Stevens an Best 23.6.1940 (Kassiber in Sachsenhausen)
Am not too happy about this post box. It was disturbed twice during the week - presumably by gardeners, by chance, perhaps.
Sand better after all - but a bit deeper under signal. What do you think, hole OK for week-ends? Suggest following.
I will whistle. You as soon as possible leave a small pellet of brome on left window sill of wash house.
Do you get the news? We seem suffered biggest defeat in history, French army overrun. Government has fled,
old Petain is virtually dictator. Few days ago he made statement France no option but to ground arms. French
commission now with Germans to receive terms. England decided to continue war. Next step probably German attack on England.
We air-raided Düsseldorf last week, Germans counter against Birmingham, much damage. Things look bad. Am worried re
our fate. From little I managed to see your papers, you like me compelled tell truth. Any other lines useless -
they already know too much.
What will be our reception at home - if we ever get there? Prospect further punishment and off. Security Act not
alluring. I was told, if we did not talk, I'd soon be made to. I managed to get a few fugitive glimpses of their
chart of my organisation (It may be I was allowed to on purpose). I realised they knew whole thing and that further
Must express gratitude for treatment here. My sentries all good blokes. Head Warder particularly considerate.
Comes frequently and spends an hour with me, gives me a fag, chats and cheers me up. They all make things as easy as their orders allow.
I shall not forget. Cheer up and good luck. No more till next Saturday.
Stevens an Best 20.11.1940 (Kassiber in Sachsenhausen)
Sorry to have been so long in replying to yours of 29th of October and 9th of October, but went sick again day after I got it (i. e. 10th) and yesterday was my first day out, I had recurrence of the same trouble, kidneys or bladder or whatever it may be, I am afraid all round my health is pretty poor. I was as fit as man can be when we were caught but for many months now I have not had a single natural rear. I take Abfuhrtee twice a week and I think my digestion has gone to hell. Except for my bread and jam or cheese I can eat little or nothing and I have lost, I think, about 3 stone. The trouble is I am afraid that I don't care much, It's unpleasant to feel bloody and have fever and stomach ache and so on - but I equally feel no incentive to health. Like the child's pants das Leben is certainly 'beschissen', but not nearly 'kurz' enough for my liking.
I disagree with you entirely that all we can expect is the satisfaction of our bare material requirements. You say yourself - we are Prisoners of War. Among civilised nations it is an accepted principle that the lot of POW's should be as decent as the military situation allows and that their spiritual and mental welfare should be looked after just as much as their material. As I have written before, it is not as if we were criminals or had been implicated in criminal activities and were being punished. We tried to do our ordinary job in an ordinary way, decent way and the German authorities know this well as we do. Short of sheer barbarism, there is no severer punishment than solitary confinement. Even in a penal colony, as punishment for a grave misdemeanour, or say in the case of a Prisoner-of-War who makes two or more attempts to escape, solitary confinement for perhaps one month is given as a very severe punishment.
For such minor alleviation as we here enjoy we have to thank the decent kindness and humanity of the people on the spot, who certainly are a good crowd and do their best for us. I frankly do not understand the situation. You probably read the article recently re POW-camps where everything is obviously well and decently run. I don not believe our treatment is deliberately cruelty - for one thing the Germans are not built that way and for another, if it were deliberate, you may be sure that a stop would have been put to the little kindnesses we do en joy. Nor now can I see any possible advantage in keeping us like this - on the contrary, in a POW-camp without any disloyalty, the unbiassed views we have might well help to dispell prejudice which viewed from a post-war point of view, might be valuable work.
News is also chaotic. I have given up trying to form a true picture. I think sea warfare is ultimately proving more decisive that the air, but the latter (on both side e.g. these futile pops at Berlin, is working up a hatred far more than any propaganda or open and there are many grim month ahead. Molotov's visit I think was most important. I don't think that anything will now disturb the Russo-German relations. Nor will America come in - she could not do much anyway, if she did it's not a business proposition this time like 1917. The Italians don't seem to be achieving much, outside their newspapers. I should not be surprised if Adolf Hitler at his last meeting said: "A few more deeds and less words would be welcome". Do you think it's the slightest use trying to write home? My last attempt was in March, God bless old man. Hope you get this. We will both---shortly.
Best an Stevens 3.4.1947
Gidleigh Park Bungalow
CHAGFORD, Newton Abbot
To say the least of it, I was rather surprised when I heard the account which you gave of the conditions of your
imprisonment at Sachsenhausen in the BBC Third Programme last Saturday.
Auto-suggestion may have made you believe that, what you told the British public in your broadcast was true,
so may I remind you that, like myself, you were never alone in your cell but you were only isolated from contact
with other prisoners, nor were you fettered during the daytime, unless of course your habit of
sleeping by day, turned night for you into day.
The food was, under the circumstances, surprisingly good and no one could complain of any lack of cleanliness.
Your guards, with several of whom I am still in contact, kept me very closely informed as to your habits and the
conditions of your life and I was surprised to learn of the many advantages which you enjoyed, which were denied to me:
painting-materials, use of typewriter, boxing gloves and punching ball and your long hours of exercise.
