WARTIME CORRESPONDENCE BETWEEN RAMSEY INTERNMENT CAMP AND THE AHNENERBE OF THE SS IN BERLIN
Many interesting and often bizarre stories have over the years emerged from life in the Island's internment camps during the Second World War. Perhaps one of the more bizarre tells of a German internee, an academic, whose letters were able to get through the British censors in Liverpool to the SS in Berlin!
Recently a colleague and friend of mine at the University of Tübingen, Dr Gerd Simon, turned up correspondence in SS files at the Berlin Document Centre (BDC), a main repository for documents from the Third Reich, making clear that point. The correspondence concerns a certain Dr Bruno Kress who was evidently working on an Icelandic grammar in Iceland when, along with other German nationals there at the same time, he was rounded up by the Americans after they landed in Iceland in 1940. For his work as a scholar Kress was in receipt of funding from the Ahnenerbe ('heritage of the forefathers'), the academic department of the SS, set up in 1935 by Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler along with two others with a view to employing legitimate academics who could serve the interests of the state in intelligence-gathering. So far as is known, the Icelandic authorities as well as the Americans were unaware of Kress's undercover work, and his arrest as an "enemy alien" would simply be just that. He was apparently taken to England and passed through several camps before ending up in Ramsey.
Two letters concerning Kress have turned up in Berlin (BDC - Ahnenerbe: File "Kress"). The first tells of how he is getting on at the Ramsey camp, that he has been able to make great strides towards completing his grammar, but that he lacks a special typewriter with Icelandic characters. The British/Manx authorities seemingly do not have one to loan him, so Dr Kress tries his luck with his former SS employers.
The second comes from Wolfram Sievers, the general manager of the Ahnen-erbe, which makes clear that Kress's letter got through the censors; in all probability it contained a simple address that would not arouse suspicion. In his letter Sievers regrets he cannot supply the sort of typewriter he wants, and in any case doubts whether the British authorities would let it through to him. It is not clear whether Kress in fact received Sievers' reply, as we only have the SS copy. But, unless the British were aware of who Sievers was, there is no reason why the letter should not have got through. The possibility that Kress was involved in undercover activity for the SS in Ramsey cannot be ruled out.
Dr Kress's Grammar of Icelandic was eventually published - not by the Nazis, but by the Communist authorites in East Germany in1955. Dr. Kress later worked for the East German Staatssicherheitsdienst (Stasi). The letters appear here in translation.
1. Letter from Dr Kress to the Ahnenerbe (with paragraphing to facilitate reading)
76 804 Ramsey,
17 July 1942
Camp L, c/o Chief Postal Censor Isle of Man
In view of the fact that your work has perhaps stopped for the duration of the war, and that I have been an internee in England now for two years, nevertheless I would like to keep in touch, even though there is not much practical point in it. It would please me very much, however, if my letter reaches you, and if you could write me a few lines of confirmation.
I have been in all sorts of camps, and whenever it was somehow possible I have continued with my work on a grammar of Icelandic. At present I am so far on that it would not take long now to put the finishing touches to it. But that is not possible due to the scarcity of materials to help me and my isolation from the living language [Icelandic].
On the other hand the enforced leisure of being an internee has given me the chance to examine everything from the examples of the written language down to the last detail. In this way I hope I can show something for my efforts when the war is over.
I give lessons to some of my comrades deported from Iceland along with myself. I use my manuscript for this purpose, thereby enriching it in quite a few details. Unfortunately I do not possess a typewriter containing Icelandic characters, as it would be most desirable to have several complete copies [of my ms.]. I could deposit one of them with the Red Cross, another possibly with the family I was staying with in Reykjavík where part of it already is. This part I had already finished writing up at the time of my arrest.
My present camp [Ramsey] is bearable; here I can at least work during the summer. These letters are limited to 24 lines.
With regards and best wishes. Kress.
2. Letter from the Ahnenerbe to Dr Kress.
E/11/k 16 S 1.
19 August 1942
Mr Bruno Kress
Camp L, c/o Chief Postal Censor
Dear Dr Kress,
We are extremely pleased to hear that you are still in the land of the living. Our work goes on uninterrupted and has in fact multiplied, so that we can also take the same interest as before in your Icelandic grammar. That you have succeeded, even in an internment camp, to devote yourself to your academic work, is of great value to us, and will alleviate your situation a little. I have sent your letter to Dr Schweizer who is now in Munich - no longer in Detmold; he will I am sure reply to it.
Unfortunately I am unable to send you a typewriter, as I scarcely believe that you would get it.
Our work here is making great progress in all spheres, to such an extent that when peace comes we will have a sound basis for yielding valuable results. That applies especially to the area of prehistory. But even in the sphere of linguistics new and interesting possibilities are emerging.
We heartily reciprocate your good wishes and greet you in the same regard.