Divided nations

Old national stereotypes were magnified inside the camps. Almost every national group faced mockery and hatred from another. In his 1947 memoir, the French political prisoner David Rousset, who had been arrested as part of the French resistance in 1943, described conflicts between different national groups in the Neuengamme satellite camp Helmstedt-Beendorf.

059 – The French survivor David Rousset on tense prisoner relations

The xenophobia of the Russians was in fact a class xenophobia, different from all the others. The Poles hated the French and the Germans based on prejudice and “national” interests. The French, in general, despised everybody else because of the universal rationalism that was all their own, and who, consciously or unconsciously, created a very particular conception of what it meant to be a civilised man: in short that of a radical socialist. The Russians hated and despised under the weight of social opposition. Practically all the people of western Europe were in their eyes selfish bourgeois who received expensive packages but never shared the food or tobacco they contained.[…]

Poles hated the French and the Germans

Some weeks earlier, [the camp elder] Franz had decided to organize our dormitory, which was divided into two equal parts by barbed wire. On the left, by the entrance, slept the Germans, the French and the Poles. Each one of us had a straw mattress and a bed, which were fairly reasonable. The Russians, who were more numerous, were crowded two or three to a mattress, on the right, in filthy dens. They had been forbidden, on pain of twenty-five strokes with the whip, from entering our zone. The theft of packages was the justification for this measure. It deepened the hatred of the Russians against all the others […].

Source: David Rousset, Les Jours de Notre Mort (Paris, 1947), pp. 358–9

Translation: Jeff Porter