• religion in PoW camps

    As the Second World War ended, German PoW in most camps in Britain showed an increased interest in religion. The Church appeared to be the only institution left in their shattered world to offer any hope of security, but when that promise failed to materialise their interest in religion waned.

    This upsurge in religion was not seen in camps with a strong re-educational focus. There, prisoners faced the future rationally and looked for different ways to solve their problems. As PoW at Featherstone Park wrote in their camp newspaper in October 1946,

    'Innumerable decent Germans broke down when their Fatherland collapsed. They want nothing to do with the Christian Church. In their view Christianity, as practised in the world today, is dishonest and hypocritical. It does not mean that these men reject the Christian ethic as such; but they doubt very much whether it can be realised.'

    At about this time a new Commandant took charge of their camp. He shared the religious outlook of many of his fellow-Commandants in other camps, which was that as the Nazi was an anti-Christ, religion could be a means of eradicating National Socialism. Many of these Commandants allocated an individual hut to a priest and supported the building of a chapel.

    At Featherstone Park, the new Commandant asked one of the PoW, who was an architect, to design a chapel from a Nissen hut. The finished design echoed that of a Bavarian timber church and work began on the building. Woodwork was carried out by some of the prisoners, the smithy in the camp provided the wrought iron, and other PoW worked as bricklayers, painters and decorators.

    War-time difficulties in finding building materials, together with the severe weather of the winter of 1946/47 in the north of England, delayed completion - but the chapel was finally ready for consecration on 21 April 1947. Herbert Sulzbach enjoyed the afternoon event.

    'The chapel is superb – but useless. It is only the Commandant's show-piece. The Bishop of Newcastle was here, as well as local clergy and civilians from Newcastle. We were twenty for lunch and thirty for tea!'

    (photo: the chapel at Featherstone Park PoW camp)


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