The refugee committee informed me that I need to go to the high court in Edinburgh. A lawyer from the committee accompanied me to the high court but he was not allowed into the hearing. At the High court in Edinburgh I was convicted of “Corresponding with the Enemy” a very serious offence during wartime. My letters to my parents were sent to my uncle Salo Würzburger in Brussels which in 1940 was a neutral country. Uncle Salo then forwarded the letters on to Germany. The answer came back by the same route and the letters were intercepted by the censor.
The Judge, Sir John Strachan made me A Dangerous Enemy Alien Category A. I was arrested, I was just 16y (a juvenile). I was shocked but not frightened.
Two Detectives escorted me to Waverly Station, put me in a locked compartment on the Glasgow train, all alone. Collected at Queen’s Street Glasgow by 2 policemen and taken home to Hurwichs. Allowed 1 phone call and packed the minimum of clothing in a holdall. Next stop Police Headquarters. The Sargent said: “Cannie tak the Laddie. He’s under 17, not allowed in a cell”. A civilised country! A stressful day but I was well treated by the policemen. They panicked, what to do with this Dangerous ‘Cat. A’ boy?
A Remand Home for Juvenile offenders, was the answer. Boys of 13/15y waiting to go to court the next day for stealing and other offences. I was greeted by these boys: “What did ye dae?” As I “didnae dae onythin” I lost their esteem. My cigarettes were deposited in the Governor’s office. He was kind and meant well, giving me permission to smoke in his office. I knew better. I would have been ridiculed. A most stressful day. Did I sleep well for the two nights I was there? I can’t remember!
I was transferred to Maryhill Barrack’s, a large military base in Glasgow now a prisoner of war camp. Rudolf Hess was held there after his “peace” flight.
Shared a Cement Air raid Shelter with 21 captured German Merchant Sailors. Here I was once again in a hostile environment. Jewish, German and Category A. There were anti-Semitic remarks, however some senior ranking officers protected me. A stressful time, as prisoners we were confined with nothing to relieve the feeling of imprisonment.
Two weeks later the journey continued by bus to Donaldson school in Edinburgh, a large former Deaf School at Corstorphine, now an internment camp. I was once again with the same German sailors, fortunately I did not have to share their dormitory.
The war was going badly after the Dunkirk evacuation. Prime Minister Winston Churchill
Banged the Cabinet Table “Collar the Lot” was the phrase he used. The internment of enemy aliens, German and Italian, even the “friendly Continental Jewish refugees” began. Churchill was driven to that by the relentless virulent anti foreigner’s campaign by the tabloid press, The Mail, Express & Sun. “Expel the foreigners, lock them up etc.”
An unnecessary decision, we came here to flee from the Nazis and to help defeat them.
At Donaldson’s the commandant asked “Is there anyone here who can cook?” I put my hand up, “yes, I can cook!”. My apprenticeship in Baden Baden in 1938 made me confident.
Thinking back, the temerity of youth made me volunteer. “Within 72 hours 170 internees will arrive, you need to prepare meals” The army provided the rations and I found myself
in charge of the kitchen with a staff of 12 German sailors in this large institutional kitchen,
and we cooked. One sailor called me “ein dreckiger Jude” a dirty Jew. Another knocked him out. British Corporal was assigned to keep things normal. We worked hard for 10 days.
General Internment had been ordered and amongst the arrivals of the men was my cousin Gustav Würzburger and my future father in law Ascher Wolff.
It is now July and while at Donaldson’s we fortunately missed being sent to Canada on the SS Arandora Star, which was tragically torpedoed off Ireland with the loss of hundreds of lives of Internees.
Time to move on again by train to York Racecourse. Corporal produced a list of rations for the train: Oatmeal potatoes, beans etc. I pointed out that we will not have any cooking facilities,
“We need bread and corned beef.” I was not afraid to speak up again, I spoke the truth.
We were quartered below the stands of the race course. Very basic cold and damp. Now separated from the German sailors, just mostly German Jewish Refugees. Only a few days there. I remember lectures on hygiene, no doubt they had concerns about homosexuality. A boring time, constant roll calls to check the number of prisoners.
The minute you became familiar with the new camp and fellow internees, it was time to move on.
Now August and on to camp No 5. Warth Mills near Bury Lancashire, on old cotton mill. It turned out to be the most horrendous experience of all the camps. 2000 men crammed into the filthy oily floors of this disused mill. On arrival we were strip searched, I remember joining the long queue to be searched. I lost most of my personal belongings, fountain pen, pocket knife, wrist watch, never to be seen again. A fairly rough going over by the soldiers.
It was intimidating and frightening we were just the German Enemy!
Given a hessian sack to fill with straw. That was your bed, now find a place on the floor to sleep. Overcrowding sparked a tense situation that led to sickness. Injuries from falling overhead transmissions, a dangerous time. Basic toilet facilities consisted of 60 buckets in a yard and 18 water taps for 2000 men. At night crossing the yard the guards would shout:
“Halt or I Shoot”. I recall one man so upset that he pulled open his shirt and said “SHOOT”
Someone described it as “Hell on Earth” You can imagine the in adequacy of the food.
