24 March 2014

Friendly Foe: The Letters of Leo Schnitter, a German POW in England

In 1993 Martin Parsons was given a file of letters that had been found in a desk bought by a colleague at an auction in Norwich. These letters had not seen the light of day for over 40 years. The letters, spanning a period of 1946 to 1950, were from a German ex-prisoner of war, Leo Schnitter, to the Reverend LHM Smith of South Creake in Norfolk, England.

The Reverend Smith had befriended Leo Schnitter while he was a POW at a camp at Shipdham in Norfolk. Leo was repatriated in 1946, before the British Government agreed to allow POWs to stay in the UK after release, as long as they had work. Leo's family had been forced out of Czechoslovakia, and were living in the Russian Zone of eastern Germany. He remained there until escaping to the British Zone in 1950, eventually settling in Mannheim.

The book consists of the letters written by Leo after he returned to Germany. In this, the title is rather misleading, as the letters are actually from a 'former German POW'. They detail the experiences of his family, and their daily struggle to survive in a devastated Germany, facing shortages of food, clothing, restricted travel, and few opportunities. Many of the letters are requesting help from the Reverend, to supply items lacking in Germany. While interesting, the contents are somewhat repetitive, as often letters were delayed or lost, and this meant that a second letter would be sent - all letters received from Leo are included.

The Reverend repeatedly tried to find a way for Leo to return to England, to escape from the Russian Zone and to give him opportunities unavailable in Germany. In this he was unsuccessful, and Leo's letters stopped when he succeeded in escaping himself. Leo built a new life, and never returned to England.

Available from:

No comments: