German anti-fascists as British POWs in Egypt

[German POWs in Egypt]. Typed letter signed by Jonni Behnke (British Zone), Richard Kettner (American Zone), Erich Schmalfuß (Soviet Zone), Wilhelm Prinz (French Zone), and Fritz Rothschu (Berlin Zone).

Middle East POW Camp 380 (Fanara, Fayed), 20. XII. 1946.

4to. 1 page. Signatures in ink and pencil.


Unique proclamatory letter by German anti-fascists eager to return home after British war imprisonment in Egypt. Signed by five German prisoners as representatives of the Allied Zones, including Willi Prinz (1909-73), who was repatriated in 1947 and served as president of Hamburg's Communist Party from 1949 to 1951, as well as Fritz Rothschu (1908-88) and Erich Schmalfuß (1905-92), both members of the resistance (the latter had testified in favour of Georgi Dimitrov in the 1933 Reichstag fire trial.

Prior to their capture by British military forces, all prisoners had served in the 999th Light Africa Division, a German penal military unit formed in Tunisia in early 1943. Labelled criminals by the Nazis, a significant proportion of the brigade's members had been transferred there for holding, or being perceived to hold, anti-Nazi ideas. That certainly is true for the authors of the present letter, who denounce German imperialism, accuse their superiors of "criminal objectives", and claim to have survived "dungeons and concentration camps, military terror and harsh war imprisonment in the desert" in order to fight for a "new Germany". Calling themselves "mortal enemies of fascism", the ex-soldiers call upon German authorities to overcome political differences and rebuild Germany as a Socialist state.

The POW camp in Fayed was one of ten such camps in the Canal Zone located in the Bitter Lake area between Suez and Ismailia. Over 50,000 men, mainly German, Austrian, Italian and Yugoslavs, were housed in these camps. They worked for the British Army on the construction of quarters, in the workshops repairing vehicles, tanks and airplanes, on road construction, and as drivers and orderlies throughout the Canal Zone. While repatriation began in 1946 with 6,000 men being shipped home, many remained in captivity until the end of 1948, as the local British authorities held the manpower of the POWs to be indispensable.

In excellent condition.