Image: A group of around 20–30 POWs are stan­ding tog­e­ther with the visi­tor Dr. Excha­que­tin what appears to be a cour­ty­ard in front of a lar­ger buil­ding. Fig. 1: V‑P-HIST-01695–02 Anna­burg. Sta­lag IV E, Visit of the dele­ga­te ICRC, Dr. Excha­quet, on 27 June 1941. Cour­te­sy: Comi­té Inter­na­tio­nal de la Croix-Rouge (CICR). 

Table of Con­tents
Diplo­ma­cy, Pro­pa­gan­da, Sub­ver­si­on and Psy­cho­lo­gi­cal Ope­ra­ti­ons (Psy-Ops) | Pre­pa­ra­ti­ons of Sub­ver­si­on | Neta­ji Sub­has Chandra Bose Enters the Sce­ne | Bri­tish Night­ma­re | Pro­jec­tions of Wel­fa­re and Pater­na­lism | Anna­burg as the Epi­cent­re of Sub­ver­si­on and the Rai­sing of the Indi­an Legi­on (1941–43) | Pray­er Rooms of Indi­an Cap­ti­ves | Ger­man Fur­ti­ve­nessRecruit­ment Stra­te­giesPos­tal Delays and Lin­gu­i­stic Diver­si­tyCon­clu­si­on | End­no­tes | Biblio­gra­phy

This artic­le uses some rare pic­tures and reports from the Inter­na­tio­nal Red Cross Archi­ves to eva­lua­te the diplo­ma­tic mano­eu­vres, psy­cho­lo­gi­cal ope­ra­ti­ons (psy-ops) and pro­pa­gan­da around Bri­tish-Indi­an pri­soners and Indi­an legio­na­ries in WWII Ger­ma­ny from the per­spec­ti­ve of experts from the Inter­na­tio­nal Red Cross Com­mit­tee (CICR, French abbre­via­ti­on), who were sup­po­sed to act as neu­tral obser­vers.  This source-base is then jux­ta­po­sed with visu­al and tex­tu­al Ger­man and Bri­tish sources to pro­vi­de a lar­ger con­text to Bri­tish-Ger­man ent­an­gle­ments at the Anna­burg pri­son camp in the non-com­ba­tant realm of sol­dier­ing and poli­ti­cking during the Second World War in Germany.

Anna­burg, seen on the cover pho­to (Fg.1),[i] was Sta­lag IV D/Z from May 1942 to April 1945. In a com­mu­ni­ca­ti­on of 18 August 1942 from Ber­ne, Switz­er­land, to the For­eign Office, Lon­don, it was sta­ted that Anna­burg Oflag IV E was to be known as Sta­lag IV D/Z. The CICR visi­ta­ti­on report of 27 June 1941, howe­ver, cal­led it Anna­burg Sta­lag IV E.[ii]  The Ger­man offi­ci­al­dom inter­ch­an­ge­ab­ly used Anna­burg Sta­lag IV E or Oflag 54 befo­re ren­aming it Anna­burg Sta­lag IV D/Z.

Why do we have the­se dif­fe­rent sets of iden­ti-fica­ti­on for the same pri­soners’ camp in the small Saxon cast­le-town of Anna­burg? Does it indi­ca­te a sta­te of flux in the camp site or could it have  been a part of the Ger­man stra­tegy to keep its cha­rac­ter ambi­guous during the peri­od under con­side­ra­ti­on? Through a micro-stu­dy of Anna­burg, an exclu­si­ve camp site for Bri­tish-Indi­an pri­soners in Ger­ma­ny, I will reflect on broa­der issues such as the use of decep­ti­on, sabo­ta­ge, sub­ver­si­on and intri­gue by the Ger­mans during the rai­sing of the Indi­an Legi­on in the diplo­ma­tic circles.

Diplomacy, Propaganda, Subversion and Psychological Operations (Psy-Ops)

The Euro­pean theat­re of war was not just a com­bat zone, but also one of waging war through other means: diplo­ma­cy, pro­pa­gan­da, sub­ver­si­on, and psy-ops. Anna­burg, a small cast­le-town in today’s Sax­o­ny-Anhalt, was a site for what the Bri­tish per­cei­ved as the sub­or­ning of Bri­tish-Indi­an sol­diers. It thus beca­me the ner­ve-cent­re of Bri­tish-Ger­man ent­an­gle­ments. Signals of mani­pu­la­ti­ons, decep­ti­ons, and intri­gues pro­du­ced ripp­les in the Bri­tish For­eign Office, invol­ving the Swiss Lega­ti­on and the Inter­na­tio­nal Red Cross in the game of coun­ter intel­li­gence and wel­fa­rism from mid-1941 till the for­ma­ti­on of the Indi­an Legi­on on Ger­man soil in ear­ly 1943.

Unli­ke Japan, which show­ed no obli­ga­ti­on to the Gen­e­va Con­ven­ti­on of 1929 regar­ding the tre­at­ment of POWs, from ear­ly on, Nazi Ger­ma­ny agreed to make appro­pria­te arran­ge­ments in accordance with the pro­vi­si­ons of the Con­ven­ti­on. The ent­ry of the neu­tral Swiss agen­ci­es crea­ted con­di­ti­ons for a war of words and ner­ves bet­ween and across the Bri­tish and Ger­man empires. This ‘war by other means’ was car­ri­ed out through com­mu­ni­ca­ti­ons from Bri­tish and Ger­man For­eign Offices, which in turn were sup­pli­ed infor­ma­ti­on by their respec­ti­ve war offices to the Swiss Lega­ti­on and Inter­na­tio­nal Red Cross office in Ber­lin, Ber­ne, Lon­don, and Geneva.

The Legation’s aim was to ensu­re the wel­fa­re of the pri­soners through peri­odic visi­ta­ti­ons of the Inter­na­tio­nal Com­mit­tee of the Red Cross dele­ga­tes. The CICR team con­duc­ted inspec­tions of health, sani­ta­ti­on, hygie­ne, spi­ri­tu­al and gene­ral living con­di­ti­ons in camps and direct­ly inter­ac­ted with inma­tes of Sta­lags (camps for ordi­na­ry pri­soners), Oflags (camps for offi­cers), Mar­lags (camps for inter­ned mari­ners), Dulags (tran­sit Camps), Hei­lags (tran­sit camps for the woun­ded to be repa­tria­ted under the exch­an­ge pro­gram­me), and, in some cases, Arbeits­kom­man­dos (labour detach­ments).[iii] The Swiss Lega­ti­on and the Inter­na­tio­nal Red Cross beca­me cru­cial media­tors in addres­sing mutu­al grie­van­ces and trans­mit­ting infor­ma­ti­on on the ground rea­li­ties of camp life to the con­cer­ned bel­li­ger­ent empires.

This tri­an­gu­lar net­work has left a trail of docu­ments in French, Ger­man, and Eng­lish that reflects impe­ri­al anxie­ties, diplo­ma­tic mano­eu­vres, intri­gues, mani­pu­la­ti­ons, mutu­al repri­sals, intel­li­gence, coun­ter intel­li­gence, mili­ta­ry trai­ning, and delays in pos­tal deli­veries. Though such deli­be­ra­ti­ons went far bey­ond the war as the Ger­mans got busy with the des­truc­tion of records of the per­se­cu­ted, the Inter­na­tio­nal Tra­cing Ser­vice with the docu­men­ta­ti­on on and relo­ca­ti­on of sta­te­l­ess and dis­pla­ced (DPs) vic­tims of Nazi atro­ci­ties,[iv] and the Bri­tish with the repa­tria­ti­on of Bri­tish-Indi­ans, I limit my focus here to the cru­cial years of the for­ma­ti­on of the Indi­an Legi­on bet­ween 1941 and 1943 to recrea­te the sce­na­rio of mutu­al fears and anxie­ties of the bel­li­ger­ent powers. The on-site records of Anna­burg camp, its satel­li­te camps and labour detach­ments (Arbeits­kom­man­dos) were des­troy­ed towards the end of the war. Infor­ma­ti­on about the working of the Ger­man For­eign Office and the Wehr­macht is the­r­e­fo­re scat­te­red and incom­ple­te in con­trast to Bri­tish and Swiss com­mu­ni­ca­ti­ons, which are still pre­ser­ved in their respec­ti­ve archi­ves and will be used along with sur­vi­ving Ger­man records to demons­tra­te impe­ri­al diplo­ma­tic ent­an­gle­ments during WWII.

