French prisoners of war

Französische Kriegsgefangene.jpg


This photograph captures a rare encounter between colonial prisoners of war and the German public. A group of prisoners of war are escorted by German soldiers through the streets of Zossen-Wünsdorf, a small city close to Berlin. Passers-by are watching, interrupting their daily activities, curious about the unfamiliar appearance of these prisoners. The prisoners probably came from the French colonies in North Africa. Some Sikhs are also present among the prisoners, which means that the title of the postcard is not entirely accurate.


During World War One, several propaganda camps existed all over the Reich. Two of the most important camps were located in two small towns to the south of Berlin, Zossen and Wünsdorf. In Wünsdorf, the Halbmondlager (Halfmoon camp) was erected for Muslim prisoners of war from North Africa and for prisoners of multiple faiths from India. In the Weinberglager in Zossen, you would find mainly Muslim prisoners from Central Asia.
Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims, and others were imprisoned in special camps in order to motivate them to defect and fight for the liberation of their homelands - against the British, the Russians, or the French. Of course, encounters with the civilians were rare but possible. They could have occurred when the prisoners had to march from the train station to the camp or when they were put on work detail, for example in agriculture. At this time, German citizens would not have been accustomed to seeing people of colour on the streets. In a period when racism and chauvinism abounded, when caricature images of people considered as 'the other' appeared in newspapers, such encounters with them caused a sensation. Parading them on the streets gave citizens an opportunity to stare at them.