The eating area was called Starvation Hall. There were many Doctors amongst the Internees, they were afraid of an epidemic occurring in these dangerous conditions.
On a lighter note, unbelievably the only item that was plentiful was Carnation Milk in tins for your porridge, so sweet and sickly, that I have not touched it since.
It was a very hard 2 weeks at Warth Mills, tense and dangerous, Soldiers with guns and bayonets. The officers and men were eventually court martialled for the unnecessarily brutal treatment of the Internees. It is a sad reflection on the Government’s panicky handling of the Internment of Aliens. They knew who we were and why we sought asylum in the UK. to escape the Nazi persecution of Jews.
Time to move again to Hyton Liverpool on our way to the Isle of Man. How do you create a camp quickly? Hyton was an unfinished housing scheme, simply enclose with barbed wire and hey Presto you have a camp. We only stayed 2 days. At Liverpool we embarked for the IoM where many camps were ready. Simply whole sections of Hotels and Boarding houses surrounded by barbed wire, in Douglas ,Ramsay, Peel and Port Erin (women).
A smooth 3hour crossing of the Irish Sea. Our destination was Peveril Camp Peel on the West Coast of the island.
Walked from the harbour to the railway station, a narrow gage small train took us to Peel, about 80 internees. Peveril Camp consisted of the last 8 hotels at the end of the promenade, overlooking PEEL BAY and Castle. This looked very promising,
Reasonable accommodation, double rooms. House No 6, 12 rooms on 3 storeys.
24 Internees age groups 25 to 60 plus. Mostly German Jewish refugees and some political German detainees. I was the only CHILD aged 16 detained by MI5 !!
Knowing we were here for the long term, you settled down and made friends. Food was reasonable, no shortages.
Business people, teachers’ doctors galore, University professors and also “ordinary” Jewish refugees, all missing their dear ones let in the UK. It did not take long to establish discussion groups, theatre and music debating groups. We all had time on our hands. Interrupted careers, no income, one letter a week, everybody had family torn apart.
For me it was a great learning experience like a look into adult life and a whole new education. No Newspapers allowed, we followed the course of the war by radio when permitted. The authorities began to understand we were not “Enemy Aliens” but a well educated
Refugees from the Nazis and are anxious to help the war effort towards victory. We organised the postal system, we hated the disruption of the constant ROLL Calls and found a better system which the camp commander accepted. We refused to go for walks or swimming accompanied by soldiers with guns and bayonets, they began to understand, we were not going to escape, Things settled down to mutual cooperation.
Professor Hans Gal, who had lived Edinburgh, published his daily diaries in German and English, from a camp in Douglas, a really special insight, worth reading.
To combat illness, we were divided into groups by our doctors, to test different foods or medicines. It WORKED.
Many men played Chess, but with their backs to the chess board, given 10 seconds to call out the next move. Quite a challenge !! Many musical instruments arrived from their homes in UK and Music and Theatre flourished . Cabarets, Shows also for the Officers. We were taken to Douglas to see the Charlie Chaplin Film : The Great Dictator, making fun of Hitler. Life went on. Several people were released for hardship or medical reasons. We all hoped to get home soon.
We were allowed a weekly letter. My letter was used to complain to the authorities. It was sent to the liberal Manchester Guardian and Eleanor Rathbone MP(known as MP for the refugees). We argued that we should be released to help with the war effort and defeat the Nazis. This exposure got our comments mentioned at Prime Ministers Question Time. In spite of being behind barbed wire it gave us a feeling of living in democratic country.
I was called to several Tribunals to be reassessed. Did I really correspond with the enemy?
I got a new roommate, a German officer a Metallurgist working at the British Aluminium Co.
in Fort William. He turned out to be an MI5 Agent. He spoke Perfect German and Oxford English. He gave lectures in metallurgy, to fool us of his identity.
He tried to get me drunk and searched for information, which I did not have or know.
An unpleasant episode. But his report must have convinced them that I was CLEAN.
Which eventually led to my release. In 2008 I received a document through Freedom of Information from MOD that they did think I was a spy.
Many more boring months went by. Met many interesting people and made good friends. A Yorkshire man who had no German connections wondered why he was interned. It turned out his grandfather was German and had never become British. Poor man found it difficult to take. However, he taught me about Tabaco. Gather certain leaves, cure them with Salpeter, put them in a sardine tin place under 1 leg of your bed and the pressure will make solid Tabaco. You learned a lot about making do.
I was transferred to Ramsay Camp for just 2 days to be released. The commandant told me: “I cannot keep you a day longer as you are under the age for internment” which was 18.
Such is the bureaucracy of wartime. The journey home was frightening. All ALONE after being in a friendly community for 10 long months. Had vouchers for Boat and Train, But which Boat? Where to find train to Glasgow in Liverpool station? Remember it is wartime, who do I ask?
A warm welcome from Mrs. Hurwich. I have come HOME.
What Now? I found a job as apprentice Chef at the Corn Exchange restaurant.
Found the Refugee Club with lots of young people, “The House on the Hill in Sauchiehall Street “Where I met Ingrid. As they say “The Rest Is History”.