The Island of Extraordinary Captives by Simon Parkin - review by Caroline Moorehead

Caroline Moorehead

The Unusual Suspects

The Island of Extraordinary Captives


Sceptre 496pp £20

In an appendix to Simon Parkin’s The Island of Extraordinary Captives, there is a list of the men interned during the Second World War in Hutchinson, one of the camps for ‘enemy aliens’ on the Isle of Man. There is a professor of physics, a ballet dancer, a coal merchant, a glazier, a furrier and a philosopher, along with any number of engineers, students, lecturers, artists and musicians. Hutchinson and the richness of talent it played host to lie at the heart of Parkin’s investigation into the policy of internment adopted by the British government, which saw some 27,000 foreign men and women, together with a few teenagers, locked up for various lengths of time between 1939 and 1945. Most of them were refugees from Nazi-ruled Germany and Austria. Eighty per cent were Jewish.

As early as the summer of 1938, MI5 had been preparing lists of potentially threatening foreigners, many of them journalists and pacifists. The first order for arrests went out on 1 September 1939 – two days before Britain declared war on Germany. Tribunals were hastily set up to hear cases and place suspects into various categories, depending on the extent of the

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