Image: Gabe Tho­mas, Milag: cap­ti­ves of the Kriegs­ma­ri­ne. Mer­chant Navy pri­soners of war, Milag Pri­soner of War Asso­cia­ti­on, 1995, p. 105.

Table of Con­tents
Camp­scape | Sta­lag X B Sand­bos­tel – Ilag and Milag  | Mar­lag and Milag Nord in Wes­terim­ke  | Bre­men and Ham­burg har­bour  |  SourcesPoli­ti­sches Archiv des Aus­wär­ti­gen Amts   Impe­ri­al War Muse­um, Lon­don  |  Bre­men and Ham­burg Sta­te Archi­ve  |  Con­clu­si­on  |  End­no­tes  |  Biblio­gra­phy

South Asi­an civi­li­an pri­soners in Ger­man cap­ti­vi­ty during World War II have recei­ved very litt­le scho­lar­ly atten­ti­on. Whe­re­as the­re has been exten­si­ve rese­arch on the South Asi­an sol­diers who have joi­n­ed Sub­has Chandra Bose’s Azad Hind Fauj and preli­mi­na­ry rese­arch on ordi­na­ry cap­ti­ves who had eit­her cho­sen not to join the Indi­an Legi­on, as it was cal­led in Ger­ma­ny, or were con­side­red unfit for it, South Asi­an civi­li­an pri­soners do not play a role in eit­her of the­se his­to­rio­gra­phies. Yet, the­se cap­ti­ves, main­ly Indi­an sea­men working for the Bri­tish Mer­chant or Roy­al Navy or Euro­pean ship­ping com­pa­nies, inha­bi­ted, for ins­tance, the bar­racks of the camps in Sand­bos­tel and Wes­terim­ke in nor­t­hern Lower Sax­o­ny and the make-shift arran­ge­ments in Ham­burg and Bremen.

In this essay, I will first out­line the his­to­ric con­text of South Asi­an civi­li­an cap­ti­vi­ty in Nor­t­hern Ger­ma­ny by iden­ti­fy­ing, loca­ting and recon­s­truc­ting the for­ma­ti­on of the dif­fe­rent camps and intern­ment faci­li­ties. Second, I draw atten­ti­on to the sources, map­ping the archi­val land­scape and poin­ting out the rele­van­ce of each hol­ding within the over­ar­ching frame­work of the MIDA pro­ject and its Digi­tal Archi­val Refle­xi­con. Alt­hough I am digi­tal­ly reor­de­ring the sources along the per­ti­nence prin­ci­ple, the pro­ven­an­ce of the hol­dings is not lost as I start each sec­tion with situa­ting the respec­ti­ve hol­ding in the struc­tu­re of its phy­si­cal repository.

Throug­hout the paper, I reflect and com­ment on pos­si­ble van­ta­ge points for his­to­ric scho­lar­ship in this under rese­ar­ched field of stu­dy as they are emer­ging out of this ten­ta­ti­ve sur­vey on the material.


