Scanning Nuremberg: transcript mapping, a brother’s tale, and more

Post by Matt Seccombe, February 10, 2016

Scanning Nuremberg shares the observations and insights of Matt Seccombe, Nuremberg Trials Project Metadata Manager/Document Analyst, as he analyzes documents for digitization as part of the HLS Library’s Nuremberg Trials Project website

The plan for December was to complete the Hostage Case prosecution documents, but I finished those in November, so we had a project’s dream come true: free time. I split the time, spending 10 days working through the defense portion of the trial transcript and the final proceedings, and then started the defendants’ papers. By the end of January I had finished the documents of two defendants (Dehner and Felmy) and half of the next (Foertsch). This amounted to 264 documents and 1077 pages of material.

Transcript mapping: Knowing where defense cases, and particularly their documents, appear in the transcript, compared to not having this information in advance, is like having a complete map instead of a blank sheet to fill in each day. The defendants’ cases and final proceedings fill about 7000 pages, so flipping through them is little fun, but it’s a great advantage to know where a defendant’s documents books and pleas were entered. In previous trials there was no open period for this work, so it had to be done in the course of analyzing the documents, with a success of rate of about 95 percent; the remaining 5 percent untraced documents are like peas under a mattress. Besides connecting documents to their place in the proceedings, the transcript provides key information: whether a document became an exhibit or not, whether a name or date or evidence number was mistyped and needs to be corrected, and in one case, what “Ro.” in a letter refers to (General Rommel).

The defense argument in brief: The transcript also makes the general argument apparent. For the generals three points were key. 1. The general Nuremberg issue of “following orders” was literal, as the basic actions were directly ordered by Hitler. 2. Guerrilla warfare was conducted outside the customs and laws of warfare, so Germans were not legally bound to follow rules that the partisans ignored. 3. In occupied territories, the occupier has a right to punish sabotage by “reprisal measures” against the population. (This was a surprise to me.) Reportedly, Allied commanders, including Eisenhower, authorized the execution of civilian hostages when they occupied Germany.

Records and actions: The German military documented many reprisal measures in Yugoslavia and Greece, including the execution of thousands of civilians, just as Hitler ordered. However, General Dehner reported that commanders often ignored the orders and filed “doctored reports” documenting executions that never occurred, in order to satisfy headquarters. For documentary historians, this is a reminder that not everything that happened was documented, and not everything that was documented happened.

Entertainment in the field: According to Gerhard Merren, mess-nights at his army offices “often culminated in impersonations of Hitler, Goebbels and others which would have induced a National socialist to take the severest measures.” Fortunately, Berlin was far away.

A brother’s tale: On July 21, 1944, the day after Claus von Stauffenberg tried to kill Hitler, Lt. Alexander von Stauffenberg was in an awkward situation in Greece. He knew nothing about his brother’s plans but was obviously under suspicion and offered to leave headquarters. General Felmy, he said, responded that he had “committed no dishonorable deed” and should remain. When an arrest warrant arrived, Felmy placed Stauffenberg under military protection and delivered him safely to Berlin, and he survived.

Although the digitization of the remaining trials will also be complete by the end of this year, they will require analysis and tagging work before they can be released to the public.  We hope to complete this work as soon as possible based upon available funding. For more information about this project, please contact Kim Dulin.

Archiving Student Action at HLS

Historical & Special Collections requests records from Student Organizations

Over the past few months, students have worked to reshape Harvard Law School’s educational and cultural environment, as you have done throughout HLS’s history. As we all know, the work isn’t happening in a vacuum, but is part of a larger national movement to address cultural changes on campuses across the U.S. Thus issues being discussed at HLS are evidence of not only an historical moment at Harvard, but an historical moment in America.


Harvard Law Record, May 4, 1984

Harvard Law Record, vol. 78, no. 10 (May 4, 1984). © Harvard Law Record Corp.