Preparations of Subversion

Rommel’s first dri­ve through North Afri­ca in April 1941 resul­ted in the cap­tu­re of the 3rd Motor Bri­ga­de com­pri­sing of Bri­tish-Indi­an sol­diers at the Liby­an front. For the Ger­mans the­se pri­soners were not ordi­na­ry pri­soners of the Bri­tish Empire. They car­ri­ed with them the poten­ti­al for sub­or­ning sabo­ta­ge and defec­tions. Sup­port­ing the net­work of trans­na­tio­nal revo­lu­tio­na­ries in their anti-colo­ni­al strug­gles in Asia and Afri­ca, and mobi­li­sing ali­en cap­ti­ves for set­ting up for­eign legi­ons, was neither new for Hit­ler nor for Ger­ma­ny. During WWI, Ber­lin beca­me a cent­re of fer­men­ting trou­ble in the colo­nies, har­bou­ring Indi­an revo­lu­tio­na­ries to dis­se­mi­na­te anti-Bri­tish pro­pa­gan­da[v] and estab­li­shing a pro­pa­gan­da prisoner’s camp on the out­skirts of Ber­lin (Roy, Liebau, and Ahu­ja, 2011). This poli­cy was pur­sued with more vigour and acu­men in WWII. Col­la­bo­ra­ti­ve forces of Ukrai­ni­ans, Croa­ti­ans, Dutch, Nor­we­gi­ans, Rus­si­ans, and Arabs who were working for the Ger­mans were now much bet­ter equip­ped with ideo­lo­gi­cal (reli­gious, natio­nal, or racial) moti­va­ti­on, modern arse­nal, and mili­ta­ry trai­ning.[vi] Rai­sing an Indi­an Legi­on, howe­ver, pre­sen­ted its own hazards and chal­lenges becau­se of India’s distant loca­ti­on and the pri­soners’ diver­si­ty (eth­nic, reli­gious, and linguistic).

Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose Enters the Scene

Sub­has Chandra Bose arri­ved secret­ly in Ber­lin on 2 April 1941 (Hayes 2011, 25–29). His escape from house arrest in Cal­cut­ta, his adven­tur­ous jour­ney to Kabul clad as a mute Pathan to cover his lin­gu­i­stic ina­bi­li­ty, his fail­ure to get sup­port from the Soviet Uni­on, and his even­tu­al arri­val in Ber­lin with the help of the Ger­man embas­sy is a sto­ry often told with gre­at relish in his­to­ri­cal accounts both in India and Ger­ma­ny. That it would play a cru­cial role in the plan­ning and for­ma­ti­on of the Indi­an Legi­on was not known to Bose hims­elf when he was in hiding in Kabul. His wish to reach out to Ber­lin for help was com­mu­ni­ca­ted by the Ger­man ambassa­dor Hans Pil­ger to Sta­te Secre­ta­ry Weiz­sä­cker who expres­sed gre­at inte­rest in Bose despi­te  recei­ving con­tra­dic­to­ry feed­back on him. With the Ita­li­an embas­sy, which was equal­ly keen to help, Bose left for Ber­lin car­ry­ing an Ita­li­an pass­port imper­so­na­ting Orlan­do Maz­zot­ta, an employee of the Ita­li­an embas­sy in Kabul (Kuhl­mann 2003, 122–130).

Though Bose had to con­tent with his rival Moham­mad Iqbal She­dai, an anti-colo­ni­al insur­rec­tion­a­ry, who was alre­a­dy acti­ve in Euro­pe and was pro­pa­ga­ting the Indi­an cau­se through the Ita­li­an spon­so­red Radio Hima­la­ya broad­casts, the Ger­man offi­ci­al cir­cles were quick to accept Bose’s supe­ri­or lea­der­ship qua­li­ties. Within a week of his arri­val, Bose pre­sen­ted the Under­se­cre­ta­ry of Sta­te, Ernst Woer­mann, a detail­ed plan for col­la­bo­ra­ti­on with the Axis. Woer­mann arran­ged a mee­ting with For­eign Minis­ter Rib­ben­trop on 29 April 1942, to set up a Free India Cent­re, and the Azad Hind Radio in Ber­lin to dis­se­mi­na­te anti-Bri­tish pro­pa­gan­da. What pro­ved more chal­len­ging for Bose was to set up a govern­ment in exi­le and to get a tri­par­ti­te (Ber­lin, Rome, Tokyo) Axis decla­ra­ti­on from Hit­ler for India’s independence.

Bose kept try­ing to per­sua­de Hit­ler to com­mit but the lat­ter remain­ed eva­si­ve, first in the hope of nego­tia­ting peace with the Bri­tish, and later becau­se it made litt­le stra­te­gic sen­se to him wit­hout back­ing the decla­ra­ti­on up with mili­ta­ry action. When Bose was final­ly able to meet Hit­ler in per­son on 29 May 1942, he poin­ted to the immense distance bet­ween the two loca­ti­ons and con­tras­ted it with Japan’s geo­gra­phi­cal pro­xi­mi­ty, which see­med more favoura­ble. He thought it would be foo­lish to make a decla­ra­ti­on about India (Toye 1978, 68–69). Howe­ver, he was rea­dy to help with all pos­si­ble means when it came to pro­pa­gan­da and psy-ops. He was quite cer­tain that it would be a suc­cessful pro­pa­gan­da stra­tegy and the­re would be a pay-off in the game of decep­ti­on and psy-ops rather than in an actu­al anti-colo­ni­al mili­ta­ry ope­ra­ti­on. When the moment arri­ved, he plan­ned a safe exit stra­tegy for Bose.

British Nightmare

The Bri­tish were haun­ted by the spect­re of quis­lings, rene­ga­des, trai­tors, legio­na­ries, com­mu­nists, and natio­na­lists during this peri­od (1941–43) and the­re­af­ter. Bri­tish intel­li­gence sources esti­ma­ted that out of 12,000 Indi­an pri­soners detai­ned in Ger­man camps, the num­ber of acti­ve mem­bers of the 950th Regi­ment at no point excee­ded the mark of 3200 This Bri­tish source con­ta­ins a brief sketch of 4 August 1945 on Indi­an col­la­bo­ra­tio­nist acti­vi­ties in Ger­ma­ny, France, and Ita­ly, and in par­ti­cu­lar, a refe­rence to the Indi­an Legi­on.[vii]

Alt­hough even the­se legio­na­ries never enga­ged in an acti­ve anti-colo­ni­al com­bat, their sheer exis­tence along with the Free India Radio (Azad Hind Radio) broad­casts, and their even­tu­al arri­val in Switz­er­land kept the Bri­tish on their toes much after the libe­ra­ti­on of the camps. Ger­ma­ny beca­me a play­ground for Bri­tish anxie­ties, making the Indi­an POWs an object of inces­sant allu­res, sus­pi­ci­on, sur­veil­lan­ce, repri­sals, and loyal­ty testing.

The Ger­man efforts to woo Indi­an cap­ti­ves for pro­pa­gan­da work began alre­a­dy in North Afri­ca. In his anec­do­tal account, the lea­ding con­vert and recrui­ter of the Indi­an Legi­on, Man­gat Singh, con­tras­ted Bri­tish offi­cers’ racism and arro­gan­ce towards Indi­an sol­diers to Rommel’s charm and mode­s­ty in per­so­nal­ly coming to El Mechil­li fort to meet them after their sur­ren­der on 8 April 1941. Man­gat remi­nis­ced in his memoirs how a smart and stur­dy Ger­man offi­cer ali­gh­ted from his moving Volks­wa­gen and advan­ced towards them. He wel­co­med them with the words, “Good Mor­ning to you, gen­tle­men! Thank you very much for the good fight you gave me. You are all my guests now. Excu­se me, I am in a hur­ry. I must get going. Plea­se remem­ber me through my men, if you ever have any dif­fi­cul­ty” (Man­gat 1986, 31–33). He went on to prai­se this ‘smart offi­cer’, who he later rea­li­zed was none other than the “Desert Fox” Erwin Rom­mel hims­elf, for his bril­li­ance and accom­plish­ments. In a foot­no­te, he fur­ther con­tras­ted Rommel’s beha­viour with that of Gene­ral Eisen­hower of the Allied Expe­di­tio­na­ry Forces, who had refu­sed to shake hands with his ene­my cap­ti­ves in a simi­lar situa­ti­on. Twen­ty-seven Indi­an cap­ti­ves were flown in from Bengha­si to Ber­lin while the rest were trans­por­ted by boat through Nap­les to Gen­oa and then by train to Anna­burg.[viii]

