on real events, do depart from them for a number of reasons, including for the sake of entertainment. The Password is Courage, as explained below, is one such tale. It is precisely because Coward’s story has for so long endured and has been endorsed by an increasing number of contemporary commentators that a more detailed examination, using a combination of contemporary evidence and modern scholarship, is called for. The publication of personal accounts by British POWs previously based with the E715 work detachment has now become something of a cottage industry.19 This culminated in the appearance of another book, this time written by Denis Avey and journalist Rob Broomby, in which the former, who was also a POW with E715, claimed to have carried out

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feats that bear a striking similarity to those previously attributed to Coward. The Man Who Broke Into Auschwitz garnered worldwide praise and enjoyed considerable success. Avey, too, was given a medal by the British government (although not Yad Vashem) for his role in helping Jews. This seems to suggest that there is now common acceptance that all it took to undermine the pernicious Nazi system was a quick-witted individual and a slice of home-grown cunning. However, not only does the context outlined above reveal this was improbable, but also, such claims can contribute to a particular enduring stereotype concerning the victims of this system: why, if one ordinary British POW was able to wreak such havoc, did the millions of Jews and other sufferers under Nazism not seize the opportunity to do the same or something similar? Such an assumption tends to negate the real and terrible circumstances that existed in the camps. Moreover, it could conceivably lead to misleading conclusions in that it implies that the British were superior and more inherently equipped to tackle adversity than inmates, be they Jews, Roma or homosexuals, who in any case suffered under Nazi rule to a far greater extent. The unqualified march of such narratives therefore requires a serious response. This is why this chapter will deal with the claims made by Charles Coward and Denis Avey. Enough documentary evidence exists, not only to raise fundamental questions about the veracity of Coward’s narrative, but also to allow a fairly detailed reconstruction of the way in which it developed over time. The earliest evidence relating to Coward is found on his repatriation questionnaire. All returning POWs were asked to complete this form and Coward’s is one of 140,000 available for scrutiny at the National Archives in Kew. The forms provide information such as name, rank, military unit, place and date of capture, the camps in which prisoners were held, details of interrogations, details of sabotage and whether the returnee had any knowledge of war crimes. If the answer to this last question was ‘yes’, they were asked to give extra details by completing ‘Form Q’ which was then passed to the department of the Judge Advocate General potentially for use as court case evidence. As well as completing his repatriation questionnaire, Coward also submitted an additional report. In 1947, Coward wrote yet another account, this time in the form of an affidavit for the postwar trial of Farben management at Nuremburg, where he also testified. Coward’s final version became The Password is Courage, although an encounter with another ex-POW,

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Yitzchak Persky, in Israel, subsequent to the publication of the book, gave birth to further claims. Coward’s questionnaire, being the first documented evidence on his return from captivity, seems to be a good place to start. There are a few things to note that appear of minor import, but are indicative of broader inaccuracies. The first of these can be found on the front page of the POW questionnaire. During the trial of Farben management in 1947 and throughout The Password is Courage, Coward persistently referred to his wartime rank. This he gave as Battery Sergeant Major. When completing the questionnaire, he entered his rank as ‘A/BSM’, that is, Acting Battery Sergeant Major. In spite of later claims, notably during the Farben trial and in The Password is Courage, Coward had apparently never held the rank of a fully fledged Sergeant Major.20 Sergeant Major was the highest non-commissioned army rank attainable and to a postwar audience of ex-servicemen and women this was a point not without merit and it arguably added credence to his claims.21 The second inaccuracy arose when Coward gave his year of enlistment as 1938, whereas his 1947 affidavit stated that he ‘entered the British Army on 16 June 1937.’22 Neither date though agrees with that given in The Password is Courage, which states that he joined up in 1939. On the surface it may seem that drawing attention to such discrepancies is pedantic; however, they are indicative of other incongruities that feature regularly in Coward’s story. It is on the subject of escapes that the first major inconsistencies are noticeable. If the repatriation questionnaire had been the only document available, then it could perhaps have been accepted that he claimed to have attempted to escape on three separate occasions. The first escape attempt, he wrote, was from a small work detachment at Tost with a fellow POW, Corporal [Walter] Connolly; the second provided no details other than that he was ‘caught after four hours’; the third was from Hannover with a number of other POWs who eventually encountered advancing American forces on the outskirts of the town. So far, so good, but the repatriation questionnaire is not the only document on file. Pinned to this was a separate report that was probably submitted in September 1945, some five months after he completed the initial repatriation questionnaire.23 On this report Coward provided a good deal of additional information about his escape attempts. It is unclear why he did this.

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So, with regard to the first escape attempt, Coward claimed in this report that he escaped from Tost with three others, not just with Connolly.24 After tunnelling under a fence and evading armed captors, Coward alleged that he boarded a southbound train. He made it as far as Crailsheim, southwest of Nuremburg. Here, something caught his interest as he looked out of the train window. Outside a large ‘air-force camp’ on adjacent tracks, piled ‘on very long waggons’ were cylinderlike objects’. Assuming these to be a kind of major new weapon, Coward wrote that he disembarked from his train under cover of darkness and placed objects on the tracks so as to cause a derailment. After evading more armed personnel, this time from the Luftwaffe, he claimed he carried on with his journey after boarding another train. Later, following recapture (which only came about because the head of the German Eagle on his self-forged pass was ‘facing the wrong way’), and after being returned to the POW camp (following violent interrogation), he professed to have written coded letters to the War Office in London ‘explaining in detail what he had seen’. On his report, Coward clarified that his suspicions about these cylindrical objects had been borne out, because ‘since seeing photographs’ of the V1 weapon, he could ‘see a similarity’. All told, Coward claimed to have escaped, travelled half way across Germany, potentially delayed the deployment of the V1 and seemingly warned the British government of imminent rocket attacks.25 By 1954, however, his story had changed again. In The Password is Courage his sighting of the V1s came during an entirely different escape attempt. This time he had absconded from a sugar factory ‘in Czechoslovakia somewhere’ and was travelling south through the Carpathian Mountains near Bratislava (now on the Austria/Slovakia border), when he disembarked at a ‘German Government Experimental Station’. It was here that he saw metal cylinders, on this occasion, marked with the characters ‘V1’, which he proceeded to sabotage.26 In addition to these various discrepancies, there is a problem with respect to Coward’s testimony about sabotaging V1s in August 1942, the date specified by him. This is because, at that time, the weapon was still in development at the Peenemu¨nde Army Research Centre (Heeresversuchsanstalt Peenemu¨nde) on the Baltic coast, hundreds of miles from Crailsheim. In fact, in October 1942 German scientists were still experimenting with a catapult system ‘using a concrete ballistic dummy’.27 In other words, the final version of the V1 was still a long

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way off, so Coward could not have seen what he identified as V1s, let alone carried out an attempted derailment. What could possibly have motivated Coward to make such a claim? And why did he then change his story for publication in The Password is Courage? At this stage, it is only possible to speculate. However, there was an additional statement in the September 1945 report that perhaps provides a clue and deserves scrutiny. He informed British officials that, during a visit to Gleiwitz in August 1944, he had observed some very peculiar activity. He ‘noticed that some Germans were training wearing a peculiar mask’, but could not understand what was going on so decided to make some ‘discreet enquiries’. The incredible explanation given to Coward was ‘that they were experimenting or training with a new shell that when exploded froze everything in a mile radius.’28 Yet, there is no evidence that German scientists ever developed a weapon with such capabilities or that German forces ever experimented with one. One possible explanation could lie with the date of the report. September 1945 was one month after nuclear bombs had been used by the Americans against Japan, thus precipitating the end of the war in the Far East. Although we will probably never know, perhaps this is what inspired Coward? Nonetheless, regardless of the reason, it is difficult to reach any other conclusion than that Coward fabricated this part of his report. There was one additional detail concerning Coward’s escape from Tost that appeared neither in his repatriation questionnaire nor his subsequent report. This involved the period before his escape, and concerns the claim made in The Password is Courage that on the train journey from Lamsdorf to the small working camp at Tost, he saw and smelt the ‘distinctive, sweetish smell of burning flesh’ emanating from the smoking chimneys at Auschwitz.29 As it is undeniable that some POWs (as mentioned above), mostly those being transported from one camp to another or with a more itinerant role, stumbled across the awful sights and sounds of Jewish suffering in and around the camps, Coward’s claim does not seem outlandish. However, in order to fully understand what Coward was claiming here, the geography of this area of Upper Silesia needs to be understood. Lamsdorf camp was based near a small village known in Polish as Łambinowice, situated approximately midway between Wroclaw and Katowice to the south-east. In order to get to Tost from Lamsdorf, it was necessary to travel approximately

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100 kilometres east-south-east. At no point on the journey would the train have passed anywhere near the vicinity of Auschwitz, which was about 100 km south-east of Tost. Although the smell of smoking crematoria chimneys was certainly detectable in, say, Monowitz, three miles away, in certain weather conditions, it is inconceivable that Coward could have seen or smelt them from so far away. Thus far, it can be seen that Coward had possibly falsified his rank, provided three different dates for joining the army, made two different but equally implausible claims about sabotaging the transport of V1 weapons and suggested that the smoking chimneys of Auschwitz could be seen and smelt from a distance of nearly 100 kilometres away. Such claims are fairly harmless in and of themselves however, they provide a backdrop to other assertions that are connected to the core subject of this study, namely, the interaction of British POWs with aspects of the Holocaust. This brings us to another contention on Coward’s September 1945 report. This related to another alleged escape attempt, not from Tost this time, but from the E715 work detachment. He wrote: On 21 January 1944 I escaped from E-715 Auschwitz with two Jews from the concentration Lager [camp], but gave myself up on [the] train to Vienna after 12 hours, so that I could engage in conversation with two gestapo [sic ] officials, whilst the two Jews could jump the train. On this occasion I had no passport [and] was sent back to Auschwitz. [I] was not punished because [I] was not reported missing.30 Firstly then, how does this claim marry with the information he provided on his repatriation questionnaire? It will be recalled that on his this questionnaire Coward mentioned a second escape attempt but he provided no other information about this other than to say he was ‘caught after four hours.’ Given that the questionnaire was completed in April 1945 and the report in September the same year, it is reasonable to assume that the second attempt mentioned on the repatriation questionnaire corresponds to the second one outlined in the report. If it was the same attempt, then the period of time that elapsed between escape and re-capture had increased threefold, from four to twelve hours. Perhaps even more notable, though, was that this attempt was not from

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just any camp, but from a camp in the immediate vicinity of Auschwitz. Unfortunately, Coward provided no explanation as to how an escape from the E715 work detachment was possible, or indeed how he managed to secure the release of two Jews, who would almost certainly have been incarcerated at Monowitz concentration camp. Certainly, this would have constituted a remarkable feat, given what is known about the condition of inmates at Monowitz, who were invariably starved, severely debilitated, poorly and distinctly dressed with conspicuously shaven heads and often covered in sores. Given the average condition of Jewish inmates, it seems highly unlikely that these two comrades could ‘jump the train’. Furthermore, Coward later provided evidence about his time with E715 in The Password is Courage, which rather contradicts this earlier account. He claimed that, as the Man of Confidence, he cut an instantly recognisable figure in and around the Farben site, even gaining a nickname from his captors as ‘The Count of Auschwitz’ on account of his appearance and demeanour. This nickname was apparently bestowed on him not by his own men, but rather by the German guards. In this regard he even claimed to have come to the attention of the camp commandant.31 Notwithstanding the difficulty of circumventing stringent security arrangements for his escape, it stretches credibility somewhat to believe that the most recognisable Briton on the site could slope away from the camp unnoticed with two Jews in tow. In fact, The Password is Courage reveals a further contradiction, this time regarding Coward’s attitude concerning his desire to escape when based with E715. Having arrived at the camp that housed the work detachment, Coward’s alleged inner thoughts were revealed: He knew his urge to escape would have to be crushed at Auschwitz. These men needed someone to look after their interests; to do that he would have to remain with them, helping others to get away if possible, but never going himself.32 So which is true? Did Coward escape against the odds only to sacrifice himself for the sake of two Jews who, despite their likely condition, were able to jump from the train? Or, did he deny himself the chance to escape in order to look after his comrades in E715? Unfortunately, these are questions that will remain unanswered. Certainly though, the two

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accounts are sufficiently at variance to raise doubts about the veracity of this particular claim on Coward’s September 1945 report. However, what at this stage seems clear is that from early on, Coward embarked on the development of a valorous tale containing some classic postwar tropes, which had started to surface in books and films during the war, in particular, the plucky, self-denying hero versus the German war machine. The final claim made on Coward’s September 1945 report was that he broke free from a camp in Hannover before reaching American lines. We shall return to this later on. The next significant piece of evidence provided by Coward relates to the trial in Nuremburg of the Farben management, held in 1947 and 1948. Several British ex-POWs were called to provide written and oral testimony for the prosecution. The Chairman of the Farben Board, Carl Krauch, and a number of associates were charged with, among other things, preparing and waging aggressive war, crimes against humanity by looting the occupied territories and enslaving and murdering civil populations, prisoners of war and prisoners from the occupied territories. All ex-POWs who testified at the trial were required to complete an affidavit setting out relevant evidence. Coward was no exception. His affidavit provides more information about his time at E715. Firstly, he stated that he joined E715 in December 1943. Certainly, British POWs were still arriving at the work detachment then, however, his original repatriation questionnaire stated that he arrived in September 1943, that is, some 3 months earlier.33 In the general monotony of camp life such confusion is perhaps understandable, as one day could feel like it blended seamlessly into another. Unfortunately, the relevant passage in The Password is Courage only confuses the matter further. The impression given here is that when Coward first arrived in the town of Auschwitz, he disembarked from the train not at the civilian station just outside the main town, but rather inside Birkenau itself: The station was actually inside an enormous camp surrounding a new factory. Long rows of huts stretched out on either side of a rough rutted road; at the end of the road he could dimly see a concrete building with high chimneys. They were smoking heavily, sending thick black smoke rolling over the frozen countryside and tainting the air with a burnt, nauseating smell . . .34

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This description broadly mirrors what was known about Birkenau in 1954 (although there is no evidence to prove that a factory ever existed inside the grounds of Birkenau camp) when the book was published but with one major incongruity. Trains did not run into this camp until spring 1944 when the railway lines were extended in order to accommodate the arrival of Hungarian Jews. The arrivals area was constructed as part of a programme of works to ‘bring the machinery of destruction up to date’.35 So we are left with a very confused picture. Did Coward arrive at E715 in September 1943, December 1943 or, if we take the description in The Password is Courage, sometime after spring 1944 at the same time that Birkenau was working to full capacity consuming trainload after trainload of Hungarian Jewry? Either of the first two dates are the most probable because they are in line with the arrival of the majority of British POWs who constituted the E715 work detachment. However, if these are the most likely dates, then why did Coward embellish his account in the book? Again, we are forced to conclude that it was added for dramatic effect at a time when it would have been very difficult to verify when the railway tracks were extended inside Birkenau. There is other information on Coward’s affidavit that can now be questioned because of modern research. One key issue concerns the location of the camp that held the E715 work detachment, especially in relation to Monowitz. Coward stated that the camp in which British POWs were stationed was ‘just across the road’ from Monowitz. As such, he and the other Britons could look into the concentration camp from inside the barbed wire and they were so close that they could hear gun shots with ease. According to Coward, these ‘sounded as close as if they had come from our own camp and would wake us up.’36 Coward thus offers an enticing picture of the proximity of Monowitz to the camp containing the men of E715. Monowitz, however, stood adjacent to the South Eastern corner of the colossal and sprawling Farben works and local management knew it as Lager IV. We know from other POWs that members of E715 were actually incarcerated in two camps one after the other. As ex-E715 member, Robert Ferris testified in his own affidavit, POWs were, when they first arrived in late summer 1943, placed in Camp VIII. Later on, in mid-1944 they were moved to Camp VI.37 Camp VIII was, according to plans of the site, situated approximately 750 metres south of the Farben site as the crow flies. It was also nearly two kilometres distant from

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Monowitz. POWs based there would not have been able to see into Monowitz and it is unlikely that shots would have been heard at all, let alone being loud enough to wake up the prisoners. However, Coward’s claims probably refer to Camp VI. Camp VI was adjacent to the southern border of the Farben plant and from here they could certainly have seen Monowitz, but what kind of view did they have? Coward stated in his affidavit that Camp VI was ‘just across the road’ from Monowitz. But he also provided a more specific figure, estimating that the span between the two was ‘not 320 yards.’ Yet this was not Coward’s only guess. He provided a different figure during the trial when, under cross-examination, he told defending counsel that Camp VI ‘was about 200 yards away from the . . . concentration camp’, a considerably smaller distance. Again, it is difficult to understand why Coward provided different information in the trial to that in his affidavit. Certainly, the courtroom experience was probably something new for him and cross-examination possibly proved an overwhelming experience. Nonetheless, even anxiety brought about by court proceedings cannot explain the discrepancy about the distance. It also does not explain why both figures were wildly inaccurate, especially when other ex-POWs had little difficulty in estimating the distance between the two camps. Robert Ferris, for example, testified that the two camps were a ‘half mile’ apart.38 Such assertions on Coward’s part are in some ways key to the way in which his story developed over time. Even seemingly anodyne claims involving distances between the camps can give the impression that he was a central figure in the unfolding drama before him. These claims can have a real effect on the historiography concerning British POWs and the Holocaust. For example, Joseph White, in his study of POWs at Auschwitz takes Coward at his word and concludes that ‘a prisoner could look beyond his own fence and glimpse activity inside [Monowitz] unobstructed.’39 A brief glance at a scale map of the area or indeed an aerial photograph, however, shows that this conclusion is not feasible.40 According to plans of the Farben site, Camp VI was, in fact, just over half a kilometre from Monowitz and more in line with Ferris’s estimation. Perhaps, at best, they could have made out the outline of the concentration camp in the distance, but that far away British POWs would have struggled to see anything in detail. What is more, plans and photographs of the site reveal that their view of Monowitz would have

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been further obscured by a complex of SS administration buildings, which butted onto the western edge of Monowitz and took up nearly two thirds of that edge. The backs of barracks screened the rest of the border. Even when British POWs marched past Monowitz on their way to work at the Farben site, the concentration camp would have been empty. As we will see, inmates of Monowitz did not work the same hours as POWs but were forced to work longer hours, starting earlier and finishing later. The next piece of information Coward included on his affidavit that also deserves attention is his claim to have occupied the position of camp leader at E715. The Password is Courage portrays Coward arriving at the work detachment and immediately noticing of the men already there that ‘something of the general hopelessness of the area had them in their grip . . . they were men who had seen dreadful things and showed it in their eyes.’41 Nonetheless, the book recorded that the POWs ‘welcomed’ him ‘with open arms’ because, it explained, Coward’s ‘name and reputation were not unknown to them . . .’.42 According to the book, this was the beginning of a relationship built on Coward’s straighttalking, but inspirational leadership. Once again, Coward’s claim to have been a popular leader does not seem to be verified by the evidence. The only independent evidence from his contemporaries regarding the relationship between Coward and the men who belonged to E715 is retrospective and it should therefore be treated with a degree of caution. However, in 2006, the National Ex-Prisoner of War Association invited members who knew Coward to send in their recollections. Two replies were published and both were distinctly uncomplimentary.43 Ron Jones, also an ex-POW at the same work detachment, expressed a similar point of view.44 Denis Avey, who we shall return to below, labelled Coward ‘a conman’.45 Although such judgements are not definitive, and may reflect a degree of bias, they should not be dismissed altogether. Coward did not mention on his repatriation questionnaire that he had been camp leader, nor indeed was there any reference on his subsequent report of the same year. The first time he made any reference to his status within the camp was on his 1947 affidavit where, he wrote, that Regimental Sergeant Major John Lowe had chosen him ‘for the position of Red Cross Trustee’.46 This has a certain merit to it because, according to Red Cross reports, Lowe was initially assistant Man of Confidence to

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Sidney Sherriff at Lamsdorf. But, by June 1944, the duties of representing the men and overseeing hundreds of work detachments had been spread around a number of men and Lowe had become the Red Cross representative.47 This meant Lowe was in charge of distributing provisions provided by the Red Cross and was probably the contact point for the Trustees in the smaller satellite camps. He retained this position until around 22 January 1945, just days before evacuation.48 In other words, from this evidence, it seems that Coward might well have been the Red Cross Trustee for E715. David Innes Alexander, who was part of the same work detachment from late summer 1943 until evacuation in January 1945, provided more information about who held what position at E715 on his affidavit which would have been written at about the same time as Coward’s. Alexander stated that he ‘was assistant to Mr. Coward who held the position of “confidence man’’ charged with dealing with ‘Red Cross matters’, including any of the grievances of POWs about ‘food, clothing’ and the like.49 From the statements of both Coward and Alexander then, it would seem that the duties of the Man of Confidence and Red Cross Trustee were combined in E715 and that Coward was the one with the designated authority, a position that modern commentators have come to accept as true. So far, so good then, because Coward’s claims relating to his being ‘Man of Confidence’ and Trustee at E715 are backed up by other sources. What, however, are we to make of the affidavit completed by yet another POW based with E715, Horace Charters? Company Sergeant Major Charters was a career army man, having joined up in 1929. He was captured on 7 July 1940 and spent most of the war at Lamsdorf. However, he was then despatched to E715, arriving with the men in ‘March 1944’ where he remained for a 4 month period ‘until the end of June 1944’. Moreover, Charters continued, that while at ‘Auschwitz’, he ‘held an administrative position, having been placed in charge of the British prisoners of war as confidence man (Vortrauensmann).’ He then listed his duties, which also included dealing with POW grievances regarding ‘their working conditions, clothing and feeding.’50 Supporting this is other evidence placing Charters in the position of Man of Confidence for the E715 work detachment. All POW camps were subject to inspection by the Red Cross and the camp containing the men of E715 was no exception. The visitation

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of the Red Cross representatives required the presence of an official from the German camp authorities and the British camp leader. Results were discussed and agreed by all parties. Red Cross reports were then copied to the German authorities as well as to the British government. A report for E715, dated 20 June 1944 still resides in the government archives at Kew. There is no indication on this report that Coward was present, or that Charters was deputising for him. Instead, the form clearly states: ‘Man of Confidence: C.S.M. H.R. Charters’.51 Such unambiguous evidence supplied by the Red Cross that Horace Charters was indeed telling the truth about his official position at the camp also throws some doubt on Coward’s claim to have been the leader of E715 work detachment. Nor is this the only piece of evidence placing Charters rather than Coward in the position of Man of Confidence. One particular incident, the murder of a British POW, provides another insight into Coward’s claims. Again, it is in his 1947 affidavit that Coward gave the first account of the incident. He stated that in: the winter of 1943– 1944 a civilian foreman of I. G. Farben ordered 5 prisoners of war to climb an ice-covered iron girder. Under the circumstances it was almost impossible to climb the girder, especially since the men did not have proper boots. The men refused to obey the order. Thereupon the German guard shot and killed one of the five British prisoners of war . . . This matter-of-fact account was considerably expanded upon in The Password is Courage. Here, Coward is said to have marched the men to work at Farben one morning. After they started work Coward noticed that ‘at the foot of a newly-erected pylon a little group gathered, arguing.’ On investigation, a ‘hefty Unteroffizier’ confronted Coward, called the POWs ‘lazy pigs’ and promised to ‘make them work’. The account continued that Coward challenged the guard warning him that if he laid ‘a hand’ on any of the POWs there would be ‘trouble’. It was following this that one of the men, Corporal Reynolds ‘angrily’ declined ‘to climb the steel pylon’ unless provided with the appropriate equipment. After being ordered to do so by the guard, Reynolds walked away. Coward then recalled that he saw ‘a pistol appear in the German’s hand and shouted to Reynolds ‘look out, man!’’ At this:

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Reynolds turned and stared with open mouth as the gun thundered. He stood quite still for a moment, a small dark stain appearing on the breast of his khaki tunic. Then he cried, ‘Christ, he’s shot me!’ and crumbled in a heap on the frozen ground. Coward, while kneeling beside the body, claimed he uttered curses at the perpetrator and two days later ‘led the pall-bearers to the last resting place.’52 This account clearly placed Coward at the centre of events. But, evidence in the war crimes files of the National Archives shed a rather different light on the circumstances surrounding the death of T/185224 Corporal Leslie V. Reynolds of the Royal Army Service Corps. The Judge Advocate General’s Department (JAG) was responsible for dealing with thousands of war crimes cases in the immediate aftermath of the war. One of the triggers for the prosecution of a war criminal was the evidence provided in the questionnaires completed by recently repatriated POWs, in particular as mentioned above, ‘Form Q’. Given Coward’s alleged centrality to the incident and that he later claimed to have been the senior man on the scene, it could be reasonably expected that the prompting for an investigation would emanate from him.53 And yet, although three ‘Form Q’s were received by the JAG Department concerning Reynold’s murder, Coward wrote none of them. Captain I. O. B. Spencer of the Royal Army Medical Corp, Trooper Joseph Milliken of the 4th Battalion of the Royal Tank Regiment and Gunner John O’Brien King of the 9th Armoured Division, Royal Artillery all provided details to authorities immediately after the war. King gave few details, merely stating that Reynolds ‘was killed in cold blood’ because ‘he refused to work on the girders, 70 feet up, in the winter’54 but Milliken filled in some of the gaps. It was in March 1944, he stated, that: an English P.O.W. was ordered to climb a steel girder in order to drill holes with a boring machine. The day was a very wet day and the ground muddy. The P.O.W. tried to explain in halting German that the girders were slippery and dangerous to climb from the rain, also he protested that he became light-headed at a high height. An interpreter for the working party by the name of Corporal Reynolds of the RASC came forward and assisted in explaining his Comrade’s case, and for no particular reason he was shot in cold blood by the German Unteroffizier.

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Reynolds, he wrote, ‘died from a pistol bullet in heart and lung.’55 Captain Spencer added further details, stating that a ‘small number’ of British POWs had refused to work on the structure in the morning ‘owing to rain and frost’. They were, according to Spencer, ‘allowed to stop and have lunch’, but on their return, refused again. He continued: A German Unterofficer of the Guard was called to enforce the order. When he had collected the men he became excessively angry and started threatening them with a pistol. He then pushed his pistol in to Pte [sic ] Reynolds ribs and pulled the trigger two or three times. The last time he pulled the trigger there was a shot fired which passed through Reynold’s chest killing him, I believe, almost instantly. From the evidence provided by these eyewitnesses, it is possible to deduce that the events were rather different to those described in The Password is Courage. Firstly, it would appear that Reynolds might not have refused to climb the girders, but that he was killed as he tried to act as an interpreter for another man’s grievances. Secondly, it seems that the killing did not occur as the men arrived for work in the morning, as Coward alleged, but rather after they had stopped for lunch. Thirdly, the rendition of the shooting provided in the 1954 book was over-dramatic and not necessarily representative of the killing of Reynolds. Crucially though, none of those who provided evidence after the war mentioned Coward, which considering his claim to have been in charge of the working party seems rather strange. In fact, both Milliken and Spencer provided the names of other witnesses. Milliken identified a sapper with the Royal Engineers named William Boyd, while Spencer named Captain Robin Robertson of the Royal Army Medical Corps, Company Sergeant Major Brown and, most importantly, Company Sergeant Major Charters.56 The latter two, he specified, were acting as Warrant Officers in charge of the working party. This is corroborating and independent evidence that placed Horace Charters at the scene of the crime, and in a position of command. Indeed, war crimes files contain a reference to a report filed by CSM Charters dated 19 March 1944, reference ‘K.W.2/7 Auschwitz E.715’, which almost certainly contained information relating to the death of Reynolds.57 This report no longer seems to exist.

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The evidence above therefore suggests that Coward was not present at the killing of Reynolds. It also casts further doubt on Coward’s claim to have been leader of the working party on the day of Reynolds’ death or Man of Confidence in March 1944 because, at that time, all the evidence suggests Charters was Man of Confidence. So, if Coward was not present when Reynolds’ was shot, how did he come to know about the killing of a fellow POW? His 1947 affidavit makes no attempt to place himself at the centre of events and he used neutral language to describe what happened but news about the murder of a POW would have rapidly spread throughout the POW population. Perhaps he heard from the ‘chatter culture’ rather than saw what happened because, according the affidavit of Lance-Corporal L. J. Anderson of 2 Division Provost Company, Reynolds’ death was indeed the subject of ‘hearsay’.58 Was it only latterly, in 1954, that the tragic story of Reynolds’ death was enlarged on? Doubtless, the sense of tragedy would have dulled over time and perhaps Coward believed that by later inserting himself in the story that it would do no harm. Certainly, the postwar period was replete with retellings of the war in which real suffering and death was replaced by an emphasis on tales of personal valour. Coward, it could therefore be argued, was no different from many others who sought to reimagine their war experiences. However, what Coward seems to have done here, raises other, perhaps more fundamental questions, especially given that many of his claims relate to the suffering not of a single individual, but of a plethora of Jews caught up in the Nazi maelstrom. According to his affidavit and The Password is Courage, Coward made contact with the War Office using an amateur code, although by the time of the book’s publication he was more specific, saying it was Reynolds’ death that led him to do this. It was claimed that he sent regular letters ‘worded as if talking of family matters’, addressed to ‘Charles Coward Snr., c/o William Orange’. His wife, apparently aware of Coward’s objective, deciphered the code and sent the missives to their intended destination.59 These messages are said to have contained information of ‘military value’, as well as relating ‘the conditions of work for civilians and inmates’. They also provided the War Office with ‘particular dates’ corresponding to the arrival of Jews at Auschwitz.60 Amateur codes, which were known as ‘dotty codes’ were indeed used when contacting the War Office, however, the fact that some POWs used

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these codes does not prove that Coward was one of them. Indeed, military historians M. R. D. Foot and J. M. Langley make it clear in their history of the Department of Military Intelligence (MI9) that amateur codes were only used during the early part of the war. So, if Coward alleged he contacted the War Office be it soon after he arrived at E715 or after Reynolds’ death, that is in late 1943 or March 1944, there is a problem with this claim. By this time MI9y, the coding sub-section, had taken the matter of communication with POWs in hand and had constructed a network of POW-agents whom they knew could be trusted. This select group of officers was drawn from ‘about 1% of the army and navy, most fighter pilots and 6% of other aircrew’ who were deemed the ‘soberest and most level-headed’.61 It is unlikely that this group would have included Coward. Nonetheless, Coward insisted in both his affidavit and his book that he communicated with the War Office. He claimed in the former to have written ‘half a dozen letters a week to let people in England know what was going on.’62 However, there is also a problem with this assertion. Although the number of letters each POW was able to receive from home was unlimited, the amount he could send back was subject to restriction. Every man was constrained to write ‘two letters and four postcards per month.’63 The only way in which Coward could have circumvented this would have been to include other POWs in the scheme, although no other POW in their postwar testimony has verified this. Yet again, though, what was mentioned on the affidavit regarding the War Office changed in The Password is Courage. Perhaps, again, in response to a public desire for an heroic retelling of the war, Coward claimed in the latter that his letters to the War Office had specific consequences. For example, he stated that his correspondence was of ‘direct help in the framing of leaflets calling upon the German population to rise against’ the German programme to exterminate Jews. These leaflets, which Coward stated he read for himself, were ‘in Polish and German’ and ‘dropped in Auschwitz and the surrounding territory’.64 Furthermore, Coward maintained that his secret communications also led to radio broadcasts from ‘distinguished British war leaders.’65 These are significant claims and it is possible to shed some light on them by reference to the contentious modern debate over whether the Allies should have bombed Auschwitz. Considering the

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many scholars that have addressed this issue and the many questions that have been raised, it is noticeable that there is simply no evidence to suggest that any leaflets were dropped in the vicinity of the camp.66 So Coward’s claims to have sent secret missives to the War Office or his latter ones that they were acted on, unfortunately, do not stand up to scrutiny. It is more likely that Coward remained unknown to British officials for the duration of the war.67 This brings us to what is perhaps one of the most important elements of Coward’s story. It is important because this particular claim has had ramifications for how the Holocaust is understood up to the present day. It was brought to public attention in 2011 because another ex-POW, Denis Avey, also based at E715, claimed to have carried out the same thing, namely, that he spent a night in Monowitz concentration camp after swapping clothes with one of the inmates. Coward’s claim to have ‘broken in’ to Monowitz appeared initially in his 1947 affidavit although it was greatly expanded upon in The Password is Courage. The story began when Coward alleged that he became aware of the existence of a ‘British ship’s doctor’ imprisoned with Jewish inmates. This doctor was not permitted to accompany inmates into Farben, but ‘managed . . . to get a note’ to Coward asking him to make contact with his ‘sister or daughter in Sunderland.’ Coward then proceeded, according to his own testimony, to have taken matters into his own hands by arranging to swap clothes with an inmate to gain entry into Monowitz in order to contact the stranded doctor. After bribing a guard with cigarettes, Coward stated that: At 6:00 in the evening I dirtied myself and fell in with the inmates and marched into the concentration camp itself. We went straight away to a sort of wash room and from there into the barracks. We were not allowed to walk around. There I found wooden beds, three tiers high. These beds, which would not have been confortable even for one person, had to accommodate two or three inmates. As a result, it was practically impossible to sleep since, if one man was in a reclining position, the others would have to sit up or lie over him. I remained in a sitting position the whole night and was dead tired. Each one could get a little sleep if they changed position, but if the slightest noise was made the guards would come in. The tiers of beds were lined up down the whole

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room. In the middle there were about three tables where they would fight to get their bit of soup. They got their soup in the evening and nothing else. This particular night it was potato soup. We had been counted when we marched out of the factory but were also counted when we came into the camp. When the inmates were counted, the other chaps would hold up the dead for counting purposes. Some were held up the night I was there. One of the reasons they stood the dead men up for roll call was to draw their rations. In the morning the capos would come around to see that everybody was up and would kick or beat anybody who had not gotten up. Those who could not get up were just carted away. When we got back to the factory, I swapped back the clothing with the chap with whom I had made the exchange and gave him a few cigarettes.68 Even ignoring the expanded version of this story in The Password is Courage (we shall come to this later), Coward’s account is problematic. The first point to mention concerns the doctor with whom Coward allegedly attempted to make contact. Evidence suggests that Karel Sperber, a Czech Jewish doctor who had emmigrated to Britain before the war, was transferred to Auschwitz in 1942 and later to Monowitz. However, it seems that knowledge of Sperber was fairly widespread in the British POW community in Upper Silesia. Certainly, the itinerant Anglo-Jewish dentist Julius Green who circulated widely throughout the region knew that Sperber had been sent to Auschwitz ‘at the end of 1942’.69 The POW camp chatter culture would also have ensured that this information did not remain hidden for long. Although Coward claimed to have received a note telling him that Sperber was in Monowitz, there is no independent evidence to support this. So it is just as likely, as in the case of Reynolds, that Coward would have heard the information from other POWs. The second point regards Coward’s break-in. In order to fool the guards both at Farben and at Monowitz, Coward would have needed to blend in. Inmates, according to Primo Levi, who wrote extensively about life in Monowitz, had their heads shaved every Saturday and were almost invariably beset with symptoms that accompanied maltreatment and malnutrition.70 This gave them a particular look and a distinctive gait. This was well known by all at Farben and at the trial of Farben

