During the First World War the Isle of Man was used as an internment base for civilian ‘enemy aliens’. The first camp established was at Cunningham Holiday Camp, Douglas and by September 1914 the first batch of enemy aliens arrived on the Island. The all-male prisoners were a mixed group, ranging from the extremely poor to the very educated and wealthy. The camp was later split into three sections: there was a privilege camp for those who could afford to pay for extra facilities (and also employ an internee servant), a Jewish camp where kosher food and facilities for celebrating Jewish festivals were provided and an ordinary camp for the rest of the civilian prisoners.
By late October 1914 there were approximately 2,600 prisoners in the Douglas camp, which temporarily increased to 3,300 after alleviating congestion from other internment camps in London. Overcrowding, boredom and complaints about the poor quality of food led to a riot in November 1914, during which five internees were shot and killed. A subsequent inquest found the actions of the guards justifiable and forced upon them by the riotous conduct of the internees. After the inquest it was quickly decided that a bigger internment camp was needed, the outcome being the construction of Knockaloe Alien Detention Camp, situated on the west coast of the Island. Knockaloe was far bigger than Douglas; it had four sub-camps within its barbed wire compound and by the end of the war it housed over 20,000 men. Throughout the prisoners’ confinement (at Douglas and Knockaloe) they were allowed to wear their own clothes and have personal items such as books. Over time the camps started workshops, produced works of art, set up theatrical groups and set up a school.
Benno Kahn (c.1881-1946) born in Baden-Württemberg, was a Jewish, German internee and a school master in Douglas Alien Detention Camp. Kahn was said to be highly educated and ‘came from money’, giving him certain privileges and influence over other internees. Lager Laterne, the German publication produced in the camp, stated Kahn was the lead master at the school camp, holding the reins tactfully, yet firmly and with steadfast courtesy. It was said he would challenge objections, embrace new ideas and had the ability to attract the most educated men to join his team of teachers. Kahn was also reported in the Isle of Man Examiner having been charged with having falsely signed his name to a letter for which he was sentenced to two months’ imprisonment and hard labour (29 May 1915). By March 1917 Kahn had been transferred from Douglas to Knockaloe camp.
After 1918 Kahn was released, however not much is known about his later activities. Through a family relative it was established that Kahn died in 1947 in Argentina. Interestingly in the Second World War, Kahn’s two nephews Walter Eytan (1910-2001) [previously Walter Ettinghausen] and Alfred Albert Ernest Ellis Ettinghausen (1913-2001) were part of the Bletchley Park team, successfully breaking the German enemy’s secret communications. Both brothers were German born, but being Jewish both inherently opposed the Nazi ideology. Walter later became Director General of the Israeli Foreign Ministry (1948-1959) and Israeli ambassador to France (1959-1970). Ernest went on to become the Director of the UK Inland Revenue Stamp Duty Office, for which he was given the Order of the British Empire (OBE).