Projections of Welfare and Paternalism

While the trans­por­ta­ti­on of sel­ec­ted poten­ti­al legio­na­ries from dif­fe­rent Euro­pean desti­na­ti­ons to Anna­burg was alre­a­dy under­way, the For­eign Office, Ber­lin, recei­ved a com­mu­ni­ca­ti­on from the Ame­ri­can Embas­sy in August 1941 on behalf of the Bri­tish govern­ment. Dra­wing the atten­ti­on of the “appro­pria­te Ger­man aut­ho­ri­ties”, it reques­ted that ade­qua­te pro­vi­si­ons be made to cater to the pri­soners’ spe­cial needs. It sta­ted that bes­i­des warm clot­hing and hea­ting, it would be app­re­cia­ted if spe­cial arran­ge­ments regar­ding their reli­gious beliefs and cus­toms as well as the food and its pre­pa­ra­ti­on could be made. It also recom­men­ded housing offi­cers in a sepa­ra­te accom­mo­da­ti­on and ensu­ring that other pri­vi­le­ges such as work and pay would cor­re­spond to their rank.[ix]

Annaburg as the Epicentre of Subversion and the Raising of the Indian Legion (1941–43)

Alre­a­dy befo­re this com­mu­ni­ca­ti­on, the Anna­burg cast­le-com­plex was being pre­pared to wel­co­me Bri­tish-Indi­an cap­ti­ves. The first visi­ta­ti­on report of the Inter­na­tio­nal Red Cross Com­mit­tee (CICR) gives us insightful infor­ma­ti­on on this. In this sec­tion, I will dwell on this and sub­se­quent reports on Anna­burg to high­light Germany’s pre­pa­ra­ti­on for pro­pa­gan­da and psy-ops.

After sta­ting the geo­gra­phi­cal coor­di­na­tes of this Baro­que style cast­le and its histo­ry as a gar­ri­son for young Ger­man NCOs (Non-com­mis­sio­ned Offi­cers) and then a Sta­lag for Ser­bi­an pri­soners until mid-May 1941, the CICR report moved on with details on Indi­ans. On the visi­ta­ti­on day of late June, it found 1200 Hin­dous inclu­ding 40 offi­cers, cap­tu­red from the Liby­an front, occu­py­ing the three-sto­ried vil­la within the cast­le pre­mi­ses. The vil­la had the capa­ci­ty to house 2,200 inma­tes, was well-lit and ven­ti­la­ted, and its huge rooms were fur­nis­hed with three-tier bunk beds of which only two were in use. The sani­ta­ry and hygie­nic con­di­ti­ons were found to be excellent.

In the cour­ty­ard, the­re were five addi­tio­nal bar­racks housing pri­soners of other reli­gious deno­mi­na­ti­ons. Over­all, the­re were 596 Moha­me­tans, 200 Sikhs and 4 Brah­ma­nes and the rest Hin­dous.[x] The report dwel­led on how much free room the­re was in the vil­la for com­mon acti­vi­ties, like a dining hall, a kit­chen with a sepa­ra­te sto­ve for Hin­dous and sepa­ra­te pray­er rooms for dif­fe­rent faiths. The pray­er rooms arou­sed the curio­si­ty and admi­ra­ti­on of the report’s aut­hor, Dr. Excha­quet, which is testi­fied by the pho­to­gra­phic coll­ec­tion of the day to which I shall turn now.

Curious­ly, most cap­ti­ons of the­se pho­tos sta­te the loca­ti­on as “Alten­burg” Sta­lag IV E but the date of the pho­to shoot is the same as that of Dr. Exchaquet’s visi­ta­ti­on report of “Anna­burg” Sta­lag IV E, name­ly 27 June 1941. Just one pic­tu­re of the cap­ti­ves (Fig. 1 cover pic­tu­re), car­ri­es the cap­ti­onAnna­burg. Sta­lag IV E” which shows Dr. Excha­quet tal­king to the pri­soners. The visi­ta­ti­on sche­du­le plan of seve­ral camps in Sax­o­ny around this time allo­ca­ted one day to each site. Moreo­ver, Alten­burg at this time housed no Indi­an cap­ti­ves and did not have bar­racks like the­se. I, the­r­e­fo­re, go with the assump­ti­on that pic­tures of the cour­ty­ard and pray­er rooms were taken on 27 June 1941 during Dr. Exchaquet’s visit to Anna­burg and not Altenburg.

Prayer Rooms of Indian Captives

A group of about 8 POWs are standing outside of the small hutments which contain the prayer rooms. One POW is standing inside the entrance of one of the prayer rooms, leaning on the doorframe. The door is surrounded by a large number of shoes, neatly arranged in pairs.
Fig. 2: V‑P-HIST-01763–45, 27/06/1941, WW II, 1939–1945.
Alten­burg (Anna­burg?) Sta­lag IV E, pri­soners of war camp. Pri­soners of war going to pray.
Cour­te­sy: CICR Pho­to Archive.

This is the ent­rance of one of the pray­er rooms. It cle­ar­ly shows the Anna­burg cast­le in the back­ground – as in Fig. 1 – but the cap­ti­on reads “Alten­burg”. The devo­tees arran­ged their shoes in neat rows at the door­step befo­re ente­ring the pray­er room. Dr. Excha­quet was quite impres­sed with this and even men­tio­ned in the report that the devo­tees roa­med around bare foot in silence insi­de the mosque.

A group of Indian POWs are in a room reading from the Quran, 11 of them standing, 7 sitting.
Fig. 3: V‑P-HIST-03518–06, 1941-06-27 Ger­ma­ny, WW II, 1939–1945. Alten­burg (Anna­burg?) Sta­lag IV E, pri­soner of war camp. Indi­an pri­soners of war pray­ing. Cour­te­sy: CICR Pho­to Archive

Fig. 3 cap­tures a Namaz ren­di­ti­on in pro­gress in this inte­ri­or of the pray­er room we saw in Fig. 2. All cap­ti­ves are seen hol­ding the holy Quran and rea­ding it aloud. The walls are bare and the front row indi­ca­tes the typi­cal sea­ting pos­tu­re while ren­de­ring the Namaz.

A group of about 25 Sikh POWs is sitting in a prayer room.
Fig. 4: CICR/ V‑P-HIST-03518–05, 1941-06-27, Alten­burg (Anna­burg?) Sta­lag IV E, pri­soners of war camp. Indi­an pri­soners of war pray­ing. Cour­te­sy CICR Pho­to Archive.

Fig. 4 is espe­ci­al­ly illus­tra­ti­ve in its details. In this makes­hift Gurd­wara, the house of wor­ship of the Sikhs, their holy book, Guru Granth Saheb is cover­ed in a beau­tiful­ly pat­ter­ned cloth. The holy book its­elf is pla­ced on an alle­via­ted plat­form cover­ed in a spot­less white sheet on which vases with flowers can be seen. Abo­ve the plat­form, hangs an equal­ly deco­ra­ti­ve cano­py. While the Gran­thi (cere­mo­ni­al lea­der) is chan­ting from the Guru Granth Sahib, the devo­tees are lis­tening to him quiet­ly. Pic­tures of various Gurus adorn the wall on the right along with the Nis­han Saheb, their holy sym­bol. Next to it, we can see a jhan­jh and a dhol­ak (per­cus­sion instru­ments) which accom­pa­ny a har­mo­ni­um (pos­si­bly kept insi­de the woo­den box in the left cor­ner below the win­dow). The­se instru­ments and the decor are intrin­sic to the set­ting up of a Gurd­wara. It brings back to my mind a Sikh captive’s sound recor­ding from WWI. After prai­sing the Ger­mans in this pro­pa­gan­da camp (Halb­mond­la­ger, Wüns­dorf), he said “if they thought of us as them, they would have hono­u­red our house of wor­ship.” He was allu­ding to the miss­ing cover for the Granth Saheb which the Ger­mans did not bother to pro­cu­re for the pray­er room (Mah­ren­holz 2011, 201).[xi] The Ger­mans in WWII see­med to have lear­nt the art of per­sua­si­on from their pre­vious expe­ri­en­ces with Sikh sol­diers and their spe­ci­fic requi­re­ments rela­ted to their rituals.

