Barbed wire disease and the grim realities of internment
in Prisoners of Britain
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Paul Cohen-Portheim produced the most damning and incisive account of barbed wire disease. His narrative stresses the frustrations of a middle-class internee interned for years without trial in an all-male environment with little personal space. Military camps had a more structured routine, which helped to prevent the type of disillusionment, frustration and development of barbed wire disease described by Cohen-Portheim and Rudolf Rocker. Despite the depressing nature of internment and the evolution of the concept of barbed wire disease by the end of the First World War, statistics point to a generally sound mental and physical condition among the prisoners. Crime represented part of everyday life in an internment camp, especially in an artificial situation with numerous rules and regulations. Complaints about housing emerged in numerous other camps throughout the country during the course of the war as well as in official German publications at the end of the war.

Prisoners of Britain

German civilian and combatant internees during the First World War

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