In some parts of the country there have been protests because of the recent decision of the Government to allow the German prisoners of war still in this country more freedom of movement. Within a limited radius of their camps they can use our civilian transport, walk about the streets, enter libraries, shops and cinema, so far as the Government is concerned. In one area, however, a cinema chain has decided not to admit the Germans because it has been stated, regular patrons objected. In Worcester, the conductor of a bus ordered a German prisoner off. The company has since stated that in doing so he was disobeying instructions.
In the Evesham Vale we have quite a lot of German prisoners working on the farms and horticultural holdings, and they are to be seen in the town of an evening. The people of this district have not shown any resentment, and the prisoners are allowed to visit the cinemas, etc. They have even been invited to attend a meeting of the Borough Council. It seems to be generally agreed that they have behaved well. In particular, those who have availed themselves of German labour are ready to acknowledge that it has proved valuable and that the Germans are good workers. Perhaps that is the principal reason why there has been no outcry in this district because a modest degree of freedom has been accorded to them. This broadmindedness, or common sense, does not amount to any misguided sentimentalism, but it does mean a refusal to identify every individual German with the crimes committed by Germany as a nation and by the Nazi regime against Germans themselves as well as against other peoples; and it is easier to take a rational attitude towards individual Germans when direct contact with them provides evidence that they are doing useful jobs in – considering the circumstances – a willing way.
The circumstances, in fact, are decidedly relevant. It is more than two years since the end of hostilities in Europe; and, although technically we have a right to retain the prisoners of war because the peace treaty has not yet been signed, we can hardly avoid some qualms of conscience since in fact, if not in theory, the war has long been over. The argument that if Nazi Germany had won it would have done much worse things is not really relevant because it is we who won and we have to frame our own standards, not to imitate standards that we condemn. We have kept the Germans here, at any rate, primarily for our own convenience, and we are well aware that without them in the past two summers the farmers would have had an almost impossible task owing to the shortage of labour. In these circumstances, so long as they behave with discretion, the German prisoners would seem to be entitled to some compensations for their enforced stay in the country two years after Germany’s surrender. Many of the younger ones, moreover, had until they were captured, no knowledge of any other than the Nazi regime and their mental outlook had been conditioned by Nazi propaganda. Disillusionment they had, not doubt, already suffered, but disillusionment by itself only produces cynicism. The opportunity to see something of the free British way of life is a more positive education. Although the people of Evesham and district may not have expressly formulated these reasons for their tolerant attitude, they have in practice reached the conclusion that tolerance is warranted.