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Internment diary 12 May 1940 - 4 Oct 1941

by Harry Seidler

Translated from German into English by Judith Winternitz
(Translation begins with entry for Friday 19th July)

Friday 19th July There was news from the house representative today. The following was discussed during the meeting with the officers : we'll probably have some cigarettes rationed out to us (which I'll be glad to give away); it's hoped that we'll finally be allowed to hear some news about Europe; we're going to stay in this camp for some time - after one or two months we'll go to a work camp where we'll get special clothing and be paid 20 cents a day. A list was made of people with useful professions. I put myself down as a 'builder'. If I must work, then I'd rather do something I know about and enjoy doing. But nothing specific was said about this list. In actual fact the first news bulletin was published this afternoon. Each hut received a copy of a translation from a French newspaper - but the report only contained the leading article. All in all there wasn't much there today that was of interest to us. What would interest me would be the newspapers of a few weeks ago (about the war in France,etc .) Today it only said that the three Baltic states had finally been incorporated into Russia, that a major German attack on Great Britain was expected and that English children would no longer be evacuated to Canada. Otherwise there has been a lot of bombing on both sides- Haifa had been attacked by German planes... 
     The Commandant is supposed to have expressed the opinion today that after the war those amongst us who were hardworking and useful would be allowed to stay in Canada. Or we would all be free to go back to England. No-one knows if this is official or not - but it had a calming effect. I felt much better straight away - since I hope to get back to Cambridge again after all.

Saturday 20th July
     Today M. and I wrote a letter to Mummy - we had received writing paper once again and hopefully we'll regularly receive our two letters'- worth every week. I felt very ill today - I had a stomachache, apparently because of our constantly changing diet. This morning I went to the doctor who gave me two pills. In the afternoon we sat on the beds with our friends and talked. If we were only allowed to receive books! This eternal doing-nothing makes you quite nervy. We're hoping to go to the work-camp soon so we'll finally have something to do.

Sunday 21st July
     This morning I made a folder for the written pages of my diary out of a cardboard box that I got from the kitchen. I really had to put those written-en sheets of paper in a strong folder so they wouldn't be crushed. Those pages will go into the second volume of my diary which is at home. 
     A big theatrical performance was announced this afternoon:- a piano had been brought into the camp and an orchestra of all the harmonica players put together. A large programme was planned and the commandant and his staff were invited. Closed reher-sals had gone on. The performance was going to take place in one of the eating huts, but since it would hold at most 300 people it was necessary to restrict the number of tickets, which were distributed in the barracks by drawing lots. I was unlucky in the draw and didn't get a ticket.


Translation of Camp "L" Standing Orders Notice (pasted in between pp 52-3)

Revally [Reveille] at 6 a.m. in Summer and 7 a.m. in winter. 
Lights out at 10 p.m. 
Roll-call will be held at revally [reveille] and at bedtime and more often if necessary. All prisoners will be present at roll-call except hospital bed cases. 
All prisoners must remain in their barracks or quarters from lights-out until revally [reveille] with the following exceptions :- 
Not more than 2 men at a time may go to the latrines if these lie outside the barracks or quarters. 
Cooks should leave their barracks half-an-hour before revally [reveille] to take up their duties, but they must attend roll-call. 
Prisoners of war are only allowed to smoke in those places and at those times decided on by the commandant. Smoking is forbidden in sleeping quarters. 
Prisoners are forbidden to have in their possession money, knives, pieces of wood, pieces of metal or other articles which could aid their escape and could be used as weapons. Prisoners who have such forbidden articles will be punished. Prisoners are only allowed to send letters out of the camp under the following conditions. 
(a) Number of letters allowed. 
Prisoners are only allowed to send two letters per week, including business letters and, in extraordinary circumstances, letters to neutral embassies. 
Only in special cases is a prisoner of war allowed to send two letters in one day. 
(b) Writing paper. 
Special writing paper will be provided for use. It is forbidden to use any other type of writing paper. 
The provision of special writing paper is restricted to two sheets per prisoner per week. Letters are restricted to 24 lines on one side of the paper. This restriction may be eased in special cases at the discretion of the commandant, where it is a case of important business letters. 
(c) The manner in which letters should be written. 
(I) Letters from prisoners of war must be written clearly, if possible in roman characters. 
(II)Letters must be simple, comprehensible and written in a clear way.