When activity first began on campus, the Historical & Special Collections (HSC) staff thought deeply about what our role in this moment could and should be. HSC has always documented the history of HLS by collecting Law School publications (catalogs, admission packets, etc.) and faculty and student organization papers. But what we collect and how we collect it is rapidly changing. Gone are the days of paper as a primary format; now we archive hybrid collections containing physical material accompanied by digital files, websites, and email. Because the life expectancy for digital content is incredibly low and its variability high, documenting activity as it occurs is becoming an increasingly important method for archives to avoid losing important cultural and institutional memory.

So, we got to work. We started capturing blogs such as Reclaim Harvard Law, the Record’s HLS Untaped series, and Royall Asses using HLS library-grown technology We recently archived the post-its shared on faculty portraits and the posters displayed in Wasserstein.  These otherwise ephemeral items that are such a powerful visual part of the movement will now be catalogued and made openly available to researchers well into the future.

01_22_16_post-it removal-3

HSC Assistant Jane Kelly prepares post-its for future research use. Photo by Lorin Granger

Now we’re asking students to help us expand these collections. Your voices are important, and we are committed to adding them to the historical record. Documents such as meeting records, flyers, photos, videos, emails, and Google Drive or DropBox collections are the raw material that researchers (writers, historians, documentarians, genealogists, legal scholars, and future students) will use to portray and contextualize this moment.

So as you, HLS students, prepare to mark the world by “contribut[ing] to the advancement of justice and the well being of society,” won’t you also be a part of our record here? If you are a member of a student organization, formal or informal, that would like to preserve the record of your organization’s contributions to HLS (or would just like to talk about what we are doing), please contact the Historical & Special Collections staff at to schedule a consultation. We hope to hear from you, and we’re excited to broaden our collections to include the very important work that HLS students do outside of the classroom.

HSC’s work isn’t happening in a vacuum, either! This initiative has been largely inspired by Princeton’s ASAP project and other archivists’ efforts in response to campus activity across the US.

Spotlight panel now available

spotlightWith Oscar buzz building through the month of February, you may be catching up on movie viewing. Whether you’ve seen it recently or saw it at the end of last year, if you appreciated Spotlight, which tells the story of how the Boston Globe uncovered the child molestation scandal and cover-up in the local Catholic Archdiocese, you will want to listen to the recording of the panel about the film that we and the HLS Dean of Students office hosted in November.

We had a great group of panelists who had a fascinating and often moving conversation about the film and the events that inspired it, and we’re happy to make available an audio recording of the event. You can also read more about it at Harvard Law Today.

Our panelists included:
Josh Singer, screenwriter (HLS ’01)
Mitchell Garabedian, Law Offices of Mitchell Garabedian
Lawrence Lessig, Roy L. Furman Professor of Law, Harvard Law School
Jeannie Suk, Professor of Law, Harvard Law School
Jonathan Zittrain, George Bemis Professor of International Law, Harvard Law School

We also had two surprise guests in the audience who added additional insights to the discussion: Michael Rezendes and Ben Bradlee Jr., who were both portrayed in the film.

Faculty Book Talk: Catherine J. Ross, Lessons in Censorship: How Schools and Courts Subvert Students’ First Amendment Rights, Tue. Feb. 16, at noon

The Harvard Law School Library staff invite you to attend a book talk and panel discussion in celebration of Harvard Graduate School of Education Visiting Scholar Catherine J. Ross recently published book, Lessons in Censorship: How Schools and Courts Subvert Students’ First Amendment Rights (Harvard Univ. Press).

Best book on the First Amendment of 2015”  — First Amendment News, Concurring Opinions

Tuesday, February 16, 2016 at noon
Harvard Law School Room WCC 2019 Milstein West A/B  (Directions)
1585 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge

Catherine Ross Book Talk Poster











Catherine J. Ross is Professor of Law at The George Washington University Law School. She specializes in constitutional law (with particular emphasis on the First Amendment), family law, and legal and policy issues concerning children.  Professor Ross has been a co-author of Contemporary Family Law (Thomson/West) through the Fourth Edition published in 2015.

During 2015-2016, Professor Ross is a Visiting Scholar at the Harvard School of Education. She was a Member of the School of Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton from 2008-2009. Professor Ross has taught as a visiting professor at the University of Pennsylvania, Boston College (where she held joint appointments in the School of Education and the History Department) and St. John’s School of Law in New York.

