Hutchinson, or ‘P camp’ opened, officially, on 13th July 1940. Situated behind barbed wire, in a square of forty-five requisitioned boarding houses that overlooked the Irish Sea, it was one of eleven internment camps situated on the Isle of Man, housing German, Austrian and Italian passport holders who had been arrested in a country gripped by spy fever. Rumours abounded that a secret network of Nazi sympathisers had assisted German parachutists in the occupation of the Netherlands. British newspapers caused paranoid agitation via anti-refugee editorial, suggesting that immigrants could pose a similar threat to the UK. In early May 1940 police arrested thousands of these so-called ‘enemy aliens’, many of whom had lived peacefully in Britain for decades. In these chaotic and sometimes cruel round-ups, thousands of Jews who had fled Nazi Germany were imprisoned by the country in which they had staked their trust.

Despite their aesthetic similarities, each of camps on the Isle of Man had its own particular character, which often reflected the temperament of its inmates. Hutchinson, with a peculiarly dense population of writers and poets, painters and sculptors (notable artists interned at Hutchinson included Kurt Schwitters, Hellmuth Weissenborn, Paul Hamann and Eric Kahn) became known, simply, as “the Artists’ Camp.” Despite the injustice of the situation, the internees quickly organised. The camp became a hub of creative endeavour, with a daily program of lectures, live music performances, poetry readings, and English lessons. As the British government expanded the categories under which internees could apply for release, a trickle became a stream until, by the beginning of 1942, most of the ‘innocents’ had walked free. Thereafter the camp’s intake changed as Hutchinson filled with Prisoners of War and the rich cultural life that had defined the camp’s early months drained away. The last remaining 228 inmates left the camp in March 1945, and Hutchinson’s houses returned, finally, to their landladies.

- Simon Parkin is a journalist and author of The Island of Extraordinary Captives, a book about Hutchinson Camp, forthcoming from Sceptre.


@ AJR Refugee Voices 2020

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