Stalag X B Sandbostel – Ilag and Milag

Initi­al­ly, the civi­li­an pri­soners were inter­ned in the Kriegs­ge­fan­ge­nen-Mann­schafts-Stamm­la­ger X B Sand­bos­tel, coin­ed Sta­lag X B in mili­ta­ry jar­gon. The camp, fal­ling under the admi­nis­tra­ti­on of Wehr­kreis (war area) X, encom­pas­sing Schles­wig-Hol­stein, Ham­burg, Bre­men and nor­t­hern Lower Sax­o­ny, was erec­ted in 1939 clo­se to the vil­la­ge Sand­bos­tel, len­ding its name to the faci­li­ty (Ehres­mann 2015). It was in ope­ra­ti­on throug­hout the war until its libe­ra­ti­on by the Bri­tish army on April 29, 1945, having hos­ted at least 313 000 civil and mili­ta­ry pri­soners, thou­sands of whom died from dise­a­ses and phy­si­cal exhaus­ti­on. Soviet pri­soners in par­ti­cu­lar suf­fe­r­ed from the dis­as­trous con­di­ti­ons and mistre­at­ment under inten­tio­nal dis­re­gard of the Gen­e­va Con­ven­ti­on. Sta­lag X B was divi­ded into Ilag (Inter­nie­rungs­la­ger) and Milag (Mari­ne-Inter­nie­rungs­la­ger). Whe­re­as both hos­ted offi­cers and ranks of the Mer­chant as well as the Roy­al Navy, colo­ni­al sea­men were only to be inter­ned in Ilag. The­re were around 660 colo­ni­al sea­men cate­go­ri­zed as Chi­ne­se, Indi­an, Arab and Mala­yan in Octo­ber 1941.[1] Most of them were cap­tu­red at sea when the Ger­man forces sei­zed their ships. During an inspec­tion of the camp in July 1941 by the Inter­na­tio­nal Red Cross, espe­ci­al­ly the hygie­nic faci­li­ties in both camps were con­side­red abso­lut­e­ly insuf­fi­ci­ent and the pri­soners were obser­ved to be lack­ing warm uni­forms and under­wear.[2] With the harsh Ger­man win­ter approa­ching, the Ger­man mili­ta­ry tried to nego­tia­te an agree­ment with Ita­ly to send the civi­li­ans to one of their intern­ment camps. Howe­ver, the Ita­li­an aut­ho­ri­ties with­drew their initi­al offi­cer, clai­ming to have exhaus­ted their capa­ci­ties. Ins­tead, the who­le Ilag and Mar­lag branch of Sand­bos­tel was relo­ca­ted to a new camp 25 km towards the south, now being refer­red to as Mar­lag and Milag Nord.

Marlag and Milag Nord in Westerimke

In the cour­se of the relo­ca­ti­on, around 380 Indi­an las­cars, along with the other so-cal­led colou­red sea­men, were trans­fer­red to Wes­terim­ke clo­se to Bre­men in Octo­ber 1941. The new faci­li­ty con­sis­ted of two camps espe­ci­al­ly crea­ted to accom­mo­da­te cap­ti­ves of the Bri­tish Mer­chant Navy, cal­led Mar­lag and Milag (Mari­ne-Inter­nie­rungs­la­ger). The­re, the Indi­ans were accom­mo­da­ted in the Milag branch of the camp, their num­bers now figu­ring at 533.[3] As this camp, too, was ill equip­ped and South Asi­ans con­side­red unfit to last the Ger­man win­ter, their depor­ta­ti­on to Ita­ly was again deba­ted in Decem­ber 1941. In Febru­ary of 1942, howe­ver, 486 Indi­an civi­li­ans were still lis­ted on the camp docu­ments.[4]

In 1943, ano­ther small camp was built in their vici­ni­ty to accom­mo­da­te the bulk of Indi­an, Ade­ne­se, Chi­ne­se and Bur­me­se sea­men. Some 630 sea­men moved out of Milag to what came to be cal­led the Inder Lager (Tho­mas 1995, p. 105). Simi­lar to the so-cal­led Half­moon Camp in Zos­sen-Wüns­dorf during World War I, the South Asi­ans were sepa­ra­ted from their Bri­tish offi­cers and expo­sed to pro-Ger­man pro­pa­gan­da in an attempt to find allies among the colo­ni­al sub­jects (Tho­mas 1995, p. 273). Not only did this endea­vour pro­ve unsuc­cessful as only a few sea­men were recrui­ted to the Indi­an Legi­on, but the com­man­ders of the camp met with various inci­dents of pas­si­ve resis­tance from the inma­tes, both in Sand­bos­tel and Wes­terim­ke (Tho­mas 1995, 272f; Lane 1990, 284). The damp cli­ma­te of Nor­t­hern Ger­ma­ny, lack of fuel, food and suf­fi­ci­ent clot­hing, as well as the dis­re­gard of the die­ta­ry cus­toms of the pre­do­mi­nant­ly Mus­lim inha­bi­tants of the Inder Lager made ever­y­day life an unp­lea­sant expe­ri­ence. Red Cross Par­cels with rati­ons bare­ly rea­ched the camp and the high­ly cen­so­red and dis­rupt­ed cor­re­spon­dence bet­ween the pri­soners and the out­side world fur­ther added to the atmo­sphe­re of resent­ment and iso­la­ti­on among the cap­ti­ves. While extra rati­ons were indis­pensable, the Indi­an Red Cross in Sim­la sent books, musi­cal instru­ments and games. A theat­re was con­s­truc­ted and seve­ral plays were per­for­med with full musi­cal accom­p­animent and reli­gious rou­ti­nes were main­tai­ned as far as the con­di­ti­ons allo­wed it (Tho­mas 1995, 275).

