Historical & Special Collections •

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.

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.

852 RARE: Open for Research: The Records of the Community Legal Assistance Office

Historical & Special Collections is pleased to announce the opening of a new modern manuscript collection for research — the Records of the Community Legal Assistance Office.

In October 1966, Harvard Law School opened a neighborhood law office in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the Community Legal Assistance Office (CLAO), with John M. Ferren (HLS ’62) serving as Director. The mission blended service and education providing:

  • clinical legal services to indigent and low-income Cambridge residents;
  • legal education for the poor and underrepresented minorities;
  • contributions to law reform in the areas of housing, community-based municipal government, and civil rights.

CLAO also played a role to the expansion of clinical legal education at the Law School, and promoted curricular and extra-curricular training opportunities for Harvard Law School students in the fields of poverty law and clinical legal services.

 

CLAO_sign

Flyer produced by the Community Legal Assistance Office listing services offered. The Records for the Community Legal Assistance Office, Box 6, folder 1, Historical & Special Collections, Harvard Law School Library.

Financial support came in the form of a grant from the Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO), the agency that, following the approval of the Economic Opportunity Act (1964) by the United States Congress, became responsible for administering the local application of President Johnson’s Great Society legislation. Harvard Law School contributed an additional 10 percent, in order to permit representation of criminal defendants that would be otherwise have been prohibited under the terms of the OEO federal grant. The ability to represent both civil and criminal defendants distinguished CLAO from other OEO-funded neighborhood law offices, which provided legal assistance only for civil issues.

Working out of their office at the corner of Windsor and Broadway CLAO was heavily involved in the Cambridge community assisting with, for example, the drafting of the Cambridge Model Cities Program, which was another OEO funded program for urban renewal, housing and building projects. Additionally, in 1968, Governor of Massachusetts John A. Volpe signed two bills presented by CLAO with reference to housing, tenant rights, and leases. And in 1969 CLAO obtained the release of a young marine by order of the Federal Court on a petition for writ of habeas corpus, after the Marine Corps had rejected his request for a hardship discharge. The opinion established a new precedent by expanding the scope of review of such Marine Corps decisions.

In 1971, CLAO merged with the other OEO-funded neighborhood law office in Cambridge, the Cambridge Legal Services (CLS), which had opened in 1967, in order to form the Cambridge and Somerville Legal Services (CASLS), which is still in existence.

The Records of the  Community Legal Assistance Office is open to all researchers. Anyone interested in using the collection should contact Historical & Special Collections to schedule an appointment.

Posted on behalf of Lidia Santarelli by Edwin Moloy.

In Ruhleben Camp: a winter of discontent

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.

Drawing of Ruhleben Camp in snow. VIA record number olvwork427988

Drawing of Ruhleben Camp in snow. VIA record number olvwork427988

After two spirited and quarrelsome issues of In Ruhleben Camp in September, and one in October, the magazine did not appear again until Christmas of 1915. During this November hiatus, prisoners grimly marked the start of a second year in Ruhleben Camp. As winter arrived, Ruhlebenites carried on working to make internment bearable—apart from the unlucky few who were ill enough to be declared “military unfit” and repatriated to begin healing their broken constitutions.

The few “military unfit” released in October and November left the camp with frost spidering around their boggy footprints. Behind the barbed wire, cold crept under overcoats and blankets, up from the muddy ground through poorly repaired boots, and into thin soup and weak tea. Cold drove internees indoors and hemmed them in.

Some accommodation for winter had been made since the previous year (for example, the latrines were no longer en plein air), but internees still lived in unheated horse stalls, with the overflow in lofts. As bitter weather set in, the six men randomly assigned to each box were together almost continuously, sharpening the claustrophobia of their lodgings. Prisoners would later describe the lack of privacy as one of the greatest mental and emotional trials of life behind barbed wire.

In “The Case for a Wholesale Exchange,” a letter published in The Times on 22 November 1916 by Sir Timothy Eden (after Lord Robert Cecil secured his early release as a favor to his mother, Lady Eden) (Stibbe, p. 126), the aristocratic former internee warns of “the serious mental condition of the civilian prisoners” who lack “the slightest privacy.” As he urges his government to accept Germany’s conditions and free British civilians at any cost, Sir Timothy exhorts his readers to imagine a life where “it is impossible to be alone. There are no past glories to dream about. No consolation in the remembrance of duty done. The men have nothing to think of save their ruined prospects and the hopelessness of their position” (Eden, pp. 22-23).

