How Sheffield was home to the Nazi elite

It was home to Hitler's successors, the holding place of thousands of prisoners of war and the breeding ground for a Nazi uprising.

Sheffield's Lodge Moor POW camp was key to Britain's war effort, as Rachael Clegg reports.

LODGE Moor, Sheffield - rugged landscape, panoramic views and a sought-after postcode.

But wander through the woods and its history is still tangible.

Here, huge slabs of concrete mark the foundations of what was Sheffield's only POW camp - known as both Lodge Moor and Redmires - where thousands of men were imprisoned as the military determined the long-term location for enemy soldiers.

Bob Moore, professor of 20th-century European History at The University of Sheffield, said: "Lodge Moor was a holding prison - it was a transit camp. But it had a pre-war and post-war history.

"There were thousands of POWs across the country. If you add up the numbers of POWs in Britain in World War Two it amounts to almost one million men. It could be argued it was the most common experience in the European theatre if you include all the surrendered Axis soldiers in 1943 Italy and 1945 Germany."

By October 1944, boats packed with POWs were landing on Britain's south east shores on a daily basis. Enemy soldiers were herded on to trains as part of their journey to camps such as Lodge Moor.

When prisoners arrived at the camp they were interrogated by the Prisoner-of-War Interrogation Section, which categorised prisoners according to the strength of their belief in National Socialism.Fervent believers were deemed 'black', non believers 'white' and those in the middle - the majority - were categorised as 'grey'.

At Lodge Moor, according to historian Charles Whiting in his book The Great German Escape, some 'black' POWs joined others in plotting to escape and help sabotage the Allied war effort.

POWs at Lodge Moor had already started tunnelling, doing the majority of their digging while the guards thought they were asleep.

The Lodge Moor 'blacks' were led by a man called Feldwebel Schmittendorf and Corporal Armin Kuehne, whom the POWs referred to as 'Doktor Goebbels' because of his sharp tongue and random pro-National Socialist outbursts about the Fuhrer.

And while the prospect of being a POW seems grim, being a prisoner in the UK was a much better option than being out in battle.

"They didn't face real danger in the camps," says Bob. "They were fed well and reasonably cared for.

"The German troops were also educated, because part of the prison system was to democratise the Germans. For many Germans, the only education they had received in Germany related to Nazism and warfare."

Rules as to how prisoners were treated were strict. The Geneva Convention of 1929 stated POWs may be used for labour on condition such work did not benefit the British war effort. POWs were not allowed to work in factories, as these were likely to be bombed.

But sleeping conditions were often rough. Whiting writes that Lodge Moor's "battered Nissen huts were full and by the summer of 1944 the prisoners had been forced to sleep in tents". But, as September was so wet, many prisoners slept in the bare mud.

But it wasn't just during World War Two that Lodge Moor held Germans captive.

In the First World War the site detained the later Admiral Karl Doenitz, head of the navy, and the man who took over the Third Reich after Hitler committed suicide.

Prof Moore says: "He was in Sheffield about six weeks - I don't know exactly how long but something like that.

"But he came here so late, World War One was over almost as he arrived.

And most POWs were sent home pretty rapidly British prisoners were being sent home from Germany looking emaciated, starving and in some cases people actually died from starvation.

"I suspect the authorities actually hung on to German prisoners, who were reasonably well-fed and looked after, so there would have been a public reaction against them.

"The juxtaposition of well-fed German POWs with images in The Daily Mail of emaciated skeletons coming back from Germany would not have been good PR," he added.

Doenitz was the captain of a U-boat, which might have opened him to prosecution as a war criminal, an outcome he did not want to be sentenced for. Consequently, he feigned mental illness.

"What he appears to have done is to start behaving quite strangely in order to appear as a psychologically-deranged person in order to get shipped home sooner, which is why he got transported to Wythenshawe Hospital in Manchester."

An extract from Doenitz's memoirs supports the theory: "I did not wish to improve my poor state of health but rather exploit it so I can be set free on medical grounds."

Lodge Moor was pressed back into service when POWs were brought to the UK in 1941.

There were also hundreds of Italian POWs held at Lodge Moor, many of whom became integrated into Sheffield life.

"You come across Sheffield people who remember 'the Italian POWs', as many of the prisoners worked on farms and had more freedom than their German counterparts," adds Prof Moore.

"The Italians, like their stereotype, were deemed as being laid-back and of low risk."

Many Italians were brought into contact with the community, as work expanded from farming. To some, Sheffield became home, while for others Lodge Moor was transitory imprisonment.

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