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A Short History Of POWs During The Second World War

More prisoners were taken during the Second World War than in any other conflict. Millions of soldiers, sailors and airmen – and also civilians – were held in captivity. Their fate depended on when and where they were captured, and sometimes their nationality or race.

Many of the famous films about the experiences of prisoners of war (POWs) romanticise their experiences, often focusing on daring escapes. But for most POWs their experiences ranged – from courage, comradeship and compassion, to hunger and boredom, deprivation, cruelty and neglect.

In this total war, civilians were also interned, simply because of their nationality. Either they were people caught in enemy territory when war broke out, or they had escaped persecution and were rounded up and interned by the very countries in which they had sought refuge.