Paul Cohen-Portheim, a German civilian interned in similar circumstances at Knockaloe on the Isle of Man, echoes Sir Timothy’s view of internment. In his published memoir Time Stood Still, the cosmopolite Cohen-Portheim describes living in a hut of 6 x 4 feet where others “heard every word you spoke, every movement you made.” The buildings were so shoddily constructed that “whenever anyone walked in the hut or moved a chair it set up vibration right through the hut.”

Consequently, he continues, “no one could stand staying in the hut for long; one soon developed a habit of rushing out every ten minutes or so. That habit became so much of a second nature that I found it very difficult to get rid of again in later years. One rushed round, one walked…by way of change, and wherever you went there were people just in front of you, just behind you, just beside you or just coming towards you, and they were always the same people. You could not talk to a friend without being overheard, you could not make a movement that was not watched. The control exercised by the prisoners over each other was infinitely more irritating and galling than the superficial outside control” (Cohen-Portheim, pp. 85-86).

Such skittishness was by no means confined to upper class prisoners. Tellingly, it features prominently among symptoms of “barbed wire disease” as described by the famed Swiss physician Dr. Adolf Lukas Vischer in 1919. After the war, Dr. Vischer interviewed POWs released from camps in neutral Switzerland. Common behaviors he observed included “an increase of irritability,” suspicion, and “pathological fatigue” or “loss of concentration” that manifested most acutely as “difficulty in settling down.” Even when watching a “kinematograph performance,” Dr. Vischer and his colleague Dr. Bing explain in The Lancet, former POWs exhibit “growing restlessness, which finally arrives at such a point that they are obliged to leave the hall.” Vischer and Bing conclude that many former POWs suffer “a certain shyness, leading them to seek that solitude of which they have so long been deprived” (“Psychology of Internment,” p. 696-7).

The entertainments, activities, and institutions of Ruhleben offered a limited but vital lifeline within the camp’s physically and mentally stifling atmosphere. Yet these activities were also constrained by the cold weather, and even at their fullest, they were no substitute for life out from under the thumb of imprisonment. At one Ruhleben archive, a librarian told me that the descendent of a Ruhlebenite had recently come to look at the same collection. Internment had dramatically affected that researcher’s ancestor, making him taciturn and private. These qualities, the researcher told the librarian, had echoed down the generations, so that the stiff wind of Ruhleben winter still seemed to be blowing through the family tree.

Bibliography & Further Reading

In Ruhleben: Letters from a Prisoner to His Mother. Edited and with an introduction by Douglas Sladen. Including “Civilian Prisoners: the Case for a Wholesale Exchange” by Sir Timothy Eden. London: Hurst and Blackett, Ltd. Paternoster House, E.C., 1917.

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.

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

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.

In Ruhleben Camp: weathering class divisions part 2 (The Camp School)

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.

As the winter of 1915 swept across Germany, warm clothing and rich food became increasingly urgent matters in Ruhleben Camp. These were especially elusive for impoverished prisoners relying on the British government’s Relief Fund. The greatest source of public contention, however, was access to indoor space.

Internees were guaranteed shelter in horse stalls or lofts, but the men also needed an escape from these cold, cramped quarters. Meanwhile, activities that had flourished during the summer, from classes to cricket matches, either had to migrate indoors or be suspended for the winter. Conflicts over communal spaces became more heated, and were frequently aired in the September and October issues of the magazine.

Ruhleben 1918, General View, East End. VIA record number olvwork427605

Ruhleben 1918, General View, East End. VIA record number olvwork427605

By now, three halls were open under the grandstand seats (visible above), but these couldn’t begin to accommodate the public life of the racetrack’s 4,000-some occupants. The halls were regularly booked for ticketed events, which excluded the poorest Ruhlebenites and sparked debates over the Camp’s financial organization. With the Ruhleben Dramatic Society on strike in September, one hall was freed for casual use (for instance, as a smoking room), prompting a wag to quip that a “rabble fills the hall” where Thespis once reigned (Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 364). Nonetheless, many Ruhleben groups struggled to find indoor venues. Of these, the one that captured the magazine’s attention was the Camp School.