An elected Fellow of the American Bar Foundation, Professor Ross is former chair of the ABA’s Steering Committee on the Unmet Legal Needs of Children, former chair of the Section on Law and Communitarianism of the Association of American Law Schools, and has served on a wide variety of ABA committees. She serves on the editorial board of the Family Courts Review, and is a former editorial board member of the Family Law Quarterly.

Prior to entering legal academia, Professor Ross was a litigator at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison in New York, where she won major impact litigation on behalf of the city’s homeless population. Before attending Yale Law School, Professor Ross was on the faculty of the Yale Child Study Center, and the Bush Center on Child Development and Social Policy at Yale.


Michael Gregory



Michael Gregory, Clinical Professor of Law, Harvard Law School



Paul Horwitz


Paul Horwitz, Visiting Professor of Law, Harvard Law School, Gordon Rosen Professor of Law at the University of Alabama School of Law



Mark Tushnet



Mark Tushnet, William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Law, Harvard Law School


More about Lessons in Censorship: How Schools and Courts Subvert Students’ First Amendment Rights:

“American public schools often censor controversial student speech that the Constitution protects. Lessons in Censorship brings clarity to a bewildering array of court rulings that define the speech rights of young citizens in the school setting. Catherine J. Ross examines disputes that have erupted in our schools and courts over the civil rights movement, war and peace, rights for LGBTs, abortion, immigration, evangelical proselytizing, and the Confederate flag. She argues that the failure of schools to respect civil liberties betrays their educational mission and threatens democracy.

From the 1940s through the Warren years, the Supreme Court celebrated free expression and emphasized the role of schools in cultivating liberty. But the Burger, Rehnquist, and Roberts courts retreated from that vision, curtailing certain categories of student speech in the name of order and authority. Drawing on hundreds of lower court decisions, Ross shows how some judges either misunderstand the law or decline to rein in censorship that is clearly unconstitutional, and she powerfully demonstrates the continuing vitality of the Supreme Court’s initial affirmation of students’ expressive rights. Placing these battles in their social and historical context, Ross introduces us to the young protesters, journalists, and artists at the center of these stories.

Lessons in Censorship highlights the troubling and growing tendency of schools to clamp down on off-campus speech such as texting and sexting and reveals how well-intentioned measures to counter verbal bullying and hate speech may impinge on free speech. Throughout, Ross proposes ways to protect free expression without disrupting education.” — Harvard Univ. Press

It is a revealing book about judicially sanctioned censorship… Well-argued and well-researched… Turn the pages of Lessons in Censorship and you will discover what it means for students to think freely and how courts have fashioned baseless arguments designed to squelch such thinking… Lessons in Censorship is a book that should be read and discussed by school officials at all levels of education. It is a work that should be pored over by school board officials and lawyers who represent school districts and college campuses. And its message should carry over into the memoranda and briefs that lawyers file to inform judges.—Ronald K. L. Collins, Concurring Opinions

Immensely informative… Ross also demonstrates that many school administrators have censored student speech, even in instances when they could not point to any tangible risk of disruption… As Ross illustrates, striking the right balance between order and free speech will not be easy. But action is urgently needed.—Glenn Altschuler, The Conversation

We teach our children to celebrate freedom of speech but what freedom do they have when their schools too often punish them for exercising it? Catherine Ross’s powerful and lucid exposé of the increasingly routine censorship of student speech is well worth our attention and concern.—Floyd Abrams, Cahill Gordon & Reindel, LLP

A magnificent book. Catherine Ross has given us a beautifully written and original contribution to our understanding of the nexus of constitutional law, lower courts, and everyday life in our public schools. She persuasively demonstrates that schools and judges too often teach ‘lessons in censorship’ that threaten the First Amendment and our vital culture of democracy.—Erwin Chemerinsky, University of California, Irvine School of Law

852 Rare: Colorful Collections – Picture Books in Historical & Special Collections

Although Historical & Special Collections items may sometimes have… colorful… content, you might not expect our material to be terribly colorful at first glance. Recent re-shelving work in the HSC stacks turned up two cheery picture books—an illustrated printing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, illustrated by William Wilson, and Chickens May Not Cross the Road and Other Crazy (But True) Laws, written by Kathi Linz and illustrated by Tony Griego.

Two picture books that are part of Historical & Special Collections.

Two picture books that are part of Historical & Special Collections.


Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Illustrated by William Wilson.

Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Illustrated by William Wilson.

William Wilson’s illustrations that accompany the UDHR celebrate the 50th anniversary of the document’s adoption by the General Assembly of the United Nations in December 1948. The book’s introduction states that the “vision [of the book] was to portray this historic instrument with the colours of life and the power of art: an artist is ‘a political being,’ as Picasso said.”[1] Each of the articles of the Declaration is laid out alongside Wilson’s illustrations, one of which is shown here. The goal of the book is to disseminate the entirety of the UDHR with the belief that “there is a vital and urgent need for the Declaration to be understood and learned.”[2]

Shelved just alongside this book is another picture book—Chickens May Not Cross the Road and Other Crazy (But True) Laws. The pen and ink and water color illustrations depict characters acting out strange offenses with the accompanying law prohibiting such behavior alongside it. Further explanation of (crazy) laws are answered in a series of questions throughout the book, including “What is the Oldest Set of Laws Ever Written?” “How About Having No Laws?” “We, the People of the United States, Have Rights, Right?”[3]

Chickens May Not Cross the Road and Other Crazy (But True) Laws, Kathi Linz, Illustrated by Tony Griego

Chickens May Not Cross the Road and Other Crazy (But True) Laws, Kathi Linz, Illustrated by Tony Griego

These books are just two examples of educational material that can be found in Historical & Special Collections that isn’t just aimed at law students. Many more surprising and illuminating (and illuminated!) items pepper the stacks in HSC, waiting for someone to take a closer look!

[1 & 2] Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Illustrated by William Wilson. [New York]: United Nations, 1997, Title Page.

[3] Chickens May Not Cross the Road and Other Crazy (But True) Laws, Kathi Linz, illustrated by Tony Griego. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2002.

Bloomberg BNA Write-on Competition 2016

Bloomberg BNA’s annual write-on competition is on!

Pick a topic impacting the legal landscape and write a brief article (1,000-1,600 words) examining the issue in a relevant, impactful way. Ten winners will be chosen to have their articles published in a national Bloomberg BNA Law Report and receive $2,500.

For more details, visit Bloomberg BNA. Submit your entry by February 17.

In Ruhleben Camp: with goodwill for friend and foe alike

In Ruhleben Camp follows the production schedule of the magazine created by prisoners at Ruhleben, an internment camp for British civilians in Germany during WWI. Around the day that an issue of the magazine was released a hundred years ago, Marissa Grunes will post highlights from that number and tell part of its story.

Detail of Xmas tree. In Ruhleben Camp, Xmas 1915. Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 596.

Detail of Xmas tree. In Ruhleben Camp, Xmas 1915. Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 596.

In December of 1915, Ruhleben held its own Christmas truce. As we saw in the previous post, the German authorities gave internees special permission to send copies of In Ruhleben Camp’s “Xmas Number” back Home, where family and friends would find a full-page note of thanks and holiday greetings.

Peace on earth seemed years away, but the editors wished to extend goodwill towards men in the enemy’s camp. They had come into possession of the September issue of a “bright little four page journal” created by German civilians interned at Stobs, a camp in Scotland with roughly 4,500 German civilian internees. Moved by the good humor and fortitude beneath its wry tone, IRC’s editors opened the Xmas Number by translating long passages from the newsletter for the benefit of their readers in Ruhleben and beyond (Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 559). (The original newsletter can be viewed online, courtesy of the Swarthmore College Peace Collection.)

Stobsiade plays on the title of an 18th century mock epic poem The Jobsiade by German physician Carl Arnold Kortum. This satirical poem relates the antics of Hieronymus Jobs, a “Bummelstudent” (“strolling-student”) who remains at university as long as possible not because he takes his studies seriously but because he takes his leisure seriously.