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management, Dr Trabandt, the defence council for Walter Du¨rrfeld, manager of the Auschwitz plant, was doubtful about this aspect of Coward’s testimony. Indeed, the ex-POW was questioned about the length of his hair and his general condition, which would have probably given him ‘a better appearance than the inmates.’ Coward responded by asserting that his hair was ‘very very short’ and that the guards were not ‘looking to see whether a man was healthy as he went from work.’71 The first point about the length of Coward’s hair is inconclusive because it is impossible to prove whether his hair at that time was short enough to be mistaken for that of an inmate. Nonetheless, it should be noted that for fellow POW, Eric Doyle, the shaven heads of the inmates was the first thing that marked them out as different.72 Supporting Doyle’s view are the surviving photographs of POWs of the E715 detachment, which show that POWs, including Coward, did not have shaved heads. Even more problematic though, was Coward’s reply about whether guards were interested in his general condition because this was precisely what the guards were looking for as inmates re-entered the camp after work. Monowitz survivor, Paul Steinberg, recalled that it was vital not to show any sign of weakness and walk in time to the Monowitz camp band ‘at the camp entrance’ as those who lagged behind were likely to be ‘fodder for the next selection.’73 Perhaps though, because Coward was fit and well fed, he would have evaded the attention of the guards. However, there was another paradox in this narrative that is more difficult to circumvent. Coward, as stated above, did not merely portray himself as a dependable and inspirational camp leader; he also said that he was given the title of the ‘Count of Auschwitz’. This designation was, according to The Password is Courage, bestowed on him, not by the men of E715 but by the German guards and the camp ‘Kommandant’. After being summoned to appear before a German officer, Coward was informed by him that: Your personal smartness and bearing has aroused comment for some time, earning you the title of the Count among some of our soldiers. This has reached the ears of the Kommandant, who himself noticed how disreputable your guard looked in comparison . . .74 Accordingly, Coward apparently cut an instantly recognisable figure. So, how did the so-called ‘Count of Auschwitz’, the leader of the work

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detachment, who professed to have regularly interceded on behalf of British POWs and Jewish victims, suddenly make himself anonymous enough to gain entry to Monowitz? Once again, Coward’s claims may have seemed innocuous enough in dreary postwar Britain, when the reading public craved escapist entertainment. However, such paradoxes sit uneasily with modern Holocaust scholarship. Furthermore, there are more details in this passage that deserve comment. To begin with, Coward said that he was present when inmates were counted at the end of the day. He was correct that they were counted after they re-entered the camp after work, but to suggest that dead inmates were held up by those still living so as to ‘draw their rations’ was inaccurate. The condition of inmates dictated that they would not have been able to perform such a feat. Postwar testimony from inmates of Auschwitz reveals the sheer horror of so-called ‘appell’ (it had various spellings), or roll call when inmates were counted, which was invariably conducted with a mixture of sadism and pedantry. As early as 1945, for example, Czech Jew Katherine Neiger wrote of being ‘struck across the face again and again with a rubber stick’ for having her coat open. Dr Peter Makar, a Polish Jew, saw internees beaten with a stick until ‘they collapsed’ for ‘such things as talking’. Alexander Kurowicki wrote that while ‘on Appel we had to remove our caps’ and ‘those who did not raise their hats quickly enough’ were beaten, while those who could not stand to attention or were out of line received ‘similar treatment.’75 The presence of kapos, SS guards, and other camp officials ensured then that any attempt to hide physical weakness, let alone the death of an inmate, would have been immediately spotted. What is more, Coward’s assertions do not tally with those of Primo Levi, who himself was forced to undergo this daily torture many times. According to Levi, the first requirement of inmates on their return from Farben was to ‘arrange themselves . . . in the huge square, according to a precise order.’ Following this, guards would ‘count and recount us for over an hour’ and often much longer.76 The notion that inmates, having returned from an over-long day of back-breaking work at Farben and having received the barest minimum of food, would be able to hold up the dead weight of a fellow inmate for hours cannot be sustained. So what prompted Coward to make this assertion? It is possible that Coward’s portrayal of roll call was based on seeing or hearing about the behaviour of Russian POWs at Lamsdorf. It has already been noted that

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the Russian POW compound was clearly visible from the area occupied by Britons. Robert Watchorn, for example, witnessed them holding up dead comrades in the hope of drawing more rations.77 However, Russian POWs were generally not subject to the same intense scrutiny as Jewish slave labourers whose level of fitness was crucial for avoiding the gas chamber. Often, Russian POWs were simply left to deteriorate by German guards unwilling to have any form of contact with them. Nor were rations allocated in the same way. This is significant when examining another of Coward’s claims about life in Monowitz; that he witnessed the distribution of food there. In his affidavit Coward maintained he had seen inmates fighting ‘to get their bit of soup’, a description he again enlarged on in The Password is Courage using, at best, unflattering descriptions of inmates: Apart from the almost obscene scuffling, like that of rats at the first coming of night, there were practically no sounds. Presently he heard an excited croak, followed by an animalistic scream making [Coward’s] scalp tingle. Two guards entered the doorway, behind them the spindly figures of two prisoners staggering with a small bin. They set it down and the kapo plunged in a tin mug to dole out a soup of unknown composition. The ration was evidently one bowl between six men; no sooner had each group drawn their portion than bedlam seized the hut . . . Each man fought to get his fingers on the rim of a bowl, once he could get it to his lips he drank in frantic gulps until it was torn from him; long after it was empty he would struggle to get it back. Grunting, howling, choking in frustration, clawing and dragging with the puny strength of children the prisoners of the Reich enjoyed their evening meal. Strutting in the doorway, the guards chuckled in high amusement. One of them nudged his companion and carefully aimed a kick with his jack-boot at the back of a man who had at last gained temporary possession of a bowl. The blow cannoned the prisoner forward, shooting the remnants of soup on to the floor, the resulting uproar amply rewarding his tormentors.78 This, according to Coward, was the scene inside the barrack at mealtime. However, from other witness statements, those of inmates, it is possible

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to construct with a considerable degree of accuracy what mealtimes were really like in Monowitz. For a start, the ration was not ‘one bowl between six’, because each inmate had his own bowl and spoon, which he would treat as a treasured possession. Freddie Knoller, a Viennese Jew, recalled that on arrival at Monowitz, inmates were given ‘a metal bowl with a hook on, that we always had to carry with us. Also one spoon . . .’ If the bowl were lost, Knoller continued, ‘you would get hit.’79 Paul Steinberg, the figure portrayed by Primo Levi as the unlikable ‘Henri’ in If This is a Man, also described the allocation of eating implements. After the camp initiation ‘we received a chipped red mess tin and the warning, “Ohne Schu¨ssel, keine Suppe”’, ‘without dish, no soup’. With the tin, Steinberg confirmed, came a spoon, which inmates would ‘sharpen on one edge of the handle, making a knife to cut our morning bread.’80 Levi also shed light on how food was doled out. The tattoo imprinted on each inmate was not merely to strip away any vestige of pre-camp identity and to de-humanise; it was also there for practical purposes. Only by ‘showing one’s number’, Levi wrote, could ‘one get bread and soup’. It took time for inmates to learn this, as ‘several days passed, and not a few cuffs and punches, before we became used to showing our number promptly enough not to disorder the daily operation of fooddistribution’.81 Leon Greenman also touched on the subject of mealtimes. ‘As it was your turn to take hold of your ration,’ he wrote, ‘one of the staff called out your number so that any double rations mistake was out of the question.’82 The picture that starts to emerge is then one of nit-picking menace; a constant threat of violence coupled with obsessive attention to detail. Inmates were forced to conform to a quasi-military ethos imposed by the German hierarchy. In other words, this was not so much the pure chaos described by Coward, as organised terror. Coward’s impression of a feeding frenzy was then, it seems, an invention. In fact, his description of mealtimes is thrown into even starker relief by further testimony from inmates. Greenman remembered that ‘with your ration of bread you either stood near your bunk, or ate on the edge of the lower one – but very carefully, for you had made up the bunk so it looked presentable should there be an inspection.’83 Steinberg also described the extreme care taken over eating food: Everyone savors the bread. In a solemn silence, each person takes care not to drop one crumb. The spoon handles, patiently

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sharpened, cut into the bread, spread the margarine, slice the sausage in two. We chew slowly, to extract the goodness and facilitate digestion.84 Levi gave a similar impression: . . . the distribution of the evening ration ended over an hour ago, and only a few stubborn people continue to scrape the by-now shining bottom of the bowl, turning it around with care under the lamp, frowning with attention.85 This was the reality for inmates preoccupied with avoiding a beating and consumed by the need for food. A clear dynamic unfolded, between the petty but deadly regulations of the camp regime and individual men hanging on with all their strength to the last vestiges of humanity. In other words, it is difficult to escape the conclusion that Coward’s description of food distribution in Monowitz could not have been more wrong. Perhaps, he again drew his inspiration from what he may have seen or heard about the Russian sector of the camp at Lamsdorf or Teschen. After all, POW Richard Pape described how: the Germans avoided entering the Russian compounds as much as possible. The soup was invariably pushed through the gate, and the Russian bread rations pitched over the wire into the snow. The Russian captives, when feeding time came round, fought like savage animals . . . 300 wasted, feverish and dying Russians crawl, totter and fight towards a dustbin of cabbage soup. In the furious scramble the container was toppled into the slush and snow, and the prisoners flopped on their bellies, lapping up the liquid, screaming, clawing and biting . . .86 It is feasible that Coward transposed this scene, or a similar one, onto mealtimes at Monowitz. The only conceivable reason why he did this was because he had not been present at the real thing. He seems, instead, to have pieced together bits of knowledge probably from what he had seen and heard elsewhere. After all, a number of former E715 members pointed out latterly that inmates working at Farben had told them about conditions inside Monowitz.87

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But the part of Coward’s testimony at the Farben trial that drew most attention from the defence lawyers concerned his claim to have been shown the gas chambers and crematoria at Auschwitz. Remembering, of course, it was in the interests of the defence to discredit the testimony of POWs, when questioned about this claim by Dr Drischel, the defence lawyer for the German chemist Otto Ambros, Coward stated he had seen them in Auschwitz town. Drischel however, aware that the gas chambers and crematoria had only been sited inside the main camps at Auschwitz and Birkenau and not in Auschwitz town, pursued the point asking, ‘Can you tell us where that was in the city of Auschwitz?’ After some confusion, Coward told him that ‘about 50 to 100 yards from Auschwitz [station]’ (meaning the regular train station for Auschwitz, which he eventually identified on a map), ‘there was a siding where they used to bring the civilians’. This part was true. Jews were indeed unloaded near to Auschwitz station before Spring 1944 when the tracks were extended into Birkenau camp. However, upon further questioning, Coward then reaffirmed that the gas chamber and crematorium were near the station, although he reduced the distance to ‘about 20 yards.’ Again, Drischel asked for clarification: ‘you, Mr. Witness, are of the opinion that these gas chambers and crematoria were located in the vicinity of the station of the city of Auschwitz . . . Did I understand you correctly?’ Coward replied, ‘That is correct’,88 a response he reiterated when the question was later repeated. There is no mistaking that Coward meant to convey the impression that he had seen for himself the gas chambers near Auschwitz station when this was never the case. It is difficult to understand why Coward made such a patently false assertion while under oath. Even reading the exchange in the trial transcript today, one is left with a sense of unease and embarrassment at Coward’s attempt to be taken seriously in court. The most generous conclusion here is that Coward was genuinely confused about the facts. Yet, the claim appeared once again in The Password is Courage albeit in an embellished form.89 This time, Coward was portrayed as entering Auschwitz station when he saw a transport of emaciated Jews at the platform ‘making their way down ramps’ into a ‘stockade’: Attached to the large compound was a small one, and in it stood a group of Germans. Among them was a Stabsarzt [Medical Officer],

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several army officers, a Gestapo agent and a number of civilians: the civilians, Coward’s guard explained, were comprised of local farmers and the managers of the buna factory. A trickle of Jews passed from the lager [sic ] into the smaller compound, kicked and hustled by the soldiers attending them. The Germans looked them over. The stronger-looking men and children were motioned to stand to one side by the farmers and periodically herded out to waiting carts. Others of both sexes and including older children, who were at least standing fairly erect, were selected for the factory; one of the managers consulted from time to time a sheet of paper in his hand, as if checking the numbers required. The factory workers were marched outside and lined up on the road leading to the main camp. The description goes on. Those that remained, ‘about a thousand . . . old men and women or younger women carrying children’, were, according to Coward’s guard, destined for ‘death’: In the distance could be seen the long building with the white concrete roof that Coward knew were the gas chambers. Evidently this consignment were [sic ] not to await their turn at the working camp. Already people were filing past, some stumbling in their exhaustion, some walking firmly, but all on their way to provide a Roman holiday for their captors. Coward insisted that his guard take him a little way along the road, until he could see the entrance to the chambers. Before the building was a gate and on reaching this the Jews were ordered to remove all their clothing. Old men with thin matchstick legs stood in the icy air convulsed with trembling; several women fell into the snow and were heaved up by their friends or relations. Coward saw one young girl, naked and marble white with the cold, clutching a child of a few months to her breast while the infant attempted to extract some nourishment from her pathetic body. She led by the hand a small girl of about five, crooning a song as she went along. The song became louder as she entered the gate of the death-house; it was taken up by others and despite the kicks and blows aimed by the guards swelled in volume until it assumed the last gesture of this proud race. The Jews seemed to walk strongly once more, ignoring

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their grotesque nakedness. They steadied themselves, the infants ceased whimpering, and in their song they became again the children of God marching to their last Canaan.90 Compare Coward’s account with the testimony of the French doctor, Andre Letich, who was assigned to the Jewish Sonderkommando. The latter also refers to the period prior to the construction of the ramp inside Birkenau and therefore aligns chronologically with what Coward said he saw: A long train made up of closed goods waggons is standing at a side platform of the marshalling yard. The sliding doors are sealed with barbed wire. The squad of troops has taken up position around the train and the ramp . . . The SS men of the inmate control section ensure that the prisoners leave the train. There is chaos and confusion on the ramp . . . To start with the men and women are separated. There are heart-breaking scenes. Married couples separate. Mothers wave good-bye to their sons for the last time. The two columns stand in ranks of five several metres apart from one another on the ramp. Anyone who is overcome with grief and tries to rush over to embrace his or her loved one once more and give them words of comfort is hurled back by a blow from one of the SS men. Now the SS doctor begins to select those fit for work from those who, in his opinion, are unfit for work. Mothers with small children are on principle unfit for work as are all those who convey the impression of being frail or sick. Portable step ladders are placed on the backs of lorries and those who have been selected by the SS doctor as unfit must climb up. The SS men of the reception department count each person who climbs these steps.91 There are a multitude of problems with Coward’s account, which does not correlate with what is now known about the terrible process of selection, whereas Letich clearly captures the brutal and callous procedures that Jews were subjected to. Leaving aside the issue of where the gas chambers were situated in Coward’s account, the notion that a British POW could persuade a guard to talk and allow him to see the process of mass murder as a passive observer is extremely doubtful. Moreover, there were no ‘compounds’, no ‘local farmers’ and no factory

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‘managers’ present when a transport arrived at Auschwitz. Indeed it is now well known that selections for the gas chamber were made under the direction of SS medical personnel with SS guards providing the muscle, as Letich states. The notion that Jews marched into the gas chamber singing is also ludicrous and, frankly, obscene, at least to a twenty-first century readership which is in possession of more detailed knowledge of the suffering and death of Jews in Auschwitz. Yet modern sensibilities cannot be transposed onto popular war novels of the 1950s where the demand was for heroic retellings of the war rather than a serious and accurate study of the Holocaust. It now seems likely that Coward never witnessed a selection, never saw Jews enter a gas chamber and never saw the inside of Birkenau. Coward made two other major claims, both of which appear solely in The Password is Courage. Why they were absent from earlier accounts is unclear. The first claim concerns the Sonderkommando uprising of 7 October 1944 in Birkenau, an uprising for which Coward was portrayed as supplying the arms and ammunition. These arms were said to have come from members of the Polish underground with whom he had made contact via a photography shop in Auschwitz town.92 It was alleged that he smuggled them into the Farben factory before handing them over to the Sonderkommandos who occupied cellars in the Farben factory grounds. It was these guns and explosives that were supposedly used to blow up crematoria in Birkenau and parts of the Buna plant.93 Two things are worth noting. First, the claim that there existed Sonderkommando cellars at the Farben site described in The Password is Courage as ‘infamous places where the deportee prisoners who had died on each day’s shifts were thrown until they were collected later by the Sonderkommandos for extinction in the furnaces.’94 There is no independent corroborating evidence that these cellars were there. In fact, British POWs who worked at Farben testified after the war about the way in which the bodies of murdered slave workers were disposed of. Eric Doyle, for example, who, like Coward, testified at the Farben trial, saw ‘hundreds’ being ‘carried home after the work was finished.’ In other words, dead bodies were not disposed of in a cellar but transported back to Monowitz by inmates.95 Second, there is no evidence to suggest that Sonderkommandos were based at the Farben site. Rather they were kept in a wired-off area, about three miles distant from the Farben site, inside Birkenau in virtual isolation from the rest of the camp. Gideon

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Grief, who has pieced together the testimonies of former Sonderkommandos states: Contacts with other prisoners were rare. They were not allowed to leave their barracks. A guard stood round the clock at the gate. They took their meals in the barracks and Sonderkommando prisoner-functionaries brought them their meals from the camp mess. Their latrines and bathing facilities were for their use only. Everything was organized in such way as to thwart any contact with other prisoners in the camp. The Sonderkommando prisoners, like members of other labour details, reported for roll calls, generally once a day. Their roll calls were meant for them alone.96 So, if there was little or no contact with other inmates of Birkenau, then it is unlikely that a British POW working at the Farben site several miles away would have found the opportunity to liaise with them. Moreover, there is now a general consensus as to how the Sonderkommando uprising was able to take place. It was actually made possible by cooperation between the resistance movement organisation, the international ‘Auschwitz Struggle Group,’ and a group of Jewish resisters.97 Members of the latter worked at local explosive manufacturing plants. Roza Robota, a young Jew from Ciechano´w, a small town north of Warsaw, plotted with a group of Jewish women who worked directly with explosives to smuggle gunpowder into Birkenau in tiny quantities over time. These were then somehow smuggled to members of the Sonderkommando, who fashioned ‘crude armaments’ such as ‘small lead containers, filled with powder, small stones, crumbled bricks, and a fuse.’98 Reluctance by some elements of the resistance movement forced the Sonderkommandos, who by that time dealt with the daily murder of Hungarian Jews, to embark on a rebellion independently. This was because pressure was building from June 1944, when camp authorities attempted to isolate the Sonderkommandos even more effectively than before. Additionally, these men knew they would not survive more than a few months as regular executions took place; for instance, on 23 September that year another 200 men who had worked as Sonderkommandos were murdered.99 Although still divided about whether to commence the rebellion immediately or wait for a more suitable moment, it went ahead on 7 October, successfully and

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against all the odds, knocking out Crematorium IV. Those that took part were murdered as soon as the revolt was quelled. There is no evidence to suggest then that Coward could have acted as a conduit for weaponry passing between the Polish resistance outside the camp and Jewish inmates. The last significant point worth noting in The Password is Courage revolves around a claim that Coward hatched and instigated a scheme in which hundreds of Jews escaped death in the gas chambers. This was supposedly made possible when an arrangement was made with a German Unteroffizier to swap goods from Red Cross parcels for the bodies of dead prisoners. The guard was said to have been paid to dump the bodies of Jews from the Farben plant in ditches that ran alongside a road to Birkenau. This is how Coward explained the ruse to his friend ‘Tich Keenan’ in his book: This is the idea, Tich. You know that every night a bunch of these poor bastards who are not fit to work any more are marched across to Birkenau to be gassed? Right. If I can arrange with them before hand to get three of them to drop off the column in the dark and then shoot the dead ’uns on to the road, they’ll have a chance to escape. We’ll have to get some kit for them to wear, but after that it’ll be up to them.100 The rationale behind this plan was that swapping dead bodies for live inmates allowed the Germans to reconcile the prisoner count. Just to be clear, this was not, according to The Password is Courage, a one-off operation as ‘nearly four hundred’ Jewish inmates are said to have escaped in this way, presumably three at a time.101 This means that the scheme would have to have been carried out approximately 130 times. This was an incredible claim. If true, then Coward undoubtedly deserved all the postwar plaudits he received. However, there are some major factual discrepancies in the narrative. Although selections for the gas chamber were frequent, they did not occur every night, as the book suggests. Nor, when they occurred, were inmates marched to Birkenau; instead they were taken by lorry from Monowitz, a detail confirmed by other POWs.102 Furthermore, in both his affidavit and The Password is Courage, a good deal is made of the liberty with which Coward was able to wander around the Farben site

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and Auschwitz town, albeit accompanied by a guard. However, it is highly unlikely that he would have had the freedom of movement to either wander round both places or, indeed, to operate such an extensive scheme over an extended period of time. Furthermore, the number of bribes alone would have taken more than the resources of one prisoner. Coward alleged that his fellow POWs, having listened to the scheme devised by himself and his accomplice, had ‘an immediate whip round’ which provided the necessary ‘goods with which to buy bodies’.103 Yet, no POWs subsequently came forward after the war to confirm their involvement in this plan. Perhaps also, some thought needs to be given to the language barriers involved when arranging this plan. The inmates of Monowitz were from all over Europe and spoke a range of languages and dialects. Coward testified to the Court during the Farben trial that he had a basic knowledge of German and could also speak a few Polish words. It needs to be considered how the intricacies of this scheme could be relayed to those whose lives would have depended on a successful operation. Neither does Coward’s story take into the account the desperation of inmates. Life in Monowitz invoked a continuous struggle for survival and those wishing to curry favour with the authorities in order to increase their chances could not have been counted on to keep silent. Additionally, inmates were often near death and their weakness and lethargy would probably have precluded the major exertions required to make a successful escape. Furthermore, German authorities were draconian, obsessive and sadistic and the guard with whom Coward arranged to ‘buy’ the bodies would also, on balance, not have been reliable, especially over the extended period of time during which the scheme would have had to run in order to free so many inmates. Available testimony suggests that guards and kapos either ingratiated themselves into the Nazi system, or that they were held in place by fear and they in turn could and did inflict punishment and death at the smallest hint of a so-called infringement. In any case, The Password is Courage contains no information as to how the German guard managed to smuggle the bodies out of the Farben factory and strategically place them along the road to Birkenau. Holocaust scholar Joseph White agrees that Coward’s claims about this particular scheme are hard to believe because of inconsistencies between known counting procedures for inmates, the number of escapes

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recorded and the fact that none of the supposed escapees have subsequently been identified. However, he still accepts that the scheme took place based on the assumption that Coward used the bodies of ‘deceased foreign workers, a much less common commodity than deceased Jews at the building site.’ White concludes that ‘two or three Jews could have gotten away thanks to this man.’104 What convinced White about Coward’s claims in this instance was evidence provided by ex-POWs G. J. Duffree and Yitzchak Persky. Duffree wrote an unpublished memoir in 1987 and appears to have been consulted by White in 1994.105 According to White, Duffree ‘recalled hearing rumours about the escapes while in E715’. If this were the case then other POWs presumably would have heard them too as a result of the camp gossip culture. Yet no other POW based at E715 (apart from Coward) testified at the time to the truth of these claims. It is likely, therefore, that Duffree conflated his postwar and wartime reminiscences and furthermore, as White himself acknowledges, Duffree was ‘not a witness’.106 Evidence taken so many years after the event is, almost inevitably, subject to the distortions of memory and for such recollections to be credible they would have to be supported by contemporary sources. They are not. So, with Duffree discounted as unreliable, what about the claims made by Yitzchak Persky? Yitzchak Persky, later known as Gershon Peres, was the father of Shimon Peres, latterly prime minister and president of Israel. A relatively full version of Persky’s testimony appears in the memoirs of Shimon Peres, Battling for Peace (1995). It adds a new and rather strange element to the Coward narrative. According to Peres’ autobiography, his father escaped from Nazi captivity in Greece. After a year in hiding, members of the Greek underground escorted him ‘to a small village near Mount Olympus.’ Here, he met with other Allied POWs, one of whom, he claimed, was Coward, who, the account continues, led the men as they commandeered a boat before setting out for Turkey to make their escape. Following the death of one of the soldiers while making the voyage, Peres writes, ‘Coward decided that my father must adopt the dead man’s identity instead of his own Jewish one, in case they were caught again.’ The wisdom of this decision was seemingly proven as they were soon captured by ‘a German flying-boat’ and their boat was ‘dragged’ back to Greece. It was also Coward, according to Peres, who ‘made everyone aboard swear that they would

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not reveal my father’s true [Jewish] origins.’ Persky and Coward were then allegedly moved ‘from camp to camp throughout occupied Europe’ and, after a number of escape attempts (one of which is examined below), taken to a ‘new prison camp’ that was ‘close to Auschwitz’. It was here, states Peres in his book, that ‘the indefatigable Coward started organizing food-and clothes-parcels to be smuggled to the Jewish inmates there.’ As such, Peres believed ‘he was directly responsible’ for saving Jewish lives. Persky’s and Coward’s captivity finally came to an end with a successful breakout towards the end of the war when they allegedly seized ‘a horse and cart and galloped towards General Patton’s lines’ bellowing “We’re British!”’107 These claims originally surfaced in the 1960s, several years after the publication of The Password is Courage and they certainly add a new twist. So what are we to make of them? It will be recalled that Coward’s repatriation questionnaire, the document that is chronologically closest to the period in question, makes no mention of him ever having been in Greece. Instead, Coward listed the camps at which he was incarcerated, all of which were in northern Europe.108 This experience was consistent with the majority of troops who were captured in France in the first few months of the war as, indeed, was Coward. His 1947 affidavit clearly stated that he was ‘captured on 25 May 1940’, eleven months prior to the German invasion of Greece.109 In other words, it can be safely assumed that Coward was never in Greece. If Coward was never in Greece, then, the sequence of events described by Persky could not have occurred.110 Nonetheless, one element of Persky’s testimony can be verified by contemporary documentation. It will be recalled that Coward made an escape attempt from a small work camp in Tost. Coward stated on his repatriation questionnaire that this attempt was made in conjunction with Corporal Connolly. Corporal Walter Connolly also completed a questionnaire and what he wrote corroborates Coward’s statement, even adding a small amount of detail. Connolly stated that he, Coward and a Corporal Persky ‘walked away from work’ and while he and Coward were ‘recaptured in Ulm’, Persky was ‘recaptured leaving work’.111 So, it is certainly feasible that Coward indeed knew a Corporal Persky and that they attempted an escape together from a small working party at Tost. However, it seems that Persky did not get very far and was immediately recaptured. This incident was also included in Shimon Peres’ autobiography but in a very different form. In this rendition four men

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escaped and then proceeded to split into two pairs but all were caught just as the train they were on was about the cross the Czech border. Persky was allegedly only saved from being shot by the resourcefulness of Coward and the bravery of an unknown priest.112 But and as stated above, none of the postwar questionnaires (or indeed any other contemporary evidence) can verify these claims. The only point that can be confirmed is that a certain Corporal Persky was known to Coward during his time in captivity, most probably at Tost. But, if this evidence supports one claim made by Persky, i.e., that he knew Coward and at one point was a fellow escapee (albeit, according to Connolly, re-captured immediately), it disproves another, as it seems that Persky did not assume an alternate identity after all, as Shimon Peres’ autobiography relates. The only ones who are supposed to have known about Persky’s change of name were those who were reputed to have been in the boat fleeing from Greece to Turkey, the same men that, had been sworn to secrecy by Coward.113 As Connolly specifically named ‘Cpl Persky’ on his questionnaire as an escapee accomplice, it is probable that, by August 1942 at the latest, the date of the escape from Tost, he had either re-adopted his real name, or never adopted a false identity in the first place.114 Just to add to the rather confusing developments in Coward’s narrative, it has been claimed that Persky’s change of identity played a crucial part in the purported body-swap scheme discussed above. Joseph White introduced the notion that Persky was Coward’s partner in this venture. In order to draw this conclusion, White first accepts that Persky took on another man’s identity after Coward had sworn other POWs to secrecy. It is unclear why White accepts this part of Persky’s story, while at the same time rejecting the claim that Coward had ever been in Greece. However, having done so, White then asserts that Persky was a member of the E715 work detachment, but placed there under an assumed identity. It is under the cloak of this fake designation that White contends that Persky was Coward’s accomplice in the body-swap scheme.115 Of course, if Persky did not change his name, as suggested by the evidence outlined above, then it is reasonable to assume that he was not a member of E715. After all, none of the lists of those who were part of E715 contain the name Persky (or indeed Peres).116 If he was not a member of E715, then, of course, the question of his involvement in a scheme to aid Jews should probably be dismissed.

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Finally, the incident in which Coward and Persky are said to have charged towards American lines in a horse and cart does not tally with Coward’s accounts of his own liberation. On his repatriation questionnaire, Coward stated that he broke out of a camp in Hannover and reached American forces on the outskirts of the town but, crucially, he added the phrase, ‘all my companions with me’. This suggests there were more than two escapees. His September 1945 report gives another version. In this account he stayed with German civilians for ‘4 days’ before meeting up with advancing American troops.117 The version told by Persky differs so much from Coward’s older versions and appears so far-fetched that there is little alternative but to assume that it was unlikely to have taken place. So what possessed Persky to make these claims? A clue can perhaps be found in the circumstances surrounding a postwar meeting between Persky and Coward. In the 1950s, Shimon Peres, at the time Director General of the Ministry of Defence in Israel, received a call from the British Immigrants Association (BIA) to say that they had invited Coward to Israel to receive an award for saving Jews during the war.118 Coward had, Peres was informed, mentioned that he knew ‘someone called Persky’, and the BIA, knowing this was the name by which Peres’ father had been called, wanted to know if he was a relation. Peres contacted his father, who confirmed the connection and ‘a family dinner’ was arranged ‘in Coward’s honour.’ It seems that during the dinner Coward portrayed himself as a forgotten war hero who, despite selling over ‘a million copies’ of his book (The Password is Courage), had parted with the rights for a paltry sum and was now living on unemployment benefit.119 According to Peres’ autobiography, ‘all fell under the spell of this extraordinary man, at once vivacious and modest, and plentifully endowed with original British humour’.120 Perhaps this was the trigger for the claims that later appeared in Shimon Peres’ autobiography? It can be assumed that one of three things happened: Persky deliberately invented important elements of his wartime account in collusion with Coward or; he was confused about the identity of the person who ‘saved his life’ and with whom he seems to have spent time in captivity or; he was rather bewildered about his wartime experiences and further befuddled by new claims made by Coward. All in all, the final option is perhaps the most likely. The reasons are as follows. Firstly, Persky did not instigate the postwar meeting, so it certainly seems he

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did not set out to deliberately deceive anyone. Secondly, Persky seemed to have remembered and recognised Coward from the war years, so it is possible that they spent time together in one or more POW camps. Thirdly, there are elements to Persky’s version told by Peres that seem rather far-fetched (for example, the gallop towards advancing American forces). There was one more element to Coward’s story that seems to have struck home to his dinnertime audience. He seems to have left the Peres family with the impression that he was the recipient of the Victoria Cross for his wartime gallantry.121 But the official list of those who have received the Victoria Cross does not contain the name of Coward. Thus, it makes sense to conclude that the Peres family were naturally willing listeners, keen to believe a heroic story about the awful recent past that involved one of their own. Returning then to the question of the veracity of Coward’s claim to have saved Jews by swapping dead bodies for live ones, Persky was, on balance, not a reliable witness. If Persky was unreliable, then it must be assumed that the contention that Coward carried out a bold scheme to save hundreds of Jews from a certain death cannot be confirmed. In conclusion, it appears that from inauspicious beginnings, specifically an unremarkable repatriation questionnaire, Coward’s story grew over a number of years into something quite different. By 1954 and the publication of The Password is Courage, Coward had been reinvented as an unmitigated wartime hero. However, Coward himself should not be judged too harshly for this metamorphosis. Of course, he had a keen eye for opportunity and at times displayed quite remarkable audacity in the postwar period. This was demonstrated, for example, by his bold but ultimately unsuccessful attempt to hold fast to what was, as shown above, patently untrue courtroom testimony in the face of considerable opposition by the defence team. What really brought Coward to public attention, however, was the book and the role of journalists Ronald Payne and John Garrod should not be underestimated in the reinvention of Coward. They managed to create a semi-fictional character from Coward’s various claims and presented that image to a postwar public who were keen to consume war stories that facilitated an escape from dull austerity to the ‘glorious’ recent past. Of course, Payne and Garrod probably had no idea that their prose would have such a far-reaching impact. They could not have predicted that Coward’s reimagined story would find a place in modern Holocaust

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historiography, justified by scholars and accepted by many as largely true. Yet, even here, perhaps there is room for a charitable explanation. This starts with how the Holocaust is imagined in the twenty-first century. In the words of David Cesarani, ‘The Holocaust’ has never been so ubiquitous. It has never been studied so extensively, taught so widely, or taken with such frequency as a subject for novels and films . . . it is now commemorated almost universally, held up as the global benchmark for evil, as the ultimate violation of human rights and crimes against humanity.122 Perhaps it should not come as a surprise that some look back and wish to see, at a time where manifestations of evil were so prevalent, the opposing forces of good at work, to look for heroes, to search for those who in the face of overwhelming darkness offered a ray of light. Charles Coward, as he is represented in The Password is Courage, was such a man. However, if all the available evidence is considered, then Coward’s story is too full of holes and contradictions to be taken seriously in the context of modern Holocaust scholarship. If such claims as Coward made were to be taken seriously today, then they would have to be re-written for a more knowing and sober audience. This brings us to the claims made by another POW, who was based with the E715 work detachment, by the name of Denis Avey. Avey has said and written a good deal about his wartime experiences. Yet in all of his public utterances he seems to have made only one reference to Charles Coward. This is rather strange, because from 1945 to 2000 Coward was the only man who claimed to have ‘broken into Auschwitz’, a feat that Avey has now made his own and for which he has found international recognition. In 2001, prior to finding fame, Avey gave his opinion of Coward in an interview with Lyn Smith for the Imperial War Museum (IWM). This is what he said: There was supposedly . . . a Man of Confidence there [with E715] . . . being Charlie Coward . . . If ever there was a conman he was. He was for us and against us if you like. He worked very well with the Germans . . . On the other hand . . . he was able to get us anything, but he talked to [the guards] and made it a reasonably

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quiescent life, except when you’re knocked up in the morning with a rifle butt . . . But, he was sent back, there was no . . . man of confidence as such. What, then, are we to make of Avey’s estimation of Coward? It was certainly a negative assessment. In his opinion Coward was not merely a ‘conman’. Avey also believed that he did not fulfil his first duty as Man of Confidence, which was to protect the men under his command from German brutality. If that was not enough, he seems to have accused Coward of ‘work[ing] very well’ with the enemy. In other words, he appears to have wanted to leave his interviewer with the impression that Coward was something of a collaborator. Finally, Avey states that Coward was ‘sent back’, presumably to the main camp at Lamsdorf, leaving E715 with no camp leader. Although, as shown above, ex-members of E715 did not necessarily have an entirely positive opinion of Coward, Avey is more condemnatory than any of them. Moreover, despite Avey’s rather barbed assessment of Coward, the latter figure does not merit a mention in the popular book written by Denis Avey and journalist Rob Broomby, The Man Who Broke Into Auschwitz. This is particularly surprising given that the book details Avey’s version of his own wartime experiences, the centrepiece of which was his claim to have twice swapped places with an inmate of Monowitz for the night. Having now examined Coward’s story in detail, it is immediately obvious how similar both claims were. In fact, as will be shown, in many ways, the key to Avey’s story is Coward himself. After all, Coward first made his claim in 1947, whereas Avey’s first public utterance about his own alleged exploits was made in 2001. As the most obvious similarity between the accounts of Coward and Avey is that both of them allegedly swapped clothes with an inmate in order to spend time in Monowitz, this raises some immediate questions. Is it a coincidence that both managed to achieve this feat without either of them knowing that the other had managed to do the same? Did the two men carry out the same task, completely independent of each other? Did Avey swap with an inmate, only to have Coward steal his story, or vice versa? Concerning the first of these questions – that both men carried out the same exercise in ignorance of each other – it is safe to discount this as a possibility. If one man had carried out such an audacious action, news

