This week as I was sorting through some of our collections I came across a really intriguing object.
Entitled ‘Men in the shadow? No – Men in the sun!’ at first glance the document looks almost like a holiday brochure. Photographs of men playing football, a group of actors putting on a play, enjoying a drink and partaking in a very English game of cricket add to the holiday camp feel.
In fact, this ‘brochure’ is promoting German Prisoner of War (POW) camps during WW2. In order to disprove claims that English POWs were being poorly treated like ‘Men in the shadow’ , the Nazis produced documents like this to prove that POWs were in fact ‘well-fed, sturdy figures’ with ‘smiling faces’.
“They have overcome the terrors of war. Their eyes reflect a feeling of happiness and confidence in the future. After the war they will go home.”
The author claims that the British soldiers did not have the choice between freedom and imprisonment when they went to war. The men who ‘surrendered’ to the Nazis chose life and the certitude of returning home safe instead of death.
“The men in these pictures have found many good friends among Germans. They would laugh at anybody who would call them “men in the shadow” because they have just managed to escape from the shadows of death on the battlefield….Their sun of life has risen again, and they are certain to return home safely after the war.”
The ‘brochure’ is written like an advertisement for the POW camps. It reads as if it is speaking directly to prospective POWs, almost as if they would choose to surrender to join the “clean, spacious, up-to-date” camps. It describes the ‘’ample” and “high quality” food, the athletics fields, football grounds and swimming pools.
“For your entertainment there are motion pictures, theatrical and musical shows and every facility is made to enable prisoners of the various nationalities to celebrate their festivals in their own way. You will be given an opportunity of learning a trade or of improving yourself in your profession.”
“The camp library is open. A great variety of books ranging from detective stories to scientific treatises are kept at the disposal of the P.O.W. In the foreground the American camp doctor is seen making his choice”
“Those desirous of carrying on with their studies have the possibility of attending schools, special courses and even university courses”.
This photograph shows a football match claiming to be London vs Manchester game. According to the author, Manchester won 5: 3.
The document states that mail is sent via the International Red Cross and every prisoner receives one parcel a week containing cigarettes, chocolate, coffee and biscuits. POWS were allowed to receive any amount of mail and permitted to write 4 postcards and 3 letters a month.
The ‘brochure’ also contains ‘quotes’ from POWs, such as Lt. H.A. Ransom writing to his wife in Middlesex:
And Sgt Jesse Bradburn writing to his Mother Mrs Al. Bradburn
It’s unclear whether these quotes were real or fabricated.
Within the same box I found a letter, written from ‘Somewhere in Italy’ on February 19th 1944, from Jess. I originally thought the letter was real but on closer inspection it appears to have been printed. It is stamped in red over all 4 pages, ‘Truth about treatment of P.O.W’s in Regular German camps or hospitals’.
The letter contains exactly the same quote from Jesse in the POW camp brochure, along with various other positive comments such as “If the treatment goes on as it has been, being a prisoner will be a snap.” Is this the same ‘Jess’ or ‘Jesse’ as included in the brochure? This letter represents more Nazi propaganda, produced to convince the English that their POWs were treated fairly and respectfully.
It is known that Germany and Italy generally treated prisoners from France, the US and the British Commonwealth in accordance with the Geneva Convention. The Germans were also obliged to apply this treatment to Jewish prisoners of war who wore the British Army’s uniform, therefore sparing them from the horrific fate of other Jews around the world. Although Allied prisoners of war complained of a scarcity of food within German POW camps, they were treated comparatively well. For example, ordinary soldiers who were made to work were compensated, and officers were exempt from work requirements. As the ‘brochure’ states, the International Red Cross did ease conditions by distributing food packages and providing medical assistance.
Although it is doubtful that the POW camps were as happy and entertaining as this brochure suggests it is nonetheless a really fascinating object.