Life in­side the con­cen­tra­tion camps of Scot­land

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE - HIS­TORY SI­MON WEBB

AF­TER THE end of the Se­cond World War, when the hor­rors of con­cen­tra­tion camps such as Dachau and Belsen be­came known, it was com­monly claimed of the Ger­man peo­ple that, ‘‘They must have known.’’ How could con­cen­tra­tion camps be op­er­at­ing on the edge of vil­lages and towns with­out those liv­ing nearby be­ing aware of what was hap­pen­ing in such places? The sit­u­a­tion in Ger­many was mir­rored pre­cisely in an­other Euro­pean coun­try at that time.

Be­tween 1940 and 1946, a num­ber of con­cen­tra­tion camps were set up on the edge of large towns; some only a few miles from ma­jor cities. Lo­cal farm­ers heard ru­mours about atroc­i­ties be­ing com­mit­ted in th­ese places, but when they ap­proached the barbed wire fences, they were warned off by armed guards in watch-tow­ers. Sto­ries cir­cu­lated about beat­ings, tor­ture, star­va­tion and even shoot­ings, but so se­cre­tive were those run­ning the camps that no solid in­for­ma­tion ever leaked out. It was also sug­gested that th­ese sin­is­ter lo­ca­tions were be­ing used to hold com­mu­nists, Jews and ho­mo­sex­u­als; al­though this was never ad­mit­ted by any­body in au­thor­ity. All this was hap­pen­ing not in Ger­many or Poland at the height of the Holo­caust, but in the south of Scot­land.

In 1940 thou­sands of Pol­ish sol­diers came to Bri­tain fol­low­ing the fall of France. They were led by the au­to­cratic Gen­eral Wla­dys­law Siko­rski. In ex­change for de­fend­ing the east coast of Scot­land against Ger­man in­va­sion, the Pol­ish forces were granted the right to set up their own bases in Bri­tain, which were to be re­garded as Pol­ish sov­er­eign ter­ri­tory; im­mune from in­ter­fer­ence by the au­thor­i­ties of this coun­try.

Gen­eral Siko­rski took the op­por­tu­nity to es­tab­lish a de­ten­tion fa­cil­ity near Rothe­say on the Isle of Bute for both his political op­po­nents and any­body else he felt like im­pris­on­ing. To the mem­bers of the Pol­ish Govern­ment in Ex­ile, Siko­rski made no se­cret of his in­ten­tions, an­nounc­ing at a meet­ing of the Pol­ish Na­tional Coun­cil in Lon­don on July 18 1940, ‘‘There is no Pol­ish ju­di­ciary. Those who con­spire will be sent to a con­cen­tra­tion camp.’’ Shortly af­ter­wards, a se­cret or­der was is­sued to Gen­eral Mar­ian Kukiel; Com­man­der of Camps and Pol­ish Army Units in Scot­land. This re­lated to what was de­scribed as an ‘‘un­al­lo­cated group­ing of of­fi­cers’’ who were to be held in a spe­cial camp.

On the Isle of Bute were both political pris­on­ers and also what the Poles called ‘‘patho­log­i­cal cases’’. Th­ese were drunks, ho­mo­sex­u­als and oth­ers of whom Siko­rski and his as­so­ciates dis­ap­proved. There were also a num­ber of Jews. A se­cond camp was es­tab­lished at the vil­lage of Tighnabruich on the Scot­tish main­land.

One of the things which soon be­came ap­par­ent was that Jews were par­tic­u­larly likely to fall foul of Gen­eral Siko­rski’s Govern­ment in Ex­ile and end up in the two camps in Scot­land. One of the most fa­mous pris­on­ers on the Isle of Bute was the writer, jour­nal­ist and bi­og­ra­pher of Stalin; Isaac Deutscher. Al­though born in Poland, Deutscher, a Jew, had em­i­grated to Bri­tain where he made a life for him­self be­fore the out­break of war in 1939. In 1940, fol­low­ing Dunkirk and the Fall of France, he trav­elled to Scot­land to vol­un­teer for the Pol­ish army which was now based there. No sooner had he joined up, than Deutscher found him­self in­terned at the camp at Rothe­say. Be­ing both a Jew and also a com­mu­nist, he was re­garded as a dan­ger­ous sub­ver­sive by se­nior fig­ures in Gen­eral Siko­rski’s ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Ru­mours be­gan to cir­cu­late among MPs in Lon­don that some­thing un­savoury was go­ing on in Scot­land. Names be­gan to emerge of Pol­ish cit­i­zens be­ing held for no ap­par­ent rea­son in se­cret in­stal­la­tions. In all cases, the men be­ing de­tained seemed to be Jews. On Fe­bru­ary 19 1941, for ex­am­ple, Sa­muel Sil­ver­man, MP for Nelson Right: An im­age of Rothe­say Bay in Bute, taken in 1943 and, Wal­a­dys­law Siko­rski.

how the pa­pers broke the story of camp con­di­tions and Colne, raised the ques­tion in the House of Com­mons of two Jewish brothers called Ben­jamin and Jack Ajzen­berg. Th­ese men had been picked up by Pol­ish sol­diers in Lon­don and taken to a camp in Scot­land. The fol­low­ing year, Adam McKin­ley, MP for Dum­bar­ton­shire in Scot­land, asked in the House what was hap­pen­ing on the Isle of Bute. The govern­ment, which had no wish to up­set a valu­able ally, re­fused to pro­vide any in­for­ma­tion. Un­der the terms of the Al­lied Forces Act, the Bri­tish had in any case no le­gal right to in­ter­fere in what was hap­pen­ing at camps and army bases be­ing op­er­ated by the Pol­ish Govern­ment in Ex­ile.

Other camps were opened at Kin­gle­doors and later Auchter­arder. Th­ese were for­bid­ding places; sur­rounded by barbed wire and with watch­tow­ers. At Kin­gle­doors, a Jewish pris­oner called Ed­ward Jakubowsky was shot dead by a guard for in­so­lence. The Bri­tish po­lice were not in­formed of this and no ac­tion was taken.

One of the things which is sel­dom re­alised is the ex­tent to which the Pol­ish army based in Bri­tain was largely made up of men who had pre­vi­ously served in the Wer­ma­cht. When­ever Poles who had been serv­ing with the Ger­man army were cap­tured by the Bri­tish, they were handed over to the Pol­ish au­thor­i­ties in Lon­don, who promptly en­listed them in their own forces. This meant that by 1945, over half the men in the Pol­ish army had pre­vi­ously served with the Ger­mans.

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