Jewish refugees in Britain: Internment of ‘enemy aliens’ during WWII

Thursday, 11 April 2019 6pm to 8.30pm

Coffee, tea, nibbles, and chat from 6pm, for a 6.30 start

All welcome – looking forward to seeing you there – do come and say hello!

Tickets at this link from Eventbrite:


With the outbreak of war in 1939, all Germans and Austrians resident in Britain became ‘enemy aliens’.

The British government instituted a series of tribunals to ascertain which enemy aliens were ‘dangerous’ and which were refugees.

Many families will have seen their archived tribunal cards, headed Exemption from Internment – but please get in touch if not.

With the swift fall of France and the Low Countries in May 1940, public hysteria led to calls for mass internment in case there was a ‘Fifth Column’ of foreign spies and saboteurs. 

However, the vast majority of those interned in Britain during the War were refugees who had fled religious or political persecution before the war.

Arrested by the police, sent to hastily constructed transit camps at racecourses, unfinished housing estates, or in one case an abandoned factory, and then moved to the Isle of Man, Australia, or Canada, internment was a traumatic experience for those involved.

Additionally, those who wanted to fight against Nazism were initially denied this opportunity, leading to much frustration, as well as unnecessary hardships caused to individuals and families already suffering displacement because of Nazism.

Almost as soon as the policy of mass internment began, it was decided to reverse the policy because of the numbers of refugees involved.

Campaigns by refugee charities, prominent MPs, and public discovery of the most controversial aspect of internment – transport abroad – led to the start of the release process.

Release was often slowed by bureaucracy and was significantly more challenging for those internees who had been deported to Canada and Australia.

Yet, despite all these trials and tribulations, the internees made the most of their situations and created thriving environments despite their lack of resources.

This talk will explain the policy of Second World War internment in Britain, life in the camps, and the experiences and memories of former internees.


Dr Rachel Pistol is based at King’s College London, working on the European Holocaust Research Infrastructure (EHRI). Prior to this, she was at the University of Exeter, where she remains an Honorary Research Fellow, and Royal Holloway, University of London. Her first book, Second World War Internment, was published by Bloomsbury in 2017. She completed her B.A., M.A. and Ph.D. at Royal Holloway under the supervision of the late David Cesarani, OBE.

Rachel has appeared on TV and radio for the BBC and Sky News and has been interviewed for various television documentaries on Second World War history. She has written articles for The Conversation that have been reprinted in Newsweek and The Independent, and blogs for Huffington Post.


Wiener Library for the Study of the Holocaust and Genocide

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As far as I have been able to find out so far, 887 Kitchener men joined the Pioneer Corps at Kitchener camp (Pioneer Training Ground No. 3, as it was soon to become) soon after war broke out. This figure was very kindly provided by the Pioneer Corps archives:

We don’t yet know how many managed to reach Canada and the USA between September 1939 and summer 1940 (figuring this out is a work in progress), but many hundreds of Kitchener men will have been interned.

Some were sent overseas, as we know – to Canada and Australia – and some were interned here in the UK, in Warth Mill or on the Isle of Man, for example.

We haven’t yet received very much information from families about internment – especially in Britain – and would very much like to hear from anyone whose father was in Kitchener and then interned – in Britain or overseas.

Hopefully we will also hear from people about this at the Q&A at Rachel’s talk – tickets at this link: