Barbed Wire University tells the extraordinary tale of Winston Churchill’s internment of some of the most gifted Jewish refugee writers, professors, artists, and painters of their generation in a camp on the Isle of Man in the Irish Sea. These were men who had fled Hitler’s Germany, found refuge in Britain, and then, in the hysteria of 1940, were held in captivity as a perceived security threat. They turned the camp—Hutchinson Camp—into a school, concert hall, and artistic community.
Using memoirs and diaries, some of which have only recently become available in archives, Dave Hannigan pieces together a richly detailed account of what these remarkable men did during their time in captivity. This is a forgotten corner of World War II, and the way these men constructed a Bohemian idyll in the middle of the Irish Sea, their freedom taken from them, is an extraordinary tale of grit and creativity.
Dave Hannigan is columnist with the Irish Times (Dublin), the Evening Echo (Cork) and the Irish Echo (New York). He's a professor of history at Suffolk County Community College on Long Island and resides in Setauket, New York. This is his tenth book.
“The internment of Jewish refugees by the British in 1940 is one of the forgotten episodes of World War II. Well researched and expertly told, Hannigan’s book tells an inspiring story of innocent people caught up in the absurdities of war.” —Keith Lowe, author of Savage Continent: Europe in the Aftermath of World War II and The Fear and the Freedom: How the Second World War Changed Us
“In Barbed Wire University, Dave Hannigan tells the remarkable but largely hidden story of a group of German Jewish artists and intellectuals who were interned by the British on the Isle of Man during World War II. His book is not only witty, highly readable, and entertaining from first page to last, but it fills in a gaping hole in our knowledge of how the British government responded to German aggression by imprisoning innocent men, most of them anti-Nazis, who had fled their homelands to seek refuge in Great Britain.” —David Nasaw, two-time finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and author of, most recently, The Last Million: Europe’s Displaced Persons from World War to Cold War
NetGalley Review: 5 stars
Last updated on 30 Aug 2021
"The Hutchinson Internment Camp was located on the Isle of Man, 80 miles from Liverpool and was called the artist's camp or later, barbed wire university. This was because so many of the German, Austrian and Jewish refugees who were sent there after war was declared were artists and refugee professors from Oxford or Cambridge, Nearly 1,000 men arrived on July 13, 1940 in the first intake and there were just 33 houses meant to be bed and breakfast and holiday boarding houses. At the start there was mild hysteria in Great Britain pitched by journalist Ward Price of the Daily News and others in the media and the government against fifth columns, like in America. All foreigners over the age of 16 were compelled to attend tribunals and assigned a classification letter. Initially only a's and some b's were arrested but then c's were taken away too. Author Dave Hannigan introduces readers to these men, many of whom had hair raising escapes from the Nazi regime. For many men the music, art, and lectures on all sorts of subjects from their fellow internees, kept their spirits up, although many suffered from depression and there were suicides. I was able to keep track of who was who and Hannigan leaves room at the end to tell of their post Hutchinson lives. Several wrote memoirs and novels that I now want to find. Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review."—Tracie Antonuk, librarian
Last updated on 11 Sep 2021
"In 1940, Britain gave in to hysteria and fear, rounded up Germans who were in the country, assigned them a classification ranging from not a real threat to extreme threat, and put them into internment camps - just as the US would do with Japanese-Americans later. They did this even for those people who had been in England for decades, and even if they a) posed no real threat and b) were contributing to the British war effort.
On the Isle of Man, that resulted in one of the most remarkable collections of intellectuals at the Hutchinson Camp. Writers, musicians, educators, artists, journalists - all were kept on the island, behind barbed wire.
The book details many of the more well-known internees, and how they made their way to England as Hitler's grip on Germany tightened. Often, those escapes were made under dangerous circumstances and many came after a first meeting with the Gestapo, to ensure there wouldn't be a second.
We get to see the day to day lives of those locked up for no good reason, and the lengths some would go to keep creating their art behind the wire. To keep themselves busy, they also began what could only be called one of the best universities in the world: the experts among them gave talks on their particular expertise, and demand for something - anything - to do was so great, they would often give the same lecture multiple times to meet demand.
The end of the book highlights some of the internees, where they landed once released, and how they went about the remainder of their lives.
The narrative is compelling while not being overly stuffy, and the book is impeccably researched. It's an excellent addition to WWII history, and a history not told nearly enough.
Five out of five stars.
Thanks to Rowman and Littlefield, Lyons Press, and NetGalley for the reading copy."—AC Howard, consumer reviewer
NetGalley Review: 4 stars
Last updated on 18 Sep 2021
"This book provides a different take on the Holocaust than I've encountered before. I never knew that World War II England had internment camps for German, Austrian, and Eastern European citizens, many of them Jewish intellectuals who escaped Nazi persecution. On the Isle of Man, in Hutchinson Internment Camp, lived a "who's who" of artists, writers, musicians, professors, linguists, archeologists, playwrights, humanists, philosophers, and many others. Some were interned briefly, some for a long while, and few were happy about losing their freedom. However, many in the all-male camp made the best of things by engaging in myriad learning opportunities, lectures, concerts, art exhibits, and theater. They created their own society, which was largely egalitarian, and they helped keep depression and uncertainty at bay by staying busy. Commander Daniel, the head of the camp, took pride in reaching out to the men and providing a library, education, a camp newspaper, social services, teaching and art supplies, and sports. This is well-researched nonfiction that introduces modern readers to some of the anti-Hitler intellectuals of that era. While I sometimes became confused by all the names, this was overall a satisfying read."—Barbara Katz, Librarian at Shelton School
Last updated on 19 Sep 2021
"What a thrill and privilege to have access to such brilliant topics and authors such as this! In 1940, Jewish Germans and Austrians fled Nazi occupation to go to Britain. The approximately 70,000 Jews made Brits nervous and news media certainly didn't help. They were classified as security threats, including many on Britain's side. About 1,000 men were interred in Hutchinson Camp on the Isle of Man. Barbed Wire University is about this incredible group of men, many of whom were intellectuals. What a range of genius minds including engineers, a chemophysicist, musicians, photographers, historians, mathematicians, economists, a textile designer, readers and writers. Imagine the exchange of ideas!
Though there were various boards and directors, a canteen, lectures, classes, music and art exhibitions, one thing was missing. True freedom. Guards did allow those who wished to leave to swim and walk outside the wire but some chose not to as there were still guards and batons. Some suffered from depression as the length of interment was unknown. Many used their time to teach and learn. One did not even apply for release as he enjoyed being amongst such a group!
So many fascinating stories but some which stand out in particular are the window art, daffodil bulbs, camp paper and the surreal array of lecture topics.
Do read this astonishing book if you are at all interested in history, especially WWII, and learning more about lesser-known stories. It intrigued me so much I immediately researched everything I could about this unparalleled "university".
My sincere thank you to Rowman & Littlefield and NetGalley for the privilege of reading this extraordinary book!"—Brenda Carleton, reviewer at Agora Books