Original Research

The role of ideology in the experience, perception and memory of the Italian prisoners of war, in George, SA

Loraine Maritz
New Contree | Vol 91 | a243 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/nc.v91i0.243 | © 2024 Loraine Maritz | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 23 March 2023 | Published: 29 January 2024

About the author(s)

Loraine Maritz, Department of History, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Stellenbosch University, Stellenbosch, South Africa

Abstract

In 1939, the South African government made the decision to align itself with the Allied powers in opposition to the Axis powers, the fascist regimes of Germany, Italy and Japan. The town of George reflected the diversity of national viewpoints regarding this decision, which were often shaped by party political ideologies and affiliations. The Purified National Party embraced Afrikaner nationalism and objected to South African participation in the war. Conversely, the United Party, a more liberal and inclusive group, supported the government’s decision. In addition, a significant number of Afrikaners rallied behind the Ossewabrandwag, an organisation that espoused anti-British and pro-German sentiments.

Between December 1942 and August 1945, a group of 500 Italian prisoners of war (POWs) were confined to a camp situated on the outskirts of George, South Africa. Despite being afforded a certain level of freedom, the prisoners faced restrictions on their movements and activities, including prohibitions on transportation, alcohol consumption and fraternising with the local population without prior approval. Specific areas were also designated as off-limits. The POWs repeatedly breached these regulations, leading to confrontations with law enforcement. Furthermore, many clandestine relationships developed between the POWs and local residents.

Contribution: This article aims to explore how the inhabitants of George responded to the presence of the POWs by examining their attitudes and perceptions. The prevailing ideologies of nationalism and liberalism, as well as issues of religion, racial dignity and morality all played a role in shaping the belief systems and perceptions of the town’s residents. While the memories of the Italian POWs held in George often characterised the time as one of ‘good cheer’ and ‘mutual respect’, the reality of the situation was far more complicated.


Keywords

Italian prisoners of war; South Africa; George; ideologies; memory; George and Knysna Herald; fascism; Afrikaner nationalism.

Sustainable Development Goal

Goal 4: Quality education

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