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of it would undoubtedly have travelled through the camp population. As Ron Jones, former member of E715, later testified, ‘nobody I knew in there ever heard of it, and we would have’.123 If two men had made the switch with an inmate of Monowitz, then the men of E715 would undoubtedly have found out, especially as both claimed to have had POW helpers. With regard to whether one stole the story from the other, apart from the respective dates at which each one went public with their claim, Avey provides a small clue. It is probably true that he knew Coward or at least was aware of Coward when the two were both part of the E715 work detachment. It is also most likely true, judging by the negative tone and content of Avey’s assessment of Coward that he had heard or read of Coward’s postwar claims. So, it seems that Avey took the opportunity in his first public utterance on the subject of his wartime experiences to ‘set the record straight’ regarding his former comrade. Perhaps he thought this was a reasonable course of action given that Coward made some quite remarkable claims about himself. However, later in his interview with Lyn Smith, Avey claimed to have carried out exactly the same feat i.e., swapping clothes with an inmate of Monowitz (albeit twice) and spending the night in the concentration camp. Curiously, when recounting this part of the narrative to Lyn Smith for the IWM, Avey made no mention of Coward’s claims. He simply re-told the story as if it was his own. So we are left to ponder a number of different scenarios. First, during this interview, did Avey specifically mention Coward in order to denigrate him, thus lending gravitas to his own story? Or, when the book was written, was a decision made to leave Coward out altogether so that uncomfortable comparisons between the two could be marginalised? Both of these would suggest a substantial degree of premeditation and would require proof before either could be substantiated. Another option might be that Avey was genuinely confused about the past, somehow managing to conflate his own wartime experiences with things that he had picked up reading about Coward since 1945. What can be stated with some sense of certainty however is that the degree of acceptance which Avey’s story initially met with once it had been published, was to a large extent built upon a context created by the public success enjoyed by Coward. In other words, acceptance of Coward’s story laid the groundwork for a widespread belief

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that a POW could break into a concentration camp by using guile and singular courage. The published accounts of Coward and Avey differ slightly in tone and this is essentially due to the zeitgeist in which each story was developed. Coward, and the journalists who helped him write the book, took inspiration from a plethora of contemporary public accounts that reinforced heroic ideas about the war, whilst Avey’s account was made to appeal to a society in which knowledge of the Holocaust was more widespread. Nonetheless, there are continuities between the two. Firstly, both were written in the traditional voice of the self-deprecating British hero. However, this narrative approach was paradoxical. While the central character of the story publicly disdained recognition, the clear thrust of each book was to place Coward and Avey respectively at the centre of events. Secondly, as will become clearer, the tales contain marked similarities. Thirdly, as with Coward’s developing narrative, there are clear inconsistencies that are apparent between the different versions provided by Avey. Of these inconsistencies, Rob Broomby, the journalist who captured the story, rewrote it and was partly responsible for bringing it to public attention, has offered the following defence: I think you’ve got to see that with a 92-year-old man you cannot really subject his entire testimony to the kind of forensic analysis you might use with a politician on the Today programme. We shouldn’t beat about the bush, what’s remarkable about Denis’s whole story is not what he’s forgotten, not the details that have occasionally got confused in that fog of war. Its just how much he can recall. I am the first person to go through that story forensically with him and I am absolutely convinced we’ve got that story right.124 On the one hand, Broomby states that Avey’s testimony should not be subject to forensic scrutiny because the vagaries of memory have to be taken into account. On the other hand, because he, Broomby, has performed his own forensic analysis, he suggests that others should accept his conclusions. This line of reasoning clearly lacks logic. It is either possible to forensically analyse Avey’s testimony or it is not. However, it helps to understand Broomby’s reasoning if we examine another statement he made on the subject. He stated, ‘this is not

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footnoted academic history. You have to look into the man’s eyes and know what sort of man this is.’125 So, Broomby’s criteria for judging the veracity of Avey’s claims apparently were not based on the principles of ‘footnoted academic history’ but rather on Broomby’s own character assessment of Avey. This is perhaps why Broomby thinks that having spent time with Avey he is uniquely qualified to make such judgments. I take the view that it is entirely possible to forensically unpack Avey’s claims in order to establish their reliability. By referring to contemporary documents and piecing together evidence, it has been possible to show how Coward’s account changed over time and how much of what he claimed cannot be true. Avey though did not complete a repatriation questionnaire, a ‘Form Q’ or give evidence at Nuremberg. This lack of concomitant evidence is perhaps surprising considering Avey’s principal reason for making the alleged swap with an inmate was to ‘bear witness’.126 Surely a POW who had managed to break into Monowitz and witness what went on there would have at the very least, completed a repatriation questionnaire or have warranted a mention on someone else’s, especially as the British government went to such lengths to gather evidence of war crimes? Even given his professed illness and confinement in a hospital in the aftermath of the war, there was ample time prior to 2001 to have his say. So, this examination of Avey’s claims will compare his different public utterances on the subject, refer to contemporary documents where possible and reference a well-developed historiography. For Avey, there are three principal public accounts, all of which are dated 2001 or after. The first is the IWM interview; the second is an interview given for Diarmuid Jeffreys’ 2008 book Hell’s Cartel; and the third is The Man Who Broke Into Auschwitz, published in 2011. All three accounts are of interest because, taken together, they contain a number of inconsistencies as well as demonstrating how Avey’s story was refined for publication. Thus, in the final version, Avey attempted to whitewash what he said previously by emphasising the extent to which he was allegedly still suffering from trauma as a result of his wartime experiences. As expressed in the 2011 book, in 2001 he had only just begun ‘engaging with the war properly for the first time since 1945.’ He added: The Imperial War Museum sent someone to talk to me. I don’t know how she managed it but she did a first-rate job. Somehow

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she got me to talk. It can’t have been easy. I rattled through it all so quickly. I was struggling for the first time to bring it all back. There were things I had never really spoken about before and I am sure I got some of it tangled now but I had taken the first step. I was talking about it. When the interviewer had gone I realised she hadn’t heard the half of it. I had barely scratched the surface.127 Avey’s assessment of his own interview was inaccurate. For a start, all the elements that make up his more remarkable claims were already present in 2001. Therefore, his claim to have only ‘scratched the surface’ does not hold up to scrutiny. Furthermore, although the interview was ostensibly in question and answer format, it is plain that Avey was the one who drove the story. On more than one occasion, the interviewer, Lyn Smith attempted to ask a question, only to be told by Avey something along the lines of, ‘I will come to that’. The overall impression of the interview is that Avey had a refined narrative from which he did not wish to deviate. In fact, throughout the interview Avey was keen to show Smith documents he had uncovered about E715 and about his quest for financial compensation, which he felt he was due because of his wartime suffering. For example, he told Smith that he was in possession of or had seen reports relating to the activities of the Red Cross. Avey also believed that ‘one million pounds’ had been ‘set aside’ after the war for compensation for those performing ‘slave labour’. He complained that he had received ‘not a penny’ and as a consequence had written to various authorities.128 Indeed, the fact that he referred on a number of occasions to official documents relating to his time in the camps suggests he had thought long and hard about his experiences and had actively engaged in detailed research. Contrary then to his assertion that he was somehow hesitant and that he had not ‘really spoken’ about events before, the exPOW was positively loquacious. The interview lasted for five hours, and at the beginning of the seventh reel (of ten) he exclaimed, ‘Seven? Good heavens I’ve been gabbling.’ These were not the words of a reluctant speaker. As with Coward, it makes sense to start with the first version of Avey’s narrative: the 2001 interview in which Avey told his life story. Picking up Avey’s narrative from when he first arrived in Germany as a POW from southern Europe, one particular incident stands out because of the way it changed in the retelling. In the first version, he explained to

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Smith that having arrived at an unspecified German camp, he was ‘walking across an open area’ when a German officer screamed at him for failing to salute. In the ensuing ruckus, Avey and the officer were joined by a German sergeant who snatched a rifle from another guard and ‘took a swing’ at Avey ‘with the butt end’. In reaction, Avey claimed he ‘ducked, I had the good reflexes to duck and [the rifle] hit this guard straight in the mouth. It must have broken his jaw completely to pieces, all his teeth and he was a bloody mess . . .’ As a direct result, Avey said he was interrogated and incarcerated in Graudenz Prison.129 The same story appears again in The Man Who Broke Into Auschwitz, only not as an incident with clearly defined consequences (fight, interrogation and imprisonment), but as two separate stories set in different places, both of which have a different ending to the original. In the first of these, Avey was again in an unnamed camp: Crossing the camp one day, I was pulled up short by a German officer who was screaming at me. I had failed to salute him. I tried to explain that in the British Army we didn’t salute anyone without a cap. He wasn’t having it. One of the lads shouted that I should salute and forget it. Reluctantly I did and the officer let it go.130 Clearly this latter version differs considerably from the former. Gone were the scuffle, the swinging rifle butt, the injured German and Avey’s arrest. However, that is not all. Another similar story appears later in Avey’s book only this time he was said to be based with the E715 work detachment. He described an incident that occurred on the march back from Farben to the POW camp: a row broke out between some of the British prisoners and the Wehrmacht guards or Postens, as they called them. Our lads were winding them up, booing and jeering and I was caught up in the middle of it. There was a fracas and the Postens were quickly in amongst us trying to restore control, jostling and shoving us around. The Feldwebel – sergeant – was shouting orders. He was a tall feller and he focused on me the moment I emerged from the melee. He grabbed a rifle from a Posten, seized it with both hands and swung it with all his might towards my head. I saw it coming

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and ducked out of the way. There was a thud; the sound of crushing bone. One of the Germans immediately behind me had taken the full force of the blow to the side of his head. He went down straight away, his face losing shape. The butt of a ninepound rifle swung with force at the temple didn’t leave much doubt. If he wasn’t dead already, he didn’t live long. We got back into line and prepared for retribution. It didn’t come.131 Contrary to the original, the incident did not take place at an unspecified camp but instead outside Farben and Avey was, this time, singled out for no apparent reason. The swinging rifle and the injured guard made a reappearance, but this time there were no consequences for Avey. So where did this incident take place? Was it at an unnamed camp somewhere in German territory or was it near Farben? If, as Broomby states, he was convinced that he had got Avey’s story ‘right’, then what criteria did he use to differentiate between the original story and the different versions that appeared in the book? Just to be clear, in his IWM interview, Avey told of a clear sequence of events, starting with a failure to salute and ending with interrogation and imprisonment at Graudenz. Yet, according to the book, he was sent to Graudenz for an entirely different reason: his apparent attempt to escape from a moving train.132 The likelihood of such discrepancies occurring as the result of confusion seems relatively small because the outcome of the first version was so specific. However, whether the incident took place near Auschwitz or elsewhere, there are elements to the story (be it the interview or book version) that can clearly be placed in the same tradition as that employed by Coward. For instance, it has a ‘comic’ element that is based on the supposed quick-wittedness and lightning reactions of the leading character, in contrast to the brutish clumsiness of the German guards. Resort to this kind of stereotype for both Britons and Germans was very much in line with the postwar re-telling of war stories and seem rather out of place today.133 However, Avey’s account of his imprisonment at Graudenz brings to light further inconsistencies. Take, for example, his description of the place. In the 2001 interview, Avey was adamant that Graudenz was a Straflager – a punishment camp. In fact, punishment camps for British POWs did not exist in German-held territory. Graudenz was, in reality, a pre-war prison that was adapted to become a wartime military prison.

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Army Padre David Wild, a British eyewitness, confirmed that it was a ‘typical prison building’. This was echoed by the official journal of the London-based Prisoners of War Department of the Red Cross and St John War Organisation, The Prisoner of War, which stated in 1943 that Graudenz prison was ‘composed of large stone buildings and was erected as a prison many years ago.’134 POWs who were sent to Graudenz had to have committed a crime, been tried for that crime by a German court and sentenced. This was also confirmed by Wild.135 A German inmate, who later became a member of staff, also testified that Graudenz was in ‘a Wehrmacht prison for sentenced PoWs’.136 In 1947, a British War Crimes Field Investigator agreed, stating that internees had to have been ‘convicted for offences against German Military law’.137 Finally, The Prisoner of War newsletter provided information about Graudenz for their British readers. It stated that ‘since the middle of December, 1942 almost all prisoners of war who are undergoing penal sentences serve their sentence at this prison at Graudenz.’138 All this suggests that in order to be sent to Graudenz, a POW had to be tried and found guilty. Avey gave no indication that he was ever charged by a German court, something he would have probably remembered. Furthermore, although Avey claimed he was subject to violent interrogation, the British file containing details of war crimes committed at the prison mentions a number of specific cases involving Britons but contains no mention of Avey, who claimed in his interview that he had been ‘knocked about’ and ‘hit with a fist’, kicked, and ‘hit with a pistol’.139 Avey further claimed that it was also while at Graudenz that he received his POW number. He describes it thus: ‘I was told to strip and a man puffed pungent white powder over me, between my legs and under my arms. My hair was cropped short and I was photographed like a criminal from the front and the side with a number board around my neck.’140 In other words, Avey clearly implied that the allocation of his POW number was part of a process of criminalisation. Fortunately, this is one instance in which official records can be consulted in order to verify whether Avey was accurately portraying the past. POW lists published in 1945 clearly show that Avey received his number while based at Stalag 344. The number ‘344’ was the latter identification for Lamsdorf (previously it was Stalag VIIIB), and this change of designation was implemented in November 1943.141 Avey’s relatively high POW number was consistent with those allocated at Lamsdorf to

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POWs who arrived from Italy in late 1943 having been captured in the North African campaign. Consequently, Avey’s prisoner number, in itself, undermines his claim that it was issued at Graudenz, which in turn, once again, raises the question as to whether he was there at all. What is more, Avey did not remember his own POW number correctly, giving it in The Man Who Broke Into Auschwitz as 220543, whereas according to the official record his number was 220243.142 This detail, although seemingly minor, has wider significance. First, it was unusual for an ex-POW to forget their wartime prisoner number as it was part of their everyday life in captivity. Avey, though, perhaps has an excuse in that his was issued only towards the end of the war and he had less time for it to become ingrained as it would have for those captured early on in the conflict. However, getting such a basic detail wrong does not inspire confidence that he was remembering things clearly from that period. Secondly, Avey’s number can be easily corroborated by reference to the correct records and perhaps, therefore, should have been checked by Broomby. Here, we are confronted again with Broomby’s method for establishing whether Avey’s story was accurate. It will be remembered that Broomby seemed to prefer a subjective approach on whether to take Avey’s word. At issue here, is not Broomby’s integrity, but his method of validation.143 Sensitivity and subjectivity have a part to play when expressing empathy and understanding. They are less valuable when establishing historical fact. Clearly, there are a number of inconsistencies with regard to Avey’s claim to have been sent to Graudenz Prison, as well as the circumstances surrounding the decision to send him there. However, there is a final, wider point to make. The impression given in The Man Who Broke Into Auschwitz was that Avey’s incarceration at Graudenz had been part of a sequence of events in which the POW was subjected to a series of punishments by German authorities. First, he was made to work at a mine with Russian POWs; secondly, he was sent to Graudenz and finally, he was sent to Auschwitz to become part of the E715 work detachment.144 The reason for these sanctions was, according to Avey, that he was ‘a habitual troublemaker’ and that his ‘card had been marked.’145 The implication, whether intentional or not, is that Avey’s eventual posting to Auschwitz was part of his punishment. This was not true. E715 was not a punishment detail as inferred, but one work detail among many.146

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Whether he was transferred from the coalmine (as in the interview) or direct from Graudenz (as in the book) to Auschwitz, his arrival there is also somewhat confused. On arrival at Auschwitz station, Avey stated in his interview that he was transported to a camp that he called E711, which he insisted was ‘about two miles away from IG Farben’. E711 was, in fact, the name given to a work detachment based at Heydebreck, over 60 miles from Auschwitz, and there is no mention in The Man Who Broke Into Auschwitz of time spent there.147 Why then did Avey get this wrong? It was a common mistake for ex-POWs to believe that the number of a work detachment was the number of a camp, but it was much less common to refer to entirely the wrong work detachment. It is likely that the camp he thought was called E711 was probably Camp VIII, the first camp that housed E715. In The Man Who Broke Into Auschwitz, this camp is not given any designation. Perhaps such a detail is not very important, although it could certainly have been established with some research. What is important, however, is the way time spent in this camp was represented in the book. In 2001, Avey told Smith that the POWs were in Camp VIII for ‘a month’ before being moved. It will be recalled that the name of the next camp inhabited by the E715 work detachment, the one adjacent to the southern border of the Farben plant, was Camp VI.148 In the book, the moving date is stated to be ‘one day in early 1944’.149 Once again, we are fortunate to be able to refer both to modern research and original documents in order to verify whether Avey’s recollections were accurate. The timescale for the movement of POWs in the E715 work detachment can be reconstructed with reasonable accuracy. Piotr Setkiewicz, Director of the Centre for Research at the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, states that ‘in late spring’ 1944 the POWs were transferred ‘from Camp VIII to the smaller Camp VI’. Further verification can be achieved by a postcard from E715 member Michael Sheppard, sent to his family on 23 April 1944, when still occupying Camp VIII, informing them that the detachment were ‘expecting to move in about six weeks time’.150 Finally, the report generated as a result of a visit from a Red Cross representative on 20 June 1944 specifically stated that ‘this detachment was formed in September 1943 and was transferred from the original camp to the present new one on May 26th, 1944’. In other words, the information about the time spent at Camp VIII and at Camp VI in Avey’s 2001 interview and in The Man Who Broke Into

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Auschwitz is misleading. Of course, it should not be assumed that this was deliberate. What it does show, however, is that the research methods used to verify Avey’s story were less than robust. The reader of Avey’s published narrative is left with the impression that the POWs were in the camp that was closest to Monowitz for a longer period than was actually the case. Charles Coward, as shown above, attempted to convince the Nuremburg court that the POW camp was closer to Monowitz than it really was. Avey’s narrative, perhaps unwittingly, increases the timescale during which the POWs were camped in close proximity to the concentration camp. Each example, in its own way, goes some way towards creating a context for their respective claims regarding gaining entry to Monowitz. Just as Avey overstated the amount of time POWs spent in Camp VI, he also portrayed life there as a greater ordeal than it really was. The first camp (the one Avey referred to as E711 but was, in all probability, Camp VIII), according to Avey, had ‘straw mattresses’, ‘electric lights, running water, lavatories you could sit on and central heating pipes’; in other words, he suggested it was a good camp.151 Camp VI by contrast, he portrayed as ‘more bare and basic and more crowded than the first’, with icicles in winter and mosquitos in summer and a ‘crude latrine’.152 Once again, though, there is evidence to suggest that Avey may have got the two camps mixed up in his memory. Brian Bishop, a fellow member of E715, had an entirely different recollection of the two camps. He noted that the ‘sanitary conditions’ in Camp VI were in fact, an improvement on those in Camp VIII because there were no ‘bars over pits’ but instead ‘holes in wooden planks’. In addition to this he remembered that there were ‘showers’, a room to mend ‘clothes and shoes’ and even a ‘small library’.153 Supporting Bishop’s description of Camp VI was the Red Cross report dated 20 June 1944. Here, it might be helpful to remind ourselves of what Avey said about this Report in 2001. He told Smith that he had got a copy of a report which showed the Red Cross had visited the camp and held ‘meetings’. He seemed exasperated by this and was adamant that they had done ‘no such thing’ and stressed ‘we never had one visit’.154 His criticism came despite the fact that POWs were all registered with the Red Cross, that liaison with families was facilitated by the organisation and that Red Cross parcels could quite literally mean the difference between life and death. Red Cross Commissioners certainly carried out regular

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inspections in both small and large camps, and they were attended not only by members of the German camp hierarchy but also British representatives who had a crucial role in ensuring Britons were treated fairly. There is a file full of these reports for POW camps in Upper Silesia at the National Archives at Kew.155 All reports were signed, dated and forwarded to the British government. The reports were also often used to provide information for the journal The Prisoner of War, which was sent out to families of POWs. There is no evidence to suggest that they were false or misleading. On the contrary, evidence suggests that not only did British authorities take the reports seriously but so did Men of Confidence on the spot, such as Sidney Sherriff. Returning then to the Red Cross report, the one that Avey criticised. It actually provides a very good insight into life in the E715 work detachment and is worth quoting in detail. In order to ensure that they were as fair as possible in the circumstances, British POWs in authority, who in this case were Man of Confidence Horace Charters and the attendant British medical officer Captain W. O. Harrison, verified the report. The camp was ‘modern and well constructed’ with a ‘rather extensive’ compound area. Barrack-rooms were ‘adequate in every way’ with ‘no overcrowding’. There was a hospital barracks, ‘Red Cross stores’, an ‘administrative-centre’ and ‘camp work-shops’ that included a ‘cobbler’, ‘tailor’ and ‘barbers’. Hot and cold running water was available ‘all day’ and the men had ‘showers as often as they please[d]’. The latrines were ‘not yet sufficient in number’ but ‘a definite promise’ had been received that ‘more seats’ would ‘be built very shortly.’ Food, provided by the Germans, was considered ‘fair’. Facilities were also made available in the camp for POWs to cook their own ‘private food’ and these were described as ‘good.’ The hospital was adequately stocked, at least on the day of the visit, and generally the ‘health’ of the POWs was ‘satisfactory’. But, the report did not just point out the positives. ‘Drinking water’ and ‘dental treatment’ were in need of improvement as was the state of uniforms and footwear. With regard to working conditions, the men worked ‘10 hours’ a day but Horace Charters told the Red Cross commissioners that it was ‘not hard work’.156 However, adequate ‘protective clothing’ was not provided to those ‘employed in dirty work’, this was because, ‘sub-contractors’ at ‘Farben had not been able to procure such clothing’. Nonetheless, German authorities confirmed the ‘matter’ was ‘in hand’. Generally then,

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there were few complaints about ‘work or working conditions’ and ‘every second Sunday’ was ‘free’ for the men to make ‘use of a theatre barrack inside the compound’ or other leisure activities. Lacking in the camp itself were ‘books and musical instruments’ and the Red Cross passed on a request for more of both to the YMCA, a representative of which had recently visited along with a British padre. All in all, E715 was in the words of the Red Cross report a ‘good commando’.157 So Avey’s claim that the Red Cross had never visited E715 seems rather strange. However, it is further complicated by the way in which the same report was treated in The Man Who Broke Into Auschwitz. Here, he seems to accept that the Red Cross visited the camp, however, he dismissed their representatives as ‘highly gullible’.158 In order to substantiate this charge, Avey pointed to an observation in the report, which he claimed was ‘ridiculous’.159 The report stated that ‘a game of tennis’ was underway on the day the camp was visited.160 So how ridiculous was this claim? Fortunately, again, contemporary evidence is available in the form of a letter home written by E715 member Michael Sheppard, who told his family that the POWs now had ‘football, handball, and tenniquoits pitches in the camp’.161 It was not tennis that was witnessed by the Red Cross representative, Albert Kadler, but tenniquoits, a game played in a small court over a net with rubber hoops. Avey’s memory of life with E715 once more appears to be at variance with hard contemporary evidence. Sheppard’s letter further stated that there were ‘games every evening’, so it seems likely that Avey would have either seen these for himself or even participated. It is notable that the part of The Man Who Broke Into Auschwitz that deals with life in Camp VI only noted the negative elements that are contained within Red Cross report. It seems likely therefore that, in this case, Broomby saw this piece of evidence for himself, however, if he read the document, it is difficult to understand why he ignored its overwhelmingly positive tenor. The Red Cross report for June 1944 also stated that the POWs were ‘allowed to play football’ outside the camp, providing guards were available to supervise the activity. Avey once again showed his displeasure by denigrating this suggestion as ‘utter balderdash’.162 So what are we to make of Avey’s denial? Well, postwar accounts by other members of E715 seem to verify that football was a regular pastime. Former E715 member, Doug Bond, for example, later estimated that he

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played in ‘half a dozen games’. There is even a surviving photograph of members of E715 dressed in full ‘England’ kit (although Avey dismissed this as a propaganda exercise).163 Furthermore, Red Cross reports for other POW camps indicate that football was a relatively popular leisure pursuit across Poland. E712, based at Klimonto´w, had a ‘small football ground next to the camp’ where the men played ‘frequently’; the members of E744 near Poznan´ played football ‘four times every week’ and E587, situated at Czeladz´, had ‘excellent arrangements’ for sports and the men were ‘allowed to play football outside the camp daily.’164 So, if the Red Cross reported such activity, were they providing information that was naı¨vely positive? Were their representatives ‘highly gullible’ as Avey suggested? Again, the evidence suggests that this was not the case when it came to reporting poor conditions for POWs. For example, the Red Cross report for work detachment E72 at Beuthen stated the camp was overcrowded, the latrines ‘totally inadequate’, there were ‘inadequate arrangements for clothes-washing’, the camp had ‘no barber’ and a recreation room of ‘insufficient size’.165 The same was true when it came to the mistreatment of POWs. For instance, a report dated 11 December 1941 disclosed that a POW had been killed ‘without any reason’ at work detachment E159, and that prisoners in E198 had ‘been beaten by their guard.’166 In other words, Red Cross reports were reflective of the grim reality of POW life. The organisation was not afraid to challenge the German hierarchy on breaches of the Geneva Convention concerning British POWs. It is only possible to speculate why Denis Avey took a dim view of Red Cross activities. Once again, though, it seems as if he was not remembering wartime events accurately. This is all the more surprising given that, before his interview with Lyn Smith in 2001, Avey claimed to have spent time researching his wartime past. He also told Smith that he had made use of his research by making contact with the Ministry of Defence, the War Graves Commission, Auschwitz Museum, his MP and the incumbent prime minister, Tony Blair.167 It will be recalled that Avey later said of this interview with Smith that he was ‘struggling for the first time to bring it all back’.168 This does not seem to fairly reflect Avey’s level of recollection about his time with E715 as displayed to Smith in 2001. Avey’s interview with Smith contained a number of recollections about his time working at Farben. Some of these later appeared in The Man Who Broke Into Auschwitz, albeit in an altered form. One such

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reminiscence concerned the death of Corporal Reynolds. It will be recalled that Charles Coward claimed to have been a central figure in the altercation that led to Reynolds being shot by a guard. Avey did not claim to have been a key figure in the unfolding drama, however, he maintained that he was, at the very least, nearby. Unfortunately, the version Avey provided in his interview differed from that which appeared in published form. In 2001, he told Smith that: One of our chaps was shot dead because he was ordered to go up a gantry to work on pipework and unfortunately it was a number of degrees below zero, it was freezing, and it wasn’t safe on the steel work at all. He refused to go up and he was shot there and then. One of the [guards] took his pistol out and shot him there and then, straight. I saw it.169 Compare this with the 2011 book version: On 23 February 1944 a corporal from the Royal Army Service Corps was hard at work on the Buna-Werke site when he was ordered to climb seventy feet up a steel gantry covered in ice. He refused, saying that without the proper footwear it would be lethal. He was shot dead on the spot. His name was Corporal Reynolds . . . I recall hearing a shot that day and never went to look as it was not an unusual sound.170 So, did Avey see the shooting, as he stated in the first version, or did he hear it, as in the second? Here, we are faced with the question as to why Avey changed his story in such a fundamental way when such a memorable event would normally have been etched in the mind of any POW. After all, it was extremely rare for British POWs to be shot in cold blood and this is the only recorded murder of a member of E715. If, as Avey claimed in the interview, he had seen the shooting, surely this would be one subject on which he would not have changed his mind. If Avey had been an eyewitness to Reynold’s murder, it is feasible that his testimony would have been sought by war crimes investigators, as in the case of Captain I. O. B. Spencer, Joseph Milliken, John O’Brien King, William Boyd, Captain Robin Robertson, Company Sergeant Major Charters and Company Sergeant Major Brown.171 Certainly, those

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who had seen the incident for themselves would most likely have mentioned that Avey was worth talking to. However, just as the files contain no mention of Coward on this issue, the name of Avey is also absent. Thus, Avey’s claim to have witnessed the shooting, as in the first version, cannot be verified by contemporary evidence. It seems that in this case, Broomby carried out the necessary research in an attempt to validate the story. This certainly seems likely given that in the second version, that is in The Man Who Broke Into Auschwitz, the names of two possible suspects are provided as part of the narrative. These names are indeed on file at the National Archives. So, if research was carried out, then it could be clearly established that Avey was not named on contemporary documentation. Perhaps this is why Avey’s involvement in the murder of Reynolds was downgraded from eyewitness in the first version to merely being near enough to hear a gunshot, as in the second version. This seems like a good example of Broomby checking the evidence before publication. However, it does not explain why Avey claimed to have been an eyewitness in the first place. Whereas Avey’s recollection of his involvement in the circumstances that led to Reynold’s murder appears, albeit in different ways, in both the 2001 interview and The Man Who Broke Into Auschwitz, there is another reminiscence that only appears in the latter. This concerned a protest made by British POWs who objected to the German authorities forcing them to work on war-related projects. Avey remembered being at the heart of the action. He stated he was ‘one of five lads’ summoned to the presence of a ‘senior’ German officer who, after listening to their complaint, ‘took his Luger pistol from his holster, slammed it on the table and said, “That’s my Geneva Convention. You will do what I say.”’172 This is an attractive story, a quotable anecdote that reinforced a couple of stereotypes. Firstly, that British POWs did not stay silent when faced with injustice; and secondly, that their German captors were draconian and unbending. Implicit in the first part of Avey’s assertion was that British POWs openly challenged German authorities to the point where a senior officer was compelled to deal with the protest to prevent the level of disruption becoming a major issue. According to this rendition there was an esprit de corps together with a unity of purpose that permeated E715 and Avey was seen as a leader, someone qualified to represent the rest of the detachment. Like Coward, Avey seems to have remembered himself as both a key figure and a ‘lone wolf’.

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In order to help solve this particular conundrum, there were three other POWs who referred to such an incident at Farben. Frederick Davison wrote in his affidavit that POWs protested about performing war work to ‘a member of the German Army’ who ‘pounded on the table and pointing to his revolver said, “this is my Geneva Convention.”173 Eric Doyle stated that the POWs complained to ‘Rittler, a German non-commissioned officer’ who ‘said that the Geneva Conventions were two-guns, so at the threat of a gun there was no choice.’174 Robert Ferris gave a slightly different version. He stated that Coward had ‘protested . . . to the Germans but that the Germans merely answered, ‘there is no Geneva Convention here. This is an international firm, you are not working for Germans.’’175 So what should be made of these differing accounts? The incident itself appears to have some basis in truth. Avey’s account matched that of Frederick Davison, which, coincidentally, was also the most dramatic. Doyle’s account is intriguing because it is the only one that mentioned a specific German. That ‘Rittler’ was a non-commissioned officer fits with the general experience of POWs, that interaction occurred with guards, rather than officers. Ferris, however, directly contradicted Avey’s version, stating that the sole representative on the British side was Charles Coward (this is a rare example of POW testimony supporting Coward). However, Avey did not mention Coward in this regard and, conversely, no one else mentioned Avey. It is difficult to establish which version is true and we will probably never know. What is interesting, however, is that this particular story had a wider circulation than the E715 work detachment.176 Norman Rubenstein, based at Schildberg (now Ostrzeszo´w, Poland) many miles northeast of Auschwitz, told how British POWs had only a sketchy idea of the Geneva Convention, as did the German guards, adding ‘they would just pat their rifles and say: “This is my Geneva Convention.”’ It seems, therefore, that German guards throughout the POW camp network commonly, and possibly casually, used this phrase to assert their authority. Given the quotidian nature of the guards’ gesture, it is hardly surprising that there are several different versions (and it also helps to explain Coward’s silence on the matter). Moreover, this also means that the story in its most dramatic form, as told by Avey and Davison, is also the least likely. Adrian Gilbert’s history of British POWs confirms that POWs rarely spoke to officers, as claimed by Avey. Contact with captors, wrote Gilbert, ‘came through the guards’.177

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Clearly, then, important aspects of Avey’s memoir echo the narrative imparted by Coward many years previously. However, the most striking similarity between the two is that Avey also claimed to have swapped places with an inmate and spent time in Monowitz. The discrepancies in Coward’s account have already been noted and some questions that arise from his account also apply to Avey, such as how a physically fit, well-fed Briton could evade the attention of concentration camp guards who were specifically looking at the health of inmates as they arrived and left the camp, as well as during roll call. It will be shown below that an exploration of Avey’s different accounts, using the same methodology as that applied to Coward’s, reveals similar weaknesses. Here again, we will use the survivor testimony of Jewish inmates and apply the logic of the known historical record. Central to Avey’s story then, the one that was consciously placed at the centre of the narrative, was the eye-catching claim that he ‘broke into Auschwitz.’ In Holocaust literature, there is a widespread tendency to choose titles that contain iconic elements that will resonate for the potential readership. Put bluntly, words like ‘Auschwitz’ and ‘Hitler’ sell books. The Man Who Broke Into Auschwitz capitalises on the metonymic nature of the name ‘Auschwitz’, a name that invariably invokes a set of particular images. These images are almost certainly of Birkenau: of train tracks, lines of women and children, SS, gas chambers and burning bodies. This is the Auschwitz that readers are invited to associate with Avey’s exploits. Of course, Avey’s story is far from the only book to employ this technique and neither he or Broomby, or indeed his publishers, should be singled out for criticism on this account. However, if we examine Avey’s narrative as it developed over time, then there is a suggestion that Avey may have intended such associations to be made from when he first started speaking in public about his wartime experiences. Avey told Smith during the 2001 interview that he had a specific motivation for making an exchange with an inmate from Monowitz. Smith asked Avey how he received information about the mass killing of Jews. His answer was divided into two parts. Firstly, he noted that the terrible treatment of Jewish slave workers was a part of everyday life at Farben, how they were ‘underfed’, they ‘looked ghastly’, and their treatment was ‘horrific’. All this, he rightly said, happened ‘on a daily basis’. Thus far, his description did not differ from the testimony of other

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POWs working at Farben. They all knew from what they had seen and heard that Jews no longer fit to work were gassed. Postwar depositions reveal that POWs also knew that Jewish slave labourers had lost their families in the gas chambers. However, Avey told Smith that this information was not enough and he needed to know more. However, if, like the others, he already had such significant information, then what else did he want to know and why? What additional facts did he hope to glean by exchanging clothes with an inmate and spending a night (or two) inside a concentration camp? It is here that two specific claims made by Avey become significant. Firstly, during his interview with Smith, Avey was adamant that, having made the exchange, the camp in which he spent the night was Birkenau. The interviewer clearly found this claim surprising because she followed it up by asking a direct question: ‘you went into Birkenau?’ Avey replied, ‘Yes, I went into Birkenau.’178 So, during his 2001 interview Avey claimed to have spent a night, not in Monowitz, as told in The Man Who Broke Into Auschwitz, but Birkenau. Just to be clear, in 1944, concentration camp inmates who worked at Farben did not reside in Birkenau, which was about three miles away from the plant. Rather, they were kept at Monowitz, the camp specially built to house slave workers for Farben.179 Was this an innocent error? In other words, did Avey confuse the two sites? Certainly, Lyn Smith has since publicly defended Avey from criticism on this point, stating this was a genuine mistake ‘about events which happened a long time ago.’180 However, this brings us to the second significant claim made by Avey. This concerns the nature of information that he professed to have found out by making the exchange. This related to, in Avey’s words, ‘the numbers of people that were gassed every day.’181 The only way Avey would have had any chance of finding out such information would have been to visit Birkenau, where the gassings were taking place in 1944. Even more surprisingly, Avey suggested to Smith that he was successful in finding out these figures. Now, it is certain that the inmates at Monowitz did not have access to this kind of information and even in Birkenau only a few Germans in authority (and possibly members of the Sonderkommando, who, as shown above, were isolated from the rest of the camp population) would have been privy to such details. Nonetheless, Avey stuck to his story that in 1944 he had been in possession of the figures for those being gassed on a daily basis. We know he stuck to his story because the claim

