SS Report on Questions of Internal Security (12 August, 1943)
This report concerns British prisoners in the Reich and the impression they make on the German people. According to numerous reports from various parts of the Reich, the presence in agriculture and industry of British prisoners raises a series of problems, which may become serious if they are neglected. We learn from many sources that the outward bearing of the British is not failing to make an impression on the local population. A report from Central Germany, for instance, states:-
"Although a large proportion of British prisoners in Germany come from ordinary working classes, a large number of them speak impeccable and fluent German. Their attitude is self-possessed and, indeed, often borders on arrogance. Their bearing and their whole behaviours are doubtless intended as effective propaganda."
From Klagenfurt, too, we hear: "Of all the prisoners of war in this district, the British are the most respected and discussed by the local population. The reason for this lies in the smart appearance of individuals, as well as the smartness of organised units of British prisoners. The British are always decently dressed, their uniforms are always in faultless condition, they are shaved, clean and well fed. Their attitude is extraordinarily self-possessed, one could almost say arrogant and overbearing. This, combined with the good impression they give of their nation, influences the German people in a way that should not be under-estimated... When they march in formation, they frequently look better than our own German replacement units. You can see that the uniform they wear is of much better material than the German uniform."
The general attitude of British prisoners to the Reich is absolutely hostile. They make fun of Germany, German institutions and leaders on all possible occasions. In Bayreuth, for instance, two British prisoners called themselves "Churchill" and "Roosevelt". As a foil they picked on a German worker who stuttered and called him "Hitler" as a joke. Some other British prisoners were singing a rude song to the tune of "Deutschland uber Alles" as they passed two high German officials in uniform. When one of these officials said "That's going a little too far, my friends", one of the prisoners who understood German called back "We're not your friends, we're British."
The challenging and aggressive attitude of the British prisoners towards the German population is often manifested. A short time ago some forty British prisoners were sent to an industrial town to be split up among six different factories. They arrived at the station with masses of heavy luggage, and ostentatiously carrying large packets of food, corned beef and other things which were very short in Germany at that time. They immediately requisitioned two hand carts, loaded on their luggage, and gave two schoolboys some chocolate to push the carts. The German sentry took no action whatever. On arrival at their camp, they again hailed some German boys, who carried their luggage into the camp for them.
In the factory, the German foreman energetically opposed the efforts of the British spokesman to dictate certain terms about working hours and conditions. The German made it clear that he had had years experience in running French and Polish prisoner of war camps. To this the Englishman replied, "Well, let me tell you that we're British - not French, Polish or even Russian."
"And we're Germans, not Indians, negroes or any other sort of Colonials," retorted the foreman, "and we give the orders here."
Two other small incidents show the arrogance of the British prisoner. In a factory kitchen, where meals were cooked for the prisoners, an Englishman "demanded" that the Führer's portrait be removed.
In Villach, a German worker took away a copy of the "Völkischer Beobachter" from an Englishman, who said "I don't keep it for reading, as it's nothing but a tissue of lies - I need it for something altogether different." The crowning insult was the disfigurement of a portrait of the Führer in a station waiting room by a British prisoner who drew rude pictures over it.
The manner in which the British behave to the population leaves no doubt of their confidence in victory. They take every opportunity to show that Germany will lose the war, and that they will soon be masters in Germany. This assurance of victory and self possession does not fail to impress the people, who think they see in the these qualities the symbol of British strength.
The British usually take very little notice of the Germans and look straight through them. Many Germans have remarked that their own women, and in particular some of their allies could profit by studying the attitude adopted by the British towards their enemies. Sexual relations, for instance, between British prisoners and German women are very rare. This is probably due to the fact that the British have a strongly developed sense of national pride, which prevents them from consorting with women of an enemy nation. A striking example of British national pride and attitude towards the Axis was seen the other day. Some Italian soldiers on a passing convoy threw some cigarettes to some British prisoners, who turned their backs on the Italians and left the cigarettes lying on the ground.
BRITISH PRISONERS AND GERMAN INDUSTRY
The majority of reports state that the output of British prisoners cannot compare with that of Germans. Production reports indicate, too, that the unwillingness of the British to work has a bad effect on other foreign workers, and leads to a general slowing up of production.
