John Lawton is the author of 1963, a social and political history of the Kennedy-Macmillan years, six thrillers in the
From a Q & A at his publisher's website:
SECOND VIOLIN, THE SIXTH INSTALLMENT IN YOUR INSPECTOR TROY SERIES, IS A PAN-EUROPEAN STORY OF THE BUILD UP TO WWII. IT COMBINES SADNESS WITH HUMOR AS IT PORTRAYS A TIME WHEN THE BRITISH INTERNED THOUSANDS OF EUROPEANS. WHAT LED YOU TO DEPICT THE FATE OF THE VICTIMS DURING WWII IN THIS WAY?Read the complete Q & A.
It's what happened. It was an insane moment in history: a fear at the highest level after the fall of France that we'd be taken over by some secret 5th column that the Nazis might have in place. It was nonsense. We locked up a few Nazis, but also an awful lot of people who would eventually help win the war, and a lot of people who'd survived camps in Germany. It was crass and thoughtless, but it wasn't entirely harsh.
It was also arbitrary. We locked up Herman Bondi—one the most gifted nuclear physicists of the 20th century; we didn't lock up my publisher George Weidenfeld who spent the war at the BBC making propaganda broadcasts with George Orwell. (It was Orwell who remarked how difficult it was to get an Italian meal in Soho after we locked up all the chefs.)
I think Lord Weidenfeld is in part standing behind all my Jewish Mittel-European immigrants – they all grew out of odd conversations with him. He certainly gave me the idea of starting the book in Vienna and bringing a refugee to England. But then I thought of Freud and the way he left Vienna and made it two refugees.
The upside to this is that while London, Coventry and Plymouth were heavily bombed during the Blitz, the Isle of Man was just about the safest place to be. But, and there's always a but, the British then decided to ship internees to Canada and Australia, only to be sunk by U-boats en route.
There's a heavy-handed comparison that could be made with Guantanamo, but nobody was water-boarded (good God even the wording makes it sound like sport rather than torture). But, internment without due process is where democracy lies down and dies. It's one of the odder pages in British history.