Bremen and Hamburg harbour

In addi­ti­on to the South Asi­an sea­men inter­ned in Sand­bos­tel and Wes­terim­ke, the­re were ano­ther appro­xi­m­ate­ly 360 Indi­an las­cars held cap­ti­ve in Ham­burg and Bre­men. All of them employees of the Han­sa Line, a Ger­man ship­ping com­pa­ny pre­do­mi­nant­ly cal­ling at South Asi­an ports, they were detai­ned in Sep­tem­ber 1939, when England’s decla­ra­ti­on of war to Ger­ma­ny led to a com­ple­te lock down of all eco­no­mic rela­ti­ons with India. At that time, seven ful­ly man­ned ships were ancho­red in Bre­men and two at the Ham­burg port. As their ships were denied voya­ge, the South Asi­an sea­men found them­sel­ves out of employ­ment and groun­ded in Ger­ma­ny. They were accom­mo­da­ted eit­her in make-shift arran­ge­ments in and around Bre­men city, whe­re they were main­tai­ned and guard­ed by the Han­sa Line, or stay­ed on two small bar­ges ancho­red in Ham­burg port.[5] As far as Bre­men is con­cer­ned, the Han­sa Line ensu­red that they were pro­vi­ded with food pre­pared in agree­ment with their reli­gious beliefs and were even allo­wed to ven­ture out into the city in groups of ten.[6] Their sup­port for the las­cars hints to the ambi­guous situa­ti­on cer­tain parts of the ship­ping indus­try found its­elf in during the war. Hea­vi­ly rely­ing on their inter­na­tio­nal work­force, they were less sup­port­i­ve of the natio­na­list cau­se as, for exam­p­le, the hea­vy indus­try. Some sea­men then found new employ­ment on Dutch steam­ers. Nevert­hel­ess, at least two died in local hos­pi­tals.[7] Upon request of their for­mer employ­er, they were given warm clo­thes from the fun­dus of the local poli­ce. In Ham­burg, the situa­ti­on was con­sider­a­b­ly less ami­ca­ble as the bar­ges did not pro­vi­de suf­fi­ci­ent shel­ter from the win­ter cli­ma­te for the initi­al 94 las­cars. By Octo­ber 1939, alre­a­dy half of the crew was suf­fe­ring from pneu­ma­tic dise­a­ses.[8] On Febru­ary 14, 1940, the remai­ning 65 las­cars in Ham­burg were joi­n­ed with the 215 still stay­ing in Bre­men from whe­re they were trans­por­ted to the Net­her­lands. They were set free on the con­di­ti­on that they would not join ene­my ser­vice.[9]


The rele­vant hol­dings regar­ding South Asi­an civi­li­an pri­soners in Ger­ma­ny during World War II are spread across three dif­fe­rent Ger­man sta­te archi­ves and one Bri­tish coll­ec­tion. As this is a preli­mi­na­ry over­view, I do not rule out the pos­si­bi­li­ty that the­re will be more mate­ri­al in other archi­ves, for exam­p­le in the archi­ves of the Inter­na­tio­nal Tra­cing Ser­vice in Bad Arol­sen.[10]