[Continued from page 52]
I was unlucky in the draw and didn't get a ticket.

But we were reassured that the performance would be repeated during the week. So, while the concert was going on I went for a walk about the camp. During this walk I passed by a guard at the barbed-wire fence (guard platforms had been built at intervals behind the barbed-wire fence) who started up a conversation with me. We discussed the situation in which we prisoners found ourselves and I tried to explain to him that we were England's friends. That he didn't want to believe : "But you're Nazis!" - He had of course seen us arriving in company with the uniformed soldiers. - This is a good example of the general opinion of the population. I took up the gauntlet and explained to this soldier why we had been driven out of Germany and why we were England's friends. Slowly he seemed to grasp it : yes, he'd already heard that Hitler had expelled Jews. But he hadn't known that we were Jews. I was very relieved to have finally explained all this to someone who didn't know. The soldier was an Irishman who had long lived in Canada - that's why he spoke English, unlike the other soldiers. The concert was not over until 10 o'clock and seems to have been a great success.

Monday 22nd July
     After breakfast I had to help wash up in the kitchen - this meant washing and drying up 200 sets of cutlery which took quite a long time. The news was as follows - Hitler had made a speech in which he called upon England to conclude peace with him, otherwise Great Britain would be completely annihilated. Gibraltar was expecting a major attack by Italy; in order to strengthen the fortifications they'd dug a canal which now transformed Gibraltar into an island. Of course England had rejected Hitler's offer of peace. Otherwise today was again very boring. This having nothing to do is rotten -I've not felt it as badly in any other camp as I do here. It's been quite dreadfully hot in the last few days and we've been going around in swimming costumes. At lunch it was announced that we were not to drink any WATER as it had become dangerous because of the heat. Apparently there's a danger of typhus - two people have already become ill with it and are now in the hospital.

Tuesday 23rd July
     Today everyone in the camp got 10 cigarettes : the people who smoke were very happy about this. They said it was supposed to be a gift from the Red Cross. - Today I gave a soldier 20 cents, which I had borrowed, and asked him to get me some writing paper which I will use for my diary. He took the money and a sample of the paper and promised to bring it all to me this afternoon. But he wasn't there at the appointed time. Perhaps he'll bring it tomorrow - if he doesn't simply keep the 20 cents. After lunch we were told that we were all to be inoculated against typhus. It was our hut's turn straight away. It was like a conveyer-belt procedure - one doctor swabbed your arm, the next injected you and the third cut you a dressing. By evening our arms had begun to hurt us all a lot. One man even collapsed unconscious at dinner. We all felt very weak and our glands swelled up. We went to bed early.

Wednesday 24th July
     The total value of the objects stolen during the midnight search amounts to £902/7/7/. People who had lost their typewriters, etc, had to declare the value of their property and thus this enormous sum was calculated. They say that some of the thieves have been discovered by the military court. The injured parties hope to receive restitution or compensation for their property. In fact the objects were not stolen from us at all but from the Commandant, since we gave them into his custody when we handed them over. So it's the responsibility of the military authorities to restore our possessions to us. The commandant was informed of all of this in writing. Last night almost all of us had a fever. Our arms again hurt us a good deal - many people had headaches. We were told that we are to have another two injections. During the night as well there was a terrible storm which also prevented us from sleeping. Up to now I've only seen heavy rain like this in films (from the U.S.A.). We got letter paper once again. This time I wrote to the U.S.A., to a Viennese friend. A few times today I looked around for the soldier who was supposed to have brought me some paper, but I couldn't find him. The word honesty seems to be unknown to this fellow.

Thursday 23th July
     This morning it was miserably hot again - mostly we lay in the sun and took cold showers every now and then. Today the first work-trousers were handed out to the kitchen-hands - and, in fact, they're prisoner-of-war trousers - blue, with a wide red stripe on the right side. They also got heavy military boots. We were told that we'll all get such uniforms in time. It's getting nicer and nicer here now we're getting Nazi-style clothes. A few illustrated papers have been handed out in the huts - at least we've got something to read now. This evening our hut played a group game.