The Island of Extraordinary Captives: A Painter, a Poet, an Heiress, and a Spy in a World War II British Internment Camp

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The Island of Extraordinary Captives: A Painter, a Poet, an Heiress, and a Spy in a World War II British Internment Camp

The Island of Extraordinary Captives: A Painter, a Poet, an Heiress, and a Spy in a World War II British Internment Camp

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The police came for Peter Fleischmann in the early hours. It reminded the teenager of the Gestapo's moonlit roundups he had narrowly avoided at home in Berlin. Now, having endured a perilous journey to reach England - hiding from the rampaging Nazi thugs at his orphanage, boarding a Kindertransport to safety - here the aspiring artist was, on a ship bound for the Isle of Man, suspected of being a Nazi spy. What had gone wrong? Conditions in the camp were considered, by the numerous German doctors among the inmates, to be a liability for the spread of disease. They wrote and co-signed a memorandum of complaint to Braybrook. Simon Isaac, a former professor at the University of Frankfurt who had overseen makeshift hospitals on the Russian Front, wrote that he had never seen a place less fit for the accommodation of human beings. To be imprisoned in a building “not even fit for beasts”, as another internee wrote, had a profound effect on the men’s view of the country that had offered them sanctuary. “Many [have] ceased to believe in the British spirit of humanity which before they had acclaimed,” he continued. Extraordinary yet previously untold true story . . . meticulously researched . . . it’s also taut, compelling, and impossible to put down’ Daily Express Even before the outbreak of war, Scotland Yard, working in conjunction with MI5, the British domestic intelligence service, had been deluged with tip-offs about suspicious refugees and foreigners. The police detained one man when investigators found an entry in his diary that read: “Exchange British Queen for Italian Queen.” The detective assumed he had exposed a fascist plot against the crown. In fact, the man was a beekeeper, planning to overthrow only the tiny monarch that ruled his hive. In spite of his youthful age, just out of his teens, Peter is interned with many other Germans and Austrian Jews in a prison camp on the Isle of Man. Hutchinson is no ordinary prison camp….it houses intellectuals, musicians, writers and artists. A cultural community is formed where art exhibits, theater, lectures and performances flourish. Peter, an artist, is mentored by the best. Yet alongside this group, British authorities believe some of the escapees may be Nazi spies. Better to imprison them all than determine who is at risk to the war effort.

In the histories of World War II, we've come to expect the savage tales of concentration camps in Europe, and stories of individual war crimes illustrating aspects of the war and its people. This book was a surprise, covering an internment camp in the UK, on the Isle of Man. In later years, everything of which Fleischmann had dreamed since he was a young aspiring artist at the orphanage would come true. Under his adopted name, Peter Midgley, he would be accepted into the Royal College of Art. He would graduate with first-class honours, the top fine art student in his year, rewarded with the RCA’s prestigious Rome scholarship. He would become a professional artist, securing commissions to create works for a number of British government departments, universities and the Royal Navy. Nothing bettered the training he received at Hutchinson, however. “Everything thereafter,” he later said, “was just a recap.” Dr Aviva Dautch said: “All seven of the shortlisted books were exceptionally strong. The range of subjects and genres made choosing a winner very difficult, but we judges felt that The Island of Extraordinary Captives particularly fitted the criteria of the Wingate Prize to communicate lived Jewish experience to the general reader.

Table of Contents

Powerful. . . . vivid and moving. . . . spotlights a sorry aspect of Britain's war which deserves to be better known.” — Sir Max Hastings, The Sunday Times Parkin’s book – which was praised as “ambitious and accomplished” by the judges – draws on archive material, letters and diaries to explore the internment of German refugees in Britain during the Second World War. This is brought into focus through the experiences of one prisoner in particular, the aspiring artist Peter Fleischmann. Fleischmann, was not the only individual caught up in these machinations of the state. He, along with thousands of others, were twice interned or other-ed. They had escaped the Nazi system only to have their haven turn against them. In a Britain ruled by fear, these escapees were robbed, ostracized, and in a portion of cases killed by neglect or mismanagement. Simon Parkin details many different experiences and the governments implementations, management of the camps, and how the government reported or presented details about the camps. As Parkin states in the postscript "There was no unified experience of internment." The Island of Extraordinary Captives: A Painter, a Poet, an Heiress, and a Spy in a World War II British Internment Camp by Simon Parkin tells of the English internment of perceived fifth columnists during World War II. Mr. Parkin is an award winning writer and journalist.

The remarkable untold story of a Jewish orphan who fled Nazi Germany for London, only to be arrested there by the British government and sent to an internment camp for suspected foreign agents on the Isle of Man, alongside a renowned group of refugee musicians, intellectuals, artists, and—possibly—genuine spies. At one point the Government decided they would offload some of these ‘enemy aliens’ to Canada and Australia. The first lot set to sail for Canada only to have their ship torpedoed by Germany. But that did not curtail efforts to ship these already displaced people elsewhere.

The winner was announced at an event at JW3, featuring the BBC’s Emily Kasriel in conversation with the judges and shortlisted authors.

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