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Saturday, 15 November 2014

Patriotism Means Uncovering the Truth

Archive pictures of German prisoners held by the British following WWII



Unfortunately I'll have to skip tomorrow's London Forum meeting.

But I wish to write about the topic of one of the announced speeches, by Richard Edmonds: "Bad Nenndorf – a Nuremberg Trial for Allied War Criminals". The subject is described as "the tragedy of Bad Nenndorf where in the aftermath of WWII British torturers, many of them later emigrating to Israel, killed dozens of National Socialist sympathisers including girls belonging to the BDSM."

Richard Edmonds is a British nationalist who is capable of criticising his country when necessary, who rightly doesn't believe that patriotism means defending the indefensible.

I'd never heard of this Allied interrogation centre, a secret prison established after the British occupation of north-west Germany in 1945, so I did some research and here's what I've found.

This is Wikipedia's brief introduction to it:
The Bad Nenndorf interrogation centre was a British Combined Services Detailed Interrogation Centre in the town of Bad Nenndorf, Germany, which operated from June 1945 to July 1947. Allegations of mistreatment of detainees by British troops resulted in a police investigation, a public controversy in both Britain and Germany and the camp's eventual closure. Four of the camp's officers were brought before courts-martial in 1948 and one of the four was convicted on charges of neglect.
Hundreds of mostly German prisoners after the end of WWII were held in a camp converted from a mud bath complex - with the former bathing chambers becoming prison cells - in Bad Nenndorf, a spa town near Hanover.

Although British authorities tried to keep this centre hidden from public scrutiny, in December 2005 investigative reporter Ian Cobain wrote an article published in The Guardian, based on information he had obtained from a Freedom of Information Request to the Foreign Office. He described Bad Nenndorf in powerful terms:
Britain's secret torture centre. The interrogation camp that turned prisoners into living skeletons.

German spa became a forbidden village where Gestapo-like techniques were used...

CSDIC [Combined Services Detailed Interrogation Centre], a division of the War Office, operated interrogation centres around the world, including one known as the London Cage, located in one of London's most exclusive neighbourhoods. Official documents discovered last month at the National Archives at Kew, south-west London, show that the London Cage was a secret torture centre where German prisoners who had been concealed from the Red Cross were beaten, deprived of sleep, and threatened with execution or with unnecessary surgery.

As horrific as conditions were at the London Cage, Bad Nenndorf was far worse. Last week, Foreign Office files which have remained closed for almost 60 years were opened after a request by the Guardian under the Freedom of Information Act. These papers, and others declassified earlier, lay bare the appalling suffering of many of the 372 men and 44 women who passed through the centre during the 22 months it operated before its closure in July 1947.

They detail the investigation carried out by a Scotland Yard detective, Inspector Tom Hayward, following the complaints of Major Morgan-Jones and Dr Jordan. Despite the precise and formal prose of the detective's report to the military government, anger and revulsion leap from every page as he turns his spotlight on a place where prisoners were systematically beaten and exposed to extreme cold, where some were starved to death and, allegedly, tortured with instruments that his fellow countrymen had recovered from a Gestapo prison in Hamburg. Even today, the Foreign Office is refusing to release photographs taken of some of the "living skeletons" on their release.

Initially, most of the detainees were Nazi party members or former members of the SS, rounded up in an attempt to thwart any Nazi insurgency. A significant number, however, were industrialists, tobacco importers, oil company bosses or forestry owners who had flourished under Hitler.

By late 1946, the papers show, an increasing number were suspected Soviet agents. Some were NKVD officers - Russians, Czechs and Hungarians - but many were simply German leftists. Others were Germans living in the Russian zone who had crossed the line, offered to spy on the Russians, and were tortured to establish whether they were genuine defectors.
Of many of these men Scotland Yard detective Hayward said that there were not charged with any crime but on the contrary were willing to help, were detained for no reason at all, and died of malnutrition and lack of medical care. Inspector Hayward reported: "There are a number against whom no offence has been alleged, and the only authority for their detention would appear to be that they are citizens of a country still nominally at war with us." Cobain goes on to explain an important part of the problem:
Of the 20 interrogators ordered to break the inmates of Bad Nenndorf, 12 were British, a combination of officers from the three services and civilian linguists. The remaining eight included a Pole and a Dutchman, but were mostly German Jewish refugees who had enlisted on the outbreak of war, and who, Inspector Hayward suggested, "might not be expected to be wholly impartial".
Cobain has penned other articles on the subject for The Guardian and written a book on the history of torture perpetrated by British officials during and after the Second World War, entitled Cruel Britannia (Amazon USA) (Amazon UK) . The book was published in autumn 2012, when one of his essays appeared in the Daily Mail with this headline, upsetting but truthful:
How Britain tortured Nazi PoWs: The horrifying interrogation methods that belie our proud boast that we fought a clean war.
James Heartfield, in the book Unpatriotic History of the Second World War (Amazon USA) (Amazon UK) , writes:
Internal investigations revealed that torture was rife at Bad Nenndorf, and that many had died of injuries or of starvation.
Why, then, were there so few convictions?

After, in 1946 and 1947, several Bad Nenndorf inmates were taken to nearby hospitals and some died there, the doctors reported these cases. A court of inquiry was appointed, followed by a full enquiry by a Scotland Yard detective, Inspector Tom Hayward. By June 1947 Hayward had amassed an enormous amount of evidence in support of the allegations of ill-treatment and use of methods which were extreme even for a harsh military prison holding suspected Nazi war criminals.

His report led to the camp's closure the following month, and to the courts-martial of the camp Commandant Lt Col Robin Stephens, the medical officer and two interrogators in 1948.

Hayward had found that interrogators and guards were not likely to be impartial towards the prisoners because of the criteria used in their selection, among which knowledge of German language and hatred for Germans were predominant. The most likely new recruits, as a consequence, were Austrian and German Jewish refugees. One such recruit was Lt Richard Oliver Langham, one of the interrogators to be court-martialled.

News of the courts-martial reached the papers, in particular The Times and The Daily Express.

The book Liberal Democracies at War: Conflict and Representation (Amazon USA) (Amazon UK) , edited by Andrew Knapp and Hilary Footitt, gives some idea of why these men were acquitted or convicted on minor charges, like neglect rather than manslaughter.

The Times's coverage of the courts-martial well reflected the spirit of the time and its little appetite for getting to the truth and giving a just punishment which was unpalatable for so many reasons, not least as an admission of guilt involving the war effort itself. That spirit was probably behind the excessive leniency of the court.

This latter topic is too long for the present article, and may be worth covering in a separate one.


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