29 NOVEMBER 1940, Page 8


By H. A. SCHLOSSMANN AGOOD deal has been written of late from outside about conditions in internment camps in this country, and perhaps there is room for some observations from a recent inmate of one such institution, the Central Promenade Camp in the Isle of Man. Let me say at once that I recognise that some measure of internment of aliens at a time like this may have been necessary, though there is obviously room for con. siderable difference of opinion as to what classes of aliens and what individuals should be interned. That, however, is another question. What I am concerned with here is what the condi- tion of the internees in a typical camp is, and in what respect it might and should be improved.

Of the treatment generally there is little serious ground for complaint. While I was there it was, within the limits fixed by military regulations, courteous and understanding. The com- mandant did what he could to meet our wishes, e.g., by fixing the curfew time at to p.m., in order to facilitate lectures and classes, by varying walks and sending with us fewer and less heavily armed guards. There has, moreover, been a marked improvement since August, the result, I think, of the general change in public opinion, of debates in Parliament and of the influence of certain visitors to the camp.

Accommodation in the Central Camp was quite adequate as long as the total number of internees was not more than 1,5oo. However, the figure was usually considerable higher, between 1,70o and 1,800, and about 2,000 during the first two months. People had then to be accommodated two in one bed or to sleep on the floor. Sanitary facilities and bathrooms were sufficient and in good order. Food in general was sufficient both from the point of view of cooking and caloric value. There was a certain shortage of fresh vegetables, and fruit was never included in the ration. Additional food in tins could be bought from the canteen, and so could fruit, tomatoes and onions during the season. The price of fruit, however, was consider- ably higher than in the shops of Douglas.

The state of health was surprisingly good, partly due, of course, to the dry summer and the excellent climate of Douglas. This will certainly be different in the winter, because many of the internees are not accustomed to the English winter, and heating is still a problem to be solved. In order to avoid the unnecessary spreading of colds and infectious diseases, the over- crowding of quarters should be avoided. It seems imperative from the hygienic point of view that everyone should have his own bed. Although most of the internees were in good health at the time of their internment, a number of more or less sick people had been interned as well. Two diseases were especially conspicuous right from the beginning: diabetes and angina pectoris. When the White Paper came out and people became eligible for release because of " medical hardship," I think I can say from my experience that almost everyone who was seriously ill was released without undue delay. Employment of the abundant leisure-time is a problem of the first importance. We have tried from the first to keep lectures, classes and entertainments going, and so far we have always had the support of the military authorities. In the Central Camp we had been seriously hampered for some time by the lack of suitable rooms, but in October we got an empty house for lectures, meetings and library, and a full programme of classes on different subjects is now going on. There were concerts and musical entertainments all the time, and twice a revue about ourselves was produced.

If I had to try to summarise the attitude of the internees generally I should divide them roughly into three different groups. The first admit frankly the necessity for some intern- ment and the difficulty of complete discrimination. They are therefore prepared to suffer the disabilities of internment with reasonable cheerfulness, only asking that conditions should be made as tolerable as is reasonably possible. The second group protests that there is no reason whatever for their internment, that they were encouraged and helped to come to this country, and that it is inconsistent to follow up such an invitation with internment. Most members of this group are, and feel them- selves, transmigrants. They do not propose to stay here, but are waiting for visas to countries overseas. The third group, a very small minority, is, while not actually pro-Nazi, deeply impressed by German efficiency and organisation and by German brutality and success as well. There is considerable justification for internment here.

What is to be the future of the internment system? Is it contemplated that certain classes will remain confined for the duration of the war, and if so which? It would seem bare justice that individuals in the first and second of the three groups I have just mentioned should be given the fullest oppor- tunity to put their case before one or other of the committees which the Home Office has appointed. Meanwhile, internment- camps will clearly continue. That being so, certain improve- ments which would mitigate hardship, keep internees in good spirits and thereby strengthen their morale may be suggested. Accommodation, as I have already said, is good, but there should be a determined attempt to avoid overcrowding. In particular, every internee should always have his own bed. It is most important too to provide suitable work for every inmate. At least one third will easily find full-time wori, in the camps, either in the houses (cooking, domestic duties). or in the various offices of the internal administration, including the hospitals, or as craftsmen. All that, of course, is the case already.

Outdoor work (gardening, agriculture) seems the most suit- able work for those who are bodily able to carry out that sort of work. Land could certainly be provided by the Govern- ment of the Isle of Man, and it could be cultivated at a low cost, as the internees are paid only Is. a day. It will be more difficult to find work for people who are not fit for such outdoor work. Home industries, like weaving or manufacturing of toys, could be developed without too much loss of time. But in this case an organisation to sell the products outside the camps would be necessary.

Finally, there is the question of mixed camps, which can be occupied by husbands and wives, for the enforced separaton means a very real, and to a large extent an unnecessary, hard- ship. Mixed camps would not only reunite families and make people feel happier, but I suppose that quite a number of couples, especially the elderly, would have no objection to staying there for the duration in those circumstances. As a number of women would have been released meanwhil_e, perhaps Port St. Mary could be transformed into a mixed camp. That would involve an increase of freedom for the men transferred to that camp. The first mixed camp would be an experiment in any case, but it may be hoped that it would turn out a success and that the increase of freedom for the men would not be misused.

If the mixed camp proved successful, the experience gairied could easily be applied to all camps, always having in mind that the bulk of the internees are refugees who are well disposed to this country. It might be necessary to transfer people about whom there is any doubt in this respect into a separate camp. It should be possible then to substitute for the regulations now in force new regulations which would gradually remove restrictions and allow at least for a limited amount of freedom. To begin with, commandants would be authorised to give leave to internees for walks without guards. The internees them- selves would be responsible for correct behaviour. If that worked well—as I assume it would—leave could be given for shopping or visits to cinemas and so on. Internment would then be very different from what it now is. Even if some people had to stay on the Isle of Man for a long time, they would feel that they were not considered and not treated as " enemies."