Did you know that beloved humorist, PG Wodehouse was not only sent to an internment camp during World War 2, but his writing was also used as Nazi propaganda? Can you imagine the comical creator of Jeeves, PSmith and Lord Emsworth in such a scenario? Here’s what actually happened!
A Light Hearted Capture
He was captured when the Nazis crossed Berlin in 1940. German soldiers interrupted a party he was having at Le Touquet in France and took him into custody. ‘Perhaps, after this, I shall write a serious book’, he was heard saying, without perhaps realising the gravity of the situation he was in. He was subsequently sent to an internment camp.
Sent to Central Europe in internment, Wodehouse found a sympathetic camp commander who let him continue writing in a padded cell. He was even allowed to be interviewed! The reporter found him in ‘good spirits, wearing a long heavy bathrobe held together with a leather belt’. He seems to have had his worst experiences when he was handed over to the French police, ‘who treated them like criminals’. Ironically, it was a German commander who ensured that he was treated better when he came in for an inspection.
Controversial release and Propaganda
In 1941, after a while at the internment camp, he was released to have ‘complete freedom within Germany’ and put up in the Aldon hotel. The following day, the British and American public was shocked to know that he had agreed to do ’non-political’ broadcasts for the German radio.
Shocking Statements Caused by Blissful Unawareness
‘In the days before the war I had always been modestly proud of being an Englishman, but now that I have been some months resident in this bin or repository of Englishmen I am not so sure… The only concession I want from Germany is that she gives me a loaf of bread, tells the gentlemen with muskets at the main gate to look the other way, and leaves the rest to me. In return I am prepared to hand over India, an autographed set of my books, and to reveal the secret process of cooking sliced potatoes on a radiator. This offer holds good till Wednesday week.’
Statements like the ones above caused widespread uproar amongst his readers, the British Parliament and the general public. He was branded a traitor, accused of having ‘sold off his country’. Libraries stopped carrying his books and there was even talk of putting him on trial. But many observed that perhaps, there was more to the picture than they knew.
A Nazi Pawn?
Plack, Joseph Goebbels’ assistant, visited Wodehouse during his internment and immediately saw that the latter was an absolute political innocent. He then suggested that Wodehouse promise to broadcast his own thoughts on internment (without any censorship) for an early release, fully aware that there was no risk of an ugly truth being exposed, because that was Wodehouse’s nature! The Nazis then proceeded to broadcast his statements widely and were able to use his credibility for their own gain!