A clo­se rea­ding of both the text and the pic­tu­re coll­ec­tion of the CICR sources cle­ar­ly reve­als that Annaburg’s cast­le-com­plex was being pre­pared as a model POW camp to host Bri­tish-Indi­an cap­ti­ves. The pri­soners’ pro­files indi­ca­te that the­re were seve­ral high­ly accom­plished sol­diers and offi­cers among them, a careful­ly cho­sen and sui­ta­b­ly inspi­ring sel­ec­tion for pro­pa­gan­da and recruit­ment pur­po­ses. Coming, as this evi­dence does, from a Swiss dele­ga­te and CICR eva­lua­tor of pri­soners’ health and well-being, name­ly Dr. Excha­quet (or the unknown came­ra­per­son S.N.), it con­ta­ins vital insights into the art of per­sua­si­on Ger­mans were prac­ti­cing on Indi­an cap­ti­ves. The gra­phic tex­tu­al and visu­al details are allu­ring, assu­ring, com­fort­ing, and pro­mi­sing to even a con­tem­po­ra­ry obser­ver such as the aut­hor. Dr. Excha­quet libe­r­al­ly used terms such as remar­kab­le, impec­ca­ble, well-kept and ven­ti­la­ted for the com­plex, which he thought was rare­ly the case in pri­soners’ quar­ters. When it comes to the visu­al coll­ec­tion, we are not cer­tain whe­ther he sub­mit­ted his own coll­ec­tion to the archi­ve becau­se his name does not figu­re as the pho­to­grapher on record. As can be obser­ved in Fig. 1, Dr. Excha­quet hims­elf car­ri­ed a came­ra which he is hol­ding in his left hand.

The report also noted a wish list fea­turing items such as win­ter clot­hing, indoor games and balls for out­door sports, and a chan­ge of camp in win­ters due to the harsh cli­ma­te. The Moha­me­tans sought allo­wan­ce to offer Namaz at 23.00 hours. The Hin­dus com­plai­ned about the food not being sui­ta­ble to their vege­ta­ri­an pala­te.[xii] The memoirs of cap­ti­ves and visi­tors’ recount the con­cern that was rai­sed over the food. Soon enough, Red Cross par­cels were arran­ged for them and gar­dening of sea­so­nal salads and vege­ta­bles star­ted at the camp site as noted in the next report. The inma­tes reques­ted for books in Eng­lish as 50 per­cent of them read Eng­lish. Doc­tors reques­ted for medi­cal journals.

It is quite obvious from this descrip­ti­on that the camp did not distin­gu­ish bet­ween offi­cers and sol­diers and this was done for a stra­te­gic pur­po­se. The mixed natu­re of the camp, it was thought, would faci­li­ta­te recruit­ment. Simi­lar­ly, the labels Oflag and Sta­lag were used inter­ch­an­ge­ab­ly by the Ger­mans to send con­fu­sing signals outwards. 

On 16 Octo­ber 1941, Rib­ben­trop gave Bose a go ahead for his recruit­ment dri­ve in camps and soon after to rai­se an army (Nor­mann 1997, 174). Bose visi­ted Anna­burg and Fran­ken­burg in Decem­ber 1941. One of the first enthu­si­a­stic con­verts from Ber­lin, wro­te in his memoirs that the inma­tes did not belie­ve that it was Bose hims­elf who was stan­ding befo­re them and the NCOs remain­ed total­ly unre­spon­si­ve to his call (Man­gat 1986, 75–79). Once his iden­ti­ty was veri­fied through a relia­ble source, the aut­hor says that he was able to recruit 1000 cap­ti­ves but the num­ber seems high­ly unli­kely, as only one pro­pa­gan­da com­pa­ny could be rai­sed. Bose rea­li­zed that ordi­na­ry men were more sus­cep­ti­ble to his charm than the NCO. Thus, on 13 Janu­ary 1943, 2 con­voys of Indi­ans were brought to Ger­ma­ny after 2 and a half days of tra­vel in goods trains, which were only par­ti­al­ly hea­ted. Many pri­soners only wore pants (or under­pants), shirts and a jacket. It see­med that the men had suf­fe­r­ed a lot from cold, eight of them had fro­zen toes and one was still in the infir­ma­ry.[xiii] After such an arduous jour­ney and rela­tively poorer nou­rish­ment, as the CICR report tells us, the lodging in Ita­li­an cap­ti­vi­ty, a fai­led attempt by She­dai to rai­se an Indi­an legi­on in Ita­ly, the far supe­ri­or arran­ge­ments in Anna­burg see­med to have paid divi­dends. The num­ber of vol­un­teers rose dra­ma­ti­cal­ly start­ing with the Sikh regi­ment sig­ning up as the first enthu­si­a­stic converts.

The Anna­burg camp under­went a major trans­for­ma­ti­on if we go by the CICR report filed on 15 May 1943.[xiv] It had enrol­led 4323 Indi­ans, of whom 864 were Sikhs, 2136 Hin­dous, 9 Boud­dhists, 1214 Maho­me­tans and 100 Chre­ti­ens. The total was bro­ken down pro­fes­sio­nal­ly to 8 offi­cers, 538 NCOs and 3777 men, 3 doc­tors, and 6 para­me­dics. Of the­se, just 1587 cap­ti­ves stay­ed insi­de the camp while the rest were sent to labour detach­ments. 32 detach­ments retur­ned to the camp every evening after work. Three exter­nal detach­ments of 82, 10, and 2736 (total 2828) remain­ed sta­tio­ned in their labour detach­ment camps.

The CICR report went on to note that the­re was a vege­ta­ble gar­den whe­re fresh sea­so­nal vege­ta­bles and salads were grown by 10 men. The rice came from Gen­e­va. Bes­i­des, other men were enga­ged in coo­king, tail­oring, men­ding of shoes, socks, and sto­ckings, the hair salon and latri­ne main­ten­an­ce. Every pri­soner had a new “batt­le-dress”, a jacket and new boots. The sta­te of health and disci­pli­ne was excel­lent with no repor­ted deaths. The libra­ry was equip­ped with 800 books, the Bri­tish pri­soners’ news­pa­per The Camp was ban­ned. Pri­soners could take lan­guage and wri­ting les­sons under an Indi­an pro­fes­sor. The pri­soners atten­ded film scree­nings in the theat­re, had a chess­board, musi­cal instru­ments, foot­balls. They went out for walks in groups of 5–600 men. Seve­ral pri­soners were sent out to work in sur­roun­ding are­as and retur­ned to the camp for their after­noon and evening meals.

It was bet­ween the two reports of 27 June 1941 and 15 May 1943 that sel­ec­tions, recruit­ment, and final­ly mili­ta­ry trai­ning took place, first in Mese­ritz, then Fran­ken­berg and ulti­m­ate­ly Königs­brück. The camp aut­ho­ri­ties desi­gna­ted them as ‘exter­nal labour detach­ments’ of Anna­burg to main­tain sec­re­cy over the mili­ta­ry trai­ning they were recei­ving from the Wehr­macht. Kee­ping it a secret, howe­ver, tur­ned out to be quite a chall­enge as we shall see in a while.

German Furtiveness

Anna­burg and the­se trai­ning cen­tres were fre­quen­ted by Bose throug­hout 1942. Anna­burg beca­me the epi­cent­re for loyal­ty test­ing, com­bat fit­ness, rumours, inten­se pro­pa­gan­da and coun­ter-pro­pa­gan­da, as pres­su­re moun­ted on the cap­ti­ves to deci­de bet­ween the Legi­on and con­tin­ued cap­ti­vi­ty. Anxie­ties swel­led up in the Ger­man offi­ci­al­dom on how the recruit­ment dri­ve and trai­ning could be kept a secret. Sur­vi­ving hol­dings in the Ger­man For­eign Office Archi­ves reflect the diplo­ma­tic ten­si­on in the let­ters that were exch­an­ged bet­ween Ger­ma­ny, Switz­er­land, and Bri­tain during this period.