Politisches Archiv des Auswärtigen Amts

Quan­ti­ta­tively, the most signi­fi­cant mate­ri­al is stored in the Poli­ti­sches Archiv des Aus­wär­ti­gen Amts (the Poli­ti­cal Archi­ve of the Fede­ral For­eign Office) [PAAA]. It is struc­tu­red accor­ding to the pro­ven­an­ce prin­ci­ple, reflec­ting the admi­nis­tra­ti­ve struc­tu­re of the Ger­man For­eign Office at a given point in time. One branch caters only to the bureau­cra­tic out­put of the admi­nis­tra­ti­on of the Third Reich. Within this branch, the mate­ri­al on the South Asi­an cap­ti­ves is found in five files in the hol­ding Rechts­an­ge­le­gen­hei­ten (legal mat­ters) under the sub-sec­tion Kriegs­recht (mar­ti­al law) / Völ­ker­recht (inter­na­tio­nal law). The mate­ri­al is par­ti­cu­lar­ly rele­vant becau­se it con­firms that Indi­an civi­li­ans were first inter­ned in Sand­bos­tel befo­re they were trans­fer­red to Wes­terim­ke, which has elu­ded his­to­ri­cal scho­lar­ly atten­ti­on so far. Per­haps most strikin­gly, the files con­tain den­se mate­ri­al on eight Indi­an mer­chants from Sind, per­ma­nent­ly resi­ding in Gibral­tar, who had been cap­tu­red in 1940 in the Indi­an Oce­an on the S. S. Kem­men­di­ne on their way to India after having been evacua­ted from Gibral­tar. They were inter­ned as civil pri­soners first in Sta­lag X B and later in Mar­lag and Milag Nord. Eager to be released to Tan­gier, Spa­nish Moroc­co, whe­re they had long term busi­ness rela­ti­ons, their cor­re­spon­dence with the Indi­an Mer­chant Asso­cia­ti­on in Tan­gier, various con­su­la­tes and embas­sies, the Swiss lega­ti­on and, of cour­se, the Ger­man aut­ho­ri­ties, make for a fasci­na­ting case stu­dy for the micro-histo­ry of camp poli­tics. As they dis­cuss the finan­cial, geo­gra­phic and legal aspects of their pen­ding repa­tria­ti­on, insights into inter­na­tio­nal war-time diplo­ma­cy from a bot­tom-up per­spec­ti­ve can be gai­ned. Despi­te their relent­less efforts, the Bri­tish-Indi­ans were still in Ger­man cap­ti­vi­ty in March 1945.

Fur­ther, the hol­ding con­ta­ins intern­ment lists of cap­ti­ves of both Sta­lag X B and Mar­lag and Milag Nord, as well as camp inspec­tion reports of the Inter­na­tio­nal Red Cross in Gen­e­va and the Swiss lega­ti­on. Espe­ci­al­ly the lat­ter are valuable sources as they pro­vi­de rare insights into the ever­y­day life of the camps and the con­di­ti­ons of intern­ment of South Asi­an civi­li­an pri­soners view­ed through the lens of inter­na­tio­nal huma­ni­ta­ri­an organizations.