If the editors of IRC caught the joke, they would have enjoyed it. Ruhlebenites often complained of being treated like schoolboys with curfew, roll call, and rules abounding, and no doubt the internees at Stobs resented similar encroachments on their adult autonomy. Moreover, while non-commissioned military POWs could be forced to do labor under the 1907 Geneva Convention, civilians were generally exempt. And if Stobs was anything like Ruhleben, then internees on both sides used this “enforced leisure” (as the British Camps Library committee called it (qtd. in King, p. 256)) to become students once again, attend public lectures or take classes in the camp, and “swot”* languages.” In many cases, they did so not because they took their studies seriously, but because they took their distractions seriously.

The editors of IRC don’t mention the allusion, but their comparisons of the mud, snoring, and lousy conditions at the two camps place a seal of barbed wire brotherhood on the Stobsians. As the highest honor of all, the editors quote the Ruhleben “motto” when they remark approvingly that Stobsiade is “redolent of the “Are-we-downhearted? No!” spirit” and makes it “very apparent that life in a “Prisoner of War Camp” is very much like the life in a “Civil-Gefangenlager.””**

This was probably true, but it flatly contradicted the jingoistic British press, and it is curious to speculate how readers back Home responded. The popular press on both sides exaggerated the miseries of its own imprisoned civilians, while rebuking the home government for (fictional) indulgences lavished on interned enemies (e.g. Stibbe, pp. 83-84). Paul Cohen-Portheim, a German civilian interned in the “gentleman’s camp” at Wakefield, near Leeds, blamed the media titan Lord Northcliffe for propagating absurd reports that the “pampered Huns” at Wakefield supped at fabulous feasts, played on “golf courses that never existed,” and enjoyed “liaisons with women that would have been impossible” (Cohen-Portheim, p. 74). As Cohen-Portheim mused bitterly, “the real truth” was that “what happened to the prisoners on one side happened to those on the other,” based on “a system of mutual reprisals from which the authorities dreamt as little of abstaining as…the flying forces refrained from ‘punitive expeditions’” (Cohen-Portheim, p. 75).

Even if IRC did not intend to discredit propaganda, it could nonetheless do some good for German internees. The historian Matthew Stibbe confirms Cohen-Portheim’s description of “reprisals,” but also observes the potential for “reprisals of good” advocated by the Bishop of Winchester in 1916. For example, when the Swiss Quaker and peace activist Elisabeth Rotten solicited scientific instruments from German firms and individuals (including her friend Albert Einstein) for Ruhlebenites, the Friends Emergency Committee in Britain responded with similar donations for interned Germans (Stibbe, p. 145). Such exchanges were more frequent later in the war, especially as Germany began to see defeat engraved in the trenches across France, but the editors of IRC may have picked up the principle early.

Of course, In Ruhleben Camp remains staunchly patriotic. The editors bridle at Stobsiade’s description of the Stobs camp commander as “half pug, half terrier with bulldog legs which are ever atremble with fright,” an indignity to which IRC would never subject the “Ruhleben Löwe.”*** And they answer cries of “God bless Germany! God bless the Kaiser!” with cheers of “God bless England! God bless Georgie!” before concluding: “And then, reaching hands across the sea to you, we will both cry together: ‘Damn that barbed wire!’” (Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 560)

Detail. In Ruhleben Camp, Xmas 1915. Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 560.

Detail. In Ruhleben Camp, Xmas 1915. Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 560.

Postscript: the end of In Ruhleben Camp

As yet another generous gesture, the Xmas Number announced that donations collected to endow a “Ruhleben Bed” at a Red Cross Hospital would be sent Home around Christmastime. This spirit of charity and goodwill turned out to be the high note on which In Ruhleben Camp folded its pages and bid goodbye. Its rambunctious items give no hint that this issue would be the last, nor is it clear why the offices at Fleet Street closed their doors for three months. But so it was. Apart from a literary journal called Prisoners’ Pie that rang in the New Year, there was no substantial Ruhleben publication until March 1916, when the “Camp Rag” returned with the slightly less catchy title of The Ruhleben Camp Magazine, under new editorial direction but up to the same old tricks.

