1939/1940 Internment of German Residents | Gwulo: Old Hong Kong

1939/1940 Internment of German Residents

At the outbreak of WWII in September 1939, German and other 'Enemy' residents of Hong Kong were interned at La Salle College for a short period. Does anyone have information on this topic including the fate of these internees ?


The newspapers look to have reported on it. Here's a list of articles with the word internment, printed in 1939.

The first result for September is on page 7 of The China Mail, 1939-09-04:


It is learned that, at least for the time being, no action for internment of German women residents in the Colony is being taken.

The menfolk, totalling over 100, are housed on the top floor of La Salle College, and visiting days are expected to be authorised when the “camp" which is under the charge of Major Gorden, of the Middlesex Regiment, has been satisfactorily organised.

Sentries are on guard, provided by the Royal Scots, and the barbed-wired barricade, completely surrounding the College, is nearly completed.

At intervals, high watching-posts for sentries have been erected.

No official information is yet forthcoming regarding the arrangements to be made for visiting and so on.

It is learned that Czechs in the Colony who had registered with the German Consulate and changed their passports for German passports are being interned. Those who refused to recognise the German establishment of a Protectorate are not being subjected to internment.

I had carried some research into this subject some years ago, as part of my study into the history of the College.  I discovered a first hand account of an internee’s memories in the Internment Camp in a book called Herman the German, written by Gerhard Neumann who later became a renouned engineer.   He offered several pages of his stay in the College-turned internment facility in an entertaining fashion. 

Is is it appropriate to post a few pages of the book here? 

Here is an article I wrote on the subject in 2014 for the school and the old boys community. 

75 years on: Germans Interned in La Salle as Hitler Ignores Ultimatum

On Friday, 1st September 1939, Hitler’s German forces invaded Poland.  Britain and France issued a 48 hour ultimatum to Germany demanding they withdraw their troops.  Germany ignored the ultimatum, and on 3rd September, Britain and France declared war on Germany, raising the curtain to the Second World War. 

The Anglo-French ultimatum in fact expired at 7:00 pm HK time on 3rd September.  In the far away British outpost of Hong Kong, the British military authorities immediately proceeded to arrest all German “enemy aliens” in the Colony.  The British Military were clearly prepared on who to arrest, and where to put them.  

Two hours later, German internees began to arrive at LSC.  Brother Cassian noted in the Brothers' Community diary:

“Instantly the College was invaded by army squads who over the next two days encircled it with barbed wire, observation posts, barriers and grills, transforming it into a prison.  Four bamboo towers were erected at the four corners of the perimeter to ensure effective surveillance of the perimeter and the immediate surroundings of the camp.  At 9:00 pm, Sunday 3rd September, the first internees arrived, and all night through army and police cars kept arriving with more.  A section of the Royal Scots provided the guard.”

La Salle College had overnight become a concentration camp, and the World War Two tensions in Europe hit this unsuspecting far-away school on the other side of the world right in the face.

The new school year was due to recommence after the summer holidays on 11th September, but using the campus for school was out of the question.  At the time, opposite the main campus was the La Salle College Annex (the current La Salle Primary School grounds), which had a small two storey building and a covered playground.  So Director Brother Aimar made a swift decision to covert the playground into four more classrooms, and in the open area, sheds were built with bricks and wood to make four more classrooms. 

The now twelve classrooms were all that the Brothers possessed for over schooling 1,000 students.  So, the school hours were split into AM and PM sessions: 7:45 am to 12:30 pm for the Matriculation and other senior students, while the juniors attended classes from 1:00 to 5:00 pm.

The number of German internees in La Salle slowly dropped and the Military agreed to use the LSC Annex instead, allowing the classes to resume in the College campus.  By April 1940, all German internees were shipped abroad to Ceylon.  The Brothers recovered the full use of the school building.  The HK Government agreed to pay the Brothers HK$44,680 as compensation.

This unfortunately became a precedent, as La Salle Brothers will unfortunately find La Salle College being occupied by outsiders intermittently for different reasons over the next 20 years.


A newspaper report to the Internment camp.  

  • HK Telegraph, 11 Sep 1939: 'A strong police guard was placed on the ship to prevent any German nationals alighting; could they have done so they would have been subject to internment. Before the ship sailed they were joined by 15 German Jewish refugees who were released from the la Salle College internment camp.'

I'm not sure if it's appropriate, but I'd be interested in reading his experiences. I'm doing some research on internment in Hong Kong, and it'd be great to get some first-hand accounts! The libraries are closed right now, so I can't go grab a copy.

As the book is a recent one (2004) we'd need to get the author/publisher's approval before posting several pages here. It looks as though copies are eaily available to order at Amazon:


I think that copy from the link might be a reprint.  The copy I have was published in 1984.  The author had since passed away in 1997.  