Imperial War Museum, London

The hol­ding in the PAAA is inter­lin­ked with a hol­ding in the Impe­ri­al War Muse­um, Lon­don. Alt­hough the pri­va­te papers of Cap­tain H. W. Jones have been stu­di­ed by scho­lars like Tony Lane (Lane 1990) and Gabe Tho­mas (Tho­mas 1995) and do not strict­ly fall under the cate­go­ry of modern India in Ger­man archi­ves, I am lis­ting them here becau­se they are cru­cial for a com­pre­hen­si­ve under­stan­ding of the civi­li­an camp­scape of Word War II. Cap­tain H. W. Jones, Chief Offi­cer of the Har­ri­ons Line’s S. S. Dales­man, man­ned with an Indi­an crew, was excep­tio­nal in a num­ber of ways. Not only had he lear­ned Hin­du­sta­ni, the lin­gua-fran­ca of Nor­t­hern India to com­mu­ni­ca­te with his staff, but also vol­un­tee­red to lea­ve the officer’s camp to join the Indi­ans as their Con­fi­dence Offi­cer. At the Inder Lager, he appli­ed his ener­gies to make life as tole­ra­ble as pos­si­ble for the South Asi­ans, who suf­fe­r­ed more than the Euro­peans from the impo­si­ti­ons of cap­ti­vi­ty. He inter­ven­ed on their behalf for the pro­per con­side­ra­ti­on of their die­ta­ry requi­re­ments in line with their reli­gious beliefs, made sure they were sup­pli­ed with essen­ti­als, clot­hing and blan­kets, hel­ped with the cor­re­spon­dence in and out of the camp in the face of the Ger­man cen­sor, took respon­si­bi­li­ty of the camp wages and ensu­red a mini­mum of lei­su­re acti­vi­ties to be available for the inma­tes (Tho­mas 1995, 274–6). His pri­va­te papers, stored in two card­board boxes, con­tain his copious notes about life in the Inder Lager. He kept nomi­nal lists of the Indi­an but also other Asi­an, Carib­be­an and Afri­can cap­ti­ves, a volu­mi­nous coll­ec­tion of cor­re­spon­den­ces and peti­ti­ons on behalf of the South Asi­ans to their rela­ti­ves at home as well as the local aut­ho­ri­ties[11], balan­ce sheets, bills and receipts for rati­ons, cine­ma tickets, sale of effects of the decea­sed and camp wages,[12] a camp dia­ry of 1942, pho­to­graphs, gro­cery lists and dai­ly menus, and notes he had taken during the visit of the Swiss Lega­ti­on who inspec­ted Mar­lag in April 1944.[13] After the war, he brought ever­y­thing back to Eng­land whe­re it even­tual­ly came to rest in the cus­t­ody of the Impe­ri­al War Muse­um after his death.

Bremen and Hamburg State Archive

Alt­hough the mate­ri­al in the hol­dings of the Bre­men Sta­te Archi­ve and the Ham­burg Sta­te Archi­ve is less volu­mi­nous than the one in PAAA, their hol­dings are nevert­hel­ess important as they open a win­dow into the poli­tics of intern­ment out­side the realm of the tra­di­tio­nal pri­son camps. The 360 las­cars from Bom­bay and Cal­cut­ta of the Han­sa Line were accom­mo­da­ted in small bar­ges in the port or housing shel­ters in the port neigh­bour­hood within clo­se pro­xi­mi­ty of the local urban population.

In the Bre­men Sta­te Archi­ve, the file on the cap­tu­red South Asi­an sea­men is stored along­side docu­ments on for­eign work­force, social secu­ri­ty, labour issues, the Jewish ques­ti­on, air raid shel­ter and pri­soners of war as part of the hol­ding Sena­tor für Inne­res, All­ge­mei­ne Regis­tra­tur in Bre­men bet­ween 1919 – 1956.[14] The file its­elf, label­led Aus­län­der­po­li­zei­li­che Behand­lung indi­scher Staats­an­ge­hö­ri­ger 1939 – 1940 (tre­at­ment of Indi­an natio­nals by the for­eig­ners poli­ce), con­ta­ins the cor­re­spon­dence bet­ween the Natio­nal Socia­list poli­ce forces in Ber­lin and Bre­men, the mayor of Bre­men and his sena­tor of the inte­ri­or as well as its Ham­burg equi­va­lent, the Haupt­ver­ei­ni­gung der deut­schen Getrei­de- und Fut­ter­mit­tel­wirt­schaft (the Ger­man grain and feed­s­tuff main asso­cia­ti­on) and repre­sen­ta­ti­ves of the Han­sa Line about the tre­at­ment of the cap­tu­red Indi­an las­cars. As the camp for civil pri­soners in Sand­bos­tel was not yet in ope­ra­ti­on, the pla­ce­ment of the South Asi­an sea­men was a com­pli­ca­ted and pres­sing issue for the aut­ho­ri­ties. In a request to the Bre­men poli­ce, the Han­sa Line empha­ti­cal­ly urges the for­mer to keep the las­cars in Bre­men and in the cus­t­ody of the ship­ping line, as only from here they could ensu­re their pro­per tre­at­ment inclu­ding the pre­pa­ra­ti­on of meals along their reli­gious beliefs and regio­nal back­ground and their safe­guar­ding against cold wea­ther.[15] Issues revol­ved around the import and cle­arance of rice and tea by the cus­toms and around fin­ding an accep­ta­ble and afforda­ble loca­ti­on for their accom­mo­da­ti­on. A gro­cery list divi­ding the crew bet­ween peo­p­le from Cal­cut­ta and Bom­bay sheds light into the respec­ti­ve die­ta­ry requi­re­ments from the per­spec­ti­ve of their employ­ers. A com­pre­hen­si­ve enu­me­ra­ti­on of all las­cars inter­ned, sta­ting their names, pro­fes­si­ons, age and place of recruit­ment, allows insights into the social com­po­si­ti­on of the mari­ti­me work­force. Even­tual­ly, it was agreed to deport the Indi­ans to Eng­land. The Ham­burg and Bre­men las­cars were poo­led and sent by train to be han­ded over to the Bri­tish vice con­sul on Febru­ary 14 of 1940 in Rot­ter­dam.[16] As oppo­sed to the mer­chant cap­tu­red on the S. S. Kem­men­di­ne, the Bre­men and Ham­burg las­cars had a (finan­ci­al­ly) strong lob­by nego­tia­ting on their behalf. As a result, they were released from Ger­ma­ny after a rela­tively short peri­od of six months in cap­ti­vi­ty, whe­re­as the mer­chants from Gibral­tar stay­ed in camp throug­hout the enti­re war despi­te their relent­less efforts.