* British slang for “to learn”
** A misprint for Civil-Gefangenenlager, meaning “Civilian Prison Camp”
*** “Ruhleben lion,” most likely Commandant Count Schwerin or his deputy Baron von Taube

Bibliography & Further Reading

Cohen-Portheim, Paul. Time Stood Still: My Internment in England 1914-1918. London: Duckworth, 1931.

King, Edmund (2013). ““Books are more to me than food”: British prisoners of war as readers, 1914-1918.” Book History 16. pp. 246-271.

Stibbe, Matthew. British civilian internees in Germany. The Ruhleben camp, 1914-18. Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 2008.

Marissa Grunes is a PhD candidate in English Literature at Harvard University, focusing on transatlantic literature of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Her dissertation project explores frontier architecture in 19th century poetry, fiction, and non-fiction of the United States.

The State of the Union Address

According to the US Constitution, The President “shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.” U.S. Const. art. II, §3, cl. 1.

President Barack Obama will deliver his last State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday, January 12, 2016.  Since George Washington’s first address in 1790, presidents have delivered a report to Congress about the state of the union either in person or by written letter.

There is speculation that Obama’s 2016 address will be a non-traditional message.  The NY Times provides a well documented account of Obama’s promises and results in How Did He Do? Assessing Obama’s State of the Union Promises.  Follow more news and analysis about the speech.

See what your members of Congress are saying about the speech, before, during, and after, on Twitter, Facebook, and official press releases by using

Interested in State of the Union messages from past presidents?  Check out the outstanding archive at the American Presidency Project.  You can also search recent addresses and other presidential documents using HeinOnline.

In Ruhleben Camp: A belated Merry Xmas and Happy 1916 from Ruhleben Camp

In Ruhleben Camp follows the production schedule of the magazine created by prisoners at Ruhleben, an internment camp for British civilians in Germany during WWI. Around the day that an issue of the magazine was released a hundred years ago, Marissa Grunes will post highlights from that number and tell part of its story.

Front Cover. In Ruhleben Camp, Xmas 1915. Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 557.

Front Cover. In Ruhleben Camp, Xmas 1915. Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 557.

He thought he saw the Lager “Rag” *
Appear when it was due.
He looked again, and saw it was,
Not a report, but true.
“Now, isn’t this top-hole” he said,
In time for Xmas too.”
(Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 580)

The final issue of In Ruhleben Camp for 1915 appeared around Christmas of that year, and it wears its holiday spirit with a difference. Peppered with humorously cynical cartoons depicting what might happen “If Santa Claus came to Ruhleben,” the Xmas Number also extends jovial greetings across the Channel to friend and foe alike. We will start with friends in this post, and look to foes in the next.

Having received special permission from the German censors to send the Christmas issue to Britain as a gift for loved ones, Ruhlebenites may have been both moved and amused by certain editorial choices. Between the handsomely printed covers, for instance, Ruhlebenites found a page thanking “the folks at home” for supporting “their Ruhlebenites,” as well as offering characteristically pragmatic advice: send butter, margarine, or dripping, please! (Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 603) Meanwhile, the stiff back cover doubled as a pre-formatted card that could be filled out, detached, and sent separately, perhaps for those without the means to send the whole thing.

Cartoon. In Ruhleben Camp, Xmas 1915. Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 592.

Cartoon. In Ruhleben Camp, Xmas 1915. Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 592.

The editors may have had a bit of fun with their extended readership as well. In particular, a comic piece titled “The Ruhlebenite at Home” seems teasingly calculated to evoke the worst nightmare of a wife, mother, or sister who feared her Ruhlebenite would come home a changed man. The story is narrated by an internee who has been released early and has “arrived Home in time for Christmas” (Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 569). His convenient timing makes for a tongue-in-cheek homage to the disappointed hopes of the previous year, when men on both sides had assumed the war could only last a few months. A year later, it was harder to maintain that anyone would “be Home before Xmas” (Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 519) without being called a wishful thinker. By the end of 1915, no reader could avoid the cruel contrast between the narrator’s happy timing and the reality for most men, whether in camps or at the front.