Issues no. 8 (September) and no. 9 (October) of In Ruhleben Camp both open with an appeal from the Camp School for funds to secure “Partitioning, Books & Apparatus” (Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 448). As if in sympathetic response, John C. Masterman’s copy of issue no. 8 (held in HLSL) includes a prospectus for the School’s Winter Session folded into its opening pages. This prospectus explains that the “advent of warm weather” had made the School possible, but since classes and lectures required partitioned spaces, “the failure to obtain adequate accommodation all but extinguished its life during the Winter and early Spring.” The author admonishes anyone who “values Culture and Education” to observe that internees spent as much time studying as they “passed in the Entertainments Hall: and yet the School has been treated with comparative neglect” (Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 450).

Within issue no. 8 of the magazine, the editors champion the School as “of far more use than even the Football Clubs,” calling it “the most popular and, we venture to say, the most useful institution in the Camp” (Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 462). They also call on the Education Committee to support the more informal “Circles,” organized around shared intellectual pursuits, by helping them “procure a suitable room…during the winter sessions” (Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 500).

But the editors go further, amplifying the School’s distress signals into a challenge against wealthy internees who had cordoned off exclusive “clubhouses.” In particular, they remind the Summer House Club of its promise to share its boxes with the School. The Summer House’s cosmetic philanthropy had been used to “justify the existence of such a Club in a British Concentration Camp,” the editors recall, yet card-playing Club members regularly chase out students with “scant ceremony” (Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 462).

Come October, the editors had more to lament: space constraints had forced John C. Masterman (the Camp’s “best all-around man” (Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 479)) to call off his popular lectures. “That lack of space should preclude us from hearing another course from him during the winter would seem a severe reflection on the organising ability of the Camp as a whole,” the editors grimly scold their readership. “The size of his audience has been no less extraordinary than the variety of its composition,” discrediting the notion that the “student section” of the population represents only “one class” of internees (Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 514).

As winter threatened to cement class barriers, it seemed that educational institutions—less lucrative than theatrical or musical entertainment—would be edged out. But the School was not so easily beaten. Not only did it carry on, but over the four next three years it would establish a relationship with the University of Berlin, building a diplomatic bridge that eventually extended across the Channel, where the University of Leeds took on responsibility for supporting the education of German civilians interned on the Isle of Man.

The “University of Ruhleben” became a great source of pride, and its graduates sat for official degree and certificate examinations from the University of London, the London Chamber of Commerce, and the Royal Society of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce—all within the (dis)comfort of Ruhleben Camp.* The era of correspondence courses had begun.

* See Stibbe, pp. 3, 145-6.

Bibliography & Further Reading

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.

852 RARE: Collection Mysteries – History Sleuths Wanted

Over the years, a few of our 852 RARE posts have focused on parts of the collection that present unanswered questions such as the identity of an individual or date and creator of an image. In 2008, we wrote about a  carte de visite of an unidentified African American man in the Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. visual materials collection. Then in 2012 we posted a photograph of HLS graduate students that included an unidentified child in the picture, whom we dubbed “the littlest graduate.” Most recently, we wondered about the origins and purpose of a 1977 student group titled “The Fainwood.”

Historical & Special Collections (HSC) is not alone when it comes to mysteries in its collection. The Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division (P & P) has a blog titled “Picture This.” In a number of posts they have highlighted mystery photographs that have been placed on the Library of Congress Flickr account along with a call to help identify them. Images have ranged from buildings, to gadgets, to travel views. Thanks to the help of Flickr users they were able to identify and more accurately describe quite a few of the formerly unidentified images.

It takes practice and skill to dissect an image and make meaning from it. This skill is commonly referred to as visual literacy. The Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) defines visual literacy as: “a set of abilities that enables an individual to effectively find, interpret, evaluate, use, and create images and visual media.” You can see visual literacy in action in the comments accompanying the P & P images in Flickr. Some of the observations and types of sources people drew upon are fascinating.

Sadly, we have not solved any of our previously chronicled mysteries and new mysteries present themselves all the time. As you can see below, we have a number of unidentified individuals in our collection of cabinet cards and cartes de visite.