From mid-1942 the Swiss Lega­ti­on sent repea­ted requests to For­eign Office, Ber­lin, on behalf of the Bri­tish, who suspec­ted some camps of har­bou­ring legio­na­ries, to sche­du­le visi­ta­ti­ons to the camps, espe­ci­al­ly Anna­burg IV D/Z, Col­ditz Oflag IV E, and Mühl­berg IV B. On 3 July 1942, the Swiss Lega­ti­on was cle­ar­ly told that so far as Anna­burg was con­cer­ned, the visit per­mis­si­on could not be gran­ted for the time being. Howe­ver, Col­ditz and Mühl­berg could be visi­ted. On 17 June it was told tele­pho­ni­cal­ly that Bri­tish-Indi­ans were trans­fer­red from Col­ditz to Anna­burg. So, only Mühl­berg IV B could be visi­ted but not Königs­brück, Ring­baum and Fran­ken­berg. When the Lega­ti­on remin­ded the For­eign Office, Ber­lin, that Art. 86 of the Gen­e­va Con­ven­ti­on aut­ho­ri­zed them to visit all POW camps, it gave various excu­ses such as first the out­break of epi­de­mic typhus, then the Bri­tish ill-tre­at­ment of Ger­man cap­ti­ves in South Afri­ca and then the awai­ted cle­arance from pri­son aut­ho­ri­ties. The Lega­ti­on reques­ted the For­eign Office, Ber­lin, to allow them to visit IV E Col­ditz Oflag/ Zweig­la­ger, ins­tead of Col­ditz IV C on 17 July 1942.[xv]  The Swiss Lega­ti­on infor­med the Bri­tish Minis­try of For­eign Affairs that Camp IV E, in ques­ti­on, was named Col­ditz Oflag IV E and had a mix of Indi­an offi­cers and men.[xvi]

In August 1942, the Swiss Lega­ti­on was final­ly told that Königs­brück was not a prisoner’s camp but a mili­ta­ry trai­ning cent­re and the­r­e­fo­re visi­ta­ti­on could not be gran­ted. The Swiss Lega­ti­on mana­ged to send a team and com­mu­ni­ca­ted a short report from Ber­ne to the Bri­tish For­eign Office, Lon­don, on 20th Novem­ber 1942 on Anna­burg, by when it was ren­a­med IV D/Z. This over­c­row­ded camp had water scar­ci­ty and insuf­fi­ci­ent hea­ting and toi­let­te faci­li­ties. The Man of Con­fi­dence (repre­sen­ta­ti­ve of the pri­soners) had to send Red Cross par­cels to Fran­ken­berg and Königs­brück, which he belie­ved were Legi­on camps. Ger­man aut­ho­ri­ties sta­ted that Fran­ken­berg no lon­ger exis­ted and that the lat­ter was a labour camp like any other.[xvii]

The frus­tra­ti­on of the Minis­try of For­eign Affairs, Lon­don, shows cle­ar­ly in its com­mu­ni­ca­ti­on to the Swiss Lega­ti­on on 3 June 1943: “Regar­ding Sta­lag IV D/Z Anna­burg, it was actual­ly not pos­si­ble in the peri­od in ques­ti­on to visit the Indi­an POWs. It is to be reg­ret­ted that owing to the con­tra­dic­to­ry state­ments of the offi­cers who spo­ke with the Swiss Dele­ga­ti­on, the impres­si­on has been for­med that it was the inten­ti­on to crea­te spe­cial dif­fi­cul­ties for the dele­ga­tes; the atti­tu­de of the offi­cer was brought about by the fact that he was not suf­fi­ci­ent­ly infor­med of the cir­cum­s­tances”.[xviii]

We also know from the May 1943 CICR visi­ta­ti­on report of Anna­burg that inma­tes of exter­nal labour detach­ments were not available at the time of the inspec­tion, one of which num­be­red 2736. This exter­nal labour detach­ment, I sug­gest, was in fact not a labour detach­ment at all but the Indi­an Legi­on whe­re pri­soners were being secret­ly trai­ned at Königs­brück. By the time the next visit took place on 15 Novem­ber 1943, the total num­ber at Anna­burg came down from 4323 to 2779 of which 1801 were pre­sent at the camp, 37 in the infir­ma­ry, 22 in hos­pi­tal, 4 doc­tors and 8 medi­cal order­lies. The­re was now just one cha­pel for all faiths.[xix]

Recruitment Strategies

The recruit­ment stra­te­gies ran­ged from allu­re­ments such as the ones evi­dent in CICR reports, well-lit, hea­ted and ven­ti­la­ted living rooms, well-deco­ra­ted pray­er halls, rice from Gen­e­va, fresh salads and vege­ta­bles from the gar­den, to appro­pria­te coo­king arran­ge­ments for each reli­gious denomination.

Bose’s recruit­ment stra­tegy was cus­to­mi­zed accor­ding to the type of pri­soner. For exam­p­le, when he wan­ted to recruit the RAMC (Roy­al Army Medi­cal Corps) doc­tor, Cap­tain Mazum­dar, in the sum­mer of 1942, he acted like a per­fect gen­tle­man play­ing the poli­te, patrio­tic card in the mee­ting. Mazum­dar was picked up in a Mer­ce­des from his camp and brought to Ber­lin. Bose spo­ke to him in Ben­ga­li, their mother ton­gue, to estab­lish a quick rap­port with a com­ple­te stran­ger and swit­ched to Eng­lish when he approa­ched the sub­ject, “Do you know why you are here? We are forming the Indi­an Legi­on and I want you to join us”. Mazum­dar repli­ed, “I can­not and shall not. I was taught a pro­mi­se once made, you have got to abide by.” Bose left the room with the words, “I do not think we should meet again”. Mazum­dar was back to Col­ditz next mor­ning, this time tra­vel­ling in 3rd class com­part­ment. When the inter­view­er of the Sound Archi­ve, Impe­ri­al War Muse­um, asked him, “What was Sub­hash Chandra Bose’s deme­anour?”, Mazum­dar repli­ed, “Very poli­te, like one Ben­ga­li tal­king to ano­ther. I was very impres­sed, he could make you do things. Though he was a bit annoy­ed he did not show it.” “Did he threa­ten you?” asked the inter­view­er, “No, but I was pro­mi­sed many things by the Ger­mans befo­re that too”.[xx]

Bose left the inti­mi­da­ti­on and reward game to be play­ed by the Gesta­po befo­re and after his encoun­ter with Mazum­dar, like he may have done with other pri­soners of the latter’s sta­tu­re. Bri­tish intel­li­gence was very curious to know the details of the mee­ting, then and seve­ral years later, Mazum­dar testi­fied. On 3 Decem­ber 1943, Major Tucker, an erst­while col­le­ague of Mazum­dar, made a state­ment to Lt. Col. H. J. Phil­li­more of MI2 and in-char­ge of the POWs about Mazum­dar. He belie­ved that Ger­mans knew that this offi­cer had been a mem­ber of the Free India move­ment befo­re the war and, in con­se­quence, every form of pres­su­re was put on him and every sort of indu­ce­ment held out to him to per­sua­de him to join the Indi­an Legi­on. After the Ber­lin trip, he was put in soli­ta­ry con­fi­ne­ment, for­bidden to prac­ti­ce, and sub­jec­ted to many indi­gni­ties. He went on a hun­ger strike for 14 to 18 days. The Ger­mans beca­me frigh­ten­ed and sent him to ano­ther camp.[xxi]

Major Tucker did this to pre-empt Mazum­dar being accu­sed by some Bri­tish offi­cers of play­ing a dou­ble game which inde­ed his Bri­tish inma­tes at Col­ditz belie­ved, the­r­e­fo­re mocking him as the “Gan­dhi chap”. Tucker thought that Mazum­dar stuck out against gre­at pres­su­re from Ger­mans. He had known Mazum­dar befo­re his cap­tu­re and thought him to be a good man and a good doc­tor.[xxii] This state­ment was cir­cu­la­ted to the con­cer­ned intel­li­gence offi­cer, yet Mazumdar’s trou­bles were far from over, if we belie­ve his own testimony.