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appears again in The Man Who Broke Into Auschwitz, even though, by 2011, Avey had changed the destination of his ‘exchange’ from Birkenau to Monowitz. Unfortunately, having made this alteration, the book is silent on how Avey came to be in possession of the tally for those who were murdered.182 It has been shown above that Coward claimed to have found out the same information before sending it to his family using an amateur code. They in turn were said to have passed details to the War Office, thus alerting the British government to mass slaughter. This element of Coward’s narrative has been shown above to be unlikely. However, Avey made a similar claim. He told Smith that he and his sister had a secret code when they were children – ‘the number of our dairy herd at that time, to any power to the power of four, five or six’, and it was this code that he utilised when writing to his mother. In this way, Avey said that he secretly told his mother about the number of Jews who were gassed on a daily basis. According to Avey, his mother twice ‘wrote to the War Office’ in order to notify officials about what was happening at Birkenau.183 Such a claim simply cannot be verified and once again, we are forced to consider whether the research methods used to validate Avey’s story were robust enough.184 If anything, the quality of research employed to confirm or dismiss some of Avey’s earlier claims seems to have been rather patchy. Even though Avey’s claim to have alerted his family and, via them, the British government as to the numbers of Jews being slaughtered daily at Birkenau remained as part of the narrative in The Man Who Broke Into Auschwitz, it seems that other aspects were indeed, rightly, edited out. Take, for example, Avey’s claim to Lyn Smith in 2001 that the inmate with whom he allegedly made the exchange told him of ‘an Australian POW who was working in Birkenau’ and who had ‘stoked the crematoria for twelve months.’185 Just to be clear, Avey suggested that in 1944, a concentration camp inmate had told him about this POW who was supposed to be a member of the Sonderkommando at Birkenau. The Australian in question, the one who supposedly had the awful task of stoking the crematoria at Birkenau, was called Donald Watt. Watt had himself published his own story entitled Stoker in 1995, detailing his alleged exploits.186 Certainly, this was an amazing claim and, if true, it seems to point to Avey telling the truth about his own exploits. In other words, it could be interpreted as independent evidence

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that Avey knew about Watt in 1944, even though Watt’s book was only published in the mid-1990s. However, Watt’s account has since been convincingly discredited.187 His story was a fabrication. So, why then would Avey have cited a story that turned out to be false? This is a difficult question to answer. Certainly, the story did not appear in The Man Who Broke Into Auschwitz. The researchers for this book clearly did not think that this element of the narrative was sound. They were right to be sceptical. They were correct because such a claim can only have been based on a reading of Watt’s book Stoker. In other words, Avey only became aware of Donald Watt’s claims sometime in the 1990s and for some reason he included it as a key element in his claim to have spent time in Birkenau, somehow projecting Watt’s latter-day claims backwards in time. Whether this was deliberate or not, or indeed whether or not Broomby eventually edited out this part of the story, it reveals a worrying trend, specifically with regard to whether Avey was a reliable witness. The claim also fits rather awkwardly with Avey’s contention that he had not engaged with his own memories of the war before he sat down with Lyn Smith in 2001. His inference that he was too paralysed by trauma to deal with his wartime experiences seems, in the light of the above, unsustainable. Instead, it seems that before he spoke to Lyn Smith he was actively pursuing information about that period. The Man Who Broke Into Auschwitz makes it abundantly clear that Avey’s claim to have broken into Birkenau was replaced by the assertion that the camp in which he spent two nights was ‘Auschwitz IIIMonowitz’.188 Also changed was Avey’s reason for making the swap: Even there, as a prisoner of war, I was certain that our side would defeat the Germans and that one day we would force someone to account for this. I wanted the names of Kapos and SS officers responsible for the obscenity around me. I wanted to see as much as I could. I knew that there had to be an answer to all this and that one day there would be a reckoning. So yes, there was something I could do; something I was driven to do. It wasn’t much but if I could get in, if I could only see, I could bear witness.189 Many POWs did indeed ‘bear witness’ by providing information to British war crimes investigators after the war and they were all given the

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opportunity to do just this on the standard POW repatriation questionnaire. However, Avey, who was rather disparaging about the way POW returnees were treated by British authorities, refused to discuss his experiences after allegedly being invited to do so. This was because he was adamant that British officials ‘couldn’t take it in’. He believed that ex-POWs ‘were made to feel they had let the side down by being captured at all’ and that they ‘had unwittingly helped the German war effort.’ Avey concluded that POWs were only asked to fill out the questionnaire because ‘it probably spared the officers the embarrassment of talking to POWs about their experiences.190 This accusation was unjustified. There were nearly 200,000 ex-POWs and the task of collecting as much information as possible required a degree of standardisation. Ex-prisoners were given the chance to comment on war crimes, either against Allied personnel or other victims, which were often followed up by investigators. In fact, Avey was in the minority of returnees when he chose not to complete the questionnaire. Given that one of his principal motivations, as laid out in The Man Who Broke Into Auschwitz, was to find out ‘the names of Kapos and SS officers’, and to ‘bear witness’, it is surprising that Avey did not volunteer any inside information that he could have gleaned by spending time in a concentration camp. Nor was he present when former members of E715 testified at Nuremburg in 1947.191 The postwar ‘reckoning’ therefore, was not bolstered by Avey’s involvement, despite the motivational factors that he said prompted his exchange with an inmate. Avey’s first public utterance on the subject came in 2001 when Lyn Smith interviewed him.192 Avey’s second foray into the public sphere came when he was interviewed in 2004/05 for Diarmuid Jeffreys’ Hell’s Cartel, a book about I. G. Farben. Unfortunately, the information provided by Avey adds to the confusion surrounding his story. In an attempt to explain why he had not spoken for so long about his wartime experiences, Avey told Jeffreys that the POWs based with E715 would ‘see people marched from the trains past our camp on the way to Birkenau.’ He implied that it was this sight that, in part, led to years of silence; a silence seemingly brought on by deep-seated emotional torment: . . . when you see little kids, little children, and their mothers and you know they are going to go straight in and up the chimney . . .

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it’s something you never forget. I have been haunted by it all my life, but you just bury it.193 To be clear, the camp that housed the E715 work detachment from late May 1944, that is Camp VI, as noted above, was about three miles distant from Birkenau (their previous camp, Camp VIII was even further away). Jews brought to Auschwitz were forced to disembark either near the station, about two miles west of the POW camp, and then walked or were transported by lorry further west into Birkenau or after the extension of the track in spring 1944, were forced off the train inside Birkenau itself. At no point then, would Jewish women and children destined for the gas chambers have been marched past the camp housing the POWs of E715. So, the things that Avey told Jeffreys simply could not have been true. Again, we are faced with more questions than answers regarding Avey’s wartime experiences. Why would Avey have professed to have seen queues of ‘little kids, little children, and their mothers’ who were about to enter the gas chambers, when he could not conceivably have been in the vicinity? What can be said is that this particular claim once again echoes Coward’s narrative. It will be recalled that Coward also said that he saw for himself the disembarkation of Jews, their subsequent selection and their entry into the gas chamber. Avey’s claim is certainly less sensational, but still does not stand up to scrutiny. Returning then, to Avey’s alleged exchange with a concentration camp inmate, the version given in the interview differs from that which appears in the 2011 book. In his interview with Smith, Avey told her: There was a fellow working alongside me, Ernst, and he was a very educated young boy. He was a German Jew. Now it was absolutely forbidden to talk to these Jews . . . But we did, we conversed and he told me, . . . over days . . . Now I couldn’t speak to this chappie any length of time [but] I wanted all the information possible so over the days and weeks we arranged to have an Umtausch, an exchange. I went into Birkenau with Ernst and this stripey got into my uniform and . . . I went with him to Birkenau and slept alongside him. And in this way I got the information.194 So, from Avey’s description in 2001 it seems that he gleaned information over time from Ernst, a young educated Jew. An exchange was then made

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some weeks later with an unnamed ‘stripey’ (concentration camp inmate). Avey then ‘went into Birkenau with Ernst’ the same person with whom he had been talking ‘over days’. In other words, Ernst was crucial to the preparation and he seems to have been the one to guide Avey once inside the camp. Indeed, according to Avey, they slept together on the same bunk. Perhaps it is feasible that Avey got confused over the names of the people involved. However, his confusion raises questions about the reliability of his memory. To embark on such an unprecedented scheme would certainly have required a prolonged amount of planning time. The point that planning took weeks is confirmed in both Avey’s 2001 interview as well as the book.195 The sheer intensity of holding secret conversations in an environment where the activities of Jews were so ferociously monitored would perhaps have ensured that the identity Avey’s co-conspirator would not have been forgotten. This would even more likely be the case if the first version was the correct one, in which Ernst escorted Avey into Birkenau and they spent the night on the same bunk. Having spent so much time with this person and in such precarious circumstances, it is certainly reasonable to assume that such a crucial detail would be remembered. However, in the book version, Ernst was not part of the exchange story. Instead, it was ‘Hans’ who provided Avey with ‘information’ and Hans was also the individual with whom Avey was said to have made the exchange.196 The figure of Hans, then, is portrayed in the book as the one with whom Avey hurriedly swapped uniforms at the end of the working day before both were said to have gone their separate ways: Avey into Monowitz and Hans to the POW camp. After exchanging clothes, Avey suggested that Hans looked ‘every inch a British soldier.’197 This seemingly anodyne claim is actually quite remarkable considering the relentless and inevitable deterioration in the general condition of inmates. Once again, Primo Levi provides us with an apposite example. Having been chosen to work in a laboratory at Farben along with two other inmates of Monowitz, Levi described in If This Is A Man just what made them so self-conscious in what was for them a relatively ‘civilised’ working environment, especially when dealing with the German women who worked there: Faced with the girls of the laboratory, we three feel ourselves sink into the ground from shame and embarrassment. We know what

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we look like: we see each other and sometimes we happen to see our reflection in a clean window. We are ridiculous and repugnant. Our Cranium is bald on Monday, and covered by a short brownish mould by Saturday. We have a swollen and yellow face, marked permanently by the cuts made by the hasty barber, and often by bruises and numbed sores, our neck is long and knobbly, like that of plucked chickens. Bear in mind that the arrangements to make the exchange allegedly took ‘weeks’. By the time the exchange took place, Hans would undoubtedly have taken on the standardised look of an inmate as described by Levi. Another factor is also important to consider given the unavoidable decline to which all inmates were subject. It was not just the Jews who were scrutinised on re-entry to their camp, but British POWs were also inspected on their return to camp after work, as former E715 member Ron Jones remembered: I can see it now, every time we walked back into camp we were ramrod straight with our hands high above our heads, ready to be searched, and the guards ran their hands down our bodies in a thorough check.198 Jones touches on a small but telling detail, that British personnel were expected to march in military formation to and from their place of work. Given the probable condition of ‘Hans’, it is unlikely that as a slave labourer, he would have been physically fit enough to have been able to do this without attracting the attention of the guards. As Jones continued, ‘the Jews were in such a state they walked like cripples. None of them could have stood erect as we had to.’ As Levi further confirmed, inmates carried with them the external manifestation of an ‘ancient, incarnate weariness’ that felt ‘irrevocable’.199 Furthermore, in his interview with Lyn Smith, Avey stated that the man with whom he exchanged ‘was ill for some time after that because he had so much food’. Again, this is a seemingly mundane claim, but one that jars with the hideous reality of the situation for inmates at Monowitz. Not only would Avey’s co-conspirator have had to withstand the threat of being found out because of the need to act like a healthy POW, but also by the combination of malnutrition and having to ingest

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the wrong kind of foods. These dangers cannot be overestimated. Thousands of inmates who suffered from such problems following the liberation of Bergen-Belsen in April 1945, for example, died even after the provision of medically supervised treatment.200 Can it realistically be assumed that ‘Hans’ would have withstood such an assault on his health? It should also be questioned whether an inmate who suffered illness as a result of the alleged first exchange would risk going back a second time as Avey professed. Moreover, because the switch was supposed to have occurred on two occasions, it is likely that the inmate’s condition would have deteriorated even further and he would have looked even less like a British soldier. There are still other issues that have to be considered when examining Avey’s claims in the light of what is now known about life for an inmate of Monowitz. Firstly, there would have to have been a significant level of premeditation. This in itself would have required an inordinate amount of trust considering the circumstances. Concentration camp inmates (whether based in Birkenau or Monowitz) found it almost impossible to trust anyone. Primo Levi described life in the camp as a ‘completely different kind of society’, which involved a ‘continuous war of everyone against everyone’.201 In other words, in the perpetual struggle for existence, it was a fight for survival of all against all. As Levi also stated, ‘in order to get by, it was necessary to get busy, organise illegal food, dodge work, find influential friends, hide one’s thoughts, steal, and lie; whoever did not do so was soon dead . . .’202 He continued in The Drowned and the Saved, that the enemy: Was all around but also inside, the ‘we’ lost its limits, the contenders were not two, one could not discern a single frontier but rather many confused perhaps innumerable frontiers, which stretched between each of us. One entered hoping at least for the solidarity of one’s companions in misfortune, but the hoped-for allies, except in special cases, were not there; there were instead a thousand sealed-off monads, and in between them a desperate hidden and continuous struggle.203 Avey, like Coward, placed himself and Jewish inmates on the same side, where both understood that life in Farben was ‘us against them’.

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This was simply not the case; nonetheless this overly simplistic characterisation is at the core of Avey’s story. Consequently, it stretches credibility to suggest that inmates would have trusted a POW to such an extent that they were prepared to undertake such a risky activity as swapping places. After all, the potential for being caught would have affected not just those immediately involved but any number of inmates especially when considering the German authorities’ propensity to inflict punishment and death on the many for the transgression of the one. It is unlikely that, in such a context, a few snatched and whispered conversations under the eyes of kapos, civilian foremen, or SS guards would have been enough to break down the extreme atomisation induced by a regime bent on destruction, even with the promise for the inmate of one night away from the usual appalling abode and a few cigarettes. Inmates were wracked by hunger, pained by beatings and haunted by the imminence of death, they were in a desperate state because one key idea behind the terrible system, while squeezing the maximum amount of work from each slave labourer, was to separate, to alienate and to destroy the individual so that death would come easily. In these circumstances, as Levi confirms, it was ‘extremely rare to be able to have a friendship’.204 Avey (and Coward) suggested that it was somehow possible to cut through this entanglement and create a small team of dedicated helpers. In the first version, Ernst saw Avey through the ordeal and, in the second, ‘Hans’ was willing to swap while ‘two of his companions’ were there ‘to guide’ the POW and show him ‘where to go.’205 However, instead of a relationship based on mutual dependence and trust, it is more likely that an intense level of desperation would have led inmates to either cultivate the sympathy of British POWs, not unlike Levi’s co-inmate Paul Steinberg, or ‘Henri’, or to exploit the situation for some advantage. For example, L. B. Shorrock, a POW who worked at Farben, remembered ‘an American speaking inmate’ who greeted them ‘in perfect English’ on arrival at the plant, ‘begging for cigarettes, to keep him, as he said, from the gas chamber’.206 The breakdown of normal social structures in camp life, induced by the instinct for survival, would have cut across the overly simplistic picture of the oppressed uniting against a common aggressor. An unduly simple idea of life in Monowitz can also give the impression that a new arrival in the camp would immediately be able to make the transition to that of ‘inmate.’ Life in the camp that housed

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E715 was very different to that experienced by Jewish prisoners of the Reich. Even a healthy and alert POW would have struggled to make sense of the plethora of ‘senseless’ rules that confronted any newcomer. ‘The prohibitions’, Levi wrote were: innumerable: to approach nearer to the barbed wire than two yards; to sleep with one’s jacket, or without one’s pants, or with one’s cap on one’s head; to use certain washrooms or latrines which are nur fu¨r Kapos or nur fu¨r Reichdeutsche; not to go for the shower on the prescribed day, or to go there on a day not prescribed; to leave the hut with one’s jacket unbuttoned, or with the collar raised; to carry paper or straw under one’s clothes against the cold; to wash except stripped to the waist. The rites to be carried out were infinite and senseless: every morning one had to make the ‘bed’ perfectly flat and smooth; smear one’s muddy and repellent wooden shoes with the appropriate machine grease; scrape the mudstains off one’s clothes (paint, grease and rust-stains were, however, permitted); in the evening one had to undergo the control for lice and the control of washing one’s feet; on Saturday, have one’s beard and hair shaved, mend or have mended one’s rags; on Sunday undergo the general control for skin diseases and the control of buttons on one’s jacket, which had to be five. In addition, there are innumerable circumstances, normally irrelevant, which here become problems . . . if a button comes off, one has to tie it on with a piece of wire; if one goes to the latrine or the washroom, everything has to be carried along, always and everywhere, and while one washes ones face, the bundle of clothes has to be held tightly between one’s knees: in any other manner it will be stolen in that second.207 On the one hand, of course, it could be argued that because Avey said he was only in Monowitz for a short period, that it would not have been necessary to acclimatise to these rules. On the other hand, anyone who contravened, or was perceived to have contravened, or who was slow in carrying out compulsory tasks, ran the severe risk of a beating or worse. Even with the help of other inmates (which, as already shown, was unlikely) it is highly probable that Avey, unfamiliar with the system, would have attracted unwanted attention.

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In order to avoid such attention, Avey said that he had ‘smeared dirt’ on his face, especially on his cheeks and under his eyes before making the swap.208 It can been seen from Levi’s list of rules that such a look, instead of diverting attention from Avey, could have had the opposite effect. What, for example, did Avey do when he had to wash ‘stripped to the waist’? Did he wash the dirt off? If he did, then he would probably have become even more visibly healthy and therefore more susceptible to discovery. Did he, therefore, leave the dirt on? This would have meant he was liable to receive a beating. Did he worry about these things, as he had to wash his face and keep his bundle of clothes ‘held tightly’ between his knees? Furthermore, when Avey described the exchange, he told how: Hans pulled off his infested top and tossed it to me . . . I pulled on his blue striped outfit, smell of filth and human decay rose form the weave and I was conscious of the creatures emerging from the folds and frayed seams, ready for new blood. I could cope with that, I knew how to live with lice . . . The thought of catching typhus never occurred to me then. For now, lice were the least of my problems.209 Yet, Levi is clear, every evening each person ‘had to undergo the control for lice’. Paul Steinberg was equally adamant that if, after inspection by a ‘specialized Stubendienst’ who examined ‘the seams and folds where the tiny creatures live’, an inmate was found to be infested, then he was ‘sent immediately to be disinfected.’210 The lice infestation that seems to have scarred Avey’s memory would almost certainly have placed him in grave danger of being found out. Could he have managed to withstand such an inspection without being discovered? Was he subject to an inspection? On this, Avey was, unfortunately, silent. Some other assumptions regarding Avey’s account are also questionable. The issue of secrecy is one. Avey professed to have swapped not once, but twice. Although this was one more than Coward claimed, they both portrayed themselves as acting with a high degree of secrecy. However, as discussed above, in the life of a POW, privacy of any kind was unheard of. So was E715 exempt from this axiom? Well, Ron Jones was convinced that the rest of the work detachment would have known about such an enterprise: ‘We’d have known about it if Avey had got into the Jews’ camp. We were like one big family, with no secrets

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from each other, and something like that would have gone around like wildfire.’211 Avey himself claimed that he involved two friends in the scheme (they were designated to look after ‘Hans’ when he spent time in the POW camp), and despite being ‘sworn to secrecy’, it would have been extremely difficult to keep such a significant event from other POWs. The ‘chatter culture’ has been discussed above, and it was endemic throughout the POW population. It was a similar state of affairs in Monowitz. On more than one occasion, Primo Levi revealed that information that had any significance could not remain secret for long. Most pertinently, he described how an unprecedented gift of food that made its way to him while in the camp quickly became common knowledge. ‘In Camp’, he wrote, ‘the crowding, the total lack of privacy, the gossip and disorder were such that our secret quickly became an open one.’212 It is difficult to conceive that a frankly astonishing event such as the presence of a British POW in Monowitz could have remained concealed. No survivor from Monowitz has confirmed that they had knowledge of this scheme at the time. Another example of questionable assumptions regards the trade in cigarettes. Cigarettes were valuable currency in Monowitz, however, there is a suggestion that Avey overplayed their value in the retelling (as indeed did Coward), for example, when gaining the trust of inmates or buying the silence of a kapo.213 Once particular claim raises doubts about this aspect of Avey’s story. This relates to his assertion that he traded cigarettes for a pair of wooden clogs. The claim seems innocuous enough, but, once again, what is now known about the reality of life in Monowitz places doubt on Avey’s recollections. A pair of shoes could, and in many cases did, mean the difference between life and death. Again, Levi provides a useful insight. He wrote that the very first action every morning, pitch dark or not, by every inmate who wanted to survive, was to ‘put on our shoes’. If this was not done, then it was inevitable that ‘somebody will steal them’ and the result would be, according to Levi, ‘an unspeakable tragedy.’214 Monwitz inmate, Hans Frankenthal confirmed Levi’s assessment of the importance of footwear: The prisoners in our transport were allowed to keep their own shoes. Apparently the directors of I.G. Farben realized that labourers like us couldn’t do their jobs in the Buna works without proper footwear. Most of the other prisoners in the camp were

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issued clogs, and within days their feet were sore and bloody. Shoes were a priceless possession, because if you ruined your feet, you couldn’t walk properly. And if as a result you weren’t fully capable of working, you were soon considered ‘superfluous’. I wore out my own shoes first. And then I stole another pair. I came across a dead prisoner who may have been in the camp for all of two weeks. When I saw his body I had only one thought in mind – get those shoes. I quickly removed them, placed my old shoes next to him, and put on the new pair.215 Shoes, in other words, were vital to survival. Each inmate looked after his own shoes or clogs until he could do so no more. They could not be smuggled out of Monowitz for easy trade, even when that trade involved cigarettes. Furthermore, Levi explained why it was important to choose the right shoe: If a shoe hurts, one has to go in the evening to the ceremony of the changing of the shoes: this tests the skill of the individual who, in the middle of the incredible crowd, has to be able to choose at an eye’s glance one (not a pair, one) shoe, which fits. Because the choice is made, there can be no second change.216 This tells us two more things. Firstly, shoes were not something you could get hold of with ease. Secondly, not every shoe or clog was the same size. So, the accrual of footwear in Monowtiz was not as simple as Avey suggested. Was it coincidence that Avey managed to get a pair that fitted? Perhaps he thought he could get away with being less than precise about this because of the brevity of his stay in Monowitz. Avey himself contradicted this. He acknowledged that ‘clogs could be a thing of torture’ and therefore he ‘had to get that right’. It seems therefore, that the exchange of cigarettes for footwear is too uncomplicated for the reality of the situation. Furthermore, having purchased the clogs in preparation for the exchange, Avey claimed he ‘wrapped rags’ around his feet ‘to cushion the rough edges and practised shuffling in them.’217 This raises further questions, such as, where and when he would have preformed this practise. He could not have done so at work, as he would have been watched over by a foreman or seen by other POWs. He could not have practised in the POW camp without drawing attention to himself due to lack of privacy (as discussed above). As Avey himself said,

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‘Wooden clogs on a British POW would have been noticed.’218 Furthermore, would Avey have had time to attend to the comfort of his feet during the actual changeover when, ‘there was no time to talk. Speed was essential; this couldn’t take more than a minute or we could be missed’?219 The swap itself will now be examined in more detail. Like Coward, Avey claimed that the swap took place at the end of the working day when camp inmates and British POWs were leaving the factory. This is how the episode was described in The Man Who Broke Into Auschwitz: Evening was approaching and I knew the British POWs would soon start to assemble fifty yards away from the stripeys for the march back to E715 [sic ]. I could see that the Jewish work Kommandos were getting ready to form their own column for the trudge back to their camp and I made my move. People were milling around so taking advantage of the end-of-day confusion, I strode purposeful toward the Bude, a wooden shed tucked away in the contractor’s yard. I opened the door and stepped inside. I knew the stark interior with its small tables and simple bench because we sometimes sat and sheltered in it. As soon as I was hidden inside I pulled off my heavy boots and got the coarse wooden clogs ready for a speedy exchange. Hans saw me go into the hut, and followed rapidly on my heels. After soothing his ‘clearly agitated’ co-conspirator, Avey continued: Once the swap was completed I quickly talked Hans through the plan again. I told him he mustn’t show any excitement or do anything to draw attention to himself in any way. His movements had to be calm and deliberate. Above all, I said, don’t run. I doubt he had the strength anyway. He left immediately looking every inch a British soldier and headed off, as he had been told, to find Bill and Jimmy. I waited a moment. Then I adopted the hangdog expression that I had observed, dropped my shoulders and with my eyes cast downwards I left the hut and hobbled towards the Jewish column which was forming up. There I edged myself into the middle of a rank, coughing as I went so I could hide my accent behind a croaking voice if anyone spoke to me.220

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So, in Avey’s account, British POWs and Jewish slave labourers were milling around at the end of the working day occupying the same area. There was apparently a lack of control that allowed both protagonists to slip away and swap uniforms in a conveniently placed hut. This they were able to without anyone noticing, apart from their trusted helpers. For anyone unfamiliar with the hierarchy that was inherent in the German slave labour system, such an account might appear plausible. After all, once the working day was complete, it seems logical that all workers would wend their way back to their respective camps. However, the system governing work at Farben had at its heart strict racial criteria consistent with Nazi ideology. For slave labourers, this manifested itself in the number of hours worked by each group. In short, British POWs worked the least number of hours, followed by foreign slave workers and, finally, Jews were required to work the longest day. This meant, contrary to Avey’s assertion (and Coward’s for that matter), that British POWs were marched away from the Farben site before Jews, or indeed any of the other groups had finished work. In the same way, Jews were already at work before British POWs arrived at the plant. Take, for example Leonard Dales’ 1947 affidavit, which stated: ‘We came about 6.30 and at that time many of the inmates were already there.’221 Furthermore, as mentioned above, Charles Hill recalled in his affidavit that a Jew who had fallen from a building and died as a result during work hours was ‘still there propped against the building’ when the British finished work at ‘about 6:15 . . . in the evening’.222 This information becomes significant when it is realised that, at the end of their shift, inmates were forced to carry the ill or those who had died at work back to Monowitz. The dead inmate had not yet been picked up, so the Jews were clearly still at work. Other testimony is equally useful in this regard. For example, bearing in mind that the road on which inmates walked to and from Farben each day ran past Camp VI, the POW camp, Frederick Wooley affirmed that ‘at night and in the morning we could see them coming to and from work. Although they could hardly carry themselves, I would often see them carry their comrades who had collapsed from exhaustion in the factory.’223 Wooley shows that, not only had British POWs not left Camp VI by the time Jews left for work, but that they were safely back inside by the time Jewish workers returned to Monowitz.

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Evidence concerning the longer day endured by Jewish slave labourers was also provided by Primo Levi. He wrote of the sense of exhaustion him and his fellow slave workers felt at the end of a working day. ‘By now’, he wrote, ‘the English prisoners have passed, it will soon be time to return to the camp’.224 On another occasion he stated, ‘there goes the siren of the Carbide factory, now the English prisoners are leaving . . . Then the Ukrainian girls will leave and it will be five o’clock and we will be able to straighten our backs’.225 If, as so many who were there attest, Jews arrived at work long before POWs and left sometime after, then how can Avey’s account be true? How could he and ‘Hans’ have taken ‘advantage of the end-of-day confusion’ to make the exchange? The same could be said for Coward. At the end of the working day the British POWs simply would not have been in the same place as Jewish slave labourers at the same time. This fundamental discrepancy in Avey’s story is supplemented by a number of other seemingly minor inconsistencies. For example, Avey acknowledged the connection between owning a food dish and survival, he conceded that these precious implements should be carried at all times and used as pillows at night to thwart thieving, as testified by many survivors of Monowitz. The basic requirement of possessing a dish was, like the problem of shoes, a matter of life and death. At the very least, if an inmate was caught without a bowl, he would receive a beating. As stated in The Man Who Broke Into Auschwitz, ‘Without a bowl there was no soup and without that ghastly soup there was no life’.226 So, given the close relationship between each man and his dish, Avey’s narrative raises certain questions. How, for example, did ‘Hans’ deal with the estrangement from his own bowl when making the swap? Did ‘Hans’ trustingly give Avey his bowl when they changed clothes? Did he willingly hand over the very item he had so carefully protected every night? These questions only seem odd outside the context of the awfulness of Monowitz. Inside the concentration camp universe these things were vital, yet Avey provided no answer to these questions. Furthermore, at no point did Avey mention any of the daily ablutions inmates were forced to undertake, for example, how and where they washed, emptied their bowels and urinated. Such details should perhaps have been noticed and commented on because they were so appalling. Indeed, they were so awful that ex-inmate Hans Frankenthal remembered the night-time facilities provided for urinating in detail:

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For those who had to urinate at night, there was a pail at the front of the barracks, near the door. When the pail was full, the next person to use it had to empty the contents in the latrine. This was a job that everybody did his best to avoid, because it was quite a chore to carry a twenty-litre bucket down wooden steps through the mud . . . Many prisoners suffered from diarrhoea, which was widespread throughout the camp. They had no alternative but to make the arduous trek to the latrine at night. After they opened the barracks door they had to call out to the watchtower – ‘Inmate number 104920 requests permission from the guard to relieve himself.’ An inmate could use the latrine only if the guard allowed him to do so. And then it was always important to be quick, because if the guard changed his mind while a prisoner was in the latrine or felt that the visit was taking too long, he would fire a few warning shots and yell ‘Out! Back to the block!’ On the way back the prisoner had to report to the guard again. ‘Inmate number 104920 returning to the block’.227 Avey mentioned nothing of this routine or that he was disturbed by shouting or gunshots despite only ‘drift[ing] into a turbulent sleep’.228 Perhaps he managed to enter the camp and, after a long night, leave Monowitz without having to relieve himself but he would certainly have heard others having to. Avey seems to have either forgotten this procedure, one that differed wildly from anything he had so far experienced as a POW, or thought that it was not worth remarking upon. Perhaps even more striking than the toilet arrangements in Monowitz were the washing procedures. It is indisputable that had Avey spent a night or two as an inmate of Monowitz, then he would have been compelled to wash. Levi described the daily morning routine, which included washing: This is how things go here in the morning: when reveille sounds (and its still pitch dark) first of all we put on our shoes . . . Then, in the dust and crush, we try to make our beds according to regulations. Immediately after that, we rush to the latrines and the washroom, run to get in line for bread, and finally we make a dash to the roll-call square.

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According to Avey’s account, the morning routine did not include a visit to the latrines or the washroom. This element of camp life was simply left out. One looks through Avey’s narrative in vain for an element of life in Monowitz that struck him as unusual or incongruous. Unfortunately, the account only reiterates those aspects of camp life that are already well known. Take, for example, another aspect of the morning routine – bed making, which Primo Levi vividly described in The Drowned and the Saved: Where there were bunk beds, each berth was composed of a thin mattress filled with wood shavings, two blankets and a straw pillow, and as a rule two people slept on it. The beds had to be made immediately after the reveille, simultaneously throughout the hut. It was therefore necessary for the occupants of the lower bunks to manage as best they could to fix mattress and blanket between the legs of the tenants of the upper levels, who were in a precarious balance on the wooden rims and were also intent on the same job. All beds had to be put in order within a minute or two, because the bread distribution began immediately after. Those were frantic moments: the atmosphere filled with nervous tension, with dust to the point of becoming opaque, and curses were exchanged in all languages, because ‘making beds’ (Bettenbauen: this was the technical term) was a sacral operation to be performed in accordance with iron rules. The mattress, fetid with mould and strewn with suspect stains, had to be fluffed up. For that purpose there existed two slits in the lining, through which one could insert the hands. One of the two blankets was supposed to be turned under the mattress, and the other spread out over the pillow in such a way as to form a neat step, with sharp edges.229 And there was more: For the SS in the camp, and consequently for all barracks heads, Bettenbauen had a prime and indecipherable importance: perhaps it was a symbol of order and discipline. Anyone who did not make his bed properly, or forgot to make it, was punished publicly and

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savagely; furthermore, in even barracks there existed a pair of functionaries, the Bettnachzieher (‘bed after pullers’: a term that I do not believe exists in normal German and that Goethe certainly would not have understood) whose task it was to check every single bed and then take care of its transversal alignment. For this purpose, they were equipped with a string the length of the hut: they stretched it over the made-up beds, and rectified down to the centimetre any possible deviations.230 This ‘cause of torment’, this ‘maniacal order’ was, as Levi points out, ‘absurd and grotesque’.231 Paul Steinberg also commented that the bedmaking routine could last for up to ‘two hours’ because the block leader ‘would tear apart every unsatisfactory job.’232 Yet, none of this seemed to have struck Avey as odd or worthy of mention in his search for information about life in Monowitz. Instead, Avey seemed more inclined to mention filthy conditions and obnoxious smells, although in reality things were not always like that. Yes, conditions were appalling and the treatment of inmates brutal, but these went side-by-side with a pseudo-military code that was obsessively focused on order and cleanliness, hence the posters that adorned the walls of the barracks ‘in praise of order, discipline and hygiene’.233 What Avey might have perceived as ludicrous banalities: the systems that governed urinating, bed making, etc., were, in fact, as Levi and others show, absolute necessities if an inmate were to avoid punishment and in the long-term survive. Perhaps at this stage, we should remind ourselves of the line of defence offered by Rob Broomby, that it was not how much Avey forgot but how much he remembered that was apparently so remarkable. In reality, what stands out, given the evidence set out above, is how much of concentration camp life did not merit a mention, especially given that the British POW claimed to have spent not one night in Monowitz, but two. In addition to the plethora of strange practices that Avey omitted was the question of the tattoo. Each inmate of Monowitz (and this was not true of every concentration camp) received, upon his arrival, a tattoo. Levi described the operation as ‘slightly painful and extraordinarily rapid: they placed us all in a row, and one by one, according to the alphabetical order of our names, we filed past a skilful

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official, armed with a sort of pointed tool with a very short needle’.234 The number, indelibly bestowed, was not merely to de-humanise the inmate, but was placed there, as far as the Germans were concerned, for practical purposes. As discussed above, it was compulsory to shout one’s number to the guard before being allowed to leave the hut at night and it was imperative to show this number prior to being allocated food.235 In other words, the number was key to the system at Monowitz and, like other rules in the camp, the punishment could be harsh for failing to comply. It was part and parcel of the quasimilitary ethos that pervaded life and like many other aspects combined hair-splitting exactness with sadism. So, if Avey was handed food in the morning following his first night in the camp, as suggested in The Man Who Broke Into Auschwitz, how did he do this without first showing a tattoo? Again, as discussed above, the number system prevented the allocation of double rations, therefore, he could not have received his bread from someone else. Furthermore, a cursory reading through Monowitz survivor testimony reveals that it simply was not credible that an inmate would have forgone his own ration for the sake of a healthy Briton. Therefore, what he conveyed to his readership, the seemingly convincing details of his morning meal consisting of ‘odd-tasting black bread smeared with something that he ‘took to be rancid margarine’, can only be a figment of his imagination.236 It remains though, that the most remarkable thing of all about Avey’s published account of his life as a POW in E715 is that he omits to mention Coward’s story, especially given the similarity between the two. The success of Coward’s story, that it has remained largely unchallenged, somehow generated a common and long-standing belief that a resourceful individual and a degree of British guile was all that was needed to puncture the epicentre of the Final Solution. Coward’s expanding narrative grew in a world in which heroic exaggeration of the war was commonplace and the popular image of the British POW was a positive one, but a false one. This is an image that still persists, heavily influenced by postwar accounts, on-screen portrayals and the foibles of memory. Films such as The Great Escape and the enduring myth of Colditz have reinforced the view that British captives carried the weight of bondage with a light heart and a ready wit. Doubtless, this retelling has some basis on a solid core of

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historical fact. However, as the military historian S. P. Mackenzie points out: it is a core around which audience, and those who have successfully catered for them, have unconsciously woven layers of generalized meaning based on selective evidence that serve their own needs rather better than the cause of a full and balanced understanding of the past.237 In other words, popular conceptions of the British POW experience oversimplifies and distorts the reality and can give traction to myths, or even positively encourage their creation. This is arguably what happened in the case of Charles Coward and it was the broad acceptance of his account that in turn contributed to the context that the acceptance enjoyed by Denis Avey built upon. More specifically, the account provided by Avey seems to have borrowed heavily from the one told earlier by Coward. Avey, an anonymous ex-member of the E715 work detachment until the turn of the century, was revealed as a man very much in Coward’s image: a loose cannon, a mischief-maker, a singular agitator bent on becoming a spanner in the works of the Nazi machine, the self-deprecatory hero unequivocally on the side of ‘the Jews’. Other elements that echo Coward’s story include interrogations at the hands of sadistic Germans, involvement in sabotage and being present at dramatic moments such as the murder of Corporal Reynolds. The claims that he communicated with his family in England using an amateur code, that he put himself at risk for the sake of Jewish inmates, that he saw a transport of Jews marching to Birkenau and, most importantly, that he spent time in Birkenau (which later became Monowitz), are all present in Coward’s account. This last attestation, that he ‘broke into Auschwitz’, involved a ruse that more or less exactly mirrors that of Coward: swapping clothes with an inmate at the end of the working day, spending the night in Monowitz, bribing a guard or kapo with cigarettes and having help from the ‘inside’. All these elements are clearly present in Coward’s narrative and yet, for Avey, Coward was a ‘conman’ or, in the later rendition, The Man Who Broke Into Auschwitz, completely ignored. The question is why? Why when there are such clear similarities between the claims of the two men, did Avey go out of his way to criticise Coward in his 2001

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interview? And, perhaps even more pertinently, why was Coward deemed unworthy of any mention at all in the 2011 publication? Would drawing attention to Coward have raised too many questions? It will be recalled that Broomby’s defence of Avey included the statement that, ‘this is not footnoted academic history. You have to look into the man’s eyes and know what sort of man this is.’238 It is appropriate that this essentially subjective line of reasoning is questioned. After all, the book was published in a more sceptical age than when Coward made his own remarkable claims. The potential readership of The Man Who Broke Into Auschwitz is perhaps less susceptible to unquestioning belief in exaggerated postwar claims of heroism. Moreover, this is an era in which knowledge of the Holocaust is more pervasive and the murder of European Jews is a subject that often requires sensitive treatment. Paradoxically though, the pervasiveness of general knowledge about the Holocaust has led to some inaccuracies about the subject becoming widely believed. A modern clamour to use information about the Holocaust as a laudable means to ‘learn the lessons of history’, or to squeeze a Holocaust-based narrative into a work of fiction, has helped to create standardised ideas about what ‘the Holocaust’ really was like. In other words, the popularising of the subject has, all too often, been carried out at the expense of accuracy.239 Some of these inaccuracies appear in Avey’s narrative. Important elements of Avey’s story, for example his description of a night in a Monowitz barracks, correspond to popular understandings of ‘what it was like’ in a concentration camp, but vital aspects of his representation do not correspond to the testimony of former inmates. This is all the more surprising in Avey’s case because he claimed to have made the swap, not once, but twice. Furthermore, there are specific aspects of the camp organisation that would undoubtedly have struck Avey as strange or perverse. Yet on these, he is silent and instead he presents a version of life in a barracks that the layman might expect to see, rather than one that corresponds to the reality of life as an inmate in Monowitz. The accounts of Coward and Avey undoubtedly struck and continue to strike a chord in Britain. They resonate because they present tales that people in Britain and to an extent, across the world, generally want to believe. It remains to be seen, when faced with evidence that calls into question substantial elements of their claims, whether this desire to

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accommodate them remains. Surely, claims to heroic status in the context of the mass murder of European Jews should be subject to rigorous historical enquiry, otherwise they have the potential, as in the case of Avey, to provide fodder for the hateful phoney theorising of Holocaust deniers. After all, false claims of heroism, in the end, do little more than undermine those who really suffered and those who made genuine sacrifices, whose actions and sometimes whose names we shall probably never know.