Having finally arrived Home for Xmas—a year late and most likely declared “military unfit” for poor health—our Ruhlebenite soon finds himself in hot water with the women of the house. His crime? He does everything, including bathe himself, Ruhleben style. He bewilders his sister and her housemaid by complaining that “nothing is ever where it ought to be,” and is in turn baffled to discover that wash basins are not kept under the bed, but on the washstand, and that it would be more appropriate to bathe in his own room (and with less swearing) than out in the hall (Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 569). At each turn, the story seems to guffaw: you can take an internee out of the camp, but you can’t take Ruhleben out of a Ruhlebenite.

The humor is darkened when one recalls the increased rate at which internees were hospitalized for mental breakdowns as the years dragged on, a danger which Ellis Loring Dresel of the U.S. embassy would observe in July of 1916 (Stibbe, p. 73). Has our protagonist been declared “military unfit” not due to physical illness, but because he has truly lost his “mental perspective” at Ruhleben? (Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 513)

Still the story keeps a light tone, even as our hero’s Ruhleben habits enact a complete cultural inversion. The manners and customs of this respectable middle-class household are alien and barbarous to him, and he insists on “proper” behavior that only a Ruhlebenite would understand. Such a reversal of values offers the perfect formula for social satire, but the author doesn’t rise to the bait. There is no room for cultural relativism here: lampooning the sister’s shock would doubtless have struck too close to home. Instead, the jokes rely on the fact (or hope) that Ruhlebenite readers can still tell a hawk from a handsaw when in the presence of a lady, or at least know better than to toss bathwater down the corridor or to call one’s sister a “lazy beggar” (Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 570).

It is no accident that the author’s satire is entirely directed against the hapless Ruhlebenite. If the story plays on the apprehensions of womenfolk at home, it more pointedly reflects anxieties plaguing Ruhlebenites themselves. After so much time in a camp of 4,000 men, roughly a quarter of whom were sailors, many internees worried that they would never scrub the blue streak from their language, or remember how to comport themselves in mixed society. The Swiss physician Dr. Vischer’s research into “barbed wire disease” after the war suggests that these concerns were not unfounded, either.

As a kind of verbalized anxiety dream, then, waking up from this story may have been reassuring. After all, if readers laughed at its humor, understood that a free man need not carry around wire and nails for emergencies, and knew enough to reverse the protagonist’s complaint that his sister had “changed tremendously” (Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 572) during his internment, then hope was not lost.

What readers at Home thought—well, that too may have been part of the joke.


Portable Xmas Tree. N.D. VIA record number olvwork430260

Portable Xmas Tree owned by a Ruhleben internee. N.D. VIA record number olvwork430260

* Lager is the German word for “camp,” and was adopted by Ruhleben internees. Rag is English slang for a magazine or periodical.

Bibliography & Further Reading

Bing, M.D. and A.L. Vischer, M.D. “Some Remarks on the Psychology of Internment, Based on the Observation of Prisoners of War in Switzerland.” The Lancet. 26 April 1919. Pp. 696-7.

Stibbe, Matthew. British civilian internees in Germany. The Ruhleben camp, 1914-18. Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 2008.

Vischer, Adolf Lucas. Barbed wire disease; a psychological study of the prisoner of war. Tr. from the German, with additions by the author. London: Bale & Danielsson, 1919.

Marissa Grunes is a PhD candidate in English Literature at Harvard University, focusing on transatlantic literature of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Her dissertation project explores frontier architecture in 19th century poetry, fiction, and non-fiction of the United States.

Work in the Main Reading Room, January 7, 2016

Work will take place in the main Reading Room on Thursday, January 7, 2016, between 8am and 5pm. We will try to keep disturbances to a minimum. However, there may be occasional noise disruption and staff will need access to many of the study carrels on the south side of the room. Signs will be posted on the corresponding carrels. We apologize for any inconvenience and appreciate your understanding.