chapter  3
Life and work in post-war Britain: the migrants’ experience
Pages 55

The discrepancy between the reports given by those returning from Britain and the general living conditions of German POWs in Britain was so great that in 1948 the World Young Mens Christian Association (YMCA) commissioned an investigation. It was carried out at the Munster camp between 24 May and 9 July 1948 by a small team directed by Alexander Mitscherlich.2 They interviewed 660 POWs, 201 of whom were returning to Germany from Britain and concluded that the ambivalence displayed by the returnees, as well as ‘their arrogance, discontent and bitterness’, reflected mismanaged expectations rather than real grievances. In France and the Soviet Union, for example, prisoners had been under no illusions as to the treatment they could expect and the work they would be given. They had no expectations and were therefore not disappointed. ‘England, on the other hand, had always emphasised that it was fighting Germany on humanitarian grounds, it supposedly wished to make things better. […] In England, they wanted to politically re-educate the POWs, to turn them into democrats.’ All this raised expectations for some to a level that reality could not possibly live up to, since in reality there was much privation in the British camps in Belgium, there was a political screening process, undercurrents of anti-Semitism in Britain and the questionable objectives of a reeducation programme to name but a few. This meant that despite the relatively good

living conditions in Britain, or the ‘Golden Cage’ as some called it,3 some prisoners found an unbridgeable gulf between their expectations and reality. This explains the attitude of respondents in the Mitscherlich Report to questions like: ‘During your captivity, what caused you the most suffering?’ Sheepishly, more than a few had answered; ‘Yes, well actually we did not suffer at all, we were all well, I felt at home with the English family and was accepted there as if I were a son.’