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Witnessing the Aftermath The wartime Polish Underground State (PUS) was, according to historian Jan Gross, ‘a remarkable collective achievement’, including, among other things, ‘clandestine versions of prewar political parties and a shadow government administration’. It was organised in such a way so as to ‘provide a good foundation for postwar re-construction’, but its potential was never realised. The organisation’s vanguard, the Polish Home Army (Armia Krajowa), numbering over 300,000 at its peak, was more or less wiped out after it rose up against the German occupiers of Warsaw in August 1944. The Soviet military deliberately stalled their advance into Poland to facilitate the massacre. As a result of the massacre and as more and more Polish territory fell to the Red Army, the power of the London-based Polish government-in-exile, which had been reliant on strong connections with the PUS, diminished. This created a power vacuum into which Stalin was able to exert political control. He established a provisional Communist government in the eastern town of Lublin.1 It had widespread support from city-based Polish leftwingers, if not from the majority of Poles.2 As the Germans were pushed further westwards, a tiny remnant of Polish Jews hesitantly made their way out from their dark hiding places. These Jews who miraculously evaded death and survived against all the odds in and around the so-called Bloodlands of the east, were inclined to support this new regime. After all, ‘one of the first acts of the Lublin government’ was to pass ‘a decree outlawing anti-Semitism.’

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The appointment of the Jewish legal expert and politician, Dr Emil Sommerstein, as ‘Minister for Jewish Affairs’, no doubt brought an extra degree of comfort to this shattered residue. But, despite these gestures from the Lublin administration, the situation in east Poland in late 1944 was far from settled. Many Poles were opposed to the appointment of Sommerstein, deriding him and going so far as to deface photographs of him that appeared on posters of the Lublin government.3 It was into this shifting hotchpotch of high- and low-level tensions that escaping POW Cyril Rofe found himself after breaking out of a camp ‘near Schomberg and Kattowitz’.4 This was not the first time Rofe had attempted to escape. He had previously found himself in the cells at Lamsdorf after an abortive foray into Czechoslovakia. His captors, unaware that he was not Palestinian but really a British Jew, viewed him according to his testimony with ‘the customary distaste shown to Palestinian soldiers in the British Army’, and made it quite plain that ‘if he made any more trouble he was liable to find himself next time in one of the special camps for Jews.’ By this time, Rofe stated, ‘enough rumours’ had surfaced about ‘Auschwitz to make their meaning clear’ and a couple of guards had ‘hinted with satisfaction that all Jewish prisoners would finish up in the special camps anyway.’ Driven by this threat, Rofe recalled talking over the prospect of escape with a fellow prisoner, a Palestinian corporal on the same working party, Karl Hillebrand, who he described as ‘thin’ and ‘studious looking’. Paul Brickhill, who wrote an early account of Rofe’s escape, wrote that Hillebrand was of the opinion that they ‘might’ end up in ‘Auschwitz if we’re caught’, to which Rofe retorted, ‘it might be Auschwitz anyway’. They decided to make a break and the pair headed east in the hope of reaching the Russian lines.5 After travelling for days they were fortunate enough to stumble across a division of the Fourth Cossack Corps, which was cut off from the bulk of Soviet forces. They rode with the Cossacks until they eventually reached Grodzisko Dolne, a large village four miles south of Lezajsk and 25 miles northeast of Rzeszo´w.6 This village was squarely placed in the zone that had until recently been caught in the crosshairs of Nazi genocidal sights. Here Rofe and Hillebrand spent a month of their lives. In Rofe’s own words: We were able to meet all sorts of ordinary people and gained an invaluable insight into the strains and stresses that were tearing at

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the life of Poland. Peasants, partisans, Jews and Russians, the Government-in-exile in far-away London versus the Lublin Committee of Liberation, the A.K. Home Army or the Russiansponsored A.L. Peoples Army, inefficient peasant strip-farming or model state farms; and over all the shadow of Russia and the dread NKVD.7 Perhaps it was because Rofe himself was a Jew that he took particular interest in the Jews of Grodzisko Dolne, at least the ones that were left. Originally they had been part of a thriving Jewish community that was at least 200 years old. There had been a synagogue, a kosher butchery, three traditional elementary schools dedicated to teaching boys the basics of Judaism and a Jewish cemetery. Between the wars, economic hardship forced a number of Jewish residents to seek new ways of earning a living, so they migrated to bigger towns such as Lwo´w, Krako´w, Rzeszo´w and Przemys´l. However, in 1935 there were still 422 Jews in the village representing 82 Jewish families.8 The Germans arrived in Grodzisko Dolne on 27 September 1939. Some Jews from the village and the surrounding area were dumped into the Soviet occupation zone while others went willingly. Those that remained were stripped of their possessions then ghettoised. When the ghetto was eventually dissolved, 241 Jews were taken to the local cemetery and individually shot in the head by one man, 21-year-old Volksdeutsche Adolf Jeske.9 Jan Chemura, a Polish inhabitant of Grodzisko Dolne, saw this premeditated act of mass murder and was forced to bury the victim’s remains.10 A small number of Jews had escaped the massacre and went into hiding and these were the ones that Rofe was able to talk to. Rofe learnt that just before the war the number of Jews living in the village had risen to approximately ‘six hundred’ and this included ‘two hundred children’. Yet, by the time Rofe and Hillebrand arrived there were just ‘nineteen’ left, twelve of which came from one family. The rest were ‘dead or missing.’ The two comrades made friends with one of the survivors, a ‘small, emaciated man just forty years of age but looking well over fifty’. Jankiel Fingerhut had survived with his wife and seven-year-old daughter. Having been cut off from the outside world for an extended period, they were hungry for news. So, using ‘Yiddish and German’ (Hillebrand was a fluent German speaker), they

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were able to talk ‘freely, unashamedly and without reserve.’ During these conversations Rofe was able to construct ‘a picture of the hell Poland had been and still was for her few remaining Jews – of the years of persecution by Germans and Poles alike: of the pogroms and the betrayals.’11 Rofe found out that only some ‘decent Poles . . . had done what they could to help.’ Fingerhut and his family had the good fortune to be hidden by a Polish neighbour by the name of Jan Gojewski.12 For the last year and a half of German occupation this Jewish family were confined to: a hole about four feet square under the floor of a farmhouse. They had one chair on which to sit – in silence lest they were overheard. The Polish farmer had hung a crucifix inside the hole and made them promise that when they came out they would be baptized.13 Gojewski undoubtedly risked his life in order to provide the Fingerhut family with a bolthole, but Mrs Fingerhut had to give Gojewski her jewellery in order that he could provide them with ‘five small potatoes each day.’ Meanwhile, Jankiel Fingerhut, knowing how difficult it would be to survive on such tiny rations, had to sneak out of the house while Gojewski was asleep. He told Rofe that he was: too weak to walk, so he crawled on his hands and knees, dragging himself through the fields in search of food, or crawling painfully along the stony lanes to beg for bread at houses where he knew the Poles were friendly. Again, these Poles took a considerable risk if they handed food over to Fingerhut and he was ‘happy’ if he managed to return with ‘a couple of crusts.’14 On one occasion Fingerhut described to Rofe visiting a Pole who told him to return the next night, however, he decided against it because he was almost certain that ‘a mob’ would be ‘waiting to murder him if he returned.’ He was right to be wary. Another Jewish survivor with whom Rofe spoke confirmed that gangs of Poles actively sought Jews out to kill them and how:

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he had watched through closed shutters while a band of Poles came up the road on a Jew-hunt. In the house opposite was a Jewish baby only a few months old. They brought it out; one of the Poles took it by the leg, swung it round and smashed its head against the wall. They threw the lifeless little body to the ground; on with the hunt.15 Such brutality was possible because of the local collusion between Polish police and German occupiers. The massacre of Jews carried out by Jeske was not the only one. According to Rofe’s information, the ‘Polish police had carried out regular mass executions.’ They would announce: That they were going to kill a certain number of Jews, say twenty. When they were ready they paraded all the Jews they could lay their hands on. They made them dig a grave and strip naked. Perhaps the police were a few short of the required twenty. In that case they started a Jew-hunt throughout the area, leaving the naked Jews – men, women, old and young – standing, often in winter temperatures, well below freezing, until such time as they made up the required number. Then the naked Jews were forced close together in single file at the edge of the grave. Many were still alive as they fell, but the earth was quickly thrown over them and they were left to suffocate. The police then took the dead Jews’ clothes and tore them apart, searching for money and other valuables. Rofe’s account, taken from his own diary that he kept at the time, chimes remarkably with modern research on the conduct of some Poles during the Holocaust. Jan Gross writes of ‘widespread collusion’ that was driven by opportunistic profiteering. He also writes of the massacre of Polish Jews by their neighbours, which in each case was ‘intimate, violent and profitable’ and ‘took place at the interface of Polish Jewish relations, on the lower rungs of society’.16 Rofe’s descriptions fit with Gross’s analysis. Rofe also gained insight into the fear and terror that stalked Jews who were forced into hiding, living a hazardous existence on the edges of wartime Polish society. He met and conversed with Rozia Rotkopf, a blonde ‘Aryan-looking’ Jew in her twenties. She had been hiding-out in Rzeszo´w, ‘living as a Pole’ and earning a ‘precarious living’. She had

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frequently had to change her job and living accommodation so as ‘to avoid the Gestapo controls.’ She described to Rofe her many ‘narrow escapes’, for example, when having her hair cut, the hairdresser remarked: ‘What Jewish hair you have! If you weren’t so obviously Aryan I would think you were a Jewess.’ Another ‘near miss’ came at a considerable cost: A Pole accosted her and accused her of being a Jewess. Refusing to accept any denial, he said he was going to take her to the Gestapo. Rather than create a scene which could only have resulted in her capture, the terrified Rozia was forced to go along with him. On the way he decided to take pity on her and instead of taking her to the Gestapo, he took her to his room, where he raped her.17 This hideous ordeal, though, can be contrasted to yet another situation she found herself in. At one point she took a room in the basement flat belonging to ‘Czeslaw’, a Pole who worked as an engineer but had recently lost his wife and was bringing up his two young children. When the Gestapo were prowling around the neighbourhood one evening, carrying out ‘a house-to-house search’, Rozia became visibly upset: So Czeslaw suggested that they go for a walk together. They left the house. Czeslaw took Rozia’s arm and walked her round the block reassuring her. He had suspected all along the she was Jewish, but it made no difference to him. All night through they walked the streets like two young lovers. If they heard anyone coming they stepped into a doorway, hugging like any lovers would. Eventually, hours later when the search was over, they returned home. Rozia now expected that Czeslaw would turn her out, but in spite of the obvious danger to himself and his children he did no such thing. ‘You have nowhere else to go,’ he said simply, and insisted that she stay until such time as the Germans left. Rofe called Czeslaw a ‘true gentleman’. This man, despite his own troubles, never ‘took advantage’ of Rozia, rather he took it upon himself to protect her and take care of her ‘as best he could.’ Rofe then, because he had the opportunity to talk to Jews who had been hiding in occupied Poland, was able to hear about the very best and the very worst of the

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Polish inhabitants who had the choice to either to help the Jews or add to their suffering. After the Germans left, Rofe continued, Czeslaw cycled regularly from his home town of Rzeszo´w to Grodzisko Dolne, where Fingerhut: would take him round the farms buying butter and eggs, chickens, flour and grain, all unobtainable in Rzeszo´w except at fantastic black-market prices. Then Czeslaw would cycle home to his children, bearing the month’s rations. He was an unaffected, kindly man and he once told me that he could never understand why all the Jews made such a fuss of him.18 Czeslaw was not the only Pole who bravely hid Jews from marauding anti-Semites. Rofe and Hillebrand met a ‘tragic Jewish woman’ who had been protected ‘by a kindly family of Polish peasants’ although all they could offer her was a space ‘behind a false wooden partition’. She had to stay on her feet for extended periods because any more space would bring her to the attention of ‘Jew-hunting Poles’. They would ‘measure rooms and then the outside walls, searching for just such secret recesses, tearing down any suspect walls.’ Rofe told of the day the Germans were leaving when: two Jews who had prematurely emerged from their hiding-place entered the house and were greeted by the friendly Pole. The Jewess looked through a crack in the partition, but wisely gave no sign. Shortly afterwards two Polish policemen came in with some Germans. The Germans were only interested in getting away safely before the arrival of the oncoming Russians but the two Poles drew their revolvers and shot the Jews. One of them then turned on the owner of the House and shot him too for having sheltered the Jews.19 Their fellow Poles were shocked and furious at the murder of one of their own but not at the slaying of the Jews. As a result, the murderer of the Pole had been forced ‘to disappear’ and was now ‘in hiding’. This account provides a crucial insight into the tensions that pervaded the immediate post-occupation period because the Pole responsible for killing the Jews did not have to go into hiding and remained ‘unscathed’ and unpunished

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for his actions.20 This could only happen in an atmosphere where the murder of Jews was somehow still acceptable. Life in the Soviet-controlled areas of eastern Poland after the Germans had gone was uncertain for everyone there. Yet again though, to be a Polish Jew carried with it even greater risks. During the war, the majority of Jewish-owned houses had been ‘stripped of everything’ and ‘destroyed’. Those who managed to find a hiding place had given their personal possessions to ‘Polish acquaintances’ who ‘promised to look after them and return them’ after it was all over. As Rofe related, many of the Poles were ‘only too pleased’ to receive goods while ‘hoping that they would never be reclaimed.’ One particular Jewish survivor had requested ‘a suit’ be returned, as he had no other clothes. The Pole who had been looking after it retorted to its rightful owner, ‘what a pity that you should have survived when so many died.’ Not long after, the same Jew was ‘found murdered in a lane’. Rofe continued that ‘friendly Poles warned the scared Jews’ not to even think about informing ‘the Police’ because ‘an anti-Jewish organization’ was still at large and working in the area. During his time in Grodzisko Dolne, Rofe also visited a local Jewish cemetery where he noted the desecration of gravestones and other memorials ‘knocked over and smashed.’ He and Hillebrand were told about other incidences too. The village had at one point been close to ‘two beautiful synagogues’ but nothing now remained of them. In addition, Jewish-owned homes had been ‘totally destroyed’. All that remained was ‘the charred earth’ where they had once stood . . .’. Rofe described it as ‘sheer senseless and wanton destruction.’21 Overall, it was not just the murder of a people that Rofe heard about but he also understood that there had been a concerted attempt to exterminate Jewish culture. Cyril Rofe was by no means typical of the majority of British POWs. For a start, he was Jewish, and this made his confrontation with the aftermath of German occupation particularly poignant for him. It is apparent from the way he told of the awful happenings in Grodzisko Dolne and the extreme suffering its Jewish occupants were forced to endure that he, like Julius Green, knew that a similar fate would have befallen him in ‘other circumstances’.22 Having talked to the few victims who survived, having seen their emotional devastation and the destruction of their culture over many years, he could somehow identify

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with the victims, imagine their suffering and understand their plight. On his return to Britain, Rofe was awarded the Military Medal and received an officer’s commission. He eventually married and settled near London. Yet, because of what he had seen and heard, he clearly felt his story could not remain in obscurity. His account was published in two books. First, Paul Brickhill, an Australian fighter pilot and writer, included part of Rofe’s story in Escape or Die: Authentic Stories of the RAF Escaping Society. Secondly, Rofe took it upon himself to write up his own account in Against the Wind, which was published by Hodder and Stoughton in 1956. The date should be noted. Rofe’s observations, gleaned from his personal wartime diary, appeared at a time when such accounts had considerable currency in British society. It was also, a period, as stated above, in which some modern historians seem to think that the wartime treatment of Jews in eastern Poland was not comprehensible to the British imagination. The Times Literary Supplement thought Rofe’s account worth reviewing. This prestigious weekly review was perfectly able to sort the wheat from the chaff when it came to wartime accounts. Particularly of note to the reviewer was the difficulty that any Jewish POW would have faced if they had spent time in wartime occupied Poland. 23 Thus and despite some arguing the experiences of the Jews in and immediately after the war was somehow impenetrable to the British imagination, Rofe’s account, taken in conjunction with the accounts of other British POWs, provides evidence that this was not the case. Rofe’s astonishing narrative adds to a plethora of evidence that shows how British POWs were brought face-to-face with the fate of Jews caught up in the Nazi maelstrom. It is entirely feasible that these POWs took their experiences with them into British postwar life. Their stories permeated the national consciousness at a low level, but crucially they show that significant details about the treatment of Jews under Nazi rule were circulating in Britain well before ‘the Holocaust’ became an overarching narrative.24 As shown above, these accounts provide a telling insight into what they understood and how they reacted. We have ended with a picture that is much more interesting and challenging than the myths about POWs that circulated immediately after the war, and continue to do so.

NOTES

Introduction 1. I would like to thank those who have made this study possible. Please see the acknowledgements at the beginning of the book.

2. Max Hastings, All Hell Let Loose: The World at War 1939 –1945 (London: Harper Press, 2011), p. 138.

3. Adrian Gilbert, POW: Allied Prisoners in Europe 1939 – 1945 (London: John Murrey,

4.

5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10.

2006), p. xi. Charles Rollings puts the figure of British POWs at 142,319. Charles Rollings, Prisoner of War: Voices from Behind the Wire in the Second World War (London: Ebury Press, 2008), p. 4. Neville Wylie puts the figure as high as 365,000, Neville Wylie, Barbed Wire Diplomacy: Britain, Germany, and the Politics of Prisoners of War, 1939 –1945 (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), p. 2. The Holocaust was a continent-wide phenomenon and any study of POWs in this connection should at least try to reflect the geographical extensiveness of the annihilation. After all, more than 40,000 ghettos and camps were in existence at one time or another during the Nazi period. Geoffrey P. Megargee (ed.), Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos 1933– 1945 Volume I Early Camps, Youth Camps, and Concentration Camps and Subcamps under the SS-Business Administration Main Office (WVHA) PART A (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2009). Personal Papers of Gilbert Horobin, 13/6/1, Imperial War Museum. Lamsdorf was officially known as Stalag VIIIB. It was renamed in November 1943 as Stalag 344. Richard Pape, Boldness be my Friend (London; New York: Elek, 1953), p. 114. John Castle, The Password is Courage (London: Corgi, 1979); and Denis Avey, The Man Who Broke Into Auschwitz (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2011). See, Joseph Robert White, ‘“Even in Auschwitz . . . Humanity Could Prevail”: British POWs and Jewish Concentration-Camp Inmates at IG Auschwitz, 1943 – 1945,’ in Holocaust and Genocide Studies 15(2) (2001), 266 – 95. Richard J. Evans, In Defence of History (London: Granta Books, 1997), p. 101.

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11. For the former see for example, Martin Caedel, Pacifism in Britain, 1914 – 45: 12. 13. 14. 15. 16. 17. 18. 19. 20.

21. 22. 23. 24. 25. 26. 27. 28. 29. 30. 31. 32. 33. 34. 35. 36. 37.

38.

Defining of a Faith (London: Clarendon Press, 1980); for the latter see Richard Overy, The Morbid Age (London: Penguin, 2010). Also lost was Czech industrial capacity and specifically the Skoda armaments works. Roger Broad, Conscription in Britain 1939 – 1964: The Militarisation of a Generation (Abingdon: Routledge, 2006), p. 88. Peter Dennis, Decision by Default: Peacetime Conscription and British Defence 1919– 39 (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1972), p. 140. Ibid., p. 159. This progression of responses is evident in numerous Mass Observation Day Surveys. Including Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, Home Secretary, Samuel Hoare and Chancellor of the Exchequer, John Simon. Dennis, Decision by Default, pp. 150, 163. Cited in ibid., p. 163. Ibid., p. 164. National Service: A Guide to the Ways in Which the People of this Country May Give Service (London: His Majesty’s Stationery Office: 1939). Denis Hayes, Conscription Conflict: The Conflict of Ideas in the Struggle for and Against Military Conscription in Britain between 1901 and 1939 (London: Sheppard Press, 1949), p. 377. Dennis, The Territorial Army 1906 – 1940 (Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 1987), p. 226. Ibid., p. 237. Although it voted against supplementary estimates in May the same year: Broad, Conscription in Britain, p. 92. Dennis, The Territorial Army, p. 237. Ibid., p. 246. Hayes, Conscription Conflict, p. 382. Dennis, The Territorial Army, pp. 249 –50. Ibid., p. 255. David French, Raising Churchill’s Army: The British Army and the War against Germany 1919– 1945 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), p. 63. Daily Telegraph, 8 September 1939. W. Ivor Jennings, ‘The Emergency Powers (Defence) (No. 2) Act, 1940,’ The Modern Law Review, Vol. 4, No. 2 (October 1940), pp. 132 – 6. Cited in Broad, Conscription in Britain, p. 100. French, Raising Churchill’s Army, p. 64. Broad, Conscription in Britain, pp. 129 –30. Examples of the literature of disillusionment include R. C. Sherriff, Journey’s End published in 1929, Robert Graves, Goodbye to All That published in 1929 and Vera Brittain, Testament of Youth published in 1933. Such attitudes were at odds with the revulsion of war propagated by the intellectual and social elite between the wars. G. D. Sheffield, ‘The Shadow of the Somme: the Influence of the First World War on British Soldiers’ Perceptions and Behaviour in the Second World War’, in Paul Addison and Angus Calder (eds), Time to Kill: The Soldier’s Experience of War in the West 1939 – 1945 (London: Random House, 1997), p. 31. Ibid., p. 32.

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39. Joining Up: A Complete Guide to those Joining the Army, Navy or Air Force (London: 40. 41. 42. 43.

44. 45. 46. 47. 48. 49. 50. 51. 52. 53. 54.

55. 56. 57. 58. 59. 60.

61. 62.

War Facts Press, April 1940), pp. 5 – 6. Ibid., p. 12. Ibid., p. 11. Ibid., p. 12. Ibid., p. 15. The pamphlet covered many other topics including ‘Those N.C.O’s’, ‘The Quarter-Bloke’, ‘Team Work Tells’, ‘Feeding the Inner Man’ (including ‘typical’ menus), ‘Any Complaints’, ‘Tails Up’, ‘Sports’, ‘On Parade’, ‘Use your Head’, ‘Exit the Bully’. Anthony Cotterell, What! No Morning Tea? (London: Victor Gollancz Ltd., 1941), p. 10. Ibid., p. 18. Ibid., p. 20. Ibid., p. 28. Italics added. Cotterell, What! No Morning Tea?, p. 150. Ibid., p. 47. Ibid., p. 97. Ibid., p. 102. Imperial War Museum Collections. Cyril Sherwood Interview, Catalogue number 20398, Production Date July 2000. Imperial War Museum Collections. Monty Fish Interview, Catalogue number 30625, Production Date November 2007. British NCO wireless operator served with forward headquarters of the RAF in Sicily, 225 Squadron and 286 Wing in Italy. Ibid. J. M. Green, From Colditz in Code (London: Robert Hale and Company, 1971), p. 12. Ibid., p. 22. Daily Telegraph newspaper cutting (no legible date but probably 1941), Wiener Library, File Number 1158, Miscellaneous Documents re: Aliens in the British Army, 1940s. Newspaper extract 6 February, 1944. ‘I fought Fascism . . . and Now I Have No Country’, Wiener Library, File Number 1158, Miscellaneous Documents re: Aliens in the British Army, 1940s. Albeit, as in the case of the Home Secretary, Sir John Anderson grudgingly. He told the Commons that he had ‘always thought myself that it quite impossible to justify having young men of alien origin hanging about with nothing much to do . . . when British boys are being taken away form their families to serve overseas.’ The Penguin Hansard, Parliamentary Debates, 22 August 1940, Wiener Library, File Number 1158, Miscellaneous Documents re: Aliens in the British Army, 1940s. Evening Standard, 3 July 1941, newspaper cutting, Wiener Library, File Number 1158, Miscellaneous Documents re: Aliens in the British Army, 1940s. Booklet entitled Conditions of Service in the British Army for Refugee and Other Aliens. Issued by The Jewish Refugees’ Committee, National Service Dept., Wiener Library, File Number 1158, Miscellaneous Documents re: Aliens in the British Army, 1940s.

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221

63. The Evening News, 1 February 1944. ‘German Served in British Army in France 64. 65. 66. 67. 68. 69. 70. 71. 72. 73. 74. 75. 76. 77.

78. 79. 80. 81. 82.

83.

84. 85. 86. 87.

Now Wins a Pension’, Wiener Library, File Number 1158, Miscellaneous Documents re: Aliens in the British Army, 1940s. Newspaper extract 6 February, 1944. ‘I fought Fascism . . . and Now I Have No Country’, Wiener Library, File Number 1158, Miscellaneous Documents re: Aliens in the British Army, 1940s. Anthony Cotterell, What! No Morning Tea? (London: Victor Gollancz Ltd, 1941), p. 38. Russell Wallis, Britain, Germany and the Road to the Holocaust: British Attitudes to Nazi Atrocities (London: I.B.Tauris, 2014). Tony Kushner, The Holocaust and the Liberal Imagination: A Social and Cultural History (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 1994). Tony Kushner, ‘Loose Connections? Britain and the ‘Final Solution,’ in Caroline Sharples and Olaf Jensen (eds), Britain and the Holocaust: Remembering and Representing War and Genocide (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013). Primo Levi, The Drowned and the Saved (London: Abacus, 1989), p. 24. Ibid., p. 25. Ibid., p. 49. S. P. Mackenzie, The Colditz Myth: British and Commonwealth Prisoners of War in Nazi Germany (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004). The War Organisation of the British Red Cross Society and the Order of St John of Jerusalem, Prisoner of War (London: Horace Marshall and Sons, Ltd., 1942), p. 5. Ibid. Gilbert, POW, p. 5. Ibid., p. 53. Forest Yeo-Thomas, for example, recounted being immersed ‘until almost drowned’, ‘severely beaten’ about the head and ‘pubic region’, his hands were crushed, and he was ‘suspended for eight hours’ by his hands.’ WO 311/159, ‘Statement of Wing Commander Forest Yeo-Thomas M.C.’ ‘Account of Escape from Stalag Luft VI, 1944.’ MISC 208 ITEM 3029’, Imperial War Museum. Rollings, Prisoner of War, p. 42. Gilbert, POW, pp. 8 –43. Cited in ibid., p. 11. Some British troops who opted to surrender were massacred. On 27 May 1940, approximately 80 men from the Royal Norfolk Regiment were marched into a barn and machine-gunned. The following day a similar atrocity was carried out against 100 officers and men of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment. Rollings, Prisoner of War, p. 42. Dulag is short for Durchgangslager, or transit camp; Stalag is short for Stammlager, which in turn is short for Kriegsgefangenen-Mannschafts-Stammlager. This was a camp for non-commissioned officers and other ranks; Oflag is short for Offizierlager or officer camp. Gilbert, POW, p. 44. Ibid., p. 8. Ibid., p. 63. Cited in ibid., p. 40.

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88. Ibid., p. 64. 89. Even British POWs referred to working parties by its German name, Arbeitskommando.

90. National Archives, WO 224/27 Red Cross Report dated 11 December 1941. 91. It was not all bad though. J. M. Green, of the Army Dental Corps, visited the camp 92. 93. 94. 95.

96. 97. 98. 99. 100. 101. 102.

103. 104.

in the middle of the war and commented ‘Whatever Lamsdorf lacked it certainly wasn’t good and efficient dental treatment.’ Green, From Colditz in Code, p. 93. Personal Papers of R. Watchorn, 95/30/1, Imperial War Museum. Rollings, Prisoner of War, p. 102. The German Vertrauensman was a literal translation of the French homme de confiance. Gilbert, POW, pp. 133 – 4. For those held in German POW camps, before 11 December 1941 the United States acted as their ‘Protecting Power’. After Germany’s declaration of war however, Switzerland assumed the role. In short the term ‘Protecting Power’ is defined as ‘a state which has accepted the responsibility of protecting the interests of another state in the territory of a third, with which, for some reason, such as war, the second state does not maintain diplomatic relations.’ Howard S. Levie, ‘Prisoners of War and the Protecting Power’, The American Journal of International Law, Vol. 55, No. 2 (April 1961), p. 374. Wylie, Barbed Wire Diplomacy, p. 8. Gilbert, POW, p. 92. Pape, Boldness be my Friend, p. 114. Cited in Gilbert, POW, p. 94. Personal Papers of D. Swift, Imperial War Museum. Personal Papers of W. Bennett, 13/26/1, Imperial War Museum. Gilbert, POW, p. 100. N. B. W. Castleton, who entered Stalag VIIIB, Lamsdorf in May 1944, stated that Red Cross parcels ‘varied between one each week and one between two men each week, or sometimes one between four . . .’ Personal Papers of N. B. W. Castleton, 10/13/1, Imperial War Museum. Personal Papers of J. Tonkin, ‘No Tunnels – No Wooden Horses: A Factual Account of Prisoner of War Life in Crete, Greece and Germany’, Imperial War Museum. A Memorandum written by the ‘War Organisation of the British Red Cross Society and Order of St John of Jerusalem’ provides a list of the contents of a ‘typical’ parcel: 1 Tin Biscuits such as Service Ration, Krispbread, etc., 1 Tin Cheese, 1 Packet Chocolate, 1 Tin Fish such as Herrings, Pilchards, Sardines, etc., 1 Packet Dried Fruit, such as Dates, Prunes, Raisins, etc. or 1 Tin Fruit, such as Peaches, Pears etc. or 1 Tin Pudding, such as Apple, treacle, Creamed Rice etc., 1 Tin Honey or Jam or Marmalade or Syrup, 1 Tin Margarine, 1 Tin Cold Meat such as Ham and Beef Roll, Galantine, Pressed Beef, etc., 1 Tin Hot Meat such as Curried Mutton, Minced Steak, Steak and Kidney Pudding etc., 1 Tin Milk, 1 Tablet Soap unscented, 1 Tin Sugar, 1 Packet Tea, I Tin Vegetables, 1 Tin Special Food with Ascorbic Acid (Containing Vitamin C) such as Fruit Bars, Lemon Curd, etc., And one or more of the following: Cocoa, Ovaltine etc., Ginger Nuts, etc., Marmite, Yeatex, etc., Meat or Fish Paste, Oatmeal, Condiments, Sweets, such as Barley Sugar, Butterscotch, etc. And other articles as available.

NOTES

TO PAGES

24 –29

223

TOBACCO AND CIGARETTES ARE PACKED SEPARATELY EVERY WEEK [50 cigarettes per man per week or the equivalent in tobacco], BUT ARE INCLUDED IN THE PRICE OF THE PARCEL. Personal Papers of W. Langford, Imperial War Museum.

105. 106. 107. 108. 109. 110.

Known as Lagergeld. Gilbert, POW, p. 108. WO 224/27, Red Cross Report, 11 December 1941. Ibid. See Personal Papers of Gilbert Horobin, 13/6/1, Imperial War Museum. Personal Papers of E. C. Herwin, 08/102/1, Imperial War Museum. Convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War 27 July 1929, Articles 27 –34. 111. Tooze, The Wages of Destruction: The Making and Breaking of the Nazi Economy (London: Penguin, 2007), p. 517. 112. Ibid., p. 519. 113. http://www.pegasusarchive.org/pow/les_allen.htm, accessed on 21 April 2014.

Chapter 1

British POWs: What They Saw and Understood

1. Wolfram Wette, The Wehrmacht: History, Myth, Reality (Cambridge, MA; London: Harvard University Press, 2007), pp. 100 – 1.

2. Anti-Polish prejudice in Germany preceded the Nazi period. There was a long-

3.

4.

