• Popular University, Onchan 1940

    The hundreds of German-speaking men (mostly Jews) held at Kempton Park in May 1940, en route to the Isle of Man as internees, knew that this would probably not be a short period of captivity. A small group discussed how they might use the time, and in their conversations the Popular University was born. Once they were at Onchan Camp the idea grew and flourished.

    Herbert Sulzbach became a member of the organising committee for the University. It was from the poster outside his shared house, House 18, that men discovered the day's activities. In the autumn of 1940 one internee (a professor at the London School of Economics) calculated that there were thirty different courses and that six hundred students attended daily. On average over the previous few months every internee had attended more than sixty courses, which were tutored by the internees themselves.

    Onchan Camp held captive a large number of intellectuals, professional men and businessmen who had fled Nazi Germany. But they also discovered new talents in themselves through the University. The camp newspaper, The Onchan Pioneer, reported that,

    'A manufacturer of neck-ties is busy writing lyrics, a Viennese lawyer is found to be a really talented composer, a dress designer is writing and directing shows, a doctor excelled as a tenor.'

    The attached photo shows the day's classes on 8 August 1940. Sulzbach described the University courses, and also the cultural events that took place:

    'Languages, mathematics - everything was taught. The spirit of the activities was excellent. We always invited Captain Shaw, who was our camp officer, to events. He always attended, and we were very good friends. He was a very understanding man.'

    When Sulzbach was released from Onchan in October 1940, his friends held a party in his honour, gave him presents, and signed a tribute to him.

    'Our great friend Herbert Sulzbach has shown to 1500 internees in a time of great mental strain how one man with courage and initiative can help his fellow. By organising some of the most remarkable literary events in our internment camp and his cheerful personality he enabled us to carry our fate in a dignified way and to make our internment even a human inspiration to every one of us.'

    (photo: the Popular University programme for Thursday 8 August 1940, with subjects and house location)


Photo crop (passport)

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On my blog I write about biography, Anglo-German reconciliation, and the life of Herbert Sulzbach.


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