by Paul Kuttner
Austrians and Germans in Great Britain who did not join the British Army were considered enemy aliens during World War II and interned after the fall of France in the summer of 1940. I was interned in the English Midlands, in stables on the Yorkshire racecourse, in a dilapidated Lancashire wool factory and in Peel on the Isle of Man when I was 17 years old. On the way from Lancashire to the Isle of Man a Nazi dive-bomber – a Stuka – attacked our ship. Mercifully its bombs hit the water, not our vessel, into which we were locked into the interior without access to the outside. Although our stay on the Isle of Man was pleasant and the British captain in charge of our internment camp at Peel was the kindhearted hunchbacked brother of Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden, all of us prayed for an early release. In fact, the situation in the Lancashire wool factory was more frightening since we refugee boys and many other Germans and Austrians shared the filthy old wool plant with captives who happened to be Nazi POWs from a German U-boat.
Our latrines were outside the factory building but out-of-bounds during the night. Still, nature is not a respecter of Churchillian or Hitlerian laws, and one night I simply had to move my bowels, hard as I tried to suppress it. I sneaked past hundreds of sleeping bodies on the dirty concrete factory floor and when I arrived at the dark exit, I found one of the Nazi U-boat marines “in the same boat,” answering the call of nature. Suddenly we were no longer Nazi and anti-Nazi or Nazi victim, but two humans whose bowels demanded immediate release.
In the total blackout we confided our fears to each other that we might get shot by a British military guard and after a few stomach-churning minutes nature decided for us to make a dash through the pitch-black night for two of the outdoor latrine buckets. We heard the nearby voices of some Tommies and held our breath, and after they were out of earshot and we had answered nature’s call, the U-boat sailor grabbed my hand and we made a dash back to the factory building.
The next morning the U-boat crew and the Jewish prisoners kept shouting insults at each other; only the blond sailor who had braved the previous night with me squatted on the concrete floor, his head buried in his hands.