5. 6. 7. 8. 9.

standing belief that those who had lived in German-controlled areas before 1918 ‘stood at the highest cultural level’, while those who lived in the Russiancontrolled area, Congress Poland, ‘occupied the lowest.’ It was the former who were specifically targeted by occupying German forces in the first year of World War II. Alexander B. Rossino, Hitler Strikes Poland: Blitzkrieg, Ideology, and Atrocity (University of Kansas Press, 2003), p. 23. For World War I atrocities, see Horne, John and Kramer, Alan, German Atrocities 1914: A History of Denial (New Haven, CT; London: Yale University Press, 2001); for World War II atrocities in Poland see Rossino, Hitler Strikes Poland; and Richard Evans, The Third Reich at War: How the Nazis Led Germany from Conquest to Disaster (London: Penguin, 2009), pp 20 –1. For a study of the historical underpinning of wartime agreement between Hitler and the Wehrmacht hierarchy see Wette, The Wehrmacht: History, Myth, Reality. See also Isabel V. Hull, Absolute Destruction: Military Culture and the Practices of War in Imperial Germany (Ithaca, NY; London: Cornell University Press, 2006). Evans, The Third Reich at War, p. 102. Wette, The Wehrmacht: History, Myth, Reality, pp. 100 –2. Personal Papers of D. C. Mason, 76/88/1, Imperial War Museum. Rossino, Hitler Strikes Poland, p. 82; also Evans The Third Reich at War, p. 19. Personal Papers of V. West, Imperial War Museum. What West heard was in keeping with the agreement between Hitler and Walter von Brauchitsch the Commander-inChief of the Germany Army in the first two years of war. Here it was specified that the Polish intelligentsia would be annihilated to prevent them from ‘building itself up to become a new leadership stratum.’ Evans, The Third Reich at War, p. 16.

224

NOTES

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30 –33

10. Rossino, Hitler Strikes Poland, p. xiii. 11. Saul Friedla¨nder, The Years of Extermination: Nazi Germany and the Jews 1939 – 1945 12. 13. 14. 15.

16. 17. 18. 19. 20. 21. 22. 23. 24. 25.

(London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2007), pp. 81, 104 –8. Evans, The Third Reich at War, p. 48. Ibid., p. 49. Ibid. See also Friedla¨nder, The Years of Extermination, pp. 107 – 8. It is important not to over stress the coordination and uniformity with which Jewish policies were pursued by Nazi authorities. For example, ghettoisation was not a synchronised process. Christopher Browning states ‘If an idea of ghettoization was present from the beginning, just how and when the idea was to be given concrete form varied greatly. The need to deal with the problems caused by uprooting and concentrating the Jews; the desire to plunder Jewish property and exploit Jewish labor; the need to find housing for the influx of German officials, businessmen, military personnel, and Volksdeutsche into the same cities in which the Jews had been concentrated; and the parameters set by ideology were everywhere approximately the same. Nevertheless, a policy that took all these considerations into account, especially given the lack of clear guidelines from above, was never a matter of unanimity among the local German authorities.’ Christopher Browning, The Origins of the Final Solution: the Evolution of Nazi Jewish Policy 1939 – 1942 (London: Arrow Books, 2005), p. 113. The majority of ghettos were what are now termed ‘open ghettos’, or what Dan Michman terms ‘open Jewish neighborbood[s]’. After the outbreak of war, ghettos were a ‘practical measure . . . to restrict the Jews of Eastern Europe (the Ostjuden) to their “Own” urban district (the “ghetto”) and to send those who had moved away from it back to their “natural habitat” – as a temporary measure, decided on locally . . .’ Dan Michman, The Emergence of Jewish Ghettos During the Holocaust (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), pp. 151 and 149. http://www.holocaustresearchproject.org/othercamps/zabikowo.html, accessed on 25 April 2014. Personal Papers of D. Swift, Imperial War Museum. Though Swift’s use of the term ‘sub human’ perhaps implies that Swift like other non-Jewish Europeans regarded the Jews in a derogatory light. Personal Papers of D. Swift, Imperial War Museum. S. P. Mackenzie, The Colditz Myth: British and Commonwealth Prisoners of War in Nazi Germany (Oxford: Oxford University Press: 2004), p. 404. Ibid., pp. 5– 6. On the Polish Underground, David G. Williamson, The Polish Underground 1939 – 1947 (Barnsley: Pen & Sword, 2012); and J. T. Gross, Polish Society Under German Occupation (Princeton University Press, 1979), pp. 213 – 91. Rossino, Hitler Strikes Poland, p. 25. Ibid., p. 174. ‘Beginning on September 22, the day after Yom Kippur, and ending on October 5, seven or eight immensely long and overloaded trains carried 45,000 Jews from Cze˛stochowa to Treblinka.’ Christopher R. Browning, Remembering Survival: Inside a Nazi Slave-Labor Camp (New York; London: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010). Walter Laqueur (ed.), The Holocaust Encyclopedia (New Haven, CT; London: Yale University Press, 2001), p. 107. Cze˛stochowa was also a centre for Jewish resistance, while the ghetto was still in existence. Ibid., pp. 252, 365, 481, 546.

NOTES

TO PAGES

33 – 38

225

26. HASAG, or Hugo Schneider Aktiengesellschaft-Metal-warenfabrik, was a German arms

27. 28. 29.

30. 31.

32. 33. 34. 35. 36. 37. 38. 39. 40. 41. 42.

43. 44.

manufacturer. By June 1943 HASAG’s camp ‘held 17,000 Jewish prisoners, who were subjected to terrible conditions and periodic selections.’ Robert Rozett and Shmuel Spector (eds), Encyclopedia of the Holocaust (Chicago; London: Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers, 2000), p. 257. It was smaller than I. G. Farben and Herman Go¨ring Works. Richard Pape, Boldness be my Friend (London; New York: Elek, 1953), pp. 203–4. Ibid., pp. 208 –9. Perhaps the two local Poles mentioned by Pape were exceptional in their attitude towards Jews but this is unlikely. Poles had a degree of freedom in which to express their support for Jews or otherwise. As David Williamson points out, ‘although the Poles faced draconian laws and, if the Germans remained victorious, permanent eclipse of their culture and the destruction of their elites, the Jews after 1942, at the latest, faced total and immediate extermination whether they cooperated with the Germans or not.’ David G. Williamson, The Polish Underground 1939–1947 (Barnsley: Pen & Sword, 2012). Tony Kushner, The Holocaust and the Liberal Imagination: A Social and Cultural History (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 1994), p. 244. The extent of sexual violence against women during the Holocaust is only just being uncovered. See for example, Sonja M. Hedgpeth and Rochelle. G. Saidel, Sexual Violence against Jewish Women during the Holocaust (Brandeis, MA: Brandeis University Press, 2010). Pape, Boldness be my Friend, pp. 229 –30. Ibid. Pape obituary, Independent, 12 July 1995. Frequency of deportations generally was dictated by, among other things, the exigencies of war, the availability of rolling stock, and the perceived possibility of ghetto or camp insurgencies. Simone Gigliotti, The Train Journey: Transit, Captivity, and Witnessing in the Holocaust (London: Berghahn Books, 2010), p. 44. Ibid., p. 43. http://polishjews.org/shoahtts/010.htm, accessed on 11 February 2014. Gigliotti, The Train Journey, p. 42. Ibid., pp. 2 and 4. Testimony of Dawid Fischer, born 1910, http://polishjews.org/shoahtts/010.htm, accessed on 11 February 2014. See, for example, Jan Tomasz Gross, Neighbours: The Destruction of the Jewish Community in Jedwabne, Poland (London: Arrow, 2003). For postwar Polish attitudes, see Jan Tomasz Gross, Golden Harvest: Events at the Periphery of the Holocaust (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012). Personal Papers of Major L. W. Lauste, 01/03/1, Imperial War Museum. Lauste was not the only one to see ‘trains full of Jews’ sitting in goods yards. See, for example, Personal Papers of Cyril Medley, Imperial War Museum. Franciszek Piper, ‘The System of Prisoner Exploitation,’ in Yisrael Gutman and Michael Berenbaum (eds), Anatomy of the Auschwitz Death Camp (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1994), p. 41. Wolf Gruner portrays forced labour as something of a lifesaver, however this interpretation ignores the maths. ‘Tens of thousands’ survived the Holocaust because of their employment as slaves. This pales against the numbers killed in mass killing operations or indeed the

226

45.

46. 47. 48. 49.

50. 51. 52. 53. 54. 55. 56. 57. 58.

NOTES

TO PAGES

38 – 42

number killed because of their slave labour status. Wolf Gruner, Jewish Forced Labor under the Nazis: Economic Needs and Racial Aims, 1938 – 1944 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008). To say that those who worked had a greater chance of survival is probably correct, but this is an assertion that is also time and context dependent. For further reading see Christopher R. Browning, Remembering Survival: Inside a Nazi Slave-Labor Camp (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2010). Red triangle for political prisoners; green triangle for ordinary criminals; black triangle for asocials and a Star of David made up of red and yellow triangles for Jews, to name but a few. Yisrael Gutman, ‘Auschwitz – An Overview’ in Gutman and Berenbaum (eds), Anatomy of the Auschwitz Death Camp, p. 19. Mark Roseman, The Villa, The Lake, The Meeting: Wannsee and the Final Solution (London: Penguin, 2002), pp. 73– 4. Taking into account the recent research, I have expressed ‘death through work’, or Vernichtung durch Arbeit as a broad Nazi ‘aim’ as opposed to a ‘policy’, which was, of course, contingent. This differs from that expressed by Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, Hitler’s Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust (London: Abacus, 1997), Part IV, which depicts Jewish work as both a method of destruction and a source of gratuitous and economically wasteful torment. Others have sort to portray ‘death through work’ as a mere by-product of fiscally motivated decisions and priorities, for example, Go¨tz Aly, Hitler’s Beneficiaries: How the Nazis Bought the German People (London, New York: Verso, 2007). Other scholarship argues that the ‘German use of Jewish slave labor was not a matter of consensus and varied so much according to time and place that no single phrase (such as ‘destruction through labor’) can capture some presumed consistency and essence of Nazi policy. Browning, Remembering Survival, pp. 153 – 4. See also Donald Bloxham, Jewish Forced Labor under the Nazis; ‘“Extermination through Work”: Jewish Slave Labor under the Third Reich,’ Holocaust Educational Trust Research Papers I/I (1999 – 2000). Peter Hayes, Industry and Ideology: IG Farben in the Nazi Era (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), p. 351. Ibid., p. 356. Affidavit by Robert William Ferris, Document No. NI-11693 Office of Chief Counsel for War Crimes, Imperial War Museum. Affidavit of Douglas Tilbrook Frost, Document No. NI-11692 Office of Chief of Counsel for War Crimes, Imperial War Museum. Affidavit of Dennis Arthur Greenham, Document No. NI-11705 Office of Chief of Counsel for War Crimes, Imperial War Museum. Affidavit of Eric James Doyle Document No. NI-12388 Office of Chief of Counsel for War Crimes, Imperial War Museum. Paul Steinberg, Speak You Also: A Survivor’s Reckoning (London: Penguin, 1996), pp. 49, 70, 75. Personal Papers of D. Hustler 06/72/1, Imperial War Museum. Affidavit of Leonard Dales, Document No. NI-11695 Office of Chief of Counsel for War Crimes, Imperial War Museum. See also, Affidavit of Robert William Ferris, Document No. NI-11693 Office of Chief Counsel for War Crimes; Affidavit of Charles Hill, Document No. NI-11704 Office of Chief of Counsel for War Crimes, Imperial War Museum. SS doctors would position themselves at the camp gates as the inmates returned from work. If an inmate did not manage to adopt a suitably healthy

NOTES

59. 60. 61. 62. 63. 64. 65. 66. 67. 68. 69. 70. 71.

72. 73. 74. 75.

TO PAGES

42 –45

227

aspect, then he could expect to be chosen. Mostly, though, they were carried out at the hospital. Siegfried Halbreich was an inmate at Monowitz who managed to get a job working in the hospital block. He observed that, SS doctors came ‘every ten to twelve days and “selected” between 100 and 120 persons’ to die in the gas chambers. The process was cursory and arbitrary. Patients were not given a medical examination indeed those carrying out selections would avoid all contact. Instead the camp staff made their choices ‘according to the moods they were in that day and the appearance of the patient.’ Siegried Halbreich, Before – During – After (New York: Vantage Press, 1991), p. 78. For a powerful description of a selection at Monowitz see Primo Levi, If This is a Man (London: Abacus Books, 2005), pp. 132–6. Affidavit of Frederick Wooley, Document No. NI-11706 Office of Chief of Counsel for War Crimes, Imperial War Museum. Affidavit of Douglas Tilbrook Frost, Document No. NI-11692 Office of Chief of Counsel for War Crimes, Imperial War Museum. Affidavit of Robert William Ferris, Document No. NI-11693 Office of Chief Counsel for War Crimes. Ibid. Affidavit of Charles Hill, Document No. NI-11704 Office of Chief of Counsel for War Crimes, Imperial War Museum. Affidavit of Eric James Doyle, Document No. NI-12388. Affidavit of Leonard Dales, Document No. NI-11695 Office of Chief of Counsel for War Crimes, Imperial War Museum. Affidavit of Dennis Arthur Greenham, Document No. NI-11705 Office of Chief Counsel for War Crimes. David Cesarani, Genocide and Rescue: The Holocaust in Hungary 1944 (Oxford and New York: Berg, 1997), p. 5. Personal Papers of O. Dover, Imperial War Museum. Affidavit of Horace Reginald Charters, Document No. NI-11697 Office of Chief of Counsel for War Crimes, Imperial War Museum. Green, From Colditz in Code, p. 112. The British archives contain evidence of a German anti-tank unit returning from the Russian front, westwards. After coming to a halt, they found they found themselves behind barbed wire and on investigation discovered a train full of Jews standing next to them. Again ‘The Jews were packed together in the carriages, men, women, children, old people; they were not allowed out and had to obey the calls of nature inside. The carriages were full of excrements, and a putrid fluid was trickling from the carriages. The captives cried out for water but it was forbidden to bring them any.’ The soldiers were there for two days and managed to speak with the local locomotive driver who had to shunt the trains. The source continues, that after nightfall ‘the chimneys began to smoke and the smell of burned flesh filled the air. Also open fires were seen – the corpses being burnt on pyres because the crematorium could not deal with the masses of victims.’ War crimes report FO 371/30922. Cited in Gigliotti, The Train Journey, p. 43. For an account of the POW’s plight on the marches see, John Nichol and Tony Rennell, The Last Escape: The Untold Story of Allied Prisoners of War in Germany 1944 – 45 (London: Penguin, 2002). Personal Papers of D. Hustler, 06/72/1, Imperial war Museum. Affidavit of John Henry Adkin, Document No. NI-11699 Office of Chief of Counsel for War Crimes, Imperial War Museum.

228

NOTES

TO PAGES

45 – 49

76. Personal Papers of H. P. Weiner, 97/15/1, Imperial War Museum. 77. WO 311/870, War Crimes Report Form. 78. For the sake of this article, Palestinians refers to those of Jewish origin.

Chapter 2 British POWs and Jewish POWs: A Common Experience? 1. The proportion of Jews who served often outstripped the proportion of Jews in any given population.

2. J. M. Green, From Colditz in Code (London: Robert Hale and Company, 1971),

p. 46. See also Personal Papers of E. V. Mathias, 85/8/1, Imperial War Museum.

3. Ibid. 4. Personal Papers of W. A. Harding, 82/27/1, Imperial War Museum. 5. Norman Rubenstein, The Invisibly Wounded: How one Jewish Prisoner of War 6. 7. 8. 9. 10.

11.

12. 13.

14.

Continued the Fight against Hitler inside the Third Reich (Hull: The Glenvil Group, 1989), p. 26. Ibid., p. 25. Personal Papers of W. A. Harding, 82/27/1, Imperial War Museum. Personal Papers of R. P. Evans, Imperial War Museum. Even Evans grudgingly supposed that ‘Germans, knowing the linguistic prowess of many Jews, thought that that was the best way of finding a German speaking prisoner.’ Ibid. Although some Palestinian Jews, according to the account of Gilbert Horobin, had been more or less blackmailed into signing up. He became friends with an Austrian Jew called ‘Erwin’ while both were POWs. Erwin had been part of a group of Jews that ‘paid their way out of Austria’ along with their families to escape the Nazi onslaught. They had sailed from a north Italian port to make a home in Palestine, then under British mandated control, but were intercepted off the coast of Cyprus by a British naval patrol and taken into custody. After interrogation, ‘permission was given’ for the families to settle in Palestine ‘provided the able-bodied men of their party sign up for service in the British Army.’ Personal Papers of Gilbert Horobin, 13/6/1, Imperial War Museum. According to the Jewish Chronicle, by June 1941, there were 8,900 Palestinian Jews serving in the Middle East. Personal Papers of Weiner, 97/15/1, Imperial War Museum. It was not until September 1944, after six years of protracted negotiations, that a Jewish brigade came into being. Before that the notion of a purely Jewish fighting force had been intricately bound up with British official attitudes towards Palestine. It had been believed that the formation of a Jewish fighting unit would add legitimacy to calls for an independent state. Yoav Gelber, ‘Palestinian POWs in German Captivity’, Yad Vashem Studies 14 (1981), pp. 16– 17. However, Gelber argues that the journey itself was ‘probably the most painful chapter of the Odyssey of captivity.’ WO 309/2148, ‘IN THE MATTER OF AN ASSAULT ON EIGHT BRITISH PRISONERS OF WAR AT NIWKA, UPPER SILESIA IN APRIL 1943 . . . AFFIDAVIT of Major Frederick Lindmeyer, Pioneer Corps, 45 Divisional Troop Unit. WO 309/1083, Testimony of Captain R. F. K. Webster.

NOTES

TO PAGES

49 –53

229

15. CO 323/1868/8. 16. Neville Wylie, Barbed Wire Diplomacy, p. 2. David Rolf highlights some of the

17. 18. 19. 20. 21. 22. 23. 24.

25. 26.

27. 28.

29. 30. 31. 32. 33. 34. 35. 36. 37.

shortcomings of the British government’s approach to POWs in German hands in ‘“Blind Bureaucracy”: The British Government and POWs in German Captivity, 1939 – 45,’ in Bob Moore and Kent Fedorowich (eds), Prisoners of War and their Captors in World War II (Oxford; Washington, DC: Berg, 1996), pp. 47 – 68. G. R. Berridge, Talking to the Enemy: How States without ‘Diplomatic Relations’ Communicate (New York: St Martin’s Press, 1994), p. xiv. Quoted in Wylie, Barbed Wire Diplomacy, p. 6. CO 323/1868/8, Report ‘From a Geneva Correspondent’, 2 July 1941. Ibid., Telegram, Sir H. MacMichael, High Commissioner of Palestine to Secretary of State for the Colonies, 8 July 1941. Ibid., Report ‘From a Geneva Correspondent’, 2 July 1941. http://www.oxforddnb.com.libezproxy.open.ac.uk/view/article/35390, accessed 28 June 2014. CO 323/1868/8, W. J. Bigg to Under Secretary of State, Foreign Office, 18 July 1941. This was seemingly the reprisal of an old issue, because the United States Embassy in Berlin, had already been asked to intervene on behalf of Palestinian POWs in May 1941. Ibid. Telegram, Secretary of State for the Colonies to Sir H. MacMichael, High Commissioner to Palestine. Ibid., Moyne to MacMichael, 7 August 1941. That the belligerents were not above resorting to a form of quid pro quo when it came to the treatment of POWs can be seen in the Shackling affair of 1942 and 1943. See, for example, Jonathan F. Vance, ‘Men in Manacles: The Shackling of Prisoners of War, 1942 – 1943’, The Journal of Military History, Vol. 59, No. 3 (July 1995), pp. 483 – 504. CO 323/1868/8, Cutting from Jewish Chronicle, 15 August 1941. Ibid., The information reached the public through a Daily Mail report that German assurances had now been received that this class of prisoner would not receive ‘differential treatment.’ Cutting from Daily Mail, 13 November 1941. Especially after the Parliamentary announcement of 17 December 1942. FO 916/567, Major N. Little to Sir Harold Satow, 18 February 1943. Ibid., Satow to Little around 1 March 1943. Ibid., Berne to Foreign Office, 22 April 1943. Personal Papers of James Oliver Badcock, 99/47/1, Imperial War Museum. Green, From Colditz in Code, p. 93. WO 224/27, Red Cross Report for Lamsdorf, 17 June 1941. Gelber, ‘Palestinian POWs in German Captivity’, Yad Vashem Studies 14 (1981), pp. 18– 19. His concern for Palestinians was also demonstrated by his insistence that a Jewish sergeant who had died of cancer was, contrary to German wishes, given a burial with full military honours. Cyril Rofe, Against the Wind (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1956), p. 31. Sherriff was also credited by one ex-POW for saving Palestinian Jews from ‘liquidation’ at ‘Chelm’, however, there is no other evidence to verify this claim. Personal Papers of V. West, Imperial War Museum.

230

NOTES

TO PAGES

53 –65

38. http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ww2peopleswar/user/71/u1103571.shtml, accessed 39. 40. 41. 42. 43. 44. 45.

on 29 January 2014. Cited in Gilbert, POW, p. 215. Personal Papers of W. A. Harding, 82/27/1, Imperial War Museum. Personal Papers of R. Watchorn, 95/30/1, Imperial War Museum. Personal Papers of H. P. Weiner, 91/15/1, Imperial War Museum. Personal Papers of Gilbert Horobin, 13/6/1, Imperial War Museum. Personal Papers of R. Watchorn, 95/30/1, Imperial War Museum. Rubenstein, The Invisibly Wounded, p. 51.

Chapter 3 Jewish POWs and Jewish Inmates 1. Norman Rubenstein, The Invisibly Wounded: How One Jewish Prisoner of War 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7.

8. 9. 10.

Continued the Fight Against Hitler Inside the Third Reich (Hull: The Glenvil Group, 1989), p. 51. J. M. Green, From Colditz in Code (London: Robert Hale and Company, 1971), p. 99. Ibid., p. 112. Ibid., p. 99. Green seems to evoke a sense of ‘Englishness’ with the first sentence of his book: ‘The car turned into Old Bond Street then into Savile Row and stopped at the tailor’s shop.’ Ibid., p. 9. Cyril Rofe, Against the Wind (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1956), p. 78. Organization Todt was founded by Dr Fritz Todt, it was responsible for construction in the occupied territories and notorious for its use of slave labour. Adam Tooze, The Wages of Destruction: The Making and Breaking of the Nazi Economy (London: Penguin, 2007), p. 532. Rofe, Against the Wind, pp. 81– 2. Personal Papers of H. P. Weiner, 97/15/1, Imperial War Museum. Weiner later found out that the inmates were Greek. Ibid.

Chapter 4 The Reaction of British POWs to the Outworking of Nazi Anti-Jewish Policies 1. See for example, WO 309/1366, ‘Buchenwald and Dachau Concentration Camps, Germany: killing and ill-treatment of allied nationals.’

2. WO 309/1366, ‘Report by the War Office, A.G.3 (v/w) October 1945’. 3. 104 hectares and 190 hectares respectively. 4. Evelyn Zegenhagen, ‘Buchenwald Main Camp,’ in Geoffrey P. Megargee (ed.),

Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos 1933– 1945 Volume I Early Camps, Youth Camps, and Concentration Camps and Subcamps under the SS-Business Administration Main Office (WVHA) PART A (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2009), pp. 290 – 1.

NOTES TO PAGES 65 –69

231

5. Politische Haeftlinge. 6. Evelyn Zegenhagen ‘Buchenwald Main Camp,’ in Megargee (ed.), Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos, p. 297.

7. WO 309/1366, ‘Report by the War Office, A.G.3 (v/w) October 1945’. 8. Evelyn Zegenhagen, ‘Buchenwald Main Camp,’ in Megargee (ed.), Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos, p. 298.

9. WO 309/376, ‘Report on interrogation of PW KP 1366341 KARL POSSOEGEL’.

10. 11. 12.

13. 14. 15. 16. 17. 18.

19.

The report stated that he was ‘a very intelligent man of 30 years.’ He was also deemed ‘strongly anti-Nazi and very co-operative, being a willing talker. His memory for the names he has given have been cross-checked and found correct’. It also stated that ‘it is interesting to note that recent press accounts of the horrors and BUCHENWALD Camp often agree with PW’s more detailed account . . . PW had a good opportunity to observe what was happening as he worked at times as book-keeper and clerk.’ Evelyn Zegenhagen, ‘Buchenwald Main Camp,’ in Megargee (ed.), Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos, p. 298. Colin Burgess, Destination Buchenwald (Kenthurst, NWS: Kangaroo Press, 1995), p. 16. WO 311/158, Yeo-Thomas Affidavit. This was backed up by Flight Sergeant Andrew Row whose affidavit stated that they were made to live in the ‘small lager, which was enclosure within the main camp. They were placed in an overcrowded block and provided daily meals that were familiar to all concentration camp inmates. They were regularly harangued and threatened by the camp Commandant. Like other prisoners they had to attend daily roll call where they witnessed brutality against other prisoners.’ WO 311/158 Affidavit of Flight-Sergeant Andrew Rowe. The Klein Lager or ‘Little Camp’ was originally built in 1942 ‘to quarantine new inmates’. By this time, it was ‘struggling to accommodate the rapid influx of new prisoners – each of its 17 blocks now held as many as 2,000 men, four times the number they were originally designed for. The overcrowding became so bad that Block 61 was set aside for the administration of lethal injections in order to reduce the numbers; however, the daily toll of dead could not be cremated quickly enough and to make more room corpses were often thrown out of the blocks and left to rot in the compound.’ Nigel Perrin, Spirit of Resistance: The Life of SOE Agent Harry Peuleve´, DSO MC (Barnsley: Pen & Sword Military, 2008), p. 148. Burgess, Destination Buchenwald, p. 100. Ibid., p. 116. Ibid., p. 106. Bill Niven, The Buchenwald Child: Truth, Fiction, and Propaganda (Rochester, New York: Cambden House, 2007), pp. 18– 19. Ibid., p. 20. At Chelmno, Jews from the Lodz ghetto were out in vans to be gassed. ‘The three gas vans based at Chelmno could kill 50 people each at a time, driving them out from the camp to woods about 16 kilometres distant, asphyxiating the people inside along the way. There they halted to unload their grisly cargo into ditches dub by other Jewish inmates of the camp.’ Richard Evans, The Third Reich at War: How the Nazis Led Germany from Conquest to Disaster (London: Penguin, 2009), p. 258. We have to acknowledge the possibility that Burgess inadvertently imposed this piece of information onto the story after the war. Burgess, Destination Buchenwald, p. 116.

232 20. 21. 22. 23. 24. 25.

26. 27. 28. 29.

30. 31.

32. 33.

34. 35.

36. 37.

NOTES

TO PAGES

69 –74

Ibid., p. 113. WO 311/159, ‘Statement of Wing Commander Forest Yeo-Thomas M.C.’ Burgess, Destination Buchenwald, p. 115. Ibid., pp. 114 –15. WO 311/159, ‘Statement of Wing Commander Forest Yeo-Thomas M.C.’ These organisation were ‘Section D of the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS or M16), a branch of the Foreign Office known as EH or CS, a research group in the War Office called General Staff (Research) and later Military Intelligence (Research). How to be a Spy: The World War II SOE Training Manual (Toronto: The Dundurn Group, 2004), p. 2. Mark Seaman, Bravest of the Brave: The True Story of Wing Commander ‘Tommy’ YeoThomas SOE Secret Agent Codename ‘The White Rabbit’ (London: Michael O’Mara Books Ltd., 1997), p. 40. Seaman, Bravest of the Brave, p. 39. How to be a Spy, pp. 6 – 8. M. R. D. Foot states that ‘Two dozen London-trained F agents [SOE independent French section] and nine RF agents [SOE Guallist Section] lived to tell the tale of their captivity; over a hundred had been taken prisoner from each section.’ M. R. D. Foot, SOE in France: An Account of the Work of the British Special Operations Executive in France 1940–1944 (London: Frank Cass, 2004), p. 373. Seaman, Bravest of the Brave, p. 41. He was ‘nearly drowned’ on six separate occasions, beaten about the head and genitals with rubber truncheons and ‘suspended for eight hours’. WO 311/158, Statement of Wing Commander Forest Yeo-Thomas M.C., of 5 Queen Court, Queens Square, W.C.1. For the earliest published version of Yeo-Thomas’s remarkable story see, Bruce Marshall, The White Rabbit: An Account of the War-Time Adventures of Wing Commander F. F. E. Yeo-Thomas (London: Evans Bros., 1952). Christopher Burney ably described the Effektenkammer commando. It translated as ‘Chamber of Personal Effects’ and was responsible for taking off every new arrival in the camp all his possessions; clothes, money, valuables, papers. Burney observed that ‘Almost all the prisoners working in this Kommando were themselves Communists of one country or another, and thus had access to the spoils.’ Christopher Burney, The Dungeon Democracy (London: William Heinemann Ltd, 1945), p. 26. They included Captain Desmond Ellis Hubble, Captain Gerald Phillip George Keun (served as Kane), and Frank Herbert Dedrick Pickersgill. WO 311/158, Statement of Wing Commander Forest Yeo-Thomas M.C., of 5 Queen Court, Queens Square, W.C.1. Ding-Schuler was arrested after the war but committed suicide ‘before evidence for or against him could be heard.’ Foot, SOE in France, p. 375. WO 311/158, Statement of Wing Commander Forest Yeo-Thomas M.C., of 5 Queen Court, Queens Square, W.C.1. Naomi Baumslag names the same people cited by Yeo-Thomas as being in charge of the ‘guinea pig block’. She writes that ‘In order to maintain live virus, a group of prisoners was deliberately infected with the sole purpose of keeping typhus alive and available in the blood-stream of the inmates. Each month three to five of these prisoners were used as human incubators, or ‘passage persons.’ They were repeatedly injected with lethal doses of typhus-infected blood, sometimes 25 or 30

NOTES

38. 39. 40. 41.

42. 43. 44. 45.

46. 47. 48. 49. 50. 51. 52. 53.

54.

TO PAGES

74 –82

233

times (Waitz 1945). The prisoners used in the study were deceptively called ‘volunteers’ in so-called good physical condition (Ding 1943). The ruthless Arthur Dietzsch, a kapo with no medical background or experience, ran the block and performed the inoculations from man to man. The virulence of this mode of transmission was high and caused such severe infections that within hours virtually all of these victims died (Kogon 1980). Naomi Baumslag, Murderous Medicine: Nazi Doctors, Human Experimentation, and Typhus (Westport, CT; London: Praiger, 2005), p. 145. WO 311/158, Statement of Wing Commander Forest Yeo-Thomas M.C., of 5 Queen Court, Queens Square, W.C.1. Presence of BRABAG factory at Zeitz confirmed in John E. Lesch, The German Chemical Industry in the Twentieth Century (Dordrecht; Boston; London: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2000), p. 376. WO 311/158, Statement of Wing Commander Forest Yeo-Thomas M.C., of 5 Queen Court, Queens Square, W.C.1. For the life of Harry Peuleve´ see Nigel Perrin, Spirit of Resistance: The Life of SOE Agent Harry Peuleve´, DSO MC (Barnsley: Pen & Sword Military, 2008). For a shorter portrait of Harry Peuleve´ see M. R. D. Foot, Six Faces of Courage: Secret Agents against Nazi Germany (Barnsley: Leo Cooper, 2003), pp. 51 –72. HS 6/372 ‘W/Crd. Yeo-Thomas’s enquiry and reports on Buchenwald, Fresnes & other Concentration Camps – Wanted German Camp Personnel’. Seaman, Bravest of the Brave, pp. 190 –1. After the war, he joined the Secretariat of the United Nations before joining the staff of the Institute of International Affairs at Chatham House. According to M. R. D. Foot, Burney was ‘a young and thoughtful former commando subaltern, who was dropped blind near Le Mans’. He was eventually arrested ‘in bed, early one mid-August morning; he gave them a good deal of trouble. When several brutal interrogations had disposed of all his cover stories and the Germans found out his true name, he told them nothing else useful but his rank and number; they never discovered by any admission of his such little progress as he had managed to make. Their retort was to leave him in a cell by himself. This can be exhilarating enough – for a few days; in his case it was prolonged for eighteen months, which would reduce most people to apathy or madness.’ Foot, SOE in France, p. 175. Burney, The Dungeon Democracy. For perhaps a more clinical early memoir of life and death in Buchenwald see Paul Martin Neurath, The Society of Terror: Inside the Dachau and Buchenwald Concentration Camps (London: Paradigm, 2005). Foot, SOE in France, p. 375. Burney, The Dungeon Democracy, p. vii. Ibid., p. 4. Ibid., p. 5. Ibid., p. 10. Ibid. ‘According to the International Tracing Service (ITS), the Buchenwald camp system included over 130 subcamps (including subcamps attached to subcamps), opened between 1940 and 1945’, Megargee (ed.), Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos, p. 297. At Ohrdruf (or ‘SIII’), inmates ‘were assigned primarily to dig large caverns inside the mountains’. These were ‘to serve as a shelter for members of the highest command in the event of a retreat from Berlin’. The camp was liberated in early

234

55.

56. 57. 58.

59. 60. 61. 62. 63. 64. 65. 66. 67. 68. 69. 70. 71. 72. 73. 74. 75. 76. 77. 78. 79. 80.

NOTES

TO PAGES

82 –91

April 1945 where ‘troops encountered the decomposing remains of hundreds of executed inmates, some covered in lime, others half burned on pyres, and wandering, starving prisoners.’ The workforce at Plo¨mnitz was used to dig out seven large halls from existing mineshafts. Halberstadt was one aspect of a complex of sub camps constructed near the village of Langenstein. Ibid., pp. 402 – 3, 408, 357. Burney, The Dungeon Democracy, pp. 22– 3. At Plo¨mnitz, the inmates were set to work in unused mineshafts working in 12-hour shifts. ‘Initially, they only had the most primitive tools, using in part their bare hands to remove the salt from the shafts, loading it on to tip carts, and pushing them to the unloading shaft.’ Megargee (ed.), Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos, p. 408. Wolf Gruner contests that ‘[t]ens of thousands of Jews survived the Holocaust because they were exempted from genocide due to economic interests and labor shortages’. Gruner, Jewish Forced Labor under the Nazis, p. 294. For more on Michel Michelin and the Michelin industries see John F. Sweets, Choices in Vichy France: The French under Nazi Occupation (New York; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986). Burney, The Dungeon Democracy, p. 12. These levers of local power cannot be measured by reference to overarching slave-labour policy. Instead, historians wishing to pass comment should refer to local sources before making judgements on whether so many people died by accident or by design. Wolf Gruner, Jewish Forced Labor Under the Nazis: Economic Needs and Racial Aims, 1938 – 1944 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008). Burney, The Dungeon Democracy, p. 12. Ibid., p. 14. Ibid., p. 30. Ibid., pp. 30– 2. See, for example, Tony Kushner, The Holocaust and the Liberal Imagination: A Social and Cultural History (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 1994). Burney, The Dungeon Democracy, pp. 33– 4. Ibid., p. 37. Ibid., p. 39. Ibid., p. 63. Ibid., pp. 63– 4. Ibid. Ibid., p. 64. Ibid., pp. 63– 4. Ibid., p. 66. Ibid., p. 67. Ibid., p. 66. Ibid., pp. 64– 5. Ibid. Times Literary Supplement, 8 December 1945, p. 580. Saul Friedla¨nder, The Years of Extermination: Nazi Germany and the Jews 1939 – 1945 (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2007), p. 310. Ibid., p. 351. The ghetto ‘was used as an excuse for the deportation of elderly Jews who, plainly, could not have been of any use in doing forced labor in the East where the

NOTES

81. 82. 83. 84. 85. 86. 87.

88. 89. 90. 91. 92. 93. 94. 95. 96. 97. 98. 99. 100. 101. 102. 103. 104. 105. 106.