Undated Carte de Visite photograph of a man in wig and gown, head and shoulder view. Photographer Fradelle & Marshall, London, England

Unidentified English Jurist, recto
Carte de Visite 2-102
HOLLIS 012545010

Back of carte de visite of unidentified English jurist. Photographers name printed: Fradelle & Marshall, London, England. Inscription: Unknown English Jurist, (junior barrister JHB)

Unidentified English Jurist, verso
Carte de Visite 2-102
HOLLIS 012545010

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cabint card of Unidentified English Jurist. Head and shoulder view, turned and facing right in wig and robes. Sticker in upper right corner that says "Y"

Unidentified English Jurist “Y”
Cabinet Card, Box 9
HOLLIS 012545010

Cabinet card of an Unidentified English Jurist, three quarter length view in wig and robes, sitting and turned and facing right

Unidentified English Jurist
Cabinet Card, Box 9
HOLLIS 012545010

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is your chance to help us and have some fun in the process. Tap into your inner Sherlock Holmes and put your skills of analysis to work! Send your discoveries or information that could aid in identification to specialc@law.harvard.edu

For those interested in learning more about visual literacy, here are some resources:

Every Photo is a Story: Researching Photographs–Video Series and Exercises, Library of Congress

Visual Literacy Resources, Toledo Art Museum

International Visual Literacy Association

Visual Thinking Strategies

In Ruhleben Camp: weathering class divisions in winter

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.

If Home Rule meant a more democratic camp, as suggested previously, the coming of winter brought stark reminders of persistent inequality.

Internment had caught British subjects unaware, from the cosmopolitan world-traveler to the sailors detained in Hamburg harbor. As a result, the camp’s diverse population cut across economic and social classes. Although a handful of the most prominent internees, such as Sir Timothy Eden (brother to the future Prime Minister Sir Anthony Eden) secured early release in individual exchanges with German prisoners, only eleven such exchanges occurred before 1916, when the head of the newly established Prisoner of War Department, Lord Newton, rejected what he called this “old-fashioned, aristocratic” approach (Stibbe, p. 126).

Many wealthy and well-connected internees thus remained all four years, and soon found ways to distinguish themselves from the hoi polloi.

One way to assert class affiliation was sartorial. Once parcel deliveries were less restricted after March 1915, internees could write home for clothing, allowing “the school tie, the blazer, the club badge” to stage a comeback, according to former internee Frank Stockall (qtd. in Stibbe, p. 95). Internees could also spruce up using amenities within the camp. J.D. Ketchum remembers shoe-shining as the first “service” offered in Ruhleben. In 1914 “no Englishman above the working class ever cleaned his own shoes,” Ketchum reminds us, and since the job required little capital outlay, shoeblacks initially prospered—until supply overwhelmed demand (Ketchum, p. 27 n. 1).

Advertisement. In Ruhleben Camp, No. 8, Sept 1915. Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 503

Advertisement. In Ruhleben Camp, No. 8, Sept 1915. Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 503.

Along with the rash of shoeblacks came other services considered de rigeur for keeping up appearances. From the magazine’s second issue onward, its back pages featured adjacent, full-page advertisements for the tailor Steinbock and the hairdresser George Teger.

Tailoring is a valuable service, especially in winter, but Steinbock’s autumn advertisement doesn’t mention fit or warmth. Instead, he makes a posh virtue of necessity, announcing a “NEW FASHION: Special Winter Overcoat! NOW ON VIEW!” (Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 503), next to a drawing of two well-heeled men modeling full-length coats, positioned as if passing each other in the city. By evoking sartorial standards at Home, Steinbock appeals to fantasies of freedom, especially among a clientele pining for the bustling commerce of London, where the cut of a coat, the pleat in a pinstriped trouser, the filigree on a cane, or the whiff of a cigar spoke volumes to the knowing observer.

Advertisement. In Ruhleben Camp, No. 8, Sept 1915. Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 504

Advertisement. In Ruhleben Camp, No. 8, Sept 1915. Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 504

 

This pair of advertisements from Steinbock and Teger (“Professional Hair dresser” offering a “First-class Pedicure”) make the back pages a one-stop shop for upper-class grooming (Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 504). Whether these entrepreneurs considered their services complementary, or the editors bundled them together, both businesses were sufficiently well-funded in 1915 to take out at least one full-page ad each month.

If the editors were responsible for the pairing, they may have had a chuckle at the vision of an internee decked out cap-a-pie in Ruhleben finery. Certainly readers of the September issue had occasion to shake their heads at hairdressers and their clients: the short story “Johnny,” published pseudonymously, offers a classic Ruhleben parable starring a hairdresser.

