Study Visit to Yorkshire: Berlin pupils on Ruhleben (Part II)

These posts have been written by young people from Carl-Friedrich-von-Siemens-Gymnasium prior to their visit to West Yorkshire in February/March 2017.

#1: Communities and Problems

Our names are K. (17) and T. (16).

Within the Imperial War course at school, we decided to concentrate on the communities and problems inside the Ruhleben Camp during World War One. This is what we have found out so far about the communities in the camp:

 There were coloured and white persons inside the camp and people with different opinions about the war. Either they were against Germany, against Britain or neutral. Many were religious. Muslims, Christians and Jewish mostly separated themselves from each other. Educated people as well as less educated people and criminals were also interned. Poetry, science, art, theatre and sports groups were established in time.

We found out the following information about some of the problems that occurred in the Ruhleben Camp:

Many felt homesick because they were separated from their families. They had only few opportunities to write letters to their families because of the lack of privacy and personal space. Some faced racism and gossip. Some refused to sleep in the same room with pro-German internees; others had problems facing the cold winter. In the first months, the sanitary systems and medical support were bad. There was illegal alcohol brewing and consuming and homosexual activities were also seen as a problem.

Though we found out that many British prisoners spoke German, because they either lived in Germany or had a German wife, we thought that communication inside the Ruhleben Camp must have been a problem. Since we can only assume, maybe you know the answer and can help us out?

#2: The Postal System

My Name is M. and I am 18 years old.

I am especially interested in the postal system. I have found out that most internees sent many letters (some up to 100 per year) because it was the only way to pass the long time. They wrote about the daily life in the camp (Christmas postcards, for example) and often also sent paintings of the camp and the people in it. They also often got packages with goods and money from their family members.

The camp had very strict rules for the postal system: Everything should be clearly written in ink and letters should not exceed two sheets of paper. Foodstuffs should not be sent and money only through the prisoners of war help committee. The information should be limited to private/family news and to necessary business communication. Any reference to the military or political situation could have very serious consequences.

That is what I found out about the postal system in the Ruhleben Camp.

#3: Administration

Our names are N. and D., we are both 17 years old.

Our attention is focused on the military administration of the camp and this is what we have found out so far:

The Ruhleben Camp was originally a race course, which is also the reason for the many stables in the camp. During The First World War, 5000 British people were held captive in the camp. Among the detained were also West Africans which came from the British colonies, British people who lived in Germany, British Jews, criminals and even several football players, golfers and jockeys.

The Camp was surrounded by a barrier, a wooden fence and a high wire fence. Furthermore there were also soldiers’ barracks and guard rooms to prevent anyone escaping from the camp.

The rooms the men lived in were very small and had to be shared. Those rooms did not have a toilet. At first there was only one house in which there was a warm shower. Due to that there usually was a long queue in front of this house.

The detained were divided in groups and received additional food and supplies according to which group they belonged to.

Many internees received parcels and supplies from their families and relief organisations.

One group were the pro-Germans who were British people living in Germany and therefore accustomed to German taste, sentiment and political convictions. Due to their British citizenship, they had avoided military duty in Germany. These people did not receive any supplies from outside Germany.

Diet requirements were considered. The Jews made up a group who received kosher food.

This is all we have found out so far and I hope I will find more in the future.

More entries can be found here.

2 thoughts on “Study Visit to Yorkshire: Berlin pupils on Ruhleben (Part II)

  1. Pingback: Study visit to Yorkshire: Berlin pupils on Ruhleben (Part I) | In the Wrong Place at the Wrong Time

  2. Pingback: Study visit to Yorkshire: Berlin pupils on Ruhleben (Part III) | In the Wrong Place at the Wrong Time

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