TO PAGES

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235

extermination camps were located.’ The camp population included ‘invalids, those over sixty-five, decorated and disabled war veterans, those in mixed marriages and their children, and prominent Jews’. Norbert Troller, Theresienstadt: Hitler’s Gift to the Jews (Chapel Hill, NC; London: The University of North Carolina Press, 1991), p. xxi. WO 311/199, Czechoslovak War Crimes Office to the Czechoslovak Representative on the United Nations War Crimes Commission, London, dated 16 January 1946. Troller, Theresienstadt, p. xxii. Ibid., p. 145. WO 311/199, Letter from Dr Jiri Cerveny, Prague to JAG BAOR, 30 October 1945. Ibid., Czechoslovak War Crimes Office to the Czechoslovak Representative on the United Nations War Crimes Commission, London, dated 16 January 1946. Ibid., Statement by George Klauber, 13 August 1945. In February 1945 the Office of the Judge Advocate General in London was informed that the internees were ‘mostly Czechs’ or Jews. They also learned that British POWs had been sent there ‘because they had tried to escape from various stalags in the district, others for no apparent reason.’ Ibid., Judge Advocate General staff to Judge Advocate General’s Office, London, 21 February 1945. The JAG’s office was ‘investigating war crimes committed at Theresienstadt, especially Jews, as well as the ill-treatment of British Prisoners of War.’ JAG, BAOR to Dr Lewin 5 September 1945. Ibid., Affidavit by Albert Arthur William Currie, 2 July 1945. Ibid., Affidavit by Gunner Kenneth Bone, 28 August 1945. Troller, Theresienstadt, p. 144. WO 311/199, Affidavit by Gunner Kenneth Bone, 28 August 1945. Ibid., Affidavit by Albert Arthur William Currie, 2 July 1945; Affidavit by Gunner Kenneth Bone, 28 August 1945. Ibid., Affidavit by Albert Arthur William Currie, 2 July 1945. Personal Papers of Edward Charles Stirling (Lance Bombadier), 99/22/1, Imperial War Museum. WO 311/199, Affidavit by Albert Arthur William Currie, 2 July 1945. Ibid., Glanville to Lt. Colonel Corballis, 6 May 1945. Ibid., Affidavit by Shlomel Abramovitz, 7 August 1945. Ibid., Affidavit by Gunner Kenneth Bone, 28 August 1945. Ibid., Affidavit by Albert Arthur William Currie, 2 July 1945. Ibid., H. Glanville to War Office, 6 May 1945. Form Q, completed by Private Harold Woodward n.d. Personal Papers of Edward Charles Stirling (Lance Bombadier), 99/22/1, Imperial War Museum. WO 311/199, Affidavit by Gunner Kenneth Bone, 28 August 1945. Personal Papers of Edward Charles Stirling, 99/22/1, Imperial War Museum. Norman Rubenstein, The Invisibly Wounded: How One Jewish Prisoner of War Continued the Fight Against Hitler Inside the Third Reich (Hull: The Glenvil Group, 1989), p. 199. WO 311/199, Affidavit by Gunner Kenneth Bone, 28 August 1945.

236

NOTES

TO PAGES

96 –104

107. Personal Papers of Edward Charles Stirling, 99/22/1, Imperial War Museum. 108. Gutman, ‘Auschwitz – An Overview’, in Yisrael Gutman and Michael Berenbaum

109. 110. 111. 112. 113.

114. 115. 116. 117. 118.

119. 120. 121. 122. 123. 124. 125. 126.

127. 128.

(eds), Anatomy of the Auschwitz Death Camp (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1994), p. 6. See also, Megargee (ed.), Encyclopedia of Camp and Ghettos, p. 221. Personal Papers of Cyril Medley, Imperial War Museum. Charles Coward and Denis Avey both portray their secondments to one of these sub-camps, E715, as a punishment. Work detachments included E3 and E793. Monowitz became the mother camp of Blechhammer in April 1944. Megargee (ed.), Encyclopedia of Camp and Ghettos, pp. 287 –8. Personal Papers of G. Didcock, 10/6/1, Imperial War Museum. Didcock added that during the execution ‘the rope broke with his weight so he had to wait while they found another, all the camp had to watch it.’ This suggests a degree of indignation at the inhumane way in which the execution was carried out. Ibid. Personal Papers of M. Newey, 90/4/1, Imperial War Museum. Ibid. WO 309/1083, ‘Preliminary Statement made by Captain R.F.E. Webster, Royal Army Medical Corps.’ Affidavit by William Allen, Document No. NI-11410, Officer of Chief of Counsel for War Crimes, Imperial War Museum. The Red Cross gave Numbers for the work detachments at Heydebreck in October 1943 as 1,189 for Bau and Arbeitsbatallion 20 and 1,170 for Bau and Arbeitsbatallion 21. The Prisoner of War, October 1943, p. 4. Frederick Thomas Bedlington Interview, Imperial War Museum Collections, 18797. Personal Papers of E. V. Mathias, 85/8/1, Imperial War Museum. Ibid. Piotr Setkiewicz, ‘E 715 British prisoners of war’. I am grateful to Piotr Setkiewicz for supplying a copy of the article. Letters written by Michael Sheppard, Gefangenennummer: 32846, Stalag VIIIB (E715), Imperial War Museum. WO 224/27, Red Cross report for ‘Working Detachment No. E 715 Auschwitz’. Affidavit of John Pascoe, Document No. NI-11701 Office for Chief of Counsel for War Crimes, Imperial War Museum. Affidavit of Frederick Wooley, Document No. NI-11701 Office of Chief of Counsel for War Crimes, Imperial War Museum. Affidavit of Norbert Wollheim, Document NI-9807, Prosecution Exhibit 1476, I. G. Farben Trial 1947. Wollheim first met up with POWs in October 1943 and developed a particular friendship with one of them, a Reginald Hartland. This is the only recorded friendship between a POW and a Jewish inmate that seems to have stood the test of time after the war and cannot be taken as representative of the whole. Duncan Little, Allies in Auschwitz (Forest Row: Clairview, 2009), pp. 37 – 8. They would fight even though they knew that being caught smoking or eating food not allocated to them would, according to POW John Adkin, result in a

NOTES

129. 130. 131. 132. 133. 134. 135. 136. 137. 138. 139. 140. 141. 142. 143. 144. 145. 146. 147.

148. 149. 150. 151.

152.

TO PAGES

104 –112

237

beating. Affidavit of Dennis Arthur Greenham, Document No. NI-11705 Office of Chief Counsel for War Crimes, Imperial War Museum; Affidavit of John Henry Adkin, Document No. NI-11699 Office of Chief Counsel for War Crimes, Imperial War Museum. Affidavit of Leonard Dales, Document No. NI-11695 Office of Chief Counsel for War Crimes, Imperial War Museum. Personal Papers of George Wyatt, Imperial War Museum. White, ‘Even in Auschwitz . . . Humanity Could Prevail’, p. 266. Affidavit of Robert William Ferris, Document No. NI-11693 Office of Chief Counsel for War Crimes, Imperial War Museum. Affidavit of Dennis Arthur Greenham, Document No. NI-11705 Office of Chief Counsel for War Crimes, Imperial War Museum. Affidavit of Robert William Ferris, Document No. NI-11693 Office of Chief Counsel for War Crimes, Imperial War Museum. Affidavit of Dennis Arthur Greenham, Document No. NI-11705 Office of Chief Counsel for War Crimes, Imperial War Museum. Andrew Scott Kelman Allan interview, 18580 Imperial War Museum. Piotr Setkiewicz, ‘E 715 British prisoners of war’. Leon Greenman, An Englishman in Auschwitz (London: Vallentine Mitchell, 2001), pp. 81– 2. White, ‘Even in Auschwitz . . . Humanity Could Prevail’, p. 266 Friedla¨nder, The Years of Extermination, p. 648. Daniel Blatman, The Death Marches: The Final Phase of Nazi Genocide (Cambridge, MA; London: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2011), p. 10. Friedla¨nder, The Years of Extermination, p. 649. WO 311/569, ‘original statement received from F/Lt V.A. STONEHAM’, 24 April 1945. Personal Papers of E. V. Mathias, 85/8/1, Imperial War Museum. Sean Longden, Dunkirk: The Men They Left Behind (London: Constable and Robinson, 2009), p. 506. Personal Papers of M. Newey, 90/4/1, Imperial War Museum. Herwin’s reference, on the other hand, to ‘our Jew’ could be seen as a form of objectification, suggesting that Herwin’s own perception of Jews was not without prejudice. He later referred in his diary to some fellow POWs who were also Jews. On 7 March 1945, he commented that they were ‘a horrible crowd of animals’ who lived ‘worse than pigs.’ Personal Papers of E. C. Herwin, 08/102/1, Imperial War Museum. Personal Papers of D. Swift, Imperial War Museum. For more on this read Dan Stone, The Liberation of the Camps: The End of the Holocaust and its Aftermath (London: Yale University Press, 2015). Personal Papers of Major L. W. Lauste, 01/03/1, Imperial War Museum. Tony Kushner, ‘Loose Connections? Britain and the ‘Final Solution’, in Caroline Sharples and Olaf Jensen (eds), Britain and the Holocaust: Remembering and Representing War and Genocide (The Holocaust and its Contexts) (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013). Personal Papers of M. Newey, 90/4/1, Imperial War Museum.

238

NOTES

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113 –119

Chapter 5 Comparisons 1. Richard Evans, The Third Reich at War: How the Nazis Led Germany from Conquest to Disaster (London: Penguin, 2009), p. 185.

2. In March 1941, Himmler had given the go-ahead for the building of Birkenau in

3. 4. 5.

6. 7. 8. 9.

10. 11. 12. 13. 14. 15. 16. 17. 18. 19. 20. 21. 22. 23.

order to accommodate 100,000 POWs. Majdanek camp near Lublin was ostensibly designed for a similar purpose. Geoffrey P. Megargee (ed.), Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos 1933 – 1945 Volume I Early Camps, Youth Camps, and Concentration Camps and Subcamps under the SS-Business Administration Main Office (WVHA) PART A (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2009), pp. 210 and 876. Evans, The Third Reich at War, p. 185. Personal Papers of R. Watchorn, 95/30/1, Imperial War Museum. Personal Papers of W. Bennett, 13/26/1, Imperial War Museum. Extreme infestations led inevitably to outbreaks of typhus. N. B. W. Castleton saw many ‘half-starved’ Russians die before German authorities decided to act in order to protect ‘some of the civilian communities close by’. Personal Papers of N.B.W. Castleton, 10/13/1, Imperial War Museum. Personal Papers of O. Dover, Imperial War Museum; Private Papers of D. Swift, 91/26/1. Cyril Rofe, Against the Wind (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1956), p. 188. Personal Papers of E.C. Herwin, 08/102/1, Imperial War Museum. Herwin wrote in his diary on 14 August 1943 that: ‘A Russian received three shots in the stomach last night and [was] left to die just outside the Indian compound barbed wire. He was thrown into a cart (still alive this afternoon) and taken away. A bar of chocolate was thrown to him after the shooting and he wolfed it wrapper and all . . .’ Ibid. Deposition by William Allen, Document No. NI-11410 Officer of Chief Counsel for War Crimes, Imperial War Museum. Rofe, Against the Wind, p. 188. Personal Papers of V. West, Imperial War Museum. Personal Papers of N. B. W. Castleton, 10/13/1, Imperial War Museum. Personal Papers of William Crawford Duncan, 98/21/1, Imperial War Museum. Russell Wallis, Britain, Germany and the Road to the Holocaust: British Attitudes to Nazi Atrocities (London: I.B.Tauris, 2014), p. 220. Ibid., p. 3. To be clear, this sentence does not imply that decency was intrinsic to every Briton. As shown above, things were less clear-cut if the victim happened to be a Palestinian or Anglo-Jewish POW. Personal Papers of E.C. Herwin, 08/102/1, Imperial War Museum. Personal Papers of E. Dominy, 05/3/1, Imperial War Museum. Affidavit by Robert William Ferris, Document No. NI-11693 Office of Chief Counsel for War Crimes, Imperial War Museum. Personal Papers of M. Newey, 90/4/1, Imperial War Museum. Affidavit by Albert Victory Seal, Document No. NI-11708 Office of Chief of Counsel for War Crimes, Imperial War Museum. This reaction was confirmed by Leonard Dales.

NOTES

TO PAGES

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239

24. Affidavit by Charles Hill, Document No. NI-11704 Office of Chief Counsel for War Crimes, Imperial War Museum.

25. Ibid. 26. Affidavit by Robert William Ferris, Document No. NI-11693 Office of Chief Counsel for War Crimes, Imperial War Museum.

27. Affidavit by Frederick Davison, Document No. NI-11694 Office of Chief of Counsel for War Crimes, Imperial War Museum.

28. Affidavit by Dennis Arthur Greenham, Document No. NI-11705 Office of Chief of Counsel for War Crimes, Imperial War Museum.

29. Ron Jones with Joe Lovejoy The Auschwitz Goalkeeper: A Prisoner of War’s True Story (Llandysu, Ceredigion: Gomer Press, 2013), p. 67.

30. Affidavit by Frederick Davison, Document No. NI-11694 Office of Chief of Counsel for War Crimes, Imperial War Museum.

31. Affidavit by Leonard Dales, Document No. NI-11695 Office of Chief of Counsel for War Crimes, Imperial War Museum.

32. Personal Papers of Stanley John Doughty, Imperial War Museum. Sergeant Bob

33. 34.

35. 36. 37. 38. 39. 40.

Watchorn had a similar view. He observed that the old guards at Fallingbostel did not want the war and he found it sad ‘when they come into your Barrack in the morning and tell you their home has been bombed.’ Personal Papers of M. Newey, 90/4/1, Imperial War Museum. Wallis, Britain, Germany and the Road to the Holocaust; Russell Wallis, ‘“Good” Germans, “Bad” Nazis and British Reactions to the Holocaust’, in Geraldine Horan, Felicity Rash and Daniel Wildmann (eds), English and German Nationalist and Anti-Semitic Discourse, 1871 – 1945 (Berne: Peter Lang AG, 2013). Personal Papers of D.M. Elliott CBE, 98/7/1, Imperial War Museum. Wallis, Britain, Germany and the Road to the Holocaust; Russell Wallis, ‘“Good” Germans, “Bad” Nazis and British Reactions to the Holocaust’. Personal Papers of William Crawford Duncan, 98/21/1, Imperial War Museum. Personal Papers of D. Swift, Imperial War Museum. Private Papers of George Wyatt, Imperial War Museum. Cyril Medley was surprised when towards the end of the war on the long march westwards, his Wehrmacht guards asked the prisoners ‘to sign chits’ affirming ‘they had treated us well’. In Medley’s opinion, their guards who were in any case ‘good soldiers’ had no need for ‘chits’ because guards and prisoners were on mutually good terms. This was part of a wider belief among British soldiers that the Wehrmacht was essentially just a comparable version of the British Army. It is still a moot point whether those who fought primarily on the western front or, say in the North African campaign should not be tainted with the crimes of their colleagues who fought on the eastern front. For an assessment of the role of the Wehrmacht, see Wette, The Wehrmacht: History, Myth, Reality.

Chapter 6 The Limits of POW Testimony 1. Personal Papers of G. Didcock, 10/6/1, Imperial War Museum. 2. Adrian Gilbert, POW: Allied Prisoners in Europe, 1939 – 1945 (London: John Murray, 2006), p. 297.

3. Ibid., p. 298.

240 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12. 13. 14. 15.

16. 17.

18. 19.

20.

21.

NOTES

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126 –133

Personal Papers of G. Didcock, 10/6/1, Imperial War Museum. Personal Papers of R. Watchorn, 95/30/1, Imperial War Museum. Gilbert, POW: Allied Prisoners in Europe, p. 314. Personal Papers of D. Swift, Imperial War Museum. Gilbert, POW: Allied Prisoners in Europe, pp. 315 –16. Denis Avey and Rob Broomby, The Man Who Broke Into Auschwitz (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2011), p. 192. Some POWs actually got to read the 1942 Beveridge Report whilst still in captivity. See Peter Donnelly (ed.), Mrs Milburn’s Diaries: An Englishwoman’s Dayto-Day Reflections 1939 –45 (London: George G. Harrap & Co. Ltd., 1979). Gilbert, POW: Allied Prisoners in Europe, p. 320. Cited in ibid. David Kynaston, Austerity Britain, 1945–51 (London: Bloomsbury, 2007), p. 19. John Castle, The Password is Courage (London: Corgi, 1979). Although respect for higher ranks is often assumed, Adrian Gilbert points out that the ‘tight bonds of discipline that existed in any army – between men of all ranks – were loosened after capture. A few POWs were openly resentful of their superiors . . .’ Gilbert, POW: Allied Prisoners in Europe, p. 123. Sonderkommandos were the group used by German authorities to dispose of the bodies of those murdered in the gas chambers. Joseph Robert White, ‘“Even in Auschwitz . . . Humanity Could Prevail”: British POWs and Jewish Concentration-Camp Inmates at IG Auschwitz, 1943 – 1945,’ in Holocaust and Genocide Studies 15(2) (2001), p. 278. White tones down Coward’s claim to have saved nearly 400 Jews, rather suggesting the number was nearer 2 or 3. Martin Gilbert, The Righteous: The Unsung Heroes of the Holocaust (London: Black Swan, 2003), pp. 508–9; Lyn Smith Heroes of the Holocaust: Ordinary Britons who Risked Their Lives to Make a Difference (Croydon: Random House, 2012), pp. 201–14. Denis Avey and Rob Broomby, The Man Who Broke Into Auschwitz (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2011). See also Donald Watt, Stoker: The Story of an Australian Soldier Who Survived Auschwitz-Birkenau (East Roseville, NSW: Simon & Schuster Australia, 1995); and Colin Rushton, Spectator in Hell: A British Soldier’s Story of Imprisonment in Auschwitz (Chichester: Summersdale, 1998). Rushton’s book tells the story of ex-POW Arthur Dodd and his experiences in E715 work detachment. Also, Duncan Little, Allies in Auschwitz: The Untold Story of British POWs Held Captive in the Nazis Most Infamous Death Camp (Forest Row: Clairview, 2009). Little relies on the memories of three ex-members of E 715, Doug Bond, Arthur GiffordEngland and Brian Bishop. The most recent addition is Ron Jones with Joe Lovejoy, The Auschwitz Goalkeeper: A Prisoner of War’s True Story (Llandysul, Ceredigion: Gomer Press, 2013). WO 344/75/1, ‘General Questionnaire for British/American Ex-Prisoners of War’, Charles Coward; Affidavit by Charles Coward, Document No. NI-11696 Office of Chief Counsel for War Crimes, Imperial War Museum; Trials of War Criminals Before the Neurenberg Military Tribunals Under Control Council Law No. 10, Volume VIII, ‘The I. G. Farben Case’ (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1952), p. 609. It was not unheard of for POWs to adopt a higher rank in captivity in order to achieve some advantage, for example, to opt out of a work detail. See Affidavit of Harold Allen Glanville, WO 311/199.

NOTES

TO PAGES

133 –141

241

22. Affidavit by Charles Coward, Document No. NI-11696 Office of Chief Counsel for War Crimes, Imperial War Museum. Castle, The Password is Courage, p. 9.

23. WO 344/75/1, Report by ‘2043391 A/B.S.M. COWARD, C.J. RA.’; WO 344/70. 24. Connolly’s questionnaire confirms that at least three people escaped from Tost,

25. 26. 27. 28. 29. 30. 31. 32. 33. 34. 35. 36. 37. 38. 39. 40. 41. 42. 43.

including himself, Coward and a ‘Cpl Persky’, of whom more later. WO 344/70, ‘General Questionnaire for British/American Ex-Prisoners of War’, Walter Connolly. WO 344/75/1, Report by ‘2043391 A/B.S.M. COWARD, C.J. RA.’ Castle, The Password is Courage, pp. 84– 94. Steven J. Zalogo, V – 1 Flying Bomb 1942 – 52: Hitler’s Infamous ‘Doodlebug’ (Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2005), p. 6. WO 344/75/1, Report by ‘2043391 A/B.S.M. COWARD, C.J. RA.’ Castle, The Password is Courage, p. 50. WO 344/75/1, Report by ‘2043391 A/B.S.M. COWARD, C.J. RA.’ Castle, The Password is Courage, pp. 135 – 6. Ibid., p. 110. WO 344/75/1, ‘General Questionnaire for British/American Ex-Prisoners of War’, Charles Coward; Affidavit by Charles Joseph Coward, Document No. NI-11696 Office of Chief of Counsel for War Crimes, Imperial War Museum. Castle, The Password is Courage, p. 105. Randolph L. Braham, ‘Hungarian Jews’, in Yisrael Gutman and Michael Berenbaum (eds), Anatomy of the Auschwitz Death Camp (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1994), pp. 462 – 3. Affidavit by Charles Joseph Coward, Document No. NI-11696 Office of Chief of Counsel for War Crimes, Imperial War Museum. Affidavit by Robert William Ferris, Document No. NI-11693 Office of Chief of Counsel for War Crimes, Imperial War Museum. Ibid. White, ‘Even in Auschwitz . . . Humanity Could Prevail’, p. 272. National Archives, AIR 29/332. Castle, The Password is Courage, p. 107. Ibid., p. 108. One came from Doug Bond who wrote: ‘I have read and heard many of his exploits and also got to know him as a camp leader of E715 at Auschwitz, where I was also a POW. Personally I think he had a very vivid imagination. I think he based his book and film on other POWs experiences. As camp leader at E715 he would have had very little contact with the Jewish community, as he did not go out to work like we did at the local I G Farben factory. I think we had more contact with them, working alongside. I went to the first showing of the film, which I thought was badly made. I am still in contact with several others who were at E715 and they are all of the same opinion.’ The other was written by Ronald Redman, who said: ‘My first recollections of Battery Sergeant Major Charles Coward were on being transferred to Auschwitz E715. He was appointed senior British POW to liaise with the German Commandant. After a short time he organised an evening concert dominated by himself. Amongst his collection of jokes and a homespun song ‘escaping through the sewer’ . . . [h]e impersonated a typical Jewish prisoner in genuine pyjama suit, cap and clogs. Although rather cruel, he mimed all the nervous shuffling and cap-doffing mannerisms to a

242

44. 45. 46. 47. 48. 49. 50. 51. 52. 53.

54. 55. 56. 57.

58. 59. 60. 61.

NOTES

TO PAGES

141 –147

‘T’. He was hilariously funny and with his own cockney accent – I think the German guards observing were most amused. He must have studied the Jewish prisoners to a fine detail. When the bombing of Auschwitz began and life was very uncomfortable, I think Charlie returned to Stalag 8B at Lamsdorf using his authority. http://www.prisonerofwar.org.uk/autumn_2006.htm, accessed on 8 April 2014. Jones with Lovejoy, The Auschwitz Goalkeeper, pp. 172 and 175. Denis Avey, ‘22065 Imperial War Museum Oral History’. Affidavit by Charles Joseph Coward, Document No. NI-11696 Office of Chief of Counsel for War Crimes, Imperial War Museum. WO 224/27, Red Cross Report for ‘Stalag 344 Lamsdorf’, 26 and 27 June 1944. Ibid. Red Cross Report for ‘Stalag 344, Lamdorf, O/S’, 22 January 1945. Affidavit by David Innes Alexander, Document No. NI-11698 Office of Chief of Counsel for War Crimes, Imperial War Museum. Affidavit by Horace Reginald Charters, Document No. NI-11697, Office of Chief of Counsel for War Crimes, Imperial War Museum. WO 224/27, Red Cross Report for ‘Working Detachment No. E 715 AUSCHWITZ’, 20 June 1944. Castle, The Password is Courage, pp. 117 – 18. A report dated 24 September 1945 commented on the general procedure adopted by British war crimes investigators, who ‘Had occasion to interview a large number of British Men of Confidence at the various prisoner of war camps in Germany and elsewhere. On many occasions when one has enquired as to their knowledge of a particular case they have informed us that they made a full report of the incident in question at the time to the Protecting Power. In most cases the Men of Confidence have indicated that these reports contained the names of the British witnesses and in many cases the names of the German soldier or soldiers accused of the particular ill-treatment which formed the subject matter of the complaint.’ WO 311/2 Colonel R. C. Halse to R. Beaumont, Foreign Office, 24 September 1945. WO 309/1063, M.I.9. Memorandum. WO 309/2148, Extract from Form Q. Robertson as a medical officer had an itinerant role. WO 311/2, United Kingdom Charges Against War Criminals, List of Original Documents Required from P.W.2. Although this report is listed in this file, unfortunately, I have been unable to track this down. On an entirely different matter, that of mistreatment of POWs on the forced march away from Auschwitz in 1945, Coward was interviewed after he was recommended by Andrew Porteous. Captain R. D. L. Kelly of the JAG department apparently found Coward’s contribution unsatisfactory and concerned himself with tracking down other witnesses. WO 311/1112, Kelly to Porteous, 21 December 1945. WO 309/2177, Affidavit by Lance-Corporal L. J. ANDERSON, of 2 Div. Provost Company. Castle, The Password is Courage, pp. 117 – 18. Affidavit by Charles Joseph Coward, Document No. NI-11696, Office of Chief of Counsel for War Crimes, Imperial War Museum. M. R. D. Foot and J. M. Langley, MI9: The British Secret Service that Fostered Escape and Evasion 1939 – 1945 and its American Counterpart (London: The Bodley Head, 1979), p. 111. J. M. Green was one of these and he included in his book From

NOTES

62. 63. 64. 65. 66.

67.

68. 69. 70. 71. 72.

73. 74. 75.

TO PAGES

147 –151

243

Colditz in Code a 25-page appendix on ‘How to Decode the Letters’, which is a testament to the complexity of the codes. J. M. Green, From Colditz in Code (London: Robert Hale and Company, 1971). Affidavit by Charles Joseph Coward, Document No. NI-11696 Office of Chief of Counsel for War Crimes, Imperial War Museum. Gilbert, POW: Allied Prisoners in Europe, p. 188. Although there was no limit to the number of letters a POW could receive. Affidavit by Charles Joseph Coward, Document No. NI-11696 Office of Chief of Counsel for War Crimes, Imperial War Museum. Castle, The Password is Courage, pp. 148 – 50. Failure to bomb the camp has raised questions about whether the existence of the gas chambers was known, whether they could have been destroyed, whether the railway tracks leading into Auschwitz should have been targeted, whether such action was feasible or whether lack of action was the result of callous indifference. Most serious historians, however, recognise that this particular dilemma over Auschwitz was perhaps more complex than uninformed hindsight suggest. Certainly, it could have been done, but arguably it would not have been a costfree exercise. The distance that bombers would have had to fly and the numerous dangers associated with flying over occupied territory would have been among the many risks. For the debate on the bombing of Auschwitz see, for example, Michael J. Neufeld, and Michael Berenbaum, The Bombing of Auschwitz: Should the Allies have Attempted It? (Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2003). For British government memoranda see especially pp. 261 – 71. In the weeks after war broke out, the RAF undertook a leaflet drop over Germany, however this took place under different leadership. Neville Chamberlain was prime minister and the psychology of appeasement was still prevalent. See Wallis, Britain, Germany and the Road to the Holocaust, p. 202. Joseph White seems to infer that the mere existence of amateur codes was enough to verify Coward’s claim. White, ‘Even in Auschwitz . . . Humanity Could Prevail’, p. 279. Martin Gilbert referred to the same amateur ‘dotty codes’. Gilbert, The Righteous, p. 240. It should also be noted that British officials knew about the attempt to exterminate European Jewry as early as December 1942. Affidavit by Charles Joseph Coward, Document No. NI-11696 Office of Chief of Counsel for War Crimes, Imperial War Museum. Green, From Colditz in Code, p. 75. Primo Levi, If This Is A Man (London: Abacus Books, 2005), pp. 39 –40. Trials of War Criminals Before the Neurenberg Military Tribunals Under Control Council Law No. 10, Volume VIII, ‘The I. G. Farben Case’ (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1952), p. 613. Doyle stated ‘The concentration camp inmates had their hair shorn close and wore round, blackberry caps, thin striped jackets, trousers and overcoats, wooden or canvas shoes.’ Trials of War Criminals Before the Neurenberg Military Tribunals Under Control Council Law No. 10, Volume VIII, ‘The I. G. Farben Case’ (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1952), p. 617. Paul Steinberg, Speak You Also: A Survivor’s Reckoning (London: Penguin, 1996), p. 71. Castle, The Password is Courage, pp. 135 – 6. WO 311/1326, Exhibit 17, Deposition of Katherine Neiger; Exhibit 23, Further Deposition of Peter Leonard Makar; Exhibit 64, Deposition of Alexander Kurowicki.

244 76. 77. 78. 79. 80. 81. 82. 83. 84. 85. 86. 87.

88.

89. 90. 91. 92. 93. 94. 95. 96. 97.

NOTES

TO PAGES

151 –159

Levi, If This is a Man, p. 36. Private Papers of R. Watchorn, 95/30/1, Imperial War Museum. Castle, The Password is Courage, pp. 161 – 2. Freddie Knoller, ‘9092 Imperial War Museum Oral History.’ Steinberg, Speak You Also, pp. 43– 4. Levi, If This is a Man, pp. 33– 4. Leon Greenman, An Englishman in Auschwitz (London: Vallentine Mitchell, 2001), pp. 71– 2. Ibid., p. 72. Steinberg, Speak You Also, p. 68. Levi, If This is a Man, p. 64. Richard Pape, Boldness be my Friend (London; New York: Elek, 1953), p. 141. Robert Ferris, for instance, stated that inmates ‘used to tell us about how little food they had and about their sleeping accommodations. They had 3 tier beds made of boards and they had to sleep sometimes 2 and 3 in each of the beds.’ Affidavit by Robert Ferris, Document NO. NI-11693 Office of Chief Counsel for War Crimes, Imperial War Museum. After another brief exchange, Drischel challenged Coward further asking, ‘do you still maintain your description if I put to you that in the city of Auschwitz there certainly were no gas chambers’. Although Coward was saved at this point by the Judge’s intervention on a procedural matter, perhaps aware that he had been caught out, Coward attempted to clarify his story, answering; ‘In the city of Auschwitz there were no gas chambers, I agree, but some distance away from the city itself – the city itself was about 2 miles from the station.’ Drischel even provided him with a way out, asking if he was mistaken because ‘even in the vicinity of the railroad station’ there were no gas chambers or crematoria. Eventually, following a direct question by Drischel on whether he had ever been inside the main camp at Auschwitz, Coward replied ‘No’. Trials of War Criminals Before the Neurenberg Military Tribunals Under Control Council Law No. 10, Volume VIII, ‘The I. G. Farben Case’ (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1952), p. 610. It is equally difficult to understand the reasoning behind Joseph White’s claim that Coward ‘ably parried attempts to impugn his credibility at Nuremberg’. He did not. White, ‘Even in Auschwitz . . . Humanity Could Prevail’, p. 280 Castle, The Password is Courage, pp. 119 – 20. J. Noakes and G. Pridham, Nazism: A History in Documents and Eyewitness Accounts, 1919–1945, Volume 2 (New York: Schocken Books, New York, 1988), p. 1179. Castle, The Password is Courage, pp. 131 – 2. Ibid., pp. 149 –50. Ibid., pp. 132 –4. Trials of War Criminals Before the Neurenberg Military Tribunals Under Control Council Law No. 10, Volume VIII, ‘The I. G. Farben Case’ (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1952), p. 621. Gideon Grief, We Wept Without Tears: Testimonies of the Jewish Sonderkommando from Auschwitz (New Haven, CT; London: Yale University Press, 2005), p. 11. Ibid., pp. 40– 3. It was, in fact, chronologically the third uprising in Nazi extermination camps after those in Treblinka and Sobibor.

NOTES

TO PAGES

159 –165

245

98. Herman Langbein, ‘The Auschwitz Underground’; Yisrael Gutman, ‘Auschwitz – 99. 100. 101. 102.

103. 104. 105. 106. 107. 108. 109. 110.

111. 112. 113.

114. 115. 116.

117.

An Overview’ in Gutman and Berenbaum (eds), Anatomy of the Auschwitz Death Camp, p. 500. Grief, We Wept Without Tears, pp. 40 –3. Castle, The Password is Courage, p. 140. Ibid., p. 150. For frequency of selections see, for example, Steinberg, Speak You Also, pp. 76 –7. For testimony on selectees being taken by lorry to Birkenau see, Affidavit by John Pascoe, NI-11701 Office for Chief of Counsel for War Crimes, Imperial War Museum. Affidavit by Horace Reginald Charters, NI-11697 Office for Chief of Counsel for War Crimes, Imperial War Museum. Castle, The Password is Courage, p. 143. White, ‘Even in Auschwitz . . . Humanity Could Prevail’, pp. 281 – 2. Ibid., pp. 285 –6 and 293. Ibid., p. 281. Shimon Peres, Battling for Peace: Memoirs (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1995), pp. 50– 2. The list was as follows: Hospital Coblenz in Germany, XIIB in Germany, XIIA in Germany (344) VIIIB in Germany, VIIIA in Germany. WO 344/75/1, ‘General Questionnaire for British/American Ex-Prisoners of War’, Charles Coward. Document No. NI-11696 Office of Chief of Counsel for War Crimes, Affidavit of Charles Coward, Imperial War Museum. Holocaust scholar Joseph White rightly concludes that Coward was probably never in Greece. Yet he still believes that one element of Persky’s account is true. This is the incident in which ‘Coward swore other POWs to silence about Persky’s Jewishness to shield him from the Nazis’. White offers no explanation as to why he accepts one aspect of Persky’s account, while rejecting the other aspects that create the context for this alleged incident. White, ‘Even in Auschwitz . . . Humanity Could Prevail’, p. 281. WO 344/70, ‘General Questionnaire for British/American Ex-Prisoners of War’, Walter Connolly. Shimon Peres, Battling for Peace: Memoirs (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1995), pp. 50– 2. Ibid. Connolly was captured in Boulogne, northeast France, and subsequently spent his war in northern Europe, so he was never in Greece. WO 344/70, ‘General Questionnaire for British/American Ex-Prisoners of War’, Walter Connolly. This is, of course assuming that the ‘Persky’ referred to on Connolly’s questionnaire was indeed Yitzchak Persky. WO 344/70, ‘General Questionnaire for British/American Ex-Prisoners of War’, Walter Connolly. White, ‘Even in Auschwitz . . . Humanity Could Prevail’, p. 281. The name of the accomplice as given in The Password is Courage, was ‘Tich Keenan’. The phrase at the beginning of the first edition of The Password is Courage, that ‘where distress might otherwise be caused, the real names of some of the people mentioned in this book have not been used’ hardly counts as evidence. To make the connection between this and Persky arguably takes enquiry into the realms of conspiracy theory. WO 344/75/1, Report by ‘2043391 A/B.S.M. COWARD, C.J. RA.’

246

NOTES

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165 –175

118. The British Immigrants Association was set up in the early 1950s to help British immigrants integrate into Israeli society.

119. As a result of this new elite association, Coward was inducted into the

120. 121. 122. 123. 124. 125. 126. 127. 128. 129. 130. 131. 132. 133.

134.

135.

136.

Righteous Among the Nations. This became a passport to further honours. A blue plaque was placed on his house in Edmonton, North London stating he was a ‘rescuer of prisoners from Auschwitz’; a ward at North Middlesex Hospital was also named after him and as we have already noted, in 2010 he was posthumously awarded a British Hero of the Holocaust medal at 10 Downing Street. Peres, Battling for Peace, p. 52. Ibid., p. 50. David Cesarani, Final Solution: The Fate of the Jews 1933 – 1949 (London: Macmillan, 2016). Jones with Lovejoy, The Auschwitz Goalkeeper, pp. 172 and 175. Ibid., p. 186. Daily Mail, 9 April 2011. Avey and Broomby, The Man Who Broke Into Auschwitz, p. 134. Ibid., p. 210. Denis Avey, ‘22065 Imperial War Museum Oral History.’ Ibid. Avey and Broomby, The Man Who Broke in Auschwitz, p. 101. Ibid., p. 108. Ibid., p. 103. Again employing the same motifs, Avey’s account of his interrogation at Graudenz echoes Coward’s description of his own interrogation at Ulm Castle as told in The Password is Courage. Castle, The Password is Courage; Avey and Broomby, The Man Who Broke Into Auschwitz, pp. 69– 76. Denis Avey, ‘22065 Imperial War Museum Oral History. The Prisoner of War: The Official Journal of the Prisoners of War Department of the Red Cross and St. John War Organisation, St. James’s Palace, London, S.W.1. July 1943, p. 4. The Prisoner of War debuted in May 1942 and was ‘sent every month, free of charge, to all who are registered at the Prisoners of War Department at St. James’s Palace as next-of-kin.’ The Prisoner of War, Vol. 1, No. 1, May 1942, p. 1. It contained information for those who were related to or friends with POWs in enemy hands. Articles in the first issue included ‘Pointers for Next-of-Kin’, ‘Do’s and Don’ts’ for sending Red Cross Parcels, ‘Care of Invalid Prisoners’, and Hints on what to write and what not to write such as ‘What to tell Him Film you saw, book you read, sermon you heard, flowers you grow, skirt you made, money you’ve saved, words baby’s learnt. What not to tell him Dinner you ate, Cold you caught, bomb you dodged, fright you had, pound you lost, vase you broke, ration book loss.’ David Wild, Prisoner of Hope (Lewes: the Book Guild Ltd., 1992), p. 120. According to Wild, British POWs were first sent to Graudenz in summer 1943. Staffed by the Wehrmacht, it was administered from Stalag XXB at Marienburg and then from Stalag XXA, which denoted an improvement in certain aspects of the prison regime, such as frequency of mail, visits from the Protecting Power, Red Cross parcels and visits from a Chaplain. WO 309/1001, Deposition of Theordore Heinrich Neven.