Broadly speaking, the British do just enough work to avoid being penalised; their poor production is also partly due to the fact that the German guards do not carry out their duties with sufficient energy. This creates a certain bitterness among the German workers, who point out that the British are stronger than they, better fed, and have more staying power.
A report from Gorlitz says "The output of British prisoners is very bad. It is about 50 percent lower than the output of the German worker, although the British are undoubtedly healthier." In a Grax factory, the "go-slow" policy of the British reached such a point that many of them were taken off work and sent back to their camps.
Examples were quoted of prisoners simply walking away and refusing to work - or doing their work so badly that it constituted a danger.
Thus, some prisoners working on a railway truck were sent away to their camp, for fear that the bad quality of their work would result in the derailment of trains.
"Swinging the lead" is another means employed by the British to slow down production. It often happens that 50 percent of the prisoners are on the sick list at the same time.
SOLIDARITY OF BRITISH WITH OTHER ALLIED PRISONERS
It is reported that British prisoners of war have been showing of late marked solidarity with Russian, and in some cases French prisoners. The prisoners make signs to each other, and the British often give the Russians the Communist clenched fist salute. An official gave an account of two adjacent camps near his home which contained British and Russian prisoners respectively. At first the Russians used to file past the British camp in silence. After a time, the British used to gather together to watch the Russians go by, and bombard them with cigarettes.
BRITISH LACK OF RESPECT FOR GERMAN OFFICIALS
It is also worthy of note that, especially in agricultural work, the British frequently succeed in lodging complaints with their guards without consulting their employer. The guards themselves say that [the] British frequently complain about them, and that they have no chance to defend themselves. "It often happens", says a report from Gras, "that guards are arrested on the strength of a British complaint."
A guard N.C.O. wrote: "It's no wonder the British get cheeky, as the officers listen to their complaints privately, and simply send the German soldiers out of the room. The only thing we don't have to do is to stand to attention in front of the goddam British. When that happens, I'll stick a bullet in my head."
THE SUPERIOR QUALITY OF BRITISH RATIONS
German opinion is influenced to no small extent by seeing the gifts of food sent to the British. Their parcels consist largely of articles which have for a long time been in short supply in Germany. The British realise the propaganda value of these gifts and take every opportunity of bragging about them. Such remarks as "Oh, that's nothing - England's full of stuff like this" often has the desired effect on the Germans. The prisoners receive from home ample supplies of chocolate, sausage, tinned meat, ham, etc., and in the work interval they consume them as ostentatiously as possible. The German worker looks on and draws his own conclusion. Considerable ill feeling arose among the German workers of the stone-breaking quarries at Holzkirch when they saw the good food the British had. "We're expected to do double shifts on bread and margarine" they said, "while the 'Herren Englander' are too idle for words, and think of nothing but guzzling." Eventually an order was brought out forbidding British prisoners to bring their food to work with them.
The German authorities, too, make concessions to British prisoners; this the German workers simply cannot understand. Beer is often available in the prison camp canteens, while Germans cannot find beer even in the inns. In a camp near Dresden, a barrel of beer was emptied by the British to celebrate the conclusion of the African campaign. This made the German workers in the camp very angry; one of them wrote: "The Germans can just work till they bust, as long as the prisoners of war get all their little luxuries."
BRITISH PRISONERS ON THE LAND
British prisoners used for agricultural work are particularly arrogant to the local population. The situation is especially intolerable on farms where the prisoners are working for the farmer. Here the Englishman feels lord of the manor, is waited on hand and foot, accepts no orders, and does exactly as he likes. The prisoners are particularly well treated by the womenfolk, who believe the political prophesies of the British and think it clever to ingratiate themselves. It is quite clear that the farmers are afraid of their prisoners, and affected by their arrogance. In this connection the authorities have been requested to use British prisoners only in industrial plants or on farms where there is adequate male supervision.
To sum up, the British tradition of behaving as Herrenvolk is kept up by the prisoners of war. Their presence in Germany is thoroughly demoralising, since their behaviour not only typifies a nation which is racially akin to ours, strong, and absolutely sure of victory - but also has given rise to discussions about the futility of a war between two nations of the same stock.
[Source: TNA WO 208/3242, transcribed by www.arcre.com]