When Bose did not have much suc­cess with the NCOs during his first visits to Anna­burg in Decem­ber 1941, he devi­sed ano­ther stra­tegy. He got Ita­ly to send pri­soners straight to the trai­ning grounds so their fresh and uncor­rupt­ed minds could be influen­ced direct­ly. Giri­ja Moo­ke­er­ji, one of his asso­cia­tes, remi­nis­ced, “stan­ding very erect under a tree and tal­king to the sol­diers for hours, I saw how the audi­ence was coming under his spell…when he had finis­hed they acqui­red new life, new ani­ma­ti­on, new excitement…Dozens now asked to be enrol­led” (Bose 1982, 201). Major Mack­ay, a Bri­tish cap­ti­ve who was visi­ting a hos­pi­tal in the pro­xi­mi­ty of Königs­brück for den­tal tre­at­ment, mana­ged to talk to some recruits who told him that some of the NCOs were pro­mo­ted to Ger­man com­mis­sio­ned rank.[xxiii] What Mack­ay thought was a bri­be was mere­ly an incen­ti­ve and reward for loyal­ty to Bose. Fresh bat­ches of NCOs arri­ved straight to Königs­brück from Ita­li­an cap­ti­vi­ty. Bose made pro­phe­tic spee­ches to inspi­re them such as: “The Eng­lish are like the dead sna­ke which the peo­p­le are afraid of even after its death. The­re is no doubt that the Eng­lish have lost this batt­le. The pro­blem is how to take char­ge of this country…We are young and we have a sen­se of self-respect. We shall take free­dom by the strength of our arms. Free­dom is never given it is taken” (Bose 1982, 201).

Apart from exer­cis­ing his charms on the rank and file, he also play­ed with their psy­che to get com­pli­ance. Cap­tain Mazum­dar told ano­ther Col­ditz escapee that some cap­ti­ves from Anna­burg told him that they heard shots, were shown blood sta­ins and were then invi­ted to sign a docu­ment of some sort under the thre­at of being imme­dia­te­ly shot. Very few signed and then they spot­ted that the exe­cu­ti­ons were staged for their benefit.

Ger­mans’ racial ideo­lo­gy was diluted to allow the recruits free access to local Ger­man women. Abun­dant sup­pli­es of Red Cross par­cels con­tai­ning ciga­ret­tes and cho­co­la­tes was an easy way to win local women’s com­pa­ny. Whe­ther at Fran­ken­berg, Königs­brück, Hol­land, or the Altan­tic Coast, crossing the racial line by the legio­na­ries irk­ed the Ger­man offi­cers, local popu­la­ti­ons, and trai­ners ali­ke, but the high com­mand tole­ra­ted it. Some mar­ria­ges were reluc­tant­ly appro­ved such as tho­se of midd­le-class pro­fes­sio­nals recrui­ted for pro­pa­gan­da work. Some others ended bad­ly for the mixed off­spring in post-war Ger­ma­ny.[xxiv] Howe­ver, seen from the per­spec­ti­ve of the mili­ta­ry cul­tu­re in war­ti­me Ger­ma­ny, racial laws were not appli­ed so indis­cri­mi­na­te­ly. Ger­man sol­diers were allo­wed to rape and pil­la­ge in the occu­p­ied East. The local women wit­nessed a ran­ge of beha­viour pat­terns from the mili­ta­ry from rape and sexu­al slavery to more sta­ble rela­ti­ons based on mone­ta­ry and other incen­ti­ves in kind inclu­ding pro­tec­tion from ever­y­day abu­se. To bring back order, brot­hels were set up later which housed local women of all racial back­grounds. While the Nazi offi­ci­al­dom always war­ned the sol­diers against estab­li­shing sexu­al cont­act with local women (Ras­sen­schan­de as it was cal­led), sol­diers were sel­dom punis­hed for the­se acts of indul­gence with the so cal­led “raci­al­ly infe­ri­or Eas­ter­ners” or even Jewish women for that mat­ter.[xxv] The same ambi­gui­ty could be seen in cases of race mixing with the Japa­ne­se and Ita­li­ans, who con­fron­ted the Ger­man offi­ci­al­dom when they saw racial laws being appli­ed to them (Krebs 2015, 217–241; König 2018).

Postal Delays and Linguistic Diversity

One thread that ran across all Red Cross visi­ta­ti­on reports to camps and labour detach­ments was the slow or non-exis­tent flow of post to pri­soners. Pri­soners said that they regu­lar­ly sent let­ters home but did not get repli­es. The pos­tal exch­an­ge and cen­sor­ship remain­ed a source of con­stant disp­lea­su­re and anxie­ty for the cap­ti­ves. The reasons could be mul­ti­ple: the High Command’s order to stop air mail from Egypt, the insu­la­ti­on of camps from exter­nal influen­ces (such as the ban­ning of the Bri­tish news­pa­per The Camp), and repri­sal for dis­o­be­dience. The­se were all part of the recruit­ment and disci­pli­ning strategies.

The most inte­res­t­ing of them, howe­ver, was the fol­lo­wing: Accor­ding to the Gen­e­va con­ven­ti­on, POWs could wri­te in their mother ton­gue but the Ger­man OKW (Ober­kom­man­do der Wehr­macht, High Com­mand of the Army) issued an order to the ranks ban­ning let­ter wri­ting in regio­nal lan­guages. Sure enough, the Bri­tish govern­ment made a repre­sen­ta­ti­on to the Swiss Lega­ti­on evo­king Artic­le 56 of the Gen­e­va Con­ven­ti­on. The Ger­man aut­ho­ri­ties retor­ted that the­re was no breach of pos­tal regu­la­ti­ons on their part. India had over 200 lan­guages and the inter­pre­ters were sim­ply not available for each! They could only wri­te let­ters in cer­tain appro­ved lan­guages. The main pro­blem was: What would they cen­sor if they could not under­stand the con­tent? The over­whel­ming diver­si­ty of Indi­an lan­guages see­med to have exhaus­ted the anthro­po­lo­gi­cal reser­ves of the Ger­man empire. Their frus­tra­ti­on at the ina­bi­li­ty to read the cap­ti­ves’ minds mar­red the pro­s­pects of con­trol­ling their minds.

In com­pa­ri­son, the Bri­tish coll­ec­ted quar­ter­ly cen­sor­ship reports on mails exch­an­ged bet­ween sol­diers and their kin throug­hout the war.[xxvi] This shows just one dimen­si­on of gene­ra­ti­ons of con­nec­tions bet­ween the empire and its sol­diers. This, among other things, goes to explain why despi­te every pos­si­ble incen­ti­ve, the lar­ge majo­ri­ty of cap­ti­ves remain­ed loy­al to the Raj.


The picture shows 8 POWs turned soldiers marching past Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose.
Fig. 5: Cour­te­sy: Bun­des­ar­chiv, Bild 101I-823‑2704-30 Pho­to­grapher: Aschen­broich, 1942.

The poli­tics of expe­di­en­cy both Hit­ler and Bose play­ed with each other may not have been a mili­ta­ry suc­cess but the psy-ops and pro­pa­gan­da tur­ned out to be a night­ma­re for the Bri­tish intel­li­gence agen­ci­es. Bose in his pro­pa­gan­da offen­si­ve throug­hout late 1942 and ear­ly 1943, clai­med to know more about events in India than its govern­ment had made public and would include coded ins­truc­tions as if to a wider net­work of his agents the­re. In his spee­ches aired from Ber­lin, he would talk about the drop­ping of paratro­o­pers, giving cir­cum­stan­ti­al details and urging peasants to help them, or warn the poli­ce and sol­diers that one day they would have to ans­wer to the Free India govern­ment for their cri­mi­nal sup­port to the Bri­tish (Toye 1978, 69).

Under the shroud of con­fu­si­on, mis-com­mu­ni­ca­ti­ons, mis­in­for­ma­ti­on, unde­li­ver­ed pri­soners’ post, and delay­ed CICR visits to Sta­lags housing Bri­tish-Indi­an pri­soners, we see Sub­hash Chandra Bose salu­ting the Indi­an Legi­on sol­diers dres­sed in their cap­tors’ uni­forms, mar­ching in colum­ns at Königs­brück in the autumn of 1942.

Inte­res­t­ingly, Bild 101I is from the Record Group of Pro­pa­gan­da-kom­pa­nien der Wehr­macht- Heer und Luft­waf­fe, which has a coll­ec­tion of 21850 pho­to­graphs in the Bun­des­ar­chiv deal­ing with various pro­pa­gan­da com­pa­nies of the Ger­man army.

Netaji is standing in the foreground looking to the left, in front of him there is a flag with a large Iron Cross on it. Midground one can see a stationary machine gun and an anti-aircraft-gun. In the background there is a group of Indian POWs in soldiers' uniforms in front of a row of trees.
Fig. 6: Cour­te­sy: Bun­des­ar­chiv. Bild 237–473/ Fotograf(in) Ste­phan, Hans Eberhard.