I have also re-read the letters which you wrote to me in prison and which I still have. I should like to quote to you
from one of these; that of the 23rd of June 1940:- "My sentries all good blokes, the Head Warder particularly
considerate. Comes frequently and spends an hour with megives me a fag and cheers me up. Must express gratitude for
treatment here. They all make thing: as easy as their orders allow. I shall not forget." Particularly the last
words are worthy of your remembrance.
Your period of isolation at Sachsenhausen lasted for less than two years whilst mine endured for five and a quarter years
chaining at night being continued for over three years. Although I did not reach Dachau until April 1945, 1 had already
heard quite a lot about your life there during the previous three years. Dr Rascher gave me very full details when I met
him at Buchenwald and these were, in the main confirmed in a letter to me by McGrath on 14th of April 1945. Similar information
was also given me by the Trusties, Wauer and Visintainer (Kohlenklau) as well as by your pet Warder,
When you visited my cell at Dachau and, in a rather hysterical manner expressed contrition for the many foolish actions
which you had committed, I had compassion for you. I always felt a certain measure of responsibility for your capture
and imprisonment. I therefore decided to say, "Schwamm darüber" and leave it at that.
Imprisonment, especially one of many years duration is a very horrible thing and in telling of it, there is no need to gild the lily. I had a much harder time than you, but I could stick it where you could not. This, I have always taken into account and my attitude towards you has never been that of judge. At the present time, nothing is more important than that we should one and all do everything in our power to eradicate the feelings of hatred engendered by the war. Untrue stories of ill-treatment suffered as a prisoner in Germany are to my mind, at the present juncture, nothing less than criminal and I shall always do everything in my power to unmask them.
Best an Stevens 7.8.1949
7th August 1949
My dear Stevens,
In evidence given before the Parliamentary Commission set up by the Netherlands Government to inquire, inter alia, into the circumstances of our capture, Major-General van Oorschot is quoted in the verbatum report of the proceedings as having said on 29th July 1948 that he had frequently met you in London though he later qualified this statement by limiting the number of such occasions to three.
Further in the course of his interrogation (l translate from the original Dutch) the following passages occur:
"Where is Mr Best at present?"
"Do you know where to find him?"
"Yes. I could find him through Stevens. The last time I saw Stevens, I asked him:
'What has happened to Best?'. He told me then: 'He is sick to death as a result of his
imprisonment; he is good for nothing more. It is impossible to talk to him'."
As General van Oorschot, in the course of his evidence, made a number of statements reflecting very seriously
on my good name and fame which I cannot possible allow to pass without action I shall be grateful if you will
inform me whether indeed you spoke about me in the terms which he quotes as, seeing that the last time when we
met I was in quite good health, appears to me rather improbable.
It may interest you to know that, with the sanction of "C" who has read and passed my manuscript,
I have written a book about the Venlo Incident and our subsequent imprisonment which is now in process of publication.
As the publishers wish to include illustration I should of course like to have a good photograph of yourself as one
of the chief performers in our drama. Would you perhaps like to send me one?
I cannot say that I was altogether surprised when you failed to answer my last letter for I know that it must
have been a bitter pill to swallow; yet, knowing you as well as I do, I am sure that in your heart you acknowledge
the justice of my reproof. Do not though, fall into the error of imagining any alteration in my friendly feelings
towards you; we went through very difficult times together and there is no one who can more justly appreciate your
difficulties nor who is more ready to show you goodwill.
Most of your difficulties were of your own making but I ascribe most of them to the fact that your knowledge
of Germany and the character of her people fell far short of your fluency in her language. Anyhow, in my book
I shoulder all responsibility and I believe that what I write may serve finally to lay the bones of "The
Venlo Incident" with its aftermath of trial and sorrow.
With my kind regards,
Stevens an Best 12.8.1949
37 Drayton Gardens
London SW 10
August 12th 1949
My dear Best,
My post war contacts with van Oorschot have been of the more fortuitous and ephemeral nature. I chanced to see him two
or three times when lunching at my Club, he being with his friends and I with mine. I do not think we ever had much more
than a minute's sustained conversation, and we exchanged nothing but the trivialities usual on such occasions.
I certainly said nothing whatever of the nature you quote. It was all so trivial that I cannot possibly pretend to quote
verbatim. He asked about you - how you were and what you were doing, and I replied that you were safe and well and were living
quietly somewhere in Devonshire. I rather think I said that when we met again in Dachau in April 45 you were looking
very thin and rather ill, but that good Devon food had soon put that right.
I was told that you had written a book, and I hope you will not take it amiss if I say I would rather not have my photo
in it. I am trying to get away from it all.
For the rest, quite frankly, I thought your last letter contained a lot of rather self-righteous nonsense. But I was
rather annoyed at your quite unjustified charge of hatred mongering - particularly as both before the broadcast in
question and even more so after it, I was very busily engaged talking all over the country, on behalf of such organisations
as the Save Europe Now Fund and on the theme of forgive and forget, and to an extent which has resulted in an invitation
to do a trip to Germany with the same object.
However, like you, I have not been influenced in the least by this little flurry. We have been through far too much together for that, and I hope you will believe me when I say quite sincerely that I hold you unchanged in the same affectionate esteem as before. As far as I am concerned, the thing is buried.