I am guessing it's permissible to retype a few paragraphs from the book to offer a glimps of the internment set up.  If not, please advise and I will delete it. 

An excerpt from Chapter 5 from the book: Herman the German, by Gerhard Neumann

At 7 P.M. Hong Kong time, on September 3, 1939, the ultimatum expired and England was at war with Germany! A few minutes later a British immigration official, accompanied by a British officer and two beturbaned Indian soldiers with rifles, knocked at my door, and demanded politely to see both my travel and military passports.  I was driven in a bus to police headquarters in Kowloon, where twenty-five other Germans had already been rounded up.  More were brought in by the hour.  At 2 A.M. there were ninety of us, all men. The British apologized profusely for the inconvenience they caused, and I believe that they meant every word they said. We were driven in three buses to La Salle College in Kowloon. Under floodlights, Chinese workmen were dicing stakes into the ground to surround the college with barbed wire.  Four watchtowers were being built also. Its dormitory was empty since there was at school vacation.  A few more German businessmen were brought in during the early morning.  


It became obvious that the British had not given any thought to the possibility of interning one hundred Germans. Theoretically, we were really not prisoners of war by rather civilian internees. One Englishman told us that we would leave this temporary camp soon, but no one knew anything for certain. Most of the Germans had been residents of Hong Kong for many years, possibly longer that some of the British, and they spoke English fluently. The majority had not even been to Germany since Hitler had come to power. Incredible as it may seem, two old Chinese were also interned with us; in their younger years, they had been houseboys in the former German colony of Tsingtao in northern China and had there accepted German citizenship in 1906. They were unable to speak a single word of German!


One of the more touchy problems for the British was that of race: One white man had to show respect for another white man in front of the hundreds of “yellow” Chinese, who, curious, crowded outside the barbed-wire fence of our camp and peered inside. To prove that we were not “real” prisoners held by the British, we were permitted to hire Chinese kitchen personnel who did our laundry. Life in the internment camp was not bad at all! We sunned ourselves, played tennis on the school courts and enjoyed watching the British guard climb down from one of the four watch-towers to retrieve a tennis ball someone had hit over the fence.


Our relations with the British camp commander were excellent. Pretty soon a discussion was held between our elected representative and the commander about setting up a bar in the college auditorium. These negotiations were successfully concluded. Well-to-do German merchants would pay for the construction, furnishing and initial stocking of the bar, which was to be open for Germans every night from eight to nine and for our British guards from nine to ten. After only a few days of this arrangement, the Germans invited Tommies for an “early drink”; since British soldiers were paid very little, the Germans’ invitations were gratefully accepted.  Someone then had a bright idea: Why not combine the two one-hour sessions into a common “bar open” time from eight to ten for both guards and inmates? Why not? Said the German representative. Why not? Asked our British commander. Guards had orders to leave their heavy Enfield rifles outside the bar entrance. And so it went, peacefully, intelligently and thirst-quenchingly. Until … one of the Germans, slightly drunk, played a stupid prank: The man grabbed one of the rifles and shot out a light. Pandemonium broke loose; we were ordered back into our sleeping quarters …


As a consequence, not only the commander but his whole guard force were replaced by a very much tougher Scottish commanding officer and his men. The bar was closed for good; no more playing tennis; no longer were we permitted to employ Chinese houseboys.  New camp rules were established including the “calling of the roll” every morning before breakfast.

Thanks for the excerpt Mark! It was very interesting to read - especially the little incident! I never came by that during my research!

A thing I found interesting is the "two old Chinese" that Neuman encountered. According to my documents, there were no 'Chinese' individuals interned at La Salle. Of course, there were more than a few Eurasians, so perhaps two looked racially ambigeous enough to be considered Chinese? But if it's the two individuals I thinking of, it's rather amusing because these two brothers were just in their mid-thirties!

If you are interested to read more of the book, feel free to get in touch on my email mark.huang.hk@gmail.com.  I'd like to hear more about your reearch. Another researcher had also reached out to me some years ago to discuss the La Salle Internment.  For the two Chinese gentlemen holding onto German passports, I suspect they were subsequent released from the camp, since they were obviously not of German descent, but rather just holding the passport. 

Also, have you gotton hold of the English newspapers over the duration of the internment?  A name list of internees is regularly printed out in the daily English papers, and the detailed names would surely be of interest to you.


BAconthreemun, although not directly relevant to your research, here is a video of Gerhard Neumann who became a very successful engineer.  It's touching to be able to see Mr Neumann speak, especially as I never had a chance to meet this very interesting gentleman in person.