Contemporary European History

Interpretations; Comment; Reply To…

Prisoners of War and Internees in the Second World War – a Survey of Some Recent Publications


During the Second World War, countless individuals were robbed of their freedom, particularly their freedom of movement, and put into some form of captivity while being deprived, to a greater or lesser extent, of their rights. The most dramatic example by far, the concentration camps, does not concern us here. I shall be dealing in the first place with the fate of prisoners of war during and immediately after the conflict. Numbered in millions, their destinies were very different depending on when and where they were captured, and to which country and ‘race’ they belonged. But there was also another large group of people who lost their freedom, and most of their rights, during the Second World War: civilian internees. I shall be considering their fate here insofar as it is discussed in the works under review below. However, it should be noted here that internees, unlike prisoners of war, were not covered by international law; internment camps cannot be equated with prisoner of war camps.