Arieh J. Kochavi. Confronting Captivity: Britain and the United States and Their POWs in Nazi Germany. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2005. 392 pp. $45.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8078-2940-0.
Reviewed by Vasilis Vourkoutiotis (Department of History, University of Ottawa)
Published on H-German (February, 2007)
Filling in the Diplomatic Gap
In this volume, Arieh J. Kochavi helps fill an important gap in the historiography dealing with prisoners of war during the Second World War. His book is carefully researched, makes full use of the pre-existing literature and is written in an accessible and engaging fashion. Its nine chapters are divided into four main parts: First, a section entitled "Facing the Challenge" (on Whitehall and British POWs, long captivities and Washington and American POWs), followed by a section on repatriation (dealing with the exchange of wounded and sick POWs and long-term POWs who were kept in captivity). A third section treats "The Final Stage of the War," with chapters on prisoner safety in collapsing Germany and forced marches, and the last section deals with those liberated by the Soviets and the government negotiations to free them. Detailed endnotes, a full bibliography and a useful index are also provided.
Within each section, Kochavi begins with a descriptive overview of the main issue under consideration, and then moves one to fleshing out the story with direct examples from the camps. Thus, in discussing "Mental Health" (pp. 53 ff), he offers the reader useful statistics concerning the total numbers of Anglo-American prisoners held as the war entered its fourth year before demonstrating the impact that the subsequent overcrowding of the German camps would have upon the medical stress the prisoners faced. Kochavi moves on to cite, by way of example, the views of the medical officers at Stalag Luft III (Sagan) in May 1944, from the Red Cross and Protecting Power reports. The net result of following this approach is that the reader is left not only with a dry survey, but also concrete examples of how the situation translated to on the ground. In offering such a succession of examples throughout the text, Kochavi successfully marries a traditional narrative policy study with social history.
Kochavi's main task throughout appears to be fleshing out the steps by which London and then Washington formulated their prisoner-of-war policies in the changing conditions of the war. Inter-, and intra-, governmental debates are explored and the study serves to illuminate dissensions between the wartime allies, as well as their areas of agreement. Kochavi's main conclusion is that pragmatic considerations, meaning reciprocity and threats of reprisal, ruled the day in dealing with National Socialist Germany. In this judgment, Kochavi stands with other authors who have written on the subject in the past decade, such as S.P. Mackenzie, Bob Moore, Jonathan Vance, and myself, all of whom Kochavi cites. Few surprises appear here in terms of the overall conclusion. What is new in this study, which makes it an essential complement to the growing body of literature in this field, is precisely his exploration of the American and British archives. This step enabled him to highlight in detail the evolution of these two governments' policies. Kochavi is able, for instance, to comment upon the tensions between the American and British governments over the issue of repatriations and the United States' initial reluctance to pursue the matter with the same intensity as the British, given the relatively fewer number of U.S. prisoners in German captivity when the issue was first raised. In addition to the value of the work to prisoner-of-war history, it also will serve as a useful case study on the intricacies of inter-Allied diplomacy during the Second World War.
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Vasilis Vourkoutiotis. Review of Kochavi, Arieh J., Confronting Captivity: Britain and the United States and Their POWs in Nazi Germany.
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