NOTES

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175 –180

247

137. Ibid., Composite Supplementary Brief for Investigation, compiled by the Judge 138. 139. 140. 141.

142. 143. 144.

145. 146.

147. 148. 149. 150. 151. 152. 153. 154. 155. 156.

157. 158. 159. 160. 161. 162.

Advocate General’s Office, ‘Field Investigation Section’, 13 November 1947. The Prisoner of War, Vol. 2, No. 15, July 1943. WO 309/1001; Denis Avey, ‘22065 Imperial War Museum Oral History’. Avey and Broomby, The Man Who Broke Into Auschwitz, p. 103. Sidney Sherriff, Man of Confidence at Lamsdorf and a reliable witness, confirmed to British authorities that the change of designation took place on 8 November 1943. WO 309/2177, Report of interview with RSM Sherriff written by Detective Sergeant G. E. Jones on 16 September 1947. Prisoners of War British Army 1939 –1945 (Polstead, Suffolk: J.B. Hayward & Son, 1999). The Italian translation of Avey’s book is even entitled Auschwitz. Ero il numero 220543 [I was number 220543] (Newton Compton, 2014). This has since led to further embarrassment for both. The Italian version of The Man Who Broke Into Auschwitz has a different title. It is called Auschwitz. Ero il numero 220543 (I was number 220543). It is also worth noting that Graudenz Prison was situated over 400 kilometres north of his base camp at Lamsdorf. His alleged transfer from Graudenz to Auschwitz, involving a five hour journey at the very least, seems to imply that Avey’s posting to E715 was a continuation of his punishment. Avey and Broomby, The Man Who Broke Into Auschwitz, p. 103. This point has been underlined by historian Tony Kushner, who, as shown above, has warned that former POWs should recognise the ‘gulf in experience’ between their own suffering that that of Jewish victims of Nazi policies. Tony Kushner, ‘Loose Connections? Britain and the ‘Final Solution’ in Caroline Sharples and Olaf Jensen (eds), Britain and the Holocaust: Remembering and Representing War and Genocide (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013). WO 309/1083. List of work detachments in folder marked ‘Stalag VIIIB’. Denis Avey, ‘22065 Imperial War Museum Oral History.’ Avey and Broomby, The Man Who Broke Into Auschwitz, p. 108. Letters written by Michael Sheppard, Gefangenennummer: 32846, Stalag VIIIB (E715), Imperial War Museum. Avey and Broomby, The Man Who Broke Into Auschwitz, p. 105. Ibid., p. 108. Little, Allies in Auschwitz, pp. 23 –4. Denis Avey, ‘22065 Imperial War Museum Oral History.’ WO 224/27. We know from Levi’s account that the hours of work tended to vary in accordance with daylight hours and this particular report was compiled during June when daylight hours were at their longest. Therefore, we can assume that British POWs worked for a maximum of 10 hours. Levi, If This is a Man, p. 42. WO 224/27, Red Cross Report for ‘Working Detachment No. E. 715 Auschwitz.’ Avey and Broomby, The Man Who Broke Into Auschwitz, p. 112. Ibid. WO 224/27, Red Cross Report for ‘Working Detachment No. E. 715 Auschwitz.’ Letters written by Michael Sheppard, Gefangenennummer: 32846, Stalag VIIIB (E715), Imperial War Museum. Avey and Broomby, The Man Who Broke Into Auschwitz, p. 112.

248

NOTES

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181 –186

163. Duncan Little, Allies in Auschwitz: The Untold Story of British POWs Held Captive in the Nazis’ Most Infamous Death Camp (Clairview Books, 2009), p. 40.

164. WO 224/27, Red Cross Reports for ‘Working Detachment No. 702,

165.

166. 167. 168. 169. 170. 171. 172. 173. 174. 175. 176. 177. 178. 179.

Klimontow, 21 June 1944’, ‘Working Detachment No. 744, Casimir – Grube, 21 June 1944’, ‘working Detachment No. E 587 Czeladz, 20 June 1944’ respectively. Ibid., Red Cross Report for ‘Working Detachment No. E 72, Beuthen 19 June, 1944’. The ‘Germans realized the bad impression’ given and the Red Cross representative expressed ‘his firm intention to return’ at ‘the earliest possible moment.’ Ibid., Red Cross Report for Stalag VIIIB, 11 December 1941. Denis Avey, ‘22065 Imperial War Museum Oral History.’ Avey and Broomby, The Man Who Broke Into Auschwitz, p. 210. Denis Avey, ‘22065 Imperial War Museum Oral History.’ Avey and Broomby, The Man Who Broke Into Auschwitz, p. 210. WO 309/1063. Avey and Broomby, The Man Who Broke Into Auschwitz, p. 118. Affidavit by Frederick Davison, Document No. NI- 11694 Office of Chief Counsel for War Crimes, Imperial War Museum. Affidavit by Eric Doyle, Trials of War Criminals Before the Neurenberg Military Tribunals Under Control Council Law No. 10, Volume VIII, ‘The I. G. Farben Case’ (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1952), p. 616. Affidavit by Robert William Ferris, Document No. NI-11693 Office of Chief Counsel for War Crimes, Imperial War Museum. Norman Rubenstein, The Invisibly Wounded: How One Jewish Prisoner of War Continued the Fight Against Hitler Inside the Third Reich (Hull: The Glenvil Group, 1989), pp. 60– 1. Gilbert, POW: Allied Prisoners in Europe, p. 67. Denis Avey, ‘22065 Imperial War Museum Oral History.’ During an inspection of the Auschwitz camp area by a team headed by Himmler on 1 March 1941, it was decided to enlarge the Auschwitz operation. A new camp capable of holding 100,000 was to be constructed at Birkenau, west of Auschwitz I while a camp for 30,000 was to be built a few miles due east near the village of Monowitz. (Birkenau was the Germanized name for Brzezinka. Monowitz was the Germanized name for Monowice.) The inhabitants of the latter camp were to service a massive new industrial development under the auspices of the German chemicals conglomerate, IG Farben. (Interessen-Gemeinschaft Farbenindustrie AG, meaning literally Community of Interests of Dye-Making Corporations.) Farben used inmates as slave labour to build the new plant from April 1941 onwards. Franciszek Piper, ‘The System of Prisoner Exploitation,’ in Gutman and Berenbaum (eds), Anatomy of the Auschwitz Death Camp, p. 38. The first inmates were incarcerated in Monowitz sometime in late summer or early autumn 1942. These were used to extend the camp itself and for working at the Farben site helping to produce ‘methanol, iso-carbide, and other chemicals, as well as buna [synthetic rubber]’. Howard Fertig, From the History of KL – AUSCHWITZ (New York: 1982), p. 3. Originally populated by a relatively small number of Polish inmates, Monowitz was reinforced by successive waves of other nationalities. A numerical high point of 11,000 was reached in the spring and summer of 1944. By this time, between 1 and 2 per cent were Roma or Sinti (commonly referred to

NOTES

180. 181. 182. 183. 184.

185. 186. 187. 188. 189. 190. 191. 192.

193. 194. 195. 196. 197. 198. 199. 200. 201. 202. 203.

TO PAGES

186 –193

249

as ‘Gypsies’) of unknown nationality and about 8 per cent were citizens of Poland, the Soviet Union and Germany. The rest of the camp population was made up of Jews from Germany, Austria, Poland, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Norway, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Luxembourg, and Czechoslovakia. Geoffrey P. Megargee (ed.), Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos 1933 –1945 Volume I Early Camps, Youth Camps, and Concentration Camps and Subcamps under the SS-Business Administration Main Office (WVHA) PART A (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2009), p. 216. Jewish Chronicle, 17 November 2011. http://www.thejc.com/news/uk-news/58419/ holocaust-historian-defends-man-who-broke-auschwitz, accessed on 21 July 2014. Denis Avey, ‘22065 Imperial War Museum Oral History.’ Avey and Broomby, The Man Who Broke Into Auschwitz, pp. 126 – 7. Although, as he disgustedly told Smith, ‘she didn’t get one word of acknowledgement.’ Ibid. Information about the mass murder of European Jews reached the Allies through a variety of different channels. These included local resistance groups, the Polish government in exile, the Polish Fortnightly Review, a telegram sent by Gerhart Riegner, a representative of the World Jewish Congress in Geneva and accounts based on two escapees, Alfred Wetzler and Rudolf Vrba. Information about these efforts to expose mass murder appear in numerous publications. A neat summary can be found in Sybille Steinbacher, Auschwitz: A History (London: Penguin Books, 2004), pp. 116 – 19. Denis Avey, ‘22065 Imperial War Museum Oral History.’ Donald Watt, Stoker: The Story of an Australian Soldier Who Survived AuschwitzBirkenau (East Roseville NSW: Simon & Schuster Australia, 1995). Konrad Kwiet, ‘Anzac and Auschwitz: The Unbelievable Story of Donald Watt’, Patterns of Prejudice, Vol. 31, No. 4 (October 1997), pp. 53 –60. Avey and Broomby, The Man Who Broke Into Auschwitz, p. 140. Ibid., p. 134. Ibid., p. 190. Apparently he was too ill to take part. Ibid., p. 196. The interview was Avey’s first lone foray into the public sphere. Before that he had made contact with Colin Rushton, author of Spectator in Hell, a book based on the reminiscences of Arthur Dodd a former member of E715. Rushton, Spectator in Hell. Jeffreys, Hell’s Cartel, p. 289. Denis Avey, ‘22065 Imperial War Museum Oral History.’ Ibid.; Avey and Broomby, The Man Who Broke Into Auschwitz, pp. 131 – 2. Avey and Broomby, The Man Who Broke Into Auschwitz, pp. 131 – 2. Ibid., p. 136. Jones with Lovejoy, The Auschwitz Goalkeeper, pp. 189 – 90. Primo Levi, Moments of Reprieve (London: Penguin, 2002), p. 22. J. T. Lewis, ‘Medical problems at Belsen Concentration Camp (1945),’ The Ulster Medical Journal, Vol. 54, No. 2 (October 1985), pp. 122 –6. Primo Levi, The Drowned and the Saved (London: Abacus, 1989), p. 108. Levi, Moments of Reprieve, p. 52. Levi, The Drowned and the Saved, pp. 23– 4.

250

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194 –205

204. Although Auschwitz survivor Kitty Hart Moxom has observed that women were 205. 206. 207. 208. 209. 210.

211. 212. 213. 214. 215. 216. 217. 218. 219. 220. 221. 222. 223. 224. 225. 226. 227. 228. 229. 230. 231. 232. 233. 234. 235.

more likely to form ‘family’ groups than men and this seems to have had an impact on the respective survival rates. Avey and Broomby, The Man Who Broke Into Auschwitz, p. 133. Personal Papers of L. B. Shorrock, 80/2/1, Imperial War Museum. Levi, If This is a Man, pp. 39– 40. Avey and Broomby, The Man Who Broke Into Auschwitz, p. 133. Ibid. Steinberg, Speak You Also, p. 72. Steinnberg differs from Levi with regard to the frequency of inspections. On the basis that Levi wrote his account nearly 40 years earlier, I am taking this as the more accurate of the two. Levi also backs this up in another statement: ‘There goes the siren of the Carbide factory, now the English prisoners are leaving; it is half past four. Then the Ukrainian girls will leave and it will be five o’clock and we will be able to straighten our backs, and only the return march, the roll-call and the lice-control will separate us from our rest.’ Levi, If This is a Man, p. 138. Jones with Lovejoy, The Auschwitz Goalkeeper, p. 186. Levi, Moments of Reprieve, p. 94. Avey and Broomby, The Man Who Broke in Auschwitz, p. 133. Levi, Moments of Reprieve, p. 57. Hans Frankenthal, The Unwelcome One: Returning Home from Auschwitz (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 2002), p. 49. Levi, If This is a Man, pp. 39– 40. Avey and Broomby, The Man Who Broke Into Auschwitz, p. 132. Ibid., p. 136. Ibid., p. 135. Ibid., pp. 135 –6. Affidavit by Leonard Dales, No. NI-11695 Office of Chief of Counsel for War Crimes, Imperial War Museum. Affidavit by Charles Hill, No. NI-11704 Office of Chief of Counsel for War Crimes, Imperial War Museum. Working hours for Britons were extended during the summer months. Affidavit by Frederick Wooley, No. NI-11706 Office of Chief of Counsel for War Crimes, Imperial War Museum. Levi, If This is a Man, p. 51. Ibid., p. 138. Avey and Broomby, The Man Who Broke Into Auschwitz, p. 145. Frankenthal, The Unwelcome One, pp. 43– 4. Avey and Broomby, The Man Who Broke Into Auschwitz, p. 147. Levi, The Drowned and the Saved, p. 93. Ibid., pp. 93– 4. Ibid., p. 94. Steinberg, Speak You Also, p. 44. Levi, If This Is A Man, pp. 39– 40. Ibid., p. 33. Ibid., pp. 33– 4.

NOTES

TO PAGES

205 –216

251

236. Avey and Broomby, The Man Who Broke Into Auschwitz, p. 140. 237. S. P. Mackenzie, The Colditz Myth: British and Commonwealth Prisoners of War in Nazi

Germany (Oxford: Oxford University Press: 2004), p. 2. Mackenzie rightly points out that ‘The emphasis on escapes, which in any case were less pervasive than is commonly assumed, has meant less exciting aspects of the POW experience have been underplayed or ignored,’ p. 2. 238. Daily Mail, 9 April 2011. 239. See for example, ‘Striped Pyjamas,’ Literary Review, May 2011, http://www.li teraryreview.co.uk/cesarani_10_08.html, accessed on 5 August 2014.

Coda 1. Jan T. Gross, Fear: Anti-Semitism in Poland after Auschwitz (Princeton and

2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10.

11. 12. 13. 14. 15. 16. 17. 18. 19. 20. 21.

Woodstock: Princeton University Press, 2006), pp. 5– 13. The Provisional government was originally called the Polish Committee of National Liberation. Cyril Rofe, Against the Wind (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1956), p. 290. Ibid., p. 290. Paul Brickhill, Escape or Die: Authentic Stories of the RAF Escaping Society (New York: W.W. Norton & Co. Inc., 1952), p. 205. Ibid., pp. 204 –6. Rofe, Against the Wind, p. 285. Ibid., p. 285. Virtual Shtetl, http://www.sztetl.org.pl/en/article/grodzisko-dolne/5,history/, accessed 3 September 2014. http://kehilalinks.jewishgen.org/Kolbuszowa/grodziskodolne/sl_grodzis kodolne13.html, accessed 1 September 2014. Chemura wrote of the horrific event: ‘I can remember dreadful scenes of human tragedy. Sometimes children suffered for over half an hour before they died; or a victim’s head would explode into fragments and I would have to pick up bits of brains and bone over a radius of several yards. In particular, I remember the death of Matys Beller, a very powerful man, who received several gunshots before he died.’ Ilex Beller, Life in the Shtetl: Scenes and Recollections (New York; London: Holmes & Meier, 1989), p. 139. Rofe, Against the Wind, pp. 292 –3. Beller, Life in the Shtetl, p. 139. Rofe, Against the Wind, p. 293. Ibid. Ibid., p. 294. Gross, Fear, p. 250. Rofe, Against the Wind, p. 295. Ibid., p. 296. Ibid., pp. 296 –7. Ibid., p. 297. Ibid., p. 294.

252

NOTES

TO PAGES

216 –217

22. Green, From Colditz in Code, p. 99. 23. Times Literary Supplement, 5 October 1956, p. 591. 24. The somewhat over-simplistic popular narrative about the way Nazi policies

towards Jews unfolded, often portrayed as a singular event characterised by methodical processes and a homogeny of experience, is even seen by some historians as creating more problems for a proper understanding of history than it solves. See, for example, Tom Lawson and Thomas Kuhne, The Holocaust and Local History (Elstree: Vallentine Mitchell & Col Ltd, 2011).

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INDEX

Abramovitz, Shlomel, 93 Adkin, John, 53, 236 – 7n.128 Air Raid Precautions, 6 Alexander, David Innes, 142 Allen, Andrew, 105 Allen, Les, 25– 6 Allen, William, 100, 115 Ambros, Otto, 155 Anderson, Sir John, 6 Anderson, L. J., 146 Armia Ludowa (People’s Army), 211 Auschwitz Concentration Camp, 33, 36, 37, 43, 68, 91, 106, 142, 145, 151, 184 Auschwitz II-Birkenau, 38, 43, 44, 97, 103, 105, 130, 138 – 9, 155, 157 –61, 185, 186– 91, 193, 206, 238n.2, 248n.179 Auschwitz III-Monowitz, 17, 97, 188, 193, 248n.179 Auschwitz Museum, 177, 181 Avey, Denis, 132, 168, 174, 176– 8, 185, 190, 206 bombing of, 243n.66 camp system, 3, 38– 9, 41, 62, 65, 96– 7, 125 connection with western camps, 70 Coward, Charles, 130, 135– 8, 146 –7, 149, 150, 155, 158, 161, 163, 167, 241n.43, 246n.119 inmates, 41

reputation with German civilians, 118 – 19 reputation with POWs, 44, 61, 69, 75, 82, 84, 85, 87, 90, 118, 210 survivors, 112 Sonderkommando uprising, 159 Auschwitz Struggle Group, 159 Auxiliary Military Pioneer Corps, 13–15, 45 Avey, Denis, 3, 23, 131 – 2, 141, 148, 167 –208, 236n.109, 249n.192 The Man Who Broke Into Auschwitz, 3, 131 – 2, 168, 171, 173, 176, 177, 180, 181, 183, 185– 9, 199, 201, 205 – 7, 247n.142 Badcock, James, 53 BBC, 5, 130 Bedlington, Frederick, 100 Bennett, A., 114 Bennett, W., 23 Berridge, G. R., 49 Beuthen, 181 Bevin, Ernest, 7, 8 Bishop, Brian, 104, 178 Blair, Tony, 181 Blatman, Daniel, 107 Blechhammer Concentration Camp, 39, 59, 97– 8, 102, 109, 121, 127, 236n.111

262

BRITISH POWS AND

Brickhill, Paul, 210, 217 British Expeditionary Force, 20, 21 Bogarde, Dirk, 129 Bond, Doug, 180, 241n.43 Bone, Kenneth, 92 –5 Bromberg, 43 Broomby, Rob, 139, 168, 170 – 1, 174, 176, 180, 183, 185, 188, 204, 207 Brown, Ernest, 8 Brown, Gordon, 131 Buchenwald Concentration Camp, 64– 72, 75, 77– 9, 82– 87, 90, 96 Burgess, Colin, 67– 71 Burney, Christopher, 71, 78 –90, 96, 232n.33, 233n.45 Callender, Edward, 64 Camp VI, base for E715 work detachment, 43, 102, 139, 140, 177, 178, 190, 200 Camp VIII, base for E715 work detachment, 43, 102, 139, 177, 178, 190 Castleton, N. B. W., 116, 222n.102, 238n.5 Cesarani, David, 167 Chamberlain, Neville, 4, 5, 6, 7, 219n.16, 243n.66 Charters, Horace, 44, 142 – 3, 145, 146, 179, 182 chatter culture, 2, 98, 100, 124, 125, 146, 147, 197 Chelmno, 69 Chemura, Jan, 211 Colonial Office, 50– 1 Connolly, Walter, 133, 134, 163, 164, 241n.24, 245n.113 conscription, 5 –8 Coster, Freddy, 109 Cotterell, Anthony, 9, 10, 11, 15 Coward, Charles, 3, 23, 129 – 58, 160 – 72 Auschwitz III-Monowitz, 148– 54 Avey, Denis, 167 – 70, 172, 174, 178, 182 –5, 187, 190, 193 –4, 196– 7, 199, 200, 201, 205– 7, 236n.109, 246n.133

THE HOLOCAUST

body-swap scheme, 160–4 British Hero of the Holocaust, 131 changing story, 171 dotty codes, 146 – 7 E715, 136 – 43 enlistment, 133 gas chambers, 155 –8 Gilbert, Martin, 131 JAG, 242n.57 Man of Confidence, 141 – 6 Nuremburg trial, 155, 244n.88, 244n.89 Password is Courage, The, 3, 129 –35, 137 – 39, 141, 143, 145 – 50, 152, 155, 158, 160 –1, 163, 165 –7 Persky, Yitzchak, 162– 6, 245n.110 POWs, opinions of, 241n.43 rank, 133 repatriation questionnaire, 133 Reynolds, murder of, 143 –6 Righteous Among the Nations, 246n.119 Smith Lyn, 131 Sonderkommando uprising, 158–60 Tost, escape from, 134 Trial, I. G. Farben, 140 V1 weapon, 134 –5 White, Joseph, 131 Currie, Albert, 92, 94 Czeladz´ 181 Cze˛stochowa, 33 Dachau, 64, 66 Daily Express, 9 Daily Mail, 13, 229n.28 Daily Telegraph, 7, 13 Dales, Leonard, 42, 43, 104, 121, 200 Davison, Frederick, 103, 119, 121, 184 Deans, James ‘Dixie’, 53 Dennis, Peter, 15 Department of Military Intelligence, 147 Didcock, George, 97– 8, 125 – 6, 236n.113 Dietzsch, Arthur, 73 –5, 232 – 3n.37 Ding-Schuler, Erwin Oscar, 73 Dominy, John, 53, 118 dotty codes, 146 –7, 243n.67

INDEX Doughty, Stanley, 121 Dover, O., 43 Doyle, Eric, 41, 43, 150, 158, 184 Drancy Internment Camp, 90 Duffree, G. J., 162 Duncan, William, 116, 122 Dungeon Democracy, The, 78 Du¨rrfeld, Walter, 150 E715 work detachment, 39, 41, 43, 44, 65, 102, 104, 118– 19, 236n.109, 241n.43 Avey, Denis, 148, 167 –9, 172 – 3, 176 –84, 189 – 90, 192, 195 – 6, 199, 205– 6, 247n.144 Coward, Charles, 129–31, 136 – 9, 141 –3, 147 – 8, 150, 154, 162, 164 East Surry Regiment, 45 Eden, Anthony, 51 Elliott, Denholm, 122 Emergency Powers Act, 7 Essex Yeomanry, 19 Evans, R. P., 48 –9 Farben, I. G. (Interessen-Gemeinschaft Farbenindustrie AG), 39– 43, 137 – 43, 148 – 9, 151, 154– 5, 158 – 61, 173 – 4, 179, 181, 184– 6, 189, 191, 193 –4, 197 E715 work detachment, 41, 102 – 3, 105 –6, 119 – 21, 131, 177, 200 management, 40, 200 trial, 132 – 3, 138, 155, 161 Feinelbaum, Moische, 29 Ferris, Robert, 40, 42, 105, 118, 139, 140, 184, 244n.87 Fingerhut, Jankiel, 211 –12 Fischer, Dawid, 36 Fish, Monty, 11 Foot, M. R. D., 78, 147, 232n.29 Fort Rauch, 31, 104, 123 Frankanthal, Hans, 197 –8 Freid, Freddy, 109 Freidla¨nder, Saul, 107 Fresnes Prison, 71, 72, 78 Frost, Douglas, 41, 42

263

Garrod, John, 129, 166 Gelber, Yoav, 49, 53, 228n.12 Geneva Convention, 19, 21, 25, 38, 50, 63, 64, 67, 113, 181, 183 –4 German National Railroad (Deutsche Reichsbahn), 36 Gershater, Ernie, 111 Gestapo, 19, 35, 41, 44, 55, 58, 64, 72, 91, 136, 156, 214 Gewelber, Jacob, 19 Gilbert, Adrian, 19– 20, 126, 184, 240n.15 Gilbert, Martin, 131 Glanville, H., 93 Gleiwitz, 97, 135 Gojewski, Jan, 211 Gollop, Reverend M., 52 Go¨rlitz, 107 Gould, Terry, 69 Graudenz, 173 – 7, 246n.133, 247n.144 Great Escape, The, 33 Green, Julius, 12, 44, 52, 59, 149, 224 Greenham, Denis, 40– 1, 43, 105, 119 –20 Greenman, Leon, 105 – 6, 153 Grief, Gideon, 158– 9 Grigg, Sir Percy James, 14 Grodzisko-Dolne, 210, 211, 215, 216 Gross Jan, 209, 213 Gross-Rosen Concentration Camp, 69 Gutman, Yisrael, 38– 9 Halberstadt, 82 HASAG organisation, 34 Harding, W. A., 47, 48, 54 Hardman, Leslie, 12 Hayes, Peter, 40 Herwin, E. C., 24, 111, 114–15, 117–18, 237n.147, 238n.9 Heydrebreck, 39, 62, 100, 102, 109, 115, 177, 236n.118 Hill, Charles, 43, 119, 208, 226– 7n.58 Hillebrand, Karl, 210 Himmler, Heinrich, 107 Hore-Belisha, Leslie, 14 Horobin, Gilbert, 2, 55, 236n.10 Hustler, D., 42, 45

264

BRITISH POWS AND

Imperial War Museum, 167, 169, 171, 174 International Brigade, 14 Jaworzno mine, 39, 41 Jeffreys, Diarmuid, 171, 189– 90 Jeske, Adolf, 211 Jewish Board of Deputies, 52 Jewish Chronicle, 51, 228n.10 Jo¨ckel, Heinrich, 92 Joining Up pamphlet, 8– 9 Jones, Ron, 120, 141, 169, 192, 204 Judge Advocate General, 132, 144, 235n.87 Kacenelenbeigen, Simon, 60 Katowice, 135 King, John O’Brien, 182 Klauber, George, 93 Klimonto´w, 181 Knoller, Freddie, 153 Koch, Karl, 65 Kogon, Eugen, 73, 77 Krako´w, 211 Krauch, Carl, 138 Kreuzburg, Upper Silesia, 116 Kurowicki, Alexander, 151 Kynaston, David, 128 Labour Party, 6 Lamason, Phillip, 71 Łambinowice, 135 Lamsdorf POW camp (Stalag VIIIB and later Stalag, 344), 2, 21 –4, 28– 9, 33, 37, 44, 47, 49, 51, 52, 55– 6, 97, 102, 107, 114, 115, 117, 121– 2, 135, 142, 151, 154, 168, 175, 210, 218n.6, 247n.141 Langley, J. M., 147 Lauste, L. W., 35– 8, 112 Lefevre, Doug, 21 Letich, Andre, 157 Levi Primo, 17, 83, 90, 103, 149, 151, 153, 154, 191 – 8, 201– 4, 227n.58, 247n.156, 250n. 210 Lezajsk, 210

THE HOLOCAUST

liberal democracy, 5, 16 Libie˛z, 39, 41 Little, Duncan, 104 Little, Major N., 52 London Rifle Brigade, 7 Lovell, Kenneth, 43 Lowe, John, 141 – 2 Lublin, 69, 90, 209 – 11, 238n.2 Lublin Committee of Liberation, 211 Lwo´w, 211 Mackenzie S. P., 40, 128, 206, 251n.237 Majdanek Concentration Camp, 64, 69, 238n.2 Majzlik, Israel, 104 Makar, Dr Peter, 151 Man of Confidence, 22, 44, 52, 63, 112, 124, 130, 137, 141–3, 146, 167–8, 176, 179, 242n.53, 247n.141 Man Who Broke Into Auschwitz, The, 3, 132, 168, 171, 173, 176–7, 180 –1, 183, 185– 9, 199, 201, 205 –7, 247n.143 Mason, D. C., 28–30 Mathias, E. V., 100 – 2, 107 –9 Maus, Art Speigelman’s, 33 Mauthausen Concentration Camp, 64 Mersburg, 82 MI9, 147 Michelin, Marcel, 82 Middlesex Yeomanry, 93 Milliken, Joseph, 144, 145, 182 Mills, Bob, 69 Ministry of Defence, 181 Minsinger, Oberst Leutnant, 53 Mittelbau-Dora, 81 Mooseberg, Bavaria, 43 Moyne, Lord, 51 Munich agreement, 12 Munich crisis, 4 –6, 48 Muselmann, 41, 85 Nall, J., 45 National Ex-Prisoner of War Association, 142 National Service pamphlet, 5 –8 National Services (Armed Forces) Act, 7

INDEX Natzweiler Concentration Camp, 64 Neiger, Katherine, 151 Newey, N., 98– 100, 109– 10, 112, 119, 121 Nicolson, Harold, 117 Niven, Bill, 68 Niwka mine, 49 NKVD, 211 Pape, Richard, 10, 22, 33, 162 Parkinson, Sir Cosmo, 51 Pascoe, John, 102 Password is Courage, The, 3, 129– 35, 137 – 9, 141, 143, 145– 50, 152, 155, 158, 160 –1, 163, 165– 7 Payne, Ronald, 129, 166 Peenemu¨nde Army Research Centre, 134 Peres, Gershon (see also Persky, Yitzchak), 133, 162– 6, 241n.24, 245n.110 Peres, Shimon, 162 – 6 Persky, Yitzchak (see also Peres, Gershon), 133, 162– 6, 241n.24, 245n.110 Peuleve´, Harry, 74– 5, 77 Piper, Franciszek, 38 Pister, Hermann, 65 Plo¨mnitz, 82 Polish government-in-exile, 209 Polish Home Army, 209, 211 Polish Underground State (PUS), 209 Poperinghe, Belgium, 28 Poschinger, Oberst Ritter von, 57 Posso¨gel, Karl, 66, 67, 69, 70, 231n.9 Poznan´, 31– 2, 43, 181 Price, George Ward, 13 Prisoner of War publication, 18 Przemys´l, 211 Red Cross, 18, 28, 22– 5, 44, 49– 55, 58, 95, 99, 105, 116, 120, 133, 141 – 3, 160, 172, 177– 81, 222n.102, 222n.104, 236n.118, 246n.134 and, 135, 248n.165 Red Cross and St John War Organisation, 175 Reichkristallnacht, 66 Reynolds, Leslie V., 143 – 7, 149, 182 – 3, 206

265

Reschke, Erich, 69 Rhemsdorf, 72, 75, 77 Righteous Among the Nations, 129 Roberta, Roza, 159 Robertson, Robin, 145, 182, 242n.56 Rofe, Cyril, 60– 1, 114, 115, 210– 17 Rojko, Stefan, 92, 93 Rollings, Charles, 19, 218n.3 Rotkopf, Rozia, 213 –14 Royal Army Medical Corps, 115, 145 Royal Army Ordinance Corps, 14 Royal Army Service Corps, 14, 144, 190 Royal Artillery, 144 Royal Corps of Signals, 14 Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, 14 Royal Sussex Regiment, 31 Royal Tank Regiment, 144 Royallieu-Compie`gne internment camp, 72 Rubenstein, Norman, 48, 56, 58– 9, 93, 95, 184 Rzeszo´w, 210, 211, 215 Saabru¨cken Gestapo Camp (Neue Bremm), 72 Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp, 64 Satow, Sir Harold, 52 Saukel, Fritz, 25 Scheffler, Wolfgang, 44 Schildberg, 184 Seal, Albert, 119 Setkiewicz, Piotr, 177, 236n.122 Sheffield, Gary, 8 Sheppard, Michael, 177, 180 Sherriff, Sergeant Major Sidney, 52 –3, 64, 142, 187, 229n.37, 247n.141 Sherwood, Cyril, 11 Shorrock, L. B., 195 Shustermann, Assir, 53 slave labour, 2, 24– 5, 40, 45, 68, 75, 97, 124, 194, 225– 6n.44, 234n.58 compensation for, 172 Jewish, 24, 38, 58– 9, 61– 3, 96, 98– 100, 104, 113, 115, 120, 152, 186, 192, 200 –1 Nazi policy, 17, 82, 200, 248n.179

266

BRITISH POWS AND

Small Fortress, Theresienstadt, 91, 92, 93, 96 Smith, Lyn, 131, 167, 169, 172– 3, 177, 178, 181, 182, 185–90, 192 Sommerstein, Dr Emil, 210 Sonderkommando, 130, 186, 187, 240n.16 uprising, 157 – 9 Sosnowiec, 36– 8, 110 Special Operations Executive (SOE), 19, 67, 71, 232n.29 Spencer, I. O. B., 144, 145, 182 Sperber, Karel, 151 Stalag IVB Mu¨hlberg, 29 Stalag VIIA Moosburg, 24 Stalag VIIIB Lamsdorf (later designated Stalag, 344), 2, 21– 4, 28– 9, 33, 37, 44, 47, 49, 51, 52, 55– 6, 97, 102, 107, 114, 115, 117, 121– 2, 135, 142, 151, 154, 168, 175, 210, 218n.6, 247n.141 Stalag XXIA near Schildberg, 58 Stalag XXIB Poznan´ 31 Stalag Luft III Sagan, 32– 3 Stalag Luft VI Heydekrug, 53 Steinberg, Paul, 49, 158, 161, 194, 204, 212, 245n.102 Stieff, Helmuth, 28 Stirling, Edward, 93– 6 Swift, D., 23, 31 –2, 112, 122 –3, 127, 224n.18 Szubin, 23, 31, 104 Tarnowitz, 60 Territorial Army, 6– 7, 9, 12, 24, 48, 109 Teschen POW Camp, 114, 116, 154 Theresienstadt Concentration Camp, 64, 65, 90– 3, 96, 234 – 5n.80 This is Your Life, 129 Times Literary Supplement, 90, 217 Todt Labour Organisation, 60 Tonkin, J., 23– 4 Tooze, Adam, 25, 238n.7 Tost, 133 –6, 163 – 4, 241n.24

THE HOLOCAUST

Treblinka, 33, 91, 224n.25, 244n.97 Troller, Norbert, 91, 92, 234 – 5n.80 United Nations War Crimes Commission, 91 Upper Silesia, 2, 33, 38, 42, 44, 116, 119, 135, 149, 179 V1 weapon, 134, 135, 136 Versailles, Treaty of, 117 Vietor, John A., 22– 3 Volksdeutsche, 29, 118, 219, 224n.15 Wannsee Conference, 40 War Graves Commission, 181 War Office, 148 Warsaw Ghetto, 66 Watchorn, Robert, 21, 55, 114, 126, 239n.32 Watt, Donald, 187 – 8 Wehrmacht, 4, 27, 33, 118, 121, 173, 175 Weiner, Hans Paul, 45, 55, 62 Welsh Fusiliers, 52 West, V., 29 –30, 115 Westerbork Internment Camp, 90 White, Joseph, 64, 104, 114, 131, 140, 161, 164, 240n.17, 244n.89, 245n.110 Wild, David, 175 Witte, James, 19 –20 Wollheim, Norbert, 103 Wood, Stanley, 93 Wood, W. P., 127 Wooden Horse, The, 33 Woodward, Harold, 94 Wooley, Frederick, 42, 103, 200 World War I, 8, 14 Wroclaw, 135 Wyatt, George, 104, 123 Yad Vashem, 129, 132 Yeo-Thomas, Forest, 67, 71 –8, 96, 221n.77, 232n.31 Zeitz, 82, 84