The Han­sa Line las­cars also appear in the Ham­burg Sta­te Archi­ve, howe­ver not in the hol­ding of a govern­ment minis­try but of a medi­cal insti­tu­ti­on, the Hafen­arzt (har­bour phy­si­ci­an). The uni­que insti­tu­ti­on was crea­ted in 1893 in reac­tion to the seve­re cho­le­ra epi­de­mic that struck Ham­burg in 1892 with the objec­ti­ve of a per­ma­nent sani­ta­ry con­trol of the ships, crews and pas­sen­gers ente­ring Ham­burg port from over­se­as. Bes­i­des the hygie­nic super­vi­si­on of ves­sels and water, fight­ing (tro­pi­cal) dise­a­ses in the har­bour also fell under the scope of func­tions of the Hafen­arzt. The­r­e­fo­re, in 1939, the medi­cal tre­at­ment of the Ham­burg las­cars, lodged in nar­row bar­ges owned by the Han­sa Line ancho­red in the port fell under this institution’s field of respon­si­bi­li­ty. The doc­tor in char­ge in 1939, Dr. Kucken­burg, saw ill las­cars during his office hours and trans­fer­red them to hos­pi­tals in Ham­burg if their con­di­ti­on requi­red it. Moreo­ver, the bar­ges were inspec­ted at least once by public health aut­ho­ri­ties and were label­led abso­lut­e­ly inap­pro­pria­te for housing the South Asi­an sea­men.[17] Expec­ting the immi­nent trans­fer of the las­cars to Bre­men, the repre­sen­ta­ti­ve of the Han­sa Line, Cap­tain Oet­ker, was not as dedi­ca­ted to the lascar’s well­be­ing as his coun­ter­parts in Bre­men, who had rejec­ted the idea of accom­mo­da­ting the las­cars on ships on huma­ni­ta­ri­an grounds.

Whe­re­as the Bre­men files reve­al the posi­ti­on of capi­tal in cor­re­spon­dence with the sta­te and poli­ce aut­ho­ri­ties, the Ham­burg files look at the same group of peo­p­le from the per­spec­ti­ve of hygie­ne. Dri­ven by the fear of an epi­de­mic in the port area, the Ham­burg health aut­ho­ri­ties and not the employ­ers pres­sed for bet­ter living con­di­ti­ons for the cap­ti­ves. In Bre­men, the employer’s respon­si­bi­li­ty to care for a loy­al work­force was the dri­ving force behind the nego­tia­ti­on on the las­cars’ behalf. In com­bi­na­ti­on with the mate­ri­al in the PAAA and the pri­va­te papers of Cap­tain H.W. Jones, a sys­te­ma­tic ana­ly­sis of the living con­di­ti­ons of South Asi­an sea­men befo­re the back­ground of dif­fe­rent pro­tec­ting bodies, be it their employ­ers, their supe­ri­ors, inspec­tors of the health aut­ho­ri­ties or the Swiss Lega­ti­on or the absence the­reof is possible.


