Dreaming of Home. A neurohistorical approach to study masculinity through the dreams and nightmares of British prisoners of war in Nazi Germany (1940-1942).
Oeveren, D.C. van
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This thesis examines the dreams and nightmares of British prisoners of war in Nazi Germany to shed new light on the historical embodiment of masculinity. It aims to make progress in the historiography on PoW camps in Western Europe during the Second World War. Contrary to scholarship on PoW camps in South-East Asia and the Pacific, little work has been done on the gendered experience of imprisonment in Nazi Germany. I argue that traditional source materials, such as letters and memoirs, significantly lack emotional portrayal due to silencing gender expectations. However, the dreams and nightmares experienced inside the Laufen PoW camp are indicative of a wide range of emotions. I use insights from neurocognitive studies to illustrate how these dreams and nightmares can be used to study the mental trauma and emotional state of the prisoners of war. My research is founded on source material created by the British Major Kenneth Davies Hopkins. Between 1940 and 1942, Hopkins collected over 600 descriptions of dreams inside the Laufen PoW camp. These dream descriptions offer an intimate insight into the prisoners’ obsessive thoughts, fears and fantasies. I conclude that men experienced a wide range of emotions which contested the gender expectations at the time. The emotions include severe homesickness, self-doubt, mental trauma resulting from military combat and a break-down in self-esteem. I also investigate how friendship offered some feeling of security and explore the existence of same-sex desires within the camp. I thereby demonstrate how the historic study of dreams can be used to investigate silenced emotions in gender history.