Zonderwater P.O.W. Camp Transvaal, South Africa WW2

Discussion in 'Prisoners of War' started by spidge, May 24, 2016.

  1. spidge


    From: http://members.iinet.net.au/~gduncan/1941.html#lesser_known_1941
    In February, 1941, Italian prisoners-of-war began arriving in South Africa where the Zonderwater Camp had been established in the Transvaal, twenty-three miles from Pretoria. These prisoners were captured during the Somaliland and Ethiopian campaigns. Thousands more were brought in from the campaigns in Egypt, Libya and Tripolitania during the years up till 1943. Around 9,000 of these prisoners were illiterate and among the greatest and most lasting achievements at Zonderwater were that before the camp closed in February, 1947, all had learned to read and write their mother tongue during their six years confinement. Some 5,000 learned a trade before returning home and another 4,000 were allowed to work outside the camp on neighbouring farms. A symphony orchestra of 86 musicians was formed and a brass band of 65 instrumentalists was welded together from the prisoners. Fifteen schools were established teaching a variety of subjects.

    At its peak, on December 31, 1941, there were 63,000 prisoners in the camp. A total of 233 prisoners died from illness and 76 lost their lives through accidents. What was done at Zonderwater represents a great achievement in the field of human relations in the treatment of prisoners-of-war. Their efforts were recognized by the post-war Italian Government when the Camp Commandant, Colonel Hendrik Prinsloo and three of his officers were invested with the 'Order of the Star of Italy'. Colonel Prinsloo was further recognized by the award of the 'Order of Good Merit' by His Holiness, the Pope.

    This article was published in "Health and Medicine" in August, 1946, with the permission of the D.G.M.S. of that time, and is reproduced here with acknowledgements to that Journal.)

    The daily food allowance in this article is quite interesting. A normal allowance of 3,000 calories, with those on work parties receiving an extra 16 ounces a day. Allied POW's in Italy received 1,000 calories while those in Germany, 2,000 calories.


  2. LeoneG

    LeoneG Member

    Hi, Geoff.

    Thanks for this. I happened to come across the website for the camp earlier - http://www.zonderwater.com/en/prisoners-of-war/zonderwater-camp-history.html (lots of photos).
    Particularly interesting for me since my South African grandfather went through several Italian POW camps during WWII: Benghazi, Brindisi PG454, Bari PG75, Fara Sabina PG54, Sardinia PG110, and Laterina PG82. His descriptions of the camps (especially Benghazi) does not compare well with the treatment of Italian POWs in South Africa.

    Side note: Many South Africans (Afrikaans/Boers) participating in WWII could either remember the British concentration camps during the Anglo Boer War, or had older generation family who were in POW/concentration camps. Both of my grandfather's parents were in camps - his father sent to Ceylon (almost lost his legs due to mistreatment), and his mother & most of her family in camps either locally or overseas (including her maternal grandmother who died in one of the camps). Consequently, swearing an oath of allegiance to the British Crown for WWII caused conflict in some families.

    BUT, the improved conditions at Zonderwater were due to the efforts of Colonel Hendrik Fredrik Prinsloo, O.B.E., E.D. - who himself had spent time in a British concentration camp as a child during the Anglo Boer War. Hence the effort from his side to improve the living conditions in the camp. He organised the POWs to help build a small "city" with built barracks replacing a lot of the tents, "roads, mess halls, theatres, schools, gyms, where the internees could be kept occupied and avoid hunger and despair", "hospitals with over 3,000 beds and churches with military chaplains"... Even a proper post office and gardens! Obviously it was still a prison not a holiday, but it certainly seems like a miracle in comparison to most POW camps.

    ÓPhotothèque CICR (DR)/GRASSET, E.


    18/12/1942 Camp de Zonderwater. Bungalows pour officiers-médecins-malades, du personnel protégé, en traitement à l'hôpital du camp.
    Campo di Zonderwater. Bungalows per gli ufficiali-medici-malati, del personale protetto, in trattamento presso l'ospedale del campo.
    Zonderwater Camp. Bungalows for ill medical officers, part of the protected staff, under treatment in the camp hospital.
    ÓPhotothèque CICR (DR)/GRASSET, E.


    18/02/1943 Camp de Zonderwater XLI, Bloc XI. Représentants du camp.
    Zonderwater Campo XLI, Blocco XI. Rappresentanti del campo.
    Zonderwater Camp XLI, Block XI. Camp Representatives.
    ÓPhotothèque CICR (DR)/JUNOD, H.

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