One of the main objec­ti­ves of the MIDA Archi­val Refle­xi­con is to draw atten­ti­on to smal­ler archi­ves and pri­va­te coll­ec­tions housed in Ger­man archi­ves, which may offer new insights into the ent­an­gled his­to­ries as well as their accom­pany­ing ent­an­gled archi­ves out­side the realm of the colo­ni­al Bri­tish archi­ves. The nume­ri­cal­ly rather limi­t­ed hol­dings on South Asi­an civil pri­soners in Ger­man cap­ti­vi­ty spread out over mul­ti­ple archi­ves may seem insi­gni­fi­cant when stu­di­ed as iso­la­ted enti­ties. Howe­ver, when ana­ly­sed with regard to their inter­re­la­ted natu­re, their rele­van­ce for his­to­rio­gra­phy beco­mes visi­ble. As the hol­dings com­ple­ment and cor­rob­ora­te each other, only the res­truc­tu­ring of the archi­val order along the­ma­tic lines reve­als pos­si­ble rese­arch ave­nues. With archi­ves as diver­se as the PAAA, the Ham­burg and Bre­men Sta­te Archi­ve and the Impe­ri­al War Muse­um in Lon­don, and hol­dings ran­ging from pri­va­te papers to the docu­ments of the har­bour phy­si­ci­an, the­re unfolds an inter­sec­ted puz­zle of sources yet to be sys­te­ma­ti­cal­ly enga­ged with.

New rese­arch per­spec­ti­ves, as I have out­lined in this essay, include the huma­ni­ta­ri­an and social con­di­ti­ons of the camps as well as the every-day life of South Asi­an pri­soners. Moreo­ver, the influence of inter­na­tio­nal diplo­ma­cy and lob­by­ing on the­se con­di­ti­ons as well as on the inter­nees’ chan­ces of libe­ra­ti­on and repa­tria­ti­on can be scru­ti­ni­zed through the­se sources. Whe­ther it was for per­so­nal sym­pa­thy and gene­ral huma­ni­ta­ri­an con­side­ra­ti­ons, in the inte­rest of capi­tal or for the fear of a health cri­sis, out­side inter­ven­ti­on on the pri­soners’ behalf signi­fi­cant­ly impro­ved their over­all situa­ti­on. Howe­ver, no mat­ter how strong the lob­by, their expe­ri­ence in camp was gene­ral­ly unp­lea­sant, if not trau­ma­tiz­ing, and some­ti­mes even dead­ly, as the mate­ri­al has also shown.

Ano­ther pos­si­ble tra­jec­to­ry for his­to­rio­gra­phy is a com­pa­ra­ti­ve stu­dy of the camps for South Asi­an civil pri­soners during World War I, on which the­re alre­a­dy exists a fair­ly signi­fi­cant body of pri­ma­ry and secon­da­ry sources, and their coun­ter­parts in World War II. Pos­si­ble van­ta­ge points are the imple­men­ta­ti­on of Ger­man pro­pa­gan­da among the South Asi­ans, the con­di­ti­ons of their inter­ment, modes of resis­tance to the camp regime as well as their own per­spec­ti­ve on the war.

The­se sug­ges­ti­ons are by no means exhaus­ti­ve and can easi­ly be expan­ded to other fields of research.


