Fostering Hope and Community in an Internment Camp
On Friday, the 25th of September, 1942, Hilda Haworth, her husband Walter, and many others left the English Channel island Guernsey for Germany. The diary details life in the camp for a little over a year, and was immensely fascinating to read through. While I knew that the Nazis had set up internment camps for various populations during the war, I had never encountered the story of the Guernsey, which is located off the coast of Normandy, France and was surprised to find that the Germans actually brought many Guernsey residents to camps in Germany.
Hilda Haworth’s entries speak of experiences and conditions one might expect from life in an internment camp, like the separation from family members, the terrible food and poor housing accommodations. Particularly heart wrenching was her discussion of the couple’s children who had been evacuated to Britain. This separation was a consistent source of worry for the Haworthes, especially when their son got hospitalized. Waiting for news from their children was unbearable, but often fellow inmates who received news and pictures from their own children would share with the other parents. This sense of community and hope in the face of such despair was striking.
Even in the midst of such terrible hardship, the Hilda Haworth and those around her found ways to have fun. For example, at Christmas "people [were] very busy making decorations out of paper wrappers and other trifles... Toys [were] also being made out of practically nothing and there are wonderful displays all over the camp." (page 7) The camp organized various sports matches, and at one point even had men play against women with both teams dressed as the opposite gender. Perhaps the most entertaining moment was when Walter Haworth donned an old bonnet and dressed up, becoming known as "grandma" to the children of the camp. One of the women dressed up as a man, and the pair of "grandparents" became a huge source of amusement for the camp. (page 16)
The hope and joy that the community was able to foster in this camp was quite inspirational. After doing a bit more research, I found that unfortunately the camp was not liberated until sometime in 1945, a couple of years after the end of the diary entries. I can only hope that Hilda and Walter Haworth were able to continue to find some of the light amidst the dark.
Katherine Thurlow is a graduate student in the Department of History and a 2013-2014 Archives Apprentice in the Special Collections Research Center, Swem Library.