An Almost Unknown Episode from WW2: The Internment of “Enemy Aliens” in England in the Spring of 1940

Source: A scene from an unproduced play by Eric Koch

Note: After the Nazi conquest of Holland and Belgium on May 10, 1940, and the expected assault on France, there was acute danger of an invasion of England.

Act Two, Scene Three, Late May

Appropriate videos of diplomats

Voice of English diplomat to Vincent Massey, Canadian High Commissioner in London, May 30

We have in our custody 9,000 interned dangerous enemy aliens and German prisoners of war. They tie down needed British soldiers in areas that soon could be the scene of active fighting. Could you please ask your government whether they are prepared to help, and, if so, how many internees they could take.

Voice of Vincent Massey, June 3

In support of the British request, may I add that the incarceration and subsequent deportation of enemy aliens would strengthen British home defence and protect the country against potential fifth columnists ready to aid invading Nazi parachutists.

Voice of English Diplomat, June 7

May I follow up my request of May 30: We now have 12,000 internees on hand of whom 2,300 are definitely pro-Nazi in sympathy and allegiance and therefore are a source of danger in the event of parachute landings or invasion of the country. In the circumstances the United Kingdom government sincerely hopes that the Canadian government may be pressed to come to the assistance of the United Kingdom by agreeing to receive at the earliest possible moment at least the internees whose removal from this country is desired to secure on the ground that their continued presence in this country is bound to be the source of the most serious risk.

Voice of Canadian diplomat in Ottawa

We regret that in the opinion of the Canadian cabinet it is not advisable at present to undertake the acceptance of internees.

Sound effects: static, babble of voices fading in and out

Voice of Canadian diplomat in Ottawa, middle of June

The cabinet in Ottawa has reconsidered the British request.

• • • •

Note: The British government may have suspected that if Ottawa had been told that the overwhelming majority of the “enemy aliens” were refugees from Germany and Austria, mostly Jewish, the answer would most likely have been no. As it happened, the Canadians naturally expected dangerous Nazis.

Sections of Eric Koch’s new book, Otto & Daria, published by the University of Regina Press, deal with this story.

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2 responses to “An Almost Unknown Episode from WW2: The Internment of “Enemy Aliens” in England in the Spring of 1940

  1. Elisabeth Ecker

    Many years ago I read an article in Maclean’s Magazine about the success of many of the internees. During conversation I mentioned the article to Eric’s daughter Madeline. Her response was: “My dad was one of the internees”.

  2. King Townsend

    I hope Elizabeth has also read Eric’s book “Deemed Suspect”.