[1]PAAA_R40967, p. 51.
[2]PAAA_R40967, p. 40.
[3]PAAA_R40967, p. 59.
[4]PAAA_R40967, p. 81
[5]StaHH, 352–7 I Hafen­arzt I, Nr. 42 , Abschrift aus dem Bericht des Gesundhtsb. Maak vom 23. Sept.
[6]StaB, 13/1‑P.1.f.Nr. 35 (2981) Aus­län­der­po­li­zei­li­che Behand­lung indi­scher Staats­an­ge­hö­ri­ger 1939–1940, p. 16.
[7]StaB, 13/1‑P.1.f.Nr. 35, p. 36.
[8]StaHH, 352–7 I Hafen­arzt I, Nr. 42, Hand­schrift­li­che Notiz.
[9]StaB, 13/1‑P.1.f.Nr. 35, p. 33.

See also the ent­ry by Van­da­na Joshi which deals with the sources on Indi­an civi­li­ans and sol­diers housed in ITS archi­ve in Bad Arol­sen.


14/10/1/1; 14/10/1/2, Pri­va­te Papers of Cap­tain H. W. Jones.


14/10/1/2; Pri­va­te Papers of Cap­tain H. W. Jones.


14/10/2, Pri­va­te Papers of Cap­tain H. W. Jones.


StaB, 4,13/1 – Sena­tor für Inne­res, All­ge­mei­ne Regis­tra­tur (1940–1956).


StaB, 13/1‑P.1.f.Nr. 35, p. 8–9.


StaB, 13/1‑P.1.f.Nr. 35, p. 33–34.


StaHH, 352–7 I Hafen­arzt I, Nr. 42, Abschrift aus dem Bericht des Gesundhtsb. Maak vom 23. Sept. 1939.


Unpublished Sources (holdings)

Staats­ar­chiv Ham­burg, 352–7 I Hafen­arzt I

Staats­ar­chiv Bre­men, 4,13/1 – Sena­tor für Inne­res, All­ge­mei­ne Regis­tra­tur (1940–1956)

Impe­ri­al War Muse­um, Lon­don, Pri­va­te Papers of Cap­tain H. W. Jones

Poli­ti­sches Archiv des Aus­wär­ti­gen Amts, Bestand Rechts­an­ge­le­gen­hei­ten, Kriegs­recht / Völkerrecht

Published Sources and Secondary Literature

Ehres­mann, Andre­as, Das Sta­lag X B Sand­bos­tel. Geschich­te und Nach­ge­schich­te eines Kriegs­ge­fan­ge­nen­la­gers. München/Hamburg: Döl­ling und Galitz Ver­lag, 2015.

Hill, Cap­tain A., Some expe­ri­en­ces of SS Man­da­sor and her Crew during World War. Edin­burgh, 1947.

Lane, Tony, The Mer­chant Seamen’s War, Liver­pool: The Blue­coat Press, 1990.

Liebau, Hei­ke, “A voice recor­ding, a por­trait pho­to and three dra­wings: tra­cing the life of a colo­ni­al sol­dier”.  In ZMO Working Papers (20/2018), pp. 1–14.

Gabe, Tho­mas, Milag: cap­ti­ves of the Kriegs­ma­ri­ne. Mer­chant Navy pri­soners of war. Pon­tar­da­we, Swan­sea: Milag Pri­soner of War Asso­cia­ti­on, 1995.

Roy, Fran­zis­ka, “Indi­an Sea­men in World War I Pri­son Camps in Ger­ma­ny”. In Südasien-Chronik – South Asia Chro­nic­le (5/2015) pp. 63–91.

Roy, Fran­zis­ka, Hei­ke Liebau and Ravi Ahu­ja (eds.), When the war began we heard of seve­ral kings. South Asi­an pri­soners in World War I Ger­ma­ny.  New Delhi: Social Sci­ence Press, 2011.

Sven­ja von Jan, CeMIS, Georg-August-Uni­ver­si­tät Göttingen

MIDA Archi­val Refle­xi­con

Edi­tors: Anan­di­ta Baj­pai, Hei­ke Liebau
Lay­out: Mon­ja Hof­mann, Nico Putz
Host: ZMO, Kirch­weg 33, 14129 Ber­lin
Cont­act: archival.reflexicon [at]

ISSN 2628–5029