The Island of Extraordinary Captives: A Painter, a Poet, an Heiress, and a Spy in a World War II British Internment Camp

Scribner. Nov. 2022. 432p. ISBN 9781982178529. $30. HIST
Parkin (A Game of Birds and Wolves) illuminates the long ignored injustices of Britain’s World War II concentration camp policies by focusing on some of the prominent individuals confined at Hutchinson Camp on the Isle of Man. Fearing spies amid the immigrant population might aid an invasion, the government sanctioned the imprisonment of German and Austrian immigrants in a disorganized program that saw more than 20,000 Jews who had fled Nazi oppression detained with fascist sympathizers, POWs, and Gestapo agents. Parkin shows how artist Kurt Schwitters, actor Otto Tausig, and other creatives and intellectuals tried to stave off the level of despair of their predicament through an outpouring of creative communal endeavors including lectures, art exhibitions, and a camp newspaper. Juxtaposed with their stories are the experiences of Peter Fleischmann, a German Jewish orphan, who found in his incarceration at Hutchinson the supportive community and mentorship that life had thus far denied him. The author’s choice to center the narrative on Fleischmann allows him to highlight both the cruel absurdities of the concentration camp and the resiliency of those imprisoned.
VERDICT A deeply effective look at an important but rarely discussed aspect of World War II history.
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