The story begins with the narrator waiting to collect a parcel. Near him in the queue, he notices a man he dubs “Johnny.” “He was a nut,” the narrator gushes, admiring the man’s style: “hair nicely oiled and beautifully parted” with “plump rosy cheeks [that] vaguely reminded one of a “Frivolity” beauty” (the cross-dressing men who were prima donnas of the popular stage in Ruhleben). With a mischievous twinkle, the narrator continues, “Of course his suit was of a most nutty cut. It had been made in Ruhleben, therefore it was really exquisite” (Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 469).

Eager to hear Johnny’s “version of the Ruhleben “if,”” the narrator timidly addresses him, and is gratified to learn that if Johnny’s “Pater” hadn’t sent him to be educated in Germany, he would “be having an extraordinarily charming life riding round our park at home with my old school chums, y’know” (Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 470).

With his professionally-styled hair and his suit native to Ruhleben tailor shops, Johnny captivates the narrator—who, sadly, is doomed to lose his new upper-crust friend before he even reaches the parcel window. Seeing “Snippy” coming, Johnny scampers aristocratically out of the queue, leaving the narrator quizzical. “He’s a barber’s assistant,” Snippy reveals. “Used to work in a saloon I went to near the Strand” (Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 472).

This satirical parable takes swipes at pretensions across the board: peacock’s feathers are too easily borrowed from a superficial elite, and command extravagant deference from gulls like the narrator, but woe betide those who put on airs, which the least brush with outside reality can dispel.

Yet it remains true that the blank Ruhleben slate allowed internees to reinvent themselves, to play the part they wanted. In this “little secret history” we see that some men—like those “Frivolity” beauties who found greater freedom in Ruhleben than outside*—could use this strange, raw society to move fluidly across the rigid divisions and hierarchies of post-Victorian Britain.

* See Alon Rachamimov’s insightful essay on cross-dressing in POW camps, cited below.

Bibliography & Further Reading

Ketchum, J. Davidson. Ruhleben: A Prison Camp Society. With a Foreword and Postscript by Robert B. MacLeod. Canada: University of Toronto Press, 1965. Foreword (Ithaca, NY, April 1964)

Rachamimov, Alon. “The disruptive comforts of drag: (Trans) gender performances among prisoners of war in Russia, 1914–1920.” The American Historical Review 111.2 (2006): 362-382.

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.

In Ruhleben Camp: 101 years of Ruhleben history

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.

Horsebox in a Ruhleben Internment Camp Barrack, pencil sketch. Maurice Ettinghausen Collection, Special & Historical Collections, HLSL. VIA record olvwork427944

Horsebox in a Ruhleben Internment Camp Barrack, pencil sketch. Maurice Ettinghausen Collection, Special & Historical Collections, HLSL. VIA record olvwork427944

 

Barrack model (three views). Maurice Ettinghausen Collection, Special & Historical Collections, HLSL. VIA record olvwork483923

Barrack model (three views). Maurice Ettinghausen Collection, Special & Historical Collections, HLSL. VIA record olvwork483923

Today I would like to pause our investigations into In Ruhleben Camp to commemorate the beginning of civilian internment at Ruhleben. Most of the 4,000-some British civilian internees arrived at the camp 101 years ago today, on November 6, 1914.

Four years and two days later, on November 8, 1918, the German guards signed a declaration of brotherhood with the internees at Ruhleben, and hoisted a red flag over the camp before releasing their prisoners (Stibbe, p. 16).

To honor the civilians who arrived at Ruhleben 101 years ago, I would like to share the Ruhleben Alphabet, a song written between Christmas 1914 and the opening of the playing field in March 1915 (as the internee J.D. Ketchum deduces) (Ketchum, p. 99). This span of time was a low point in the experience of internees, and although conditions eventually improved, and fatality at Ruhleben was low overall, these men had to muster great courage and fortitude to keep their spirits up. The strain and their plucky response both show in the Ruhleben chant: “Are we downhearted? No!”

