Cover Image: The Island of Extraordinary Captives

The Island of Extraordinary Captives

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date:

Member Reviews

A very thoroughly researched book and an interesting topic.  What to do with immigrants when their Mother country is about to invade you? Are they spies or victims? However, I would have enjoyed the book more if the author concentrated on each person individually.  It got confusing remembering who was who. I did like the spattering of Peter in the story. So good book but it got tedious for me.
Was this review helpful?
The Island of Extraordinary Captives, A Painter, A Poet, an Heiress and a Spy in a World War II British Internment Camp by Simon Parkin
I enjoyed this book immensely as it is well written, well-paced, informative and tells an interesting story of Germans (mostly Jews) who had escaped Germany but do to fears by the British Government were now interned in a camp on The Isle of Man. They were no considered prisoners nor did they act as such. In Camp Hutchinson that Mr. Parkin focuses on the 1,200 captives established all sorts of creative activities to keep themselves busy and teach the other captives. But they were still captives. There are extremely talented men. There was a camp for women nearby and at times they were even able to co-mingle and go to the movies. The book focuses on a few of the men including a young 18 year-old orphan, first name Peter who remains in the camp for over three years until he is called up into the British Service. Due to his fluent German, he eventually becomes a translator at the Nuremburg trials where he comes face to face with the evilest Nazis. The book moves quickly after the war to tell brief stories of some of the captives as they lived out their lives after the war. As an American, this book makes me want to read about how the Japanese interned in the US were treated and acted during their time behind wire as well. If I have one fault with the book, I wish there were some photographs.
Was this review helpful?
A well-researched story about the individuals impacted by Nazi Germany in WWII who fled to Great Britain for refuge.  I haven’t read many WWII history related to this topic and was fascinated with the events and people.
Was this review helpful?
Just imagine fleeing to Britain from Nazi Germany and then being locked up as an enemy alien, along with actual Nazis and fascists.  At the beginning of World War II, that’s what happened in the UK.  Despite classifying foreign nationals according to security risk, ultimately the decision was made to intern them all, with little effort made to keep refugees and anti-fascists away from Nazis and Nazi sympathizers.  Internees had their belongings stolen in broad daylight by British soldiers, police officers and prison guards, and were at first forced into crumbling transit camps with poor food, virtually no sanitary facilities, and little shelter from the weather.

The focus of this book is on a particular camp, called Hutchinson, on the Isle of Man, where many refugees were ultimately interned.  Conditions there were much better than the transit camp hellhole, and those running the camp made a practice of treating the internees with respect and allowing them a good deal of self-governance.

Many of those who fled the Nazis were artists, musicians, composers, university professors, and other professionals any rational country would want to keep.  Hutchinson became a particular standout for its organization of cultural activities.  

Author Simon Parkin calls this book a work of historical narrative nonfiction, based on many different kinds of primary source materials.  There are scads of characters, and it can be a challenge at times to keep up.  But Parkin wisely emphasizes throughout the story of Peter Fleischmann, a Berlin orphan and one of the first German Jews to reach Britain via the famed Kindertransport rescues—and just in time, too, since Peter, at 16, was almost at the cutoff age, and he found after the war that there were apparently no survivors from the orphanage.  It’s astonishing to read of Peter’s travails, but also of the way, as an aspiring artist, that he took advantage of his time at Hutchinson to learn all he could from his mature and accomplished fellow internees.

There are other less-emphasized people who are still striking, like the self-promoter who was suspected by MI-5 of being a Nazi spy, despite his Jewish background.

As an American, I was familiar with the shame of the US internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.  I knew very little about Britain’s internment policies and practices, and I’m happy to have this readable history fill a gap in my knowledge of WW2 history.
Was this review helpful?
When I first started reading and realized that this was yet another book covering World War II, I lowered my expectations. I have read a lot of books that cover events from this time period. However, Parkin surprised me.
This book chronicles the story of people who found themselves interned on the Isle of Man, primarily during the first two years of the war. Even with all that I have studied on this topic, I did not know that Great Britain had also interned people they called "enemy aliens." 
I found myself utterly transfixed by Parkin's narrative as he used the style of narrative nonfiction to tell this story. As Parkin wove in various facts and quotes from primary sources, the reader cannot escape the terrible reality of what happened to these people, many of whom had fled to Great Britain for refuge.
I highly recommend this book.

*I received an eARC from the publisher on NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.*
Was this review helpful?
The description of the book “The Island of Extraordinary Captives” by Simon Parkin seemed to be an in-depth description of human inhumanity toward other humans.  It was that but there was a lot of tedium exploring what had been painstaking research.  There was surprising little information about the person the book was supposed to focus on --Peter Fleischmann.  This was a major disappointment although there was lots of name-dropping for other captives and how they survived. The interment camp called Hutchinson on the Isle of Man was a hotbed for artists, philosophers, and scholars and their various exploits are described sometimes to excess. The “prisoners” were able to overcome many obstacles to produce works of enduring significance.

Peter had an extraordinarily difficult time, to be sure; but the first half of the book had minimal mention of him and his tribulations.  I would have preferred to read more about Peter and his problems. The second half does focus more on him but still it seems like a bit of false advertising.

All in all, it was not bad but did not, at least for this reader, live up to the hype.  I’d recommend it but don’t expect to see Peter Fleischmann as a real focus.
Was this review helpful?
An incredibly interesting and detailed account of people who fled to welcoming England escaping Hitler but were then interred by the British government once war broke out. The prison camp held many influential and learned  people including professors, artists, composers and the like. While in the camp they banded together with their creativity.  A Fascinating read.
Was this review helpful?