Walter W. Igersheimer, a German Jew born in 1917, sought refuge in England in 1933 where he studied medicine. In June 1940, after the outbreak of the war, he was interned as an enemy alien and shipped with other German refugees to internment camps in Canada, where he was released in July 1941. He then went to Cuba where he waited two years for [End Page 581] an entry permit to the United States. While in Cuba, deeply troubled by his past experiences, he decided to write the story of his internment in order to denounce both the injustice of arresting refugees as enemy aliens and the inhumane conditions of the internment camps in Canada. The manuscript, tucked away in a drawer, was published sixty years later, edited and introduced by Ian Darragh, a young friend of the author. The book's title, Blatant Injustice, reveals the author's anger.
In the introduction we read that two books on these internment camps have already been published by former inmates: Eric Koch's Deemed Suspect: A Wartime Blunder and Mark Lynton's Accidental Journey: A Cambridge Internee's Memoir of World War II. The titles of these books reveal that the two authors, both former inmates of the same camp as Igersheimer, did not experience their internment as blatant injustice. The introduction quotes Koch's assertion that 'most refugees accepted their arrest and internment as a reasonable precaution.' Igersheimer did not. He suffered greatly under the fate imposed on him by the British and Canadian governments and by the military staff in charge of the internment camps.
I read the book very carefully to discover why Igersheimer's experience was so different from my own. I too was a German refugee in England, interned in May 1940, shipped to the Canadian internment camps and released in Canada – later than Igersheimer, in April 1942.
Igersheimer's emigration to England in 1933 had not interrupted his middle-class standing. His father, a famous doctor in Germany, had been offered a professorship in Turkey, from where he eventually moved to a university position in the United States. His son Walter became a medical student in England, had English friends, felt part of British society, and looked forward to graduating as a medical doctor. As a doctor he wanted to serve in the British army as his part in the war against German fascism. For him the internment was a cruel interruption of his life and his life's purpose, and the lack of respect and the harsh conditions experienced in the camps were an insult to a decently brought up middle-class person.
My experience was quite different. I arrived in England in May 1939, a boy not yet sixteen, working for a living for a poor farmer, leaving behind education and middle-class standing. When the police came to intern me, I leaned the manure fork against the wall, stepped out of the barn, and laughed as I was driven to the local prison. In Canada I spent the greater part of my internment in Camp A at Farnham, Quebec, where most of the inmates were non-Jewish German refugees: liberals, socialists, communists, priests, and pastors. Educators among them set up a camp school, and we, boys under twenty, studied for the junior matriculation granted by McGill University. Some of us woke up intellectually in the camp; we had great German teachers, we felt rescued from Europe at a time of crisis, and we slowly got ready for the adventure of adult life. We had a photo taken of the teachers and students of the camp school, which is now in the [End Page 582] possession of a former inmate, Vernon Brooks, Professor Emeritus of the University of Western Ontario, who is tracing the careers of the participants after their release.
I am sorry that Igersheimer suffered such anguish. His subsequent success as a psychiatrist and psychotherapist will have consoled him.
Gregory Baum, Faculty...