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Enemy Aliens
Jewish refugees from Germany
on the Zeemanshoop

It was not only Jews who left Germany for the Netherlands when the National Socialists came to power. Hitler's political enemies were amongst the first to be sent to the camps but the Jews were next in line. The Netherlands had remained neutral during the last war and many German Jews thought it would be a safe haven. Between the Nazis coming to power in Germany in 1933 and 1938 about twenty five thousand Jews left Germany to seek refuge in the Netherlands.

On the 11 May 1940 the Home Secretary, Sir John Anderson, had been persuaded by the military authorities that in view of the imminent risk of invasion every male "Enemy Alien" between the age of 16 and 60 within a twenty mile coastal strip should be removed and interned. On arrival in Britain the passengers on the Zeemanshoop were separated according to their nationality. The refugees from Germany were treated as enemy aliens, taken to the police station where they were interrogated and detained overnight. The following day they were taken by train to London where married couples were separated, the men being taken to Pentonville and the women to Holloway prisons.

On the 17 May the Jewish Telegraph Agency (JTA) reported from London on the arrival of Jewish refugees from the Netherlands and the likely fate of those left behind in a communique issued on the 19 May.

Little hope was held out today by refugees arriving from Holland that any appreciable number of German Jewish emigres had succeeded in escaping. (There were approximately 23,000 refugees from the Reich in Holland at the outbreak of the war, according to the Joint Distribution Committee.)

It was pointed out that all German nationals had been ordered confined to their homes and it was consequently impossible for them to arrange for flight until the last moment.

There is no definite information here as to the fate of the 331 refugees known to have been quartered in the camp at Westbrook [Kamp Westerbork] near the Dutch-German border. A Quaker relief worker who left Amsterdam told the J.T.A. today that he doubted if there had been time to evacuate the camp before the invasion.

There were a number of refugees at Camp Sluis in Zeeland, a province which is still held by the Dutch. While they have not yet fallen into Nazi hands, they were believed to be in the thick of the fighting unless they had in the meantime been evacuated across the nearby Belgian frontier.

Seven German-Jewish men were among the 14 refugees from Holland who arrived at an east coast port yesterday. They had fled from the interior only to find the last refugee ship had sailed. In desperation, they cycled to Scheveningen and from there set out in an 18-foot yawl, though none of the party had been in a sailing boat before. After ten hours of sailing they were sighted by a Dutch coastal vessel, taken aboard and brought to England. The Jews were taken to a police station for further interrogation.

Long lines of refugees at Dorland House, headquarters of the Netherlands Emergency Committee, included many Jews. One Jewish doctor from Amsterdam showed his stethoscope, which was the only possession he had managed to salvage. He had escaped in a lifeboat for 20 which carried 37.

None of those interviewed could tell of more than his own harrowing experiences. "I still cannot believe I am safe. It seems a miracle," one told the J.T.A. correspondent.                                      

Little Hope Seen for Escape of German Emigres in Holland.  Jewish Telegraphic Agency 19 May 1940.

The Jewish doctor from Amsterdam whose only possession was a stethoscope must  have been one of the passengers on the Zeemanshoop but at present it has not been possible to identify him. The fourteen refugees who "cycled to Scheveningen and from there set out in an 18-foot yawl" included Leo Vroman, a well known Dutch poet. The yawl was called the Emma and the story of their escape was published in March 2011 by the Star-Telegram in Fort Worth, Texas, where Leo Vroman lives in a retirement home.

Internment on the Isle of Man

"At the outbreak of war there were about 75,000 Germans and Austrians living in Britain. Some had lived in Britain for many years, a large number had come to Britain during the 1930s as refugees from Nazi oppression and persecution while others were living in Britain on a temporary basis working in hotels or as nurses.

Following the German invasion of the Netherlands, fears grew that the Germans had planted "fifth columnists" (enemy agents and spies) amongst the refugees who would be gathering information and then aiding the German armed forces if they invaded." Living with the Wire (1994)

Dutch women married to refugees from Germany were treated as Germans and interned along with their husbands. Even Germans who had lived in Britain for fifty years but had not taken British nationality were liable to be interned, including some whose sons were serving in the armed services of their adopted country.

Enemy Aliens resident in Britain at the outbreak of war were classified in three categories which determined whether they were interned:

Class A: Those suspected of Nazi sympathies to be interned immediately
Class B: Restricted freedom when a judge considered immediate internment was unjustified
Class C: Recognised as genuine refugees from Nazi oppresion

Enemy aliens arriving in Britain after the outbreak of war were interned on the Isle of Man until their case had been considered by a tribunal and even if the tribunal put them in Class C they were not released until they received the offer of a job on the mainland of Britain.

The refugees with German nationality who left Scheveningen on the 14 May 1940 aboard the Dutch lifeboat Zeemanshoop and disembarked from HMS Venomous at Dover on the evening of the 15 May spent two weeks in Pentonville and Holloway prisons in London before being sent by train to Liverpool and by ferry to Douglas in the Isle of Man.

The Isle of Man was an isolated island in the middle of the Irish Sea with empty hotels and guest houses which could be requisitioned and used to accommodate German and Italian civilians living in Britain at the outbreak of war and Jewish refugees from Germany. It had been used for interning enemy aliens during the "Great War" and was now to serve the same purpose again. Separate camps were created for men and women separating husbands from their wives but initially no attempt was made to distinguish between Jewish refugees and Nazi sympathisers.

Plans to transport enemy aliens to Commonwealth countries were abandoned after the sinking of the Arandora Star on the 2 July 1940 while carrying 1,216 German and Italian internees to Canada. Over 800 lives were lost.

Otto Neurath and Marie Reidemeister "were released in early February 1941 after appeals from famous figures such as Julian Huxley and Albert Einstein" (Michelle Henning) but the experience of Kurt and Elfrieda Munzer, German Jews, was perhaps more typical. Frieda was pregnant when she left the Netherlands on the Zeemanshoop and her first child was born on the Isle of Man, a British Citizen. Although they were eventually allowed to live together with their baby daughter in a mixed camp and were soon reclassified as "friendly aliens" they were not able to leave until Kurt was able to obtain a job doing war work at Leicester in 1942. A second daughter born at Leicester in 1943 was elevated to the House of Lords as Baroness Henig in 2004.


British policy and the refugees, 1933-1941
by Yvonne Kapp, Margaret Mynatt. Routledge, 1997.

Britain's Internees in the Second World War
by Miriam Kochan. Macmillan, 1983.

Living with the Wire
Civilian Internment in the Isle of Man during the two World Wars; edited by Yvonne M. Cresswell. Manx National Heritage, 1994.

Internment during World Wars 1 and 2:  Select Bibliography, No 1,  June 2006
Manx National Heritage Library, 2006.

Return to the Home Page for the Zeemanshoop
Read about what happened to the Dutch passengers and crew on the Zeemanshoop

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