“Shadow Library” in Oflag XXI B

One of the basic practices exercised to fight daily boredom during imprisonment was reading. Books were an important element of the prisoners’ life. The books were collected in camp libraries and lent among the prisoners.

Some books found their way into the camps through the prisoners themselves. Many soldiers had the books with them when they were captured. As long as the books hadn’t been confiscated by the enemy during capture or processing, the soldiers were free to keep them. The POWs supplemented these private collections with volumes sent by relatives or friends. Some books, however, were confiscated by the camp censors.

Another source of books for camp libraries were the Germans themselves, who supplied propaganda magazines written specifically for the prisoners. These magazines were not very popular in the camps. Sometimes prisoners could delegate one of them to purchase single volumes (most often in German) in private bookshops.

By far the most prolific source of books for camp libraries — quite often establishing the libraries — were the packages sent from abroad by relief organizations likethe Red Cross or the YMCA.

Some libraries with larger collections and more spacious accommodations would designate a part of their books to open access. The library at Oflag XXI B Schubin was one of such libraries; early in 1943, 400 of the 1600 books were readily accessible in the reading room.

The prisoners incarcerated in Oflag XXI B created an exceptional hidden library (ger. Schattenbibliothek – “Shadow Library”). It was a system of borrowing private books between prisoners. This scheme, it seems, allowed for circulation of books smuggled into the camp outside of the German censorship system. A special registry informed the prisoners as to who owned the desired volume. The exchange took place between the prisoners, without the official involvement of the camp library. It seems that Oflag XXI B was the only German prisoner of war camp in which a “Shadow Library” existed.

 

Illustration: pictorial photo.