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IMAGINATION, COGNITION AND PERSONALITY, Vol.

33(1-2) 193-204, 2013-2014

CONTENT OF DREAMS FROM WWII POWS*
DEIRDRE BARRETT
Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts
ZACH SOGOLOW
ANGELA OH
JASMINE PANTON
MALCOLM GRAYSON
MELANIE JUSTINIANO
Harvard College, Boston, Massachusetts

ABSTRACT

This article examines the content of dreams from British officers held in
Laufen, a Nazi POW camp, during the years 1940-1942. The POW’s dreams
have more content concerning battles, imprisonment, escape, and food than
the Hall and van de Castle male norms from the same era. The POW dreams
do not have as much of any type of social interaction. Their dreams contain
less friendliness, sexuality, and even less aggression than the male norms.
However, aggression was unusually extreme when it occurred, and it’s
content was linked to previous battles rather than camp life. POW’s had less
good fortune or misfortune in their dreams along with frequent bland dreams
about the tedium of the camp. Their dream characters included higher percentages of males, family members, and the dead; they had fewer friends or
animal characters than the male norms—perhaps simply reflecting who they
were in contact with at the camp. Overall, these POW’s patterns resembled
other prison populations rather than other post-combatants, which may be
because this particular group was captured early during WWII.

*A version of this article was presented at The 29th Annual Conference of The International
Association for the Study of Dreams, Berkeley California, June 2012.
193
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doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.2190/IC.33.1-2.g
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Bart Koet described Dutch prisoners dreaming of institutional tedium and nostalgic visions of home and family. but a study of civilians who suffered major trauma in WWII showed 25% of them dreaming of the trauma decades later (Schreuder. being at QA: Need ref. survivors of Nazi concentration camps. 2007. 1922). Blitz. Very little has been written about dreams in prison. however. all officers were transferred elsewhere and the prison then served contain civilian British and Americans captured from the Channel Islands. However. Major Hopkins was planning to use the data for his doctoral dissertation at University of Birmingham which was supervised by Charles Valentine. many French and a few other Allied officers were housed there. 2003).e. 1996). During the period in question. Much more data has been gathered on dreams of combatants in war though all large samples have been collected after the person is away from the arena of combat. People exposed to the most extreme. 2012). Charlotte Beradt collected section dreams from German civilians during the Nazi regime. 1996). Later. and her main conclusion was that the oppressive environment was so extreme as to repress even dreams (Beradt. Also of relevance to the present study.. Van der Kolk. with all home. & Hartmann. These find typical ptsd patterns of redreaming the most frightening experiences with less distortion than in other population’s dreams. 2009). Laufen is a castle which was appropriated by the German Army to house captured British officers early in WWII. & Rooijmans. even when awakened from REM sleep in a laboratory (Lavie & Kaminer. A group of former Guantanamo detainees reported many dreams of food. Most frightening dreams in his populations were from violent offenders about their crimes or other events prior to incarceration (Koet. recall many fewer dreams than other populations. .194 / BARRETT ET AL. Burr. very early in the war) (see Figure 1).. a Nazi POW camp during the years 1940-1942. 1985). the author of a psychoanalytically-oriented book on dreams (Valentine. Civilians in war have post-traumatic nightmares which often fade over time after shorter conflicts (Barrett & Behbehani. et al. These were extremely bland. Wilmer. Kleijn. 1984. 2000). one of the prisoners. In late 1942. the project was never completed because Hopkins died of emphysema 2 years into his imprisonment. Soldiers also have more anxious dreams even without recognizable war content (Punamaki. Sherry. These dreams were collected on the mornings after they had occurred by Major Kenneth Hopkins. all inmates were British officers—most of whom had been captured in the battle of France (i. and announcements that they were being released from prison (Barrett authors (6 total) in ref. THE PRESENT STUDY The present study focuses on a collection of dreams from 79 British officers held in Laufen.

2003). a website with memorabilia from Laufen camp features pictures of the soldiers performing a burlesque show for each other and guards and a Christmas card (see Figure 3 drawn by one of the POW’s with oddly festive barbed wire wreathes (Allan. 1987).” but all of these refer to the officers of interest as the “Laufen Six” (Reid.” They were recaptured. a film. Prisoners in Laufen Courtyard. Send me my old khaki jacket. The same men then escaped from Colditz. Six men are known to have escaped from Laufen as a group. comfortable. . Major Hopkins wrote to his wife soon after capture: The camp is well organized. sent to another prison camp.CONTENT OF DREAMS FROM WWII POWS / 195 Figure 1. Prisoners staged shows for each other (see Figure 2). Historians generally report them to have followed Geneva conventions. There are books. which the Nazis believed to be escape-proof. Colditz. a collar and tie. much has been written about the “Laufen Six. and the scenery beautiful. and even a board game titled “Escape from Colditz. The Nazi POW camps were nothing like their concentration camps. Two of the Laufen Six are represented in the present dream sample (see Figure 4). Keep cheerful. some chocolate and some tobacco. things might have been much worse.

