- Over 139,000 records of “enemy aliens” who were investigated or interned by the authorities during both world wars available to search online
- Collection reveals the stories of thousands of WW2 refugees who were interned in camps across the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth
Today, 26th August 2016, over 139,000 records of foreign born men and women who were suspected of being enemy sympathisers or spies have been published online for the first time at Findmypast.
Britain, Enemy Aliens and Internees, First and Second World War, released in association with The National Archives, tells the stories of thousands of foreign nationals who were investigated and interned in camps across the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth during the First and Second World Wars.
The records are comprised of enemy alien index cards from the Home Office, nominal rolls, correspondence, Prison Commission records and much more. They include people from Germany, Italy, Japan, Austria, Finland, Bulgaria, Hungary, and Romania, and range from individual index cards recording a person’s movements and background to nominal rolls of camp inmates.
Enemy aliens are natives of a belligerent country. At times of war and conflict, natives of such countries living within the United Kingdom were considered a threat to national security as potential sympathisers or spies for those countries. Foreign nationals were investigated and, in some cases, interned.
While a number were genuine sympathisers, many were entirely innocent and had even fled persecution in their native country as refugees. These circumstances are sometimes noted in the records.
While the collection covers both World Wars, the bulk of the records come from the Second World War. When war broke out, foreign nationals were categorised by the Home Office and investigated by tribunals to determine the threat they posed to national security. Category ‘A’ meant an immediate threat and the need for internment, category ‘B’ were individuals who were not initially detained but were given certain restrictions on travel and ownership, and category ‘C’ were those who were identified as refugees as well as native women who were considered enemy aliens based off their marriage. As the war continued and more countries joined, the list of enemy aliens and those chosen for internment grew.
A number of those spared internment were allowed to serve in the British Armed Forces. The Pioneer Corps was the only British unit that enemy aliens could serve in early in the war, and many thousands of Germans and Austrians joined to assist the Allied war efforts and liberation of their home countries. These were mainly Jews and political opponents of the Nazi Regime who had fled to Britain while it was still possible and were often dubbed “The King’s Most Loyal Enemy Aliens”. Many later moved on to serve in fighting units while some were recruited by Special Operations Executive (S.O.E.) as secret agents. They were instructed to choose an “English” name using their old initials as there was a high probability they would have been executed as traitors by the Germans if captured.
Many of these men appear in the records.
The number of German-born Jews joining the British forces was exceptionally high, with one in seven Jewish refugees joining the British forces by the end of the war.
Life in the camps
Internment camps were located all over the United Kingdom, but the largest settlement of camps during both wars was on the Isle of Man. Internees could also be deported to other nations within the Commonwealth, notably Australia and Canada, a practice that was eventually scrapped due to high casualties resulting from enemy attacks on transport ships, such as the sinking of the SS Arandora Star in July 1940. The Arandora Star was torpedoed while transporting Italian and German aliens to North America and 743 men, women and children were killed, including prisoners, crew and guards.
Those arrested were taken away from their families, and weren’t told where they were going or for how long. At the beginning of the war, internees were sent to transit or temporary camps, held in derelict mills, warehouses, or even vacant lots surrounded by barbed wire. Larger camps were created on the Isle of Man at Mooragh, Peveril, Rushen, Onchan, Central, Palace, Metropole, and Hutchinson.
At its maximum capacity, Rushen Camp held about 3,500 internees and female internees, organised classes for painters, dressmakers, sculptors, and typists, and even spent time on the beach. Hutchinson Camp on Douglas, was particularly noted as “the artists’ camp” due to the thriving artistic and intellectual life of its inhabitants. Internees took positions within the camp such as ordinary’s kitchen staff and teachers, were permitted to apply to work outside of the camp, competed in an inter-camp football league, hosted art exhibits, formed a camp orchestra, produced a camp newspaper and staged theatre productions.
Not all camps were as accommodating and life in internment was far from easy. People of different classes, nationalities, and political sympathies were mixed and a single camp could collectively house Germans, Austrians, Italians, Finnish, Japanese, Bulgarians, and Hungarians, as well as Jewish refugees and Nazi sympathisers.
Included in the records are:
- The records of thousands of political and Jewish refugees who fled persecution in Nazi Germany.
- Sir Kenneth Hugo Adam, OBE (born Klaus Hugo Adam; 5 February 1921 – 10 March 2016). The British movie production designer, best known for his set designs for the James Bond films of the 1960s and 1970 and well as for Dr. Strangelove was born in Berlin and relocated to England with his Jewish family at the age of 13 soon after the Nazis came to power. Adam’s was allowed to join the pioneer corps and went on to become one of only three German-born pilots in the British Royal Air Force during the war.
- German artist, Kurt Schwitters, most famous for his collages, called Merz Pictures. Schwitters worked in several genres and media, including Dada, Constructivism, Surrealism, poetry, sound, painting, sculpture, graphic design, typography, and what came to be known as installation art and displayed his work at various exhibits at Hutchinson Camp.
- Rabbi Immanuel Jakobovits, Baron Jakobovits – the Chief Rabbi of Great Britain (1966- 1991). Jakobovits and his family fled Berlin in 1938 and were not interned during the war.
- Fritz Beckhardt – a German Jewish fighter ace in World War I. The Nazis later expunged him from Luftwaffe history because his valorous war record of 17 aerial victories belied their assertions that Jews were inherently cowardly. After a brief internment on the Isle of Man, Beckhardts was reunited with his two children who had been brought to England by the “Kindertransport” Organizations.
- Claus Adolf Moser, Baron Moser, KCB, CBE – a British statistician who made major contributions in both academia and the Civil Service. Despite being Jewish, in 1940, he was interned as an enemy alien in Huyton Camp.
- Anna Freud – daughter of Sigmund and also a psychoanalyst. Fled persecution by the Nazis in Austria in June 1938 and took refuge in the UK.
- Anton Walter Freud – a chemical engineer, member of the Royal Pioneer Corps and the British Special Operations Executive. He was a grandson of Sigmund Freud and escaped with him and other family members from Vienna after the Anschluss.
- Emil Julius Klaus Fuchs – a German theoretical physicist and atomic spy who, in 1950, was convicted of supplying information from the American, British, and Canadian Manhattan Project to the Soviet Union during and shortly after the Second World War. Fuchs was sent to an internment camp in Sherbrooke, Quebec, Canada, where he joined a communist discussion group.
- Rudolf Olden- – a German lawyer and journalist in the Weimar period who was a vocal opponent of the Nazis, a fierce advocate of human rights and one of the first to alert the world to the treatment of Jews by the Nazis in 1934. Despite his actions, Olden was interned on the Isle of Man.
- Frank Berni and Aldo Berni – Italian-born brothers who went on to establish the Berni Inn restaurant chain
Paul Nixon, military expert at Findmypast, says: “These newly released records offer a fascinating glimpse into a little-understood aspect of Britain at war; from the foreign nationals interned during the First World War (despite having sons serving in the British Army), to the Cracow-born BBC announcer and German nun registered as enemy aliens in 1939.”
Roger Kershaw, Migration Records Specialist at The National Archives says: ‘this collection reflects the real threats posed by war, when invasion fears were heightened. The records include British-born women who were considered as enemy aliens on the basis of their marriage yet who may have never left the British Isles.’
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