The Island of Extraordinary Captives: A Painter, a Poet, an Heiress, and a Spy in a World War II British Internment Camp (Hardcover)
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The remarkable untold story of a Jewish orphan who fled Nazi Germany for London, only to be arrested there by the British government and sent to an internment camp for suspected foreign agents on the Isle of Man, alongside a renowned group of refugee musicians, intellectuals, artists, and—possibly—genuine spies.
Following the events of Kristallnacht in 1938, Peter Fleischmann evaded the Gestapo’s midnight roundups in Berlin by way of a perilous journey to England via the Kindertransport train. But he could not escape the British police, who came for him in the early hours and shipped him off to Hutchinson Camp on the Isle of Man, under suspicion of being a spy for the very regime he had fled.
Peter’s story was no isolated incident. During Hitler’s rise to power in the 1930s, tens of thousands of German and Austrian Jews escaped and found refuge in Britain. Once war broke out in 1939, the nation turned against them, fearing that Nazis had planted spies posing as refugees. Innocent asylum seekers thus were labeled “enemy aliens” and ultimately sentenced to an indefinite period of internment.
When Peter arrived at Hutchinson Camp, he found one of history’s most astounding prison populations: renowned professors, composers, journalists, and artists. Together, they created a thriving cultural community, complete with art exhibitions, lectures, musical performances, and poetry readings. The artists welcomed Peter as their pupil and forever changed the course of his life. Meanwhile, suspicions grew that a real spy was hiding among them—one connected to a vivacious heiress from Peter’s past.
Drawing from unpublished first-person accounts and newly declassified documents from the British government, award-winning journalist Simon Parkin tells the story of this unlikely group of internees. The Island of Extraordinary Captives brings history to life in vivid detail, revealing the hidden truth of Britain’s grave wartime mistake and showcasing how hope and creativity can flourish in even the darkest of circumstances.
About the Author
Simon Parkin is an award-winning British journalist and author. A contributing writer for The New Yorker, he has also written for The Guardian, The Observer, The New York Times, Harper’s Magazine, New Statesmen, the BBC, and other publications. He is the author of two prior books of nonfiction, A Game of Birds and Wolves and Death by Video Game, and his work has been featured in The Best American Nonrequired Reading. He was named a finalist in the Foreign Press Association Media Awards and is the recipient of two awards from the Society of Professional Journalists. Parkin lives in West Sussex, England.
"Vivid history. . . . Character-driven and carefully researched, this is an engrossing look at a less-remembered aspect of WWII." —Publishers Weekly
“Drawing on copious unpublished and archival material, British journalist Parkin has produced a richly detailed history of the internment of thousands of men and women because of their German or Austrian ancestry. . . . A vivid recounting of a shameful event that still resonates.” —Kirkus Reviews
Praise from the UK for Island of Extraordinary Captives
“Parkin [has an] inimitable capacity to find the human pulse in the underbelly of Britain’s war. . . . The Island of Extraordinary Captives is multi-layered . . . a reminder that conflict has always been a convenient mask behind which thuggery and xenophobia thrive. Yet, despite the stark injustice it describes, it is a curiously exhilarating read: an example of how individuals can find joy and meaning in the absurd and mundane.” —The Spectator
“Extraordinary yet previously untold true story . . . meticulously researched . . . it’s also taut, compelling, and impossible to put down.” —Daily Express
“The wealth of primary sources through which Parkin has trawled fill its pages with life; his enthusiasm for his subject fills it with affection. The reader is left with a powerful sense of [internee Hellmuth] Weissenborn's verdict on Hutchinson: to turn a prison camp into a university ‘was a miracle of the human will to live and to work.’” —The Times
“Meticulously researched.” —Literary Review
“Powerful. . . . vivid and moving. . . . spotlights a sorry aspect of Britain's war which deserves to be better known.” —Sir Max Hastings, The Sunday Times
“Compelling. . . . Parkin has unearthed a small and riveting chunk of wartime history, easily overlooked.” —Anne de Courcy, The Telegraph
“By shining a light upon the government's decision to intern the innocent, Simon Parkin's eye-opening, insightful and brilliantly written book serves as a timely reminder of the dangers of populism.” —Daily Mirror
"The story of how art and intellect triumphed in Britain’s bleak internment camps for ‘enemy aliens’ on the Isle of Man. . . . excellent. . . . Parkin has told his story with energy and flair. . . . a powerful tribute to the wartime internees, and a timely reminder of how much Britain gained from their presence." —The Guardian
"Parkin’s rich and vivid account makes clear just how much the displaced artists did suffer, and the remarkable resilience and creativity with which they respond." —The Observer
"Clear-eyed and compelling. . . . Parkin recreates the texture of camp life with marvellous specificity. . . . Indeed, Parkin’s account glitters with strange incidents—and even stranger personalities. . . . Parkin doesn’t pull his punches when examining the ghastly saga of internment. As his afterword notes, the same corrosive paranoia and xenophobia flickers through today’s debates." —The Critic
"Parkin deserve[s] praise for shining such revealing light on that forgotten history." —Irish Times