The Accidental Captives

The Accidental Captives

The Story of Seven Women Alone in Nazi Germany

Book - 2011
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In April 1941, a passenger ship was attacked and sunk by Nazi Germans. This is the story of seven Canadian women survivors detained in Germany.

In April 1941, seven Canadian women became prisoners of war while on a voyage from New York City to Cape Town. Their aging Egyptian liner, the Zamzam , was sunk off the coast of South Africa by the German raider Atlantis . The passengers were transferred to a prison ship and eventually put ashore in Nazi-occupied France. As "non-aliens," all 140 Americans were released after five weeks in captivity, and with the help of the Life photographer in their midst,the news of their narrow escape became an overnight sensation.

The hapless Canadians were taken to Bordeaux and became part of a group of 28 women and children interned in various German detention camps. By a stroke of luck, the Canadians eventually received permission to travel to Berlin where they were left to fend for themselves and adapt to life among "the enemy." As prisoners-at-large, they established contacts with American journalists and diplomats, an elderly Jewish professor, and even with Nazi propagandist P.G. Wodehouse. Finally, in June 1942, an exchange was arranged and the Canadians were able to board a special diplomatic Freedom Train bound for Lisbon, and from there they got back across the Atlantic to New York and new-found freedom.

Publisher: Toronto, ON : Dundurn Press, c2011
ISBN: 9781459703629
Branch Call Number: 940.547243 GOS
Characteristics: 210 p

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r
readingchick
Sep 26, 2012

A very readable account of an event during WWII that is not very well known. The resiliency of the women involved is inspiring. Interesting to have a look at day to day Berlin during the war amid the allied bombing.

Cdnbookworm Sep 16, 2012

This is an interesting nugget of history I wasn't aware of until I heard of this book. The women were on an Egyptian ship bound for South Africa. On the ship were missionaries bound for Africa, women and children on their way to join their husbands, US tobacco farmers, and volunteer ambulance workers volunteering with the Free French army. This book concentrates on the Canadian women on board, and follows them from the beginning of the trip, through the bombing of the ship by Germans, the capturing of all those on board, their landing in occupied France, and their internment in Germany. Seven of the Canadian women went on to get permission to travel to Berlin to try to secure their release, and this book follows them through the months in Berlin and their trip home.
Using official documents, books published by a couple of the women, articles by a life journalist and photographer on board the ship, and family documents of the women, Gossage is able to piece together this amazing story. Four of the women had written down at least parts of their story, and these help us to see the reality of their lives through these difficult months. One of the four had two small children with her, and chose not to leave the internment home for the uncertainty of Berlin, a wise move in retrospect. The ones who did make it to Berlin showed adventure, stamina, and a sense of optimism that got them through, making friends with the locals, and finding lighter moments even in the midst of disappointment.
Well-researched, this book gives us a view into another part of history.

l
Liber_vermis
Jul 09, 2012

An interesting account of a long-forgotten incident that might have drawn the United States into declaring war over a year sooner. These Canadian women provide revealing information on the conditions within Germany and especially Berlin in the middle of World War 2. In a curious twist of fate the German captain of the "Atlantis" had Jewish heritage and a Scottish terrier dog; one of the Canadian women was Jewish and had to conceal her background while interned; and another female passenger on the "Zamzam", of suspicious British-cum-American citizenship, was accompanied by her German dachshund dog. This book proves that the truth is stranger than fiction!

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Liber_vermis
Jul 09, 2012

"The new dawn brought with it a perfect sunrise ...but ... through the arc of a perfect rainbow came whizzing those awful shells, with a screeching tearing noise and a blinding flare of light. One volley had passe clear over us ... Perhaps I wouldn't have realized [the bombardment] ... had not one of the tobacco men .. sprung from his hammock and with a low growl of 'Christ, they're shelling us!' leapt past me on the run. That gave me impetus and I followed into the companionway ..." (p. 24)

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