A is for all of us locked up in here,
B is for the Bastards who won’t give us beer,
C is for the Canteen you never get near,
D for the dust-heaps—they don’t smell, no fear!
E for Exchange* that you hear of each day
F for the Football they won’t let us play,
G for “Gott mit uns,” at least so they say,
H for the Hope that we’ll get out some day.
I for the Ikeys, all Englishmen true,
J for the Jails that the British go to;
K for the Kaiser and all of his set,
L for the Licking we hope they will get,
M for the March, and it is a damned bore,
N for the News we don’t get of the war;
O for the Odours that come from the bogs*
P for the Pork in the soup, fit for hogs,
Q for the Queues in the mud and the cold,
R for the Rumours a hundred times told.
S for the Skilly they feed us again,*
T for the Trucks that we look for in vain;
U stands for Eunuchs we might as well be,
V the vexation on tasting the tea.
W the Wash in the morning so cold,
X for the Xmas well spent, we are told;
Y is an Englishman kept like a dog?
Z is the shape you assume on the bog.
This is the end of the Ruhleben song;
We’ll sing it in England before very long.

* Exchange refers to the hoped-for exchange of prisoners with Germany, which Britain decided was not in its interest, given that it had detained over five times as many enemy civilians as Germany. Around 20,000 people were held at Knockaloe in the Isle of Man alone.
* The bog refers to a latrine; the two latrines were on either side of the camp and were the only things in the camp named after Berlin geography: they were called Charlottenburg and Spandau.
* Skilly is a kind of thin soup or gruel. In late November of 1914, a “Skilly Riot” broke out when a group of sailors staged a spontaneous demonstration against the poor quality of the soup fed them by the corrupt kitchen manager. The authorities ended the riot “by the simple method of sounding “Fire,” and once we were in our places we were kept there” (a diary entry by one Henley, quoted in Ketchum, p. 19).

Bibliography & Further Reading

Ketchum, J. Davidson. Ruhleben: A Prison Camp Society. With a Foreword and Postscript by Robert B. MacLeod. Canada: University of Toronto Press, 1965. Foreword (Ithaca, NY, April 1964)

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.

In Ruhleben Camp: “Home Rule”

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, No. 8, Sept 1915. Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 447

Cover. In Ruhleben Camp, No. 8, Sept 1915. Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 447

After the dramatic (in many senses) feuds of August and September, issue no. 8 of In Ruhleben Camp, released in late September, urged internees to band together as the iron hand of winter fell once more over the camp.

The Ruhleben Dramatic Society was still on strike, but by the end of September, dropping mercury outside and momentous internal changes made cooperation crucial for the camp’s welfare. The German military authorities had just granted “Home Rule,” solidifying the autonomy internees had accrued since the American Ambassador’s first visit in March of 1915. Internees would finally be “placed under the immediate control of our own officials” rather than “the Military Authorities,” as the magazine’s editors explain in a tone of cautious celebration. But for the camp to sustain its new “civil authority,” the editors warn, internees must embrace the ever-vilified Camp Captains as indeed “our own,” not allowing “differences of opinion” to paralyze daily administration (Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 457). (What this meant for the striking R.D.S. is unclear).

Who were the Captains and what magic potion would transform them to respected representatives, from their image as pampered pawns pandering to German officers? Stories about the rise of the Captains’ Committee are tinctured with bias, and in Ruhleben’s hothouse of rumors, the truth seems lost to misty legend. However, most tellers agree that the Captains were originally interpreters.

The historian Matthew Stibbe asserts that choosing barrack interpreters was among the first acts of Baron von Taube, the well-liked Lageroffizier (Camp Officer) and deputy to the camp commander. The interpreters doubled as captains, and the Baron hoped their bilingualism would win trust on both sides of the barbed wire (Stibbe, p. 58).

The former internee J.D. Ketchum gives a more sardonic account, recalling the chaos of the early days of internment. On November 8, 1914, two days after mass internment, Ketchum remembers the Baron addressing each barrack on “prison decorum.” When the Baron asked for interpreters, “from each stable-company someone who spoke German either volunteered or was pushed forward by others. This was the modest beginning of the Captains’ Committee, which became in a year the all-powerful government of the camp” (Ketchum, p. 25). As Ketchum tells it, the change was sudden and obscure: by November 13th, this hodgepodge of men was holding meetings, addressing needs in the camp, and assembling a civilian police force. They were now “mysteriously styled “captains”” (Ketchum, p. 26).

Where Ketchum sees the seeds of organization sown half-accidentally, an anonymous piece in issue no. 8 of the magazine, titled “How the Camp Is Run,” asserts that each barrack had “elected a Captain to act as…intermediary between the Barrack and the Military Authorities” (Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 490). The author goes on to defend the Captains, but many readers would have taken the word “elected” as more euphemistic than accurate.

