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Prisoners of War

III: Civilians in Europe

III: Civilians in Europe

As Red Cross supplies became better established the position of civilian internees in Europe became physically more tolerable, and the organisation of recreation did much for a while to ease their psychological burdens. In Paris the old flea-ridden St. Denis barracks and some thin-walled new hutments were still crowded with a thousand or more British male internees.1 But Red Cross food made their otherwise sparse diet a healthy one, and a good library, theatre, and sports field provided recreation. Clothing was still very short and men were worried over the financial position of their relatives outside the camp, in view of the entry into the war of the United States, which had hitherto made the relief payments to uninterned civilians.2 The position of the men at Tost (Ilag VIII) was similar. New Zealand members of the Merchant Navy, of whom the number had increased steadily, were still in a special compound (Milag) at Sandbostel, which had improved somewhat since the appointment of a new commandant. They were treated as civilian internees and not compelled to work. The needs of all New Zealanders at these camps were carefully watched by the Prisoners of War Section of the High Commissioner's Office in London.

The interests of women internees were just as carefully watched. The British interned community at Vittel was still comfortably

1 Considered by the internees' representative to be 500–700 too many.

2 The new Protecting Power, Switzerland, carried on these payments.

page 146 housed in imposing-looking hotels and had been reduced to about 2400 people by the release of women over sixty, men over seventy-five, and children under sixteen. Provision for recreation included the local theatre, as well as a park containing seven tennis courts and other sporting facilities. The interned women at Liebenau were also ‘well fed and comfortably housed’1 and were receiving quantities of material to be made into clothing, of which they were short.

There was a suggestion towards the end of 1941 that Australian and New Zealand women were to be released and allowed to live together in Berlin,2 a change which most of the women concerned did not relish. The view of the New Zealand Government was that this step should not be taken unless it would be to their advantage and was in accordance with their wishes. For they would be unable, in their proposed new status, to receive relief parcels, they might find difficulty in obtaining suitable living quarters, and their monthly allowance of 150 Reichmarks (£10) might be insufficient to keep them. It was suggested to the German Government in early April 1942, however, that if it was prepared to permit their repatriation the New Zealand Government would do the same for German women in New Zealand. In the meantime two New Zealand women who were agreeable had been released, one to live with relatives in Holland and the other to live in Paris, as she had been doing before the war.

1 Quoted from a letter sent by a New Zealand woman internee at Liebenau.

2 No German women were interned in New Zealand, and this was thought to be a reciprocal move by the German Government.