In the rare pho­to­graph abo­ve, a gleeful and proud Sub­has Chandra Bose is seen addres­sing the first pro­pa­gan­da com­pa­ny of the Indi­an Legi­on at Königs­brück amid much jubi­la­ti­on, the oath taking cerem­o­ny, and all the ritu­als of initia­ti­on that went with the for­ma­ti­on of yet ano­ther for­eign legi­on on Ger­man soil. While pre­sen­ting the tri­co­lour with the sprin­ging Tiger embos­sed on it, Bose told the sol­diers: “Your name will be writ­ten in gol­den let­ters in the histo­ry of free India. Every mar­tyr in this holy war will have a monu­ment the­re. I shall lead the army when we march to India tog­e­ther” (Bose 1982, 202). When Bose utte­red the­se words, he had alre­a­dy star­ted loo­king east­ward for an actu­al armed resis­tance to the Bri­tish Raj. In the end, Ger­ma­ny was a mere labo­ra­to­ry for his expe­ri­ment. In his fre­quent visits to Königs­brück in 1942, Japa­ne­se obser­vers could be sigh­ted. The oath taking cerem­o­ny in 1942 was atten­ded by the Japa­ne­se press and Colo­nel Yama­mo­to Bin, the Mili­ta­ry Atta­ché from the embas­sy in Ber­lin. Bose was able to demons­tra­te to the Japa­ne­se that he could rai­se an army from cap­ti­ves. On 8 Febru­ary 1943, Bose depar­ted from Kiel on a Ger­man U‑boot for the Far East, whe­re the num­ber of cap­ti­ves was much lar­ger and the chan­ces of actu­al com­bat real. His depar­tu­re was kept a guard­ed secret. In April, the three bat­tali­ons of Indi­an Legi­on were absor­bed into the Ger­man Army by the name of the 950th Inf­an­try Regi­ment and deploy­ed to guard the Wes­tern Front.

A German official is adressing an audience inside a festive hall. To his left and right once can see a few Indian POWs in soldiers' uniforms.
Fig. 7: Cour­te­sy: Bun­des­ar­chiv: Bild 146‑1985-130–30/Hoffmann Novem­ber 1943.

The abo­ve pic­tu­re shows the pro­cee­dings of an ela­bo­ra­te cerem­o­ny to cele­bra­te Bose’s pro­vi­sio­nal natio­nal govern­ment in exi­le. The func­tion took place in Hotel Kai­ser­hof, Ber­lin, in Novem­ber 1943. It was atten­ded by high pro­fi­le Ger­man digni­ta­ries, and ambassa­dors from Ita­ly and Japan. The foun­der of the exi­le govern­ment Bose, iro­ni­cal­ly, can only be seen in a pic­tu­re frame on the wall while his speech play­ed on a record player.


[i] While the pho­to coll­ec­tion is cited as CICR, (Comi­té Inter­na­tio­nal de la Croix-Rouge) the reports go as ACICR (Archiv de Comi­té Inter­na­tio­nal de la Croix-Rouge). Both are loca­ted on the same pre­mi­ses in Gen­e­va. I am thank­ful to Navina Lam­ba for hel­ping me with the­se reports writ­ten in French.

[ii] Alten­bur­ger, Andre­as, Kriegs­ge­fan­ge­nen-Mann­schafts-Stamm­la­ger (M‑Stale­g oder Sta­lag), n.d.,  http://‌www‌.‌ (Last acces­sed on: 01.12.2020).

[iii] This cor­re­spon­dence is archi­ved in all three count­ries. In Ger­man For­eign Office Archi­ves (PAAA) in Ber­lin, the Natio­nal Archi­ves (TNA) and India Office Records (IOR) in Lon­don and the Office of the Inter­na­tio­nal Com­mit­tee of the Red Cross (CICR) in Geneva.

[iv] See: Joshi, Van­da­na, “Memo­ry and Memo­ri­a­li­sa­ti­on, inter­ment and exhu­ma­ti­on, pro­pa­gan­da and poli­tics during WWII through the lens of Inter­na­tio­nal Tra­cing-Ser­vice Coll­ec­tions”. MIDA Archi­val Refle­xi­con (2019): 12 pp.‌gan‌da-and-politics-during-wwii-through-the-lens-of-international-tracing-service-its-collections/.

[v] For Germany’s role in aiding and abet­ting anti-colo­ni­al acti­vi­ties of the Indi­an, Per­si­an, and Alge­ri­an-Tuni­si­an inde­pen­dence com­mit­tees against the Bri­tish, French, and Rus­si­an empires respec­tively during the First World War through her ‘pro­gram­me for revo­lu­ti­on’, see: Jenk­ins, Jen­ni­fer, Hei­ke Liebau, and Laris­sa Schmid, “Trans­na­tio­na­lism and Insur­rec­tion: Inde­pen­dence Com­mit­tees, Anti-Colo­ni­al Net­works, and Germany’s Glo­bal War”. Jour­nal of Glo­bal Histo­ry 15 (2020): pp. 61–79.

[vi]Among the more recent works see David Mot­a­del (2014) for Ger­man sub­ver­si­ve acti­vi­ties in the Isla­mic world. For­eign Office Ber­lin made con­cer­ted efforts through poli­ci­es and pro­pa­gan­da work in the Mus­lim war zones from recruit­ment and spi­ri­tu­al care to ideo­lo­gi­cal indoc­tri­na­ti­on of tens of thou­sands of Mus­lim vol­un­teers who fought in the Wehr­macht and the SS. For Danish, Swe­dish and Swiss Waf­fen SS vol­un­teers see: Gut­mann, Mar­tin R., Buil­ding a Nazi Euro­pe: The SS’s Ger­ma­nic Vol­un­teers. Cam­bridge: Cam­bridge Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2017; Ibid., “Debun­king the Myth of the Vol­un­teers: Trans­na­tio­nal Vol­un­tee­ring in the Nazi Waf­fen-SS Offi­cer Corps during the Second World War”. Con­tem­po­ra­ry Euro­pean Histo­ry 22, no. 4 (2013): pp. 585–607.

[vii] TNA WO 208/802. This file con­ta­ins a brief sketch of Indi­an col­la­bo­ra­tio­nist acti­vi­ties in Ger­ma­ny, France and Ita­ly in par­ti­cu­lar refe­rence to the Indi­an Legi­on, writ­ten on 4.8.1945.  The Indi­an Legi­on was later named the 950th Regi­ment of Ger­man Army once it was deploy­ed out­side Germany.

[viii] Accor­ding to Man­gat, one of tho­se cap­tu­red at El Mechil­li, twen­ty-seven pri­soners were sel­ec­ted to fly to Sici­ly and he was one of them. On the 17th of May the par­ty was inter­view­ed again their ques­ti­ons were main­ly cent­red around poli­tics and Man­gat found hims­elf to be “weak” as far as his ans­wers were con­cer­ned. They then sel­ec­ted 8 men to fly with them to Ber­lin while the rest rea­ched Ber­lin by train on the night of 19/20 May 1941. He wro­te about the pri­soners being split up and rear­ran­ged in groups time and again. The advan­ce par­ty was sup­po­sed to advi­se the Ger­mans on the food habits and cus­toms of Indi­ans.  See: Man­gat 1986, pp. 36–37.

[ix] PAAA R40742

[x] The spel­lings of various reli­gious groups of Indi­ans have been repro­du­ced as they exist in reports of ACICR fur­nis­hed in French (or ICRC in English).

[xi] The Ger­man ver­si­on of this artic­le was repu­blished by MIDA in 2020. See: Mah­ren­holz, Jürgen‑K., “Süd­asia­ti­sche Sprach- und Musik­auf­nah­men im Laut­ar­chiv der Hum­boldt-Uni­ver­si­tät zu Ber­lin”. MIDA Archi­val Refle­xi­con (2020): 19 pp.

[xii] ACICR, C Sc Sta­lag IV E, 27.06.1941

[xiii] ACICR, C Sc, Sta­lag IV D/Z, 15 May 1943

[xiv] Ibid.

[xv] PAAA R 40985. This file on Bri­tish-Indi­an pri­soners was main­tai­ned for a peri­od from July 1942 to Novem­ber 1942 and gives tel­ling details of the war of words.