When “Home Rule” was granted, current captains were not compelled to run for re-election unless barrack members presented alternative candidates. According to the magazine, none did. As a result, this quasi-autocratic system transformed overnight into representative democracy. While this passive acceptance of the Captains may have been “a surprise to many,” as the editors coyly remark, it appeared that “the Camp as a whole has expressed itself satisfied with that body.”

Thus, despite widening social and economic rifts in the camp—to which we will turn next—the editors insist that to maintain independence, the “necessity for the Camp to pull together is greater than ever” (Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 457).

Bibliography & Further Reading

Ketchum, J. Davidson. Ruhleben: A Prison Camp Society. With a Foreword and Postscript by Robert B. MacLeod. Canada: University of Toronto Press, 1965. Foreword (Ithaca, NY, April 1964)

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.

852 RARE: MASS(achusetts) Incarceration During the Nineteenth Century

Recently, an intriguing folder containing six broadsides came to light in Historical & Special Collections. These are very different from our largest collection of broadsides, which are English trial and execution broadsides (sometimes referred to as “dying speeches”) printed for popular consumption.

1827 & 1828

These are single sheet Annual report[s] of the convicts in the Massachusetts State Prison their employment, &c., with a correct view of the expenses and income of the Institution … for the years 1823-1828 and it turns out they’re very rare. According to WorldCat only the American Antiquarian Society and the Massachusetts Historical Society have some of the issues. For those whose libraries subscribe to Readex’s “America’s Historical Imprints”, five of the reports are available digitally as part of “American Broadsides and Ephemera, Series 1”.

The state prison, located in the Charlestown section of Boston was built in 1805. With the completion of the Massachusetts Correctional Institution in Concord, in 1878, the prison population of the Charlestown prison declined. Among its later and better known inmates were Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, executed there in August 1927.

1825 close up

Detail of the 1825 report

The reports, signed by wardens Gamaliel Bradford (1823) and Thomas Harris (1824-1828), are statistical in nature and models of succinctness. While at first glance they may seem a bit dry, one can glean a great deal of information from them, including all of the prison’s expenses and income; the crimes for which inmates were imprisoned, ages, and lengths of sentences; and their prison employment. During this many period prisoners were engaged in cutting and transporting stone, working in the prison hospital, and picking oakum. Others were let out to contractors as cabinet and brush makers, as well as other skilled labor. The north wing built in 1828, was probably the “new prison” referred to in the reports starting in 1826 when 26 of the 313 current prisoners were working on its construction.

1827 close up

Detail of the 1827 report

Penciled notes on the Library’s copies of these broadsides provide some evidence of their provenance, and the piecemeal fashion in which they were acquired. The 1823 issue was a gift to the Harvard College Library from “Arthur G. Sedgwick of Cambridge” in November 1875–most likely the lawyer and writer who graduated Harvard College in 1864 and earned his LL.B. at the Law School in 1866. Sedgwick moved to New York City in 1875 to continue practicing law after several years in Boston. Perhaps his donation to the College was the result of office-cleaning in preparation for his move?

The back of the 1824 issue bears the signature of “Hon. Levi Thaxter.”

This may be lawyer Levi Lincoln Thaxter (Harvard College 1843, Harvard Law School 1845) who was married to poet and writer Celia Thaxter. “Gratis” is penciled on the front, so it was evidently a gift, but it is unclear from whom.

52256954 Sanborn

Harvard University – Harvard University Archives / Class Album. Class of 1855. HUD 255.704.1, Harvard University Archives

The 1825 and 1826 annual reports were also gifts, in 1865, of Frank B. Sanborn, Harvard College 1855. Here he is pictured in his Class album (HOLLIS 7505074).

The source of the 1827 and 1828 issues remains a mystery. A penciled note reads simply “no date of reception.” All six were transferred from the College Library to the Law School Library in June 1924, possibly in a batch described in the Law Library’s accession book as merely “Miscellaneous material”. These broadsides and their miscellaneous collection of facts and figures offer an intriguing glimpse into the state of Massachusetts prisons in the early nineteenth century. We are thankful to the Harvard College alumni who thought to give these interesting documents to their alma mater and to the library professionals who over the years have sought to preserve them. And given recent interest and concern about prisons and mass incarceration, both nationally and locally, these nearly 200 year old reports are an especially timely find.