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New Names for "Friendly Enemy Aliens" in Britain

From Our Holdings

These index cards kept by the British Army Post Office document name changes of numerous emigrants, presumably from Germany and Austria. Thousands of them, both Jews and non-Jews, fought in the British Army under new names during the Second World War.

Two spread-out stacks of labelled index cards

Index cards from the British Army Post Office; Jewish Museum Berlin, Authorized gift from British Army Post Office holdings, photo: Jens Ziehe

Changing Names in Case of Capture

When the war started, stateless refugees on British territory were initially interned as "enemy aliens," but after a time the British authorities permitted them to enlist in the army as "friendly enemy aliens." Many wanted to make a personal contribution to defeating Hitler. Upon enlisting, the soldiers were asked to drop their German names in case they were captured by the Nazis. They were given just a few minutes to decide what their future English names would be. Salo Carlebach took on the name Michael Charles Brook, and Werner Oppenheim chose William Oakfield.

Later Naturalization

Nevertheless, the name changes did not mean the soldiers automatically became British citizens. It was not until the late 1940s that most of the emigrants – provided they had stayed in the United Kingdom – were granted British nationality. Almost all of them kept their Anglicized names.

Lucky Discovery for our Collection

The index cards make no explicit reference to the soldiers' background or religious affiliation. By a fortunate coincidence, the cards were not thrown away. When one of the former soldiers told the Jewish Museum Berlin about them, we were able to acquire them for our collection.

Title Index cards from the British Army Post Office
Collection Archive
Location and year of origin Great Britain, 1940–1946
Medium Ink on paper
Dimensions Card dimensions: 7.6 x 12.6 cm
Acquisition Authorized gift from British Army Post Office holdings

Selected Objects: Archive (10)


Browse selected archival holdings online from the eighteenth century through the post-war period. Personal and official documents speak to the life of a nineteenth-century journeyman, early modern merchant rights, desperate attempts to emigrate during Nazi rule, and much more.

Adoption contract Gloeden and Loevy

Even a Jewish-sounding name could be cause for discrimination. So the siblings Erich and Ursula Loevy chose to be adopted by Bernhard Gloeden, a grammar school teacher and family friend.

A desperate letter to their son in Sweden

“As long as we are still here, we will write to you every third day,” wrote Paul and Sophie Berliner to their son, Gert, who was living in Stockholm, on 6 November 1941.

Martin Riesenburger’s Service Card

A provisional document from February 1953 certified that Martin Riesenburger was a rabbi responsible for pastoral care in East Berlin prisons.

Index cards from the British Army

Thousands of German emigrants fought against Germany in the British Army during the Second World War. In case of capture, they had to change their names, as these index cards document.

Frieda Neuber's Leather Pouch

Shortly before being deported to Theresienstadt, Frieder Neuber gave this leather pouch to her niece. The letters inside it document her desperate attempts to leave the country.

Memmelsdorf Genizah

In February 2002, workers renovating a house discovered a burlap sack filled with papers and personal items when they opened up a section of the ceiling. The house had been owned by Jews from 1775 to 1939.

Red Cross Letter to Emmy Warschauer

After the outbreak of the Second World War, the aid organization’s message service gave emigrants a way to contact relatives in Germany. That’s how Emmy Warschauer received confirmation that her daughter was alive.

Journeyman’s Book Belonging to the Shoemaker Leopold Willstätter

Leopold Willstätter traveled around southwest Germany and France as a journeyman from 1836 to 1843. The journeyman's book with a precise description of him also served as a form of identification.

Letter of Protection for the Jews of Ichenhausen

Until the nineteenth century, the residence and trading rights of Jews in the German territories were defined in letters of protection (Schutzbriefe), which had to be purchased.

Siegfried Leopold’s Get for His Wife Resi

According to Jewish law, a marriage is only annulled when a bill of divorce is drawn up and presented by the husband to his wife.