‘Remembering Second World War Internment in Great Britain’
Some 80,000+ refugees from Europe sought refuge in Great Britain during the 1930s. Upon the declaration of war in 1939, Germans and Austrians automatically became ‘enemy aliens’. The British government was aware that the majority of immigrants were refugees from Nazi oppression and set up tribunals to ascertain whether or not an ‘enemy alien’ was dangerous. Although a flawed process, the tribunals did stall calls for mass internment until the rapid fall of France and the Low Countries led to mass hysteria and increased anti-German feeling. From May 1940, all men over the age of 16, regardless of classification, were interned, as were many women and children. Until the last few decades, little was known about the internment of enemy aliens by the British during the war. However, in recent years, novels such as David Baddiel’s The Secret Purposes, published in 2004, and exhibitions such as ‘Schwitters in Britain’ at the Tate Britain in 2013, have introduced a wider audience to this lesser known part of the British wartime narrative. Some of those interned in Britain were deported to Canada and Australia, which led to the greatest tragedy of the entire internment debacle: the sinking of the Arandora Star. 2020 marked the 80th anniversary of this tragedy, and the memory is mostly perpetuated in the British–Italian community. A mini-series in the 1980s, starring Bob Hoskins, fictionalised the experiences of those sent to Australia, but in Canada there has been no such move to bring this aspect of Second World War internment into public consciousness. Just as the experiences of the internees varied depending on whether they remained on the Isle of Man or ended up in Australia or Canada, the ways internment has been depicted in popular culture differs per country. This talk compared and contrasted attempts to bring Second World War internment to greater public awareness across the UK, Canada and Australia.
Dr Rachel Pistol is a Researcher at King’s College London and is the King’s co-ordinator of the third phase of the European Holocaust Research Infrastructure (EHRI). She is also an Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Exeter. Rachel has published widely on Second World War internment in the UK and the USA including Internment during the Second World War: A Comparative Study of Great Britain and the USA (Bloomsbury, 2017) and her co-edited collection The Jews, the Holocaust, and the Public: The Legacies of David Cesarani (Palgrave Macmillan, 2019). She has discussed Second World War internment on BBC TV and radio, Sky News and has written articles comparing internment with modern day issues that have appeared internationally including in Newsweek, The Independent and Huffington Post.
‘The economics of internment: as seen through the banknotes created by the “Dunera Boys” deported to Australia and interned in Hay NSW, September 1940 to May 1941’
This talk explored the experiences of 2,000 predominately Jewish refugees who were deported to Australia aboard HMT Dunera and interned in two equal groups in Hay Camps 7 and 8 which, despite being just two hundred yards apart were kept isolated from each other. Most observers describe their experiences at Hay as if it was a single group; however, once you delve individually into the two camps astounding differences emerge. This story of social and economic behaviour is a colourful and often amusing tale, containing political intrigue, a communist plot, hidden messages and an auspicious use of toilet paper. It tells the story of how these unfortunate internees, who were deported from the UK to Australia and dumped behind barbed wire on the edge of the Australian desert, made the best of their situation and with amazing ingenuity thrived against the prevailing odds.
Alan Morgenroth is a Chartered Accountant and entrepreneur. He started to research his late Father’s experiences as a Dunera Boy in 2007 five years after his father had died. His research has gone far beyond the discovery that his Father was a member of the Camp 8 MID – Money Issuing Department – and is now an expert on the Dunera saga. He met historian, Dr Rachel Pistol, a leading expert on internment, in 2017 through his research and they were married the following year!