BACK TO MY ROOTS When they put my dad be­hind barbed wire

In the fi­nal stage of his jour­ney, Robin Lustig trav­els to the Isle of Man where his fa­ther was in­terned as an en­emy alien dur­ing World War Two

The Jewish Chronicle - - NEWS -

IT’S BLOW­ING a gale, and thun­der­ous waves are crash­ing against the sea wall. I’ve brought my 95-year-old fa­ther to the pretty town of Peel, on the west coast of the Isle of Man, and the weather is not be­ing kind.

We’re stand­ing on Ma­rine Pa­rade, in front of nine Vic­to­rian red-brick houses, with mag­nif­i­cent views over the wa­ter to the ru­ins of Peel Cas­tle. Houses here sell for up to half a mil­lion pounds; a two-bed­room pent­house flat is on the mar­ket for £200,000.

But we’re not here to buy a hol­i­day home. This is where, in 1940, 10 months af­ter the start of the Sec­ond World War, my fa­ther was in­terned, be­hind high barbed wire fences, af­ter having been of­fi­cially cat­e­gorised as a “friendly en­emy alien”. He had ar­rived in Bri­tain the pre­vi­ous year, a refugee from Hitler’s Ger­many. And this is the first time, af­ter 74 years, that he has been back.

The sum­mer of 1940 was a scorcher. So much so that my dad and his fel­low in­ternees were oc­ca­sion­ally al­lowed down to the beach for a quick dip in the sea. To his amuse­ment, sol­diers with fixed bay­o­nets stood guard. What were they fright­ened of? That a pris­oner would make a break for it and swim across the Ir­ish Sea to Ire­land?

Then, as now, much of Ma­rine Pa­rade was ho­tels and guest-houses. Their own­ers had been given seven days’ no­tice to get out —- be­cause with the Ger­man army poised to in­vade, Churchill was tak­ing no chances. He was wor­ried about the Ger­mans and Aus­tri­ans who were liv­ing in the UK, and is­sued his fa­mous or­der: “Col­lar the lot”.

And so it was, that on July 4 1940, my fa­ther was ar­rested at the school in Der- byshire where he had been work­ing as a part-time gar­dener and cello teacher, and carted off. A few weeks later, he was on a ferry to the Isle of Man. With him were a group of fel­low-in­ternees made up of young Jewish refugees like him­self, Ger­man trades union­ists who had also fled from the Nazis, and other un­for­tu­nates who sim­ply hap­pened to find them­selves in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Their world was sud­denly re­stricted to no more than 250 me­tres of a seafront prom­e­nade, each end sealed off.

As my fa­ther and I stand on a cor­ner, look­ing up a side road that leads away from the sea, he says: “I never knew what was up there be­fore. We couldn’t even look round the cor­ner”.

But it could have been worse. Un­ex­pect­edly, my dad’s cello turned up, and he dis­cov­ered he wasn’t the only musi- cian be­hind the wire. Soon, a scratch or­ches­tra had been put to­gether to per­form morale-boost­ing con­certs.

At the Manx Mu­seum in Dou­glas, they have an in­valu­able ar­chive of ma­te­rial re­lat­ing to the in­tern­ment of aliens in both world wars. Gov­ern­ment or­ders spec­ify how much food each in­ternee should re­ceive, and even what con­tin­gency plans should be made if not enough kosher meat was avail­able.

But what they can’t tell us is ex­actly how many in­ternees spent time on the is­land. The records are woe­fully in­com­plete, es­pe­cially from Pev­eril Camp, where my fa­ther was held. Af­ter he was freed, the camp housed Bri­tish Fas­cists and IRA sus­pects — but for some rea­son their records were de­stroyed, along with those from my dad’s time.

So how did he get out? Sim­ple: he en­listed in the Bri­tish army — and even­tu­ally was marched away to board the ferry back to the main­land. He was told that the mo­ment he set foot on the ship, he would be re­garded as a mem­ber of the Bri­tish armed forces.

One small step for an in­ternee — from His Majesty’s pris­oner, to His Majesty’s sol­dier. Robin Lustig is a jour­nal­ist and broad­caster. More about his project ‘In the Foot­steps of Our Families’ can be found at www.wan­der­ingscribes.com

PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES

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