[xvi] PAAA R 40985

[xvii] TNA WO 224/14B TNA Anna­burg 3

[xviii] TNA WO 224/14 B

[xix] ACICR, C Sc, Sta­lag IV D/Z, visit on 15.11.1943

[xx] Impe­ri­al War Muse­um (IWM), Sound Archi­ve, 16800. For more on Mazum­dar and the life of South Asi­an POWs in Anna­burg see: Joshi, Van­da­na, “The Making of a Cos­mo­po­li­tan Jan­gi Qai­di: A Leaf from Sohan Singh’s Pri­son Note­book writ­ten in Anna­bur­ger Stamm­la­ger D/Z in Ger­man cap­ti­vi­ty during the Second World War (1942- 45)”. MIDA Archi­val Refle­xi­con (2020): 11 pp.‌king-of-a-cosmopolitan-jangi-qaidi/.  

[xxi] TNA, WO 208/808

[xxii] Ibid.

[xxiii] Ibid.

[xxiv] See: Gün­ther, Lothar, Von Indi­en nach Anna­burg. Ber­lin: Ver­lag am Park, 2003, pp. 48–49.

[xxv] Gen­der, race and sexua­li­ty in war­ti­me is a bur­geo­ning field of new mili­ta­ry histo­ry, and we now have amp­le lite­ra­tu­re available on the the­me. See: Her­zog, Dag­mar (ed.), Bru­ta­li­ty and Desi­re: War and Sexua­li­ty in Europe’s Twen­tieth Cen­tu­ry. New York: Pal­gra­ve Macmil­lan, 2009; Röger, Maren, War­ti­me Rela­ti­ons. Inti­ma­cy, Vio­lence, and Pro­sti­tu­ti­on in Occu­p­ied Pol­and, 1939–1945. Oxford: Oxford Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2020; Joshi, Van­da­na, “Soldier’s Mora­le and War Wife’s Mora­li­ty: Gen­de­red Images of Righ­teous­ness and Citi­zen­ship in Nazi Ger­ma­ny”. Femi­nis­ti­sche Stu­di­en 2 (2015): pp. 229–245; Timm, Annet­te, “Sex with a Pur­po­se. Pro­sti­tu­ti­on, Vene­re­al Dise­a­se, and Mili­ta­ri­zed Mas­cu­li­ni­ty in the Third Reich”. Jour­nal of the Histo­ry of Sexua­li­ty 11, no. 1/2 (2002): pp. 223–255.

[xxvi] IOR con­ta­ins a mas­si­ve coll­ec­tion of the cen­su­red let­ters that pro­vi­de us a win­dow to pri­soners and sol­diers life.


Bose, Mihir. The lost Hero. Lon­don: Quar­tel Books, 1982.

Gün­ther, Lothar, Von Indi­en nach Anna­burg. Ber­lin: Ver­lag am Park, 2003. 

Gut­mann, Mar­tin R., Buil­ding a Nazi Euro­pe: The SS’s Ger­ma­nic Vol­un­teers. Cam­bridge: Cam­bridge Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2017 

——–, “Debun­king the Myth of the Vol­un­teers: Trans­na­tio­nal Vol­un­tee­ring in the Nazi Waf­fen-SS Offi­cer Corps during the Second World War”. Con­tem­po­ra­ry Euro­pean Histo­ry 22, no. 4 (2013): pp. 585–607. 

Hayes, Romain. Sub­hash Chandra Bose in Nazi Ger­ma­ny: Poli­tics, Intel­li­gence and Pro­pa­gan­da, 1941–43. Lon­don: C. Hurst & Co., 2011. 

Her­zog, Dag­mar (ed.), Bru­ta­li­ty and Desi­re: Bru­ta­li­ty and Desi­re: War and Sexua­li­ty in Europe’s Twen­tieth Cen­tu­ry. New York: Pal­gra­ve Macmil­lan, 2009.

Jenk­ins, Jen­ni­fer, Hei­ke Liebau, and Laris­sa Schmid, “Trans­na­tio­na­lism and Insur­rec­tion: Inde­pen­dence Com­mit­tees, Anti-Colo­ni­al Net­works, and Germany’s Glo­bal War”. Jour­nal of Glo­bal Histo­ry 15 (2020): pp. 61–79.

Joshi, Van­da­na, “Soldier’s Mora­le and War Wife’s Mora­li­ty: Gen­de­red Images of Righ­teous­ness and Citi­zen­ship in Nazi Ger­man”. Femi­nis­ti­sche Stu­di­en 2 (2015): pp. 229–245.

——–, “Memo­ry and Memo­ri­a­li­sa­ti­on, inter­ment and exhu­ma­ti­on, pro­pa­gan­da and poli­tics during WWII through the lens of Inter­na­tio­nal Tra­cing-Ser­vice Coll­ec­tions”. MIDA Archi­val Refle­xi­con (2019): 12 pp.‌c‌e‌-its-collections/.

——–, “The Making of a Cos­mo­po­li­tan Jan­gi Qai­di: A Leaf from Sohan Singh’s Pri­son Note­book writ­ten in Anna­bur­ger Stamm­la­ger D/Z in Ger­man cap­ti­vi­ty during the Second World War (1942- 45)”. MIDA Archi­val Refle­xi­con (2020): 11 pp.

König, Mal­te, “Racism Within the Axis: Sexu­al Inter­cour­se and Mar­ria­ge Plans Bet­ween Ita­li­ans and Ger­mans, 1940–3”. Jour­nal of Con­tem­po­ra­ry Histo­ry 54, no. 3 (2018): 508–526. DOI  10.1177/‌0022‌00‌9418768852. 

Krebs, Ger­hard, “Racism under Nego­tia­ti­on”. In: Rotem Kow­ner and Wal­ter Demel (eds.) Race and Racism in Modern East Asia: Inter­ac­tions, Natio­na­lism, Gen­der and Lineage. Lei­den: Brill, 2015, pp. 217–241.  

Kuhl­mann, Jan, Sub­has Chandra Bose und die Indi­en­po­li­tik der Ach­sen­mäch­te. Ber­lin: Ver­lag Hans Schi­ler, 2003.

Mah­ren­holz, Jürgen‑K., “Recor­dings of South Asi­an Lan­guages and Music in the Laut­ar­chiv of the Hum­boldt Uni­ver­si­tät zu Ber­lin”. In: Fran­zis­ka Roy, Hei­ke Liebau, and Ravi Ahu­ja (eds.) „When the war began we heard of seve­ral kings“. South Asi­an Pri­soners of World War I Ger­ma­ny. New Delhi: Social Sci­ence Press, 2011, pp. 187–206.

——–, “Süd­asia­ti­sche Sprach- und Musik­auf­nah­men im Laut­ar­chiv der Hum­boldt-Uni­ver­si­tät zu Ber­lin”. MIDA Archi­val Refle­xi­con (2020): 19 pp.

Man­gat, Gur­bachan Singh, The Tiger Strikes: An Unwrit­ten Chap­ter of Netaji’s Life Histo­ry. Lud­hia­na: Gagan Publishers, 1986. 

Mot­a­del, David, Islam and Nazi Germany’s War. Cam­bridge, MA: The Bel­knap Press of Har­vard Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2014. 

Nor­mann, Rod­rick de, “Inf­an­try Regi­ment 950-Germany’s Indi­an Legi­on Source”. Jour­nal of the Socie­ty for Army His­to­ri­cal Rese­arch 75, no. 303 (1997): pp. 172–190. 

Röger, Maren, War­ti­me Rela­ti­ons. Inti­ma­cy, Vio­lence, and Pro­sti­tu­ti­on in Occu­p­ied Pol­and, 1939–1945.  Oxford: Oxford Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2020. 

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

Toye, Hugh (ed.), Sub­hash Chandra Bose: The Sprin­ging Tiger. Bom­bay: Jai­co Publi­shing House, 1978. 

Timm, Annet­te, “Sex with a Pur­po­se. Pro­sti­tu­ti­on, Vene­re­al Dise­a­se, and Mili­ta­ri­zed Mas­cu­li­ni­ty in the Third Reich”.  Jour­nal of the Histo­ry of Sexua­li­ty 11, no. 1/2 (2002): pp. 223–255.

Van­da­na Joshi, Sri Ven­ka­tes­wa­ra Col­lege, Uni­ver­si­ty of Delhi

MIDA Archi­val Refle­xi­con

Edi­tors: Anan­di­ta Baj­pai, Hei­ke Liebau
Lay­out: Mon­ja Hof­mann, Nico Putz
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