and eventually housed at the Wellcome Collection in London. It’s not clear if . with a note saying a letter from him was found in the notebooks and. When the Laufen camp was liberated in 1945 by Allied forces. Laufen prison inmate show. the dream journals were found. Figure 2. He recorded names on one page and referred to them by subject number everywhere else. Hopkins wrote in his letters to Valentine that he approached all prisoners who were in the camp at the beginning of the study. then stored at the University of Birmingham Library. The collection remained with Valentine until his retirement. so some details are unknown. Charles Valentine. Hopkins describes “most” as agreeing to participate and amassed 79 subjects. “No doubt you will be able to forward them to Major Hopkins. and subsequently new arrivals. METHOD The late Major Hopkins performed all the original data collection. Hopkins recorded the dreams each morning after they occurred.196 / BARRETT ET AL. He makes it clear that at least some of the subjects were keeping a written dream journal. Allied staff mailed them to Hopkin’s dissertation advisor.” Hopkins had died in September 1942. to inquire who was willing to participate. but all the dreams are recorded in Hopkins extremely neat handwriting.

. so the mean is somewhere in the young adult age range. Many dreams were accompanied by drawings—most typically ariel maps (see Figure 5). The present analysis is based on 492 dreams from 79 men—the last 5 of the 6 journals which Hopkins filled.CONTENT OF DREAMS FROM WWII POWS / 197 Figure 3. There were originally 640 dreams. The officers were mostly of junior ranks and large group Laufen photos appear to have men between 20 and 40. Hopkins did not record ages of subjects. he recopied all of them or if some were verbally dictated to him. but one volume did not make it to the Wellcome Collection. Laufen prison Christmas card. All have the date dreamed and subject number.

good/fortune.198 / BARRETT ET AL. raters coded the dreams on the Hall and van de Castle (1966) scales for characters. The POW dream codings were compared to the original Hall and van de Castle male norms. and eating. Major Pat Reid on his successful escape costume. success. we also rated the original 500 Hall and van de Castle dreams on these scales. and striving. Figure 4. battles of WWII. as already discussed. other escape themes. friendliness. both Hall and van de Castle’s and the ad hoc scales. our sample was remarkably close to the time period of the normative sample and. escape from POW camp. failure. similar if inexact in age range. Inter-rater reliability ranged from to 88% to 100% for different categories on 50 dreams which were coded by both. For the Hall and van de Castle scales. other warlike imagery. We also rated the POW dreams on ad hoc scales for presence/absence of the following content categories: reference to the POW camp. For the present analysis. were transformed into h scores before calculating their significance. . aggression. Percentage differences on all these content variables. undated). For comparison purposes. so a single rater’s results were used for analysis. Unlike some other recent studies which have done this. sexuality. reference to any imprisonment. this was done with the automated DreamSat sheet (Schneider & Domhoff.

Figure 5. CONTENT OF DREAMS FROM WWII POWS / 199 . Typical dream illustration for Hopkins’ data.

960 .357 .046 Aggression/Friendliness percent Befriender percent Aggressor percent Physical aggression percent 42% 40% 39% 44% 59% 50% 40% 50% –. other imprisonment.09 –.066 **. escape from the POW camp.25 –.029 *.03 –.59 –.549 *.47 –.003 . good fortune.12 **.905 Aggression Friendliness Sexuality Misfortune Good fortune Success Failure Striving 20% 19% 01% 16% 03% 06% 07% 11% 47% 38% 12% 36% 06% 15% 15% 27% –. other escape themes. POWs vs Hall & van de Castle Male Norms POWs Norms h Male/Female Percent Familiarity percent Friends percent Family percent Dead & imaginary percent Animal percent 73% 47% 26% 16% 01% 04% 67% 45% 31% 12% 00% 06% +. friendliness. or animal characters while having more male. the prisoners’ dreams had more content about the POW camp. All but one of their “dead or imaginary” codings were for dead characters.257 Self-negativity percent Bodily misfortunes percent Negative emotions percent Dreamer emotions percent 53% 25% 77% 50% 65% 29% 80% 51% –.000 **.09 *. other warlike battles.26 –. An example of a literal one referring to the camp was: Tale 1.30 –.40 **.22 –.000 **.534 .000 p . came from the two prisoners who did ultimately escape. RESULTS The POW’s had significantly fewer females. sexuality.33 –.050 .094 .000 . They had significantly less aggression.01 –.11 –.11 +.027 *. WWII battles.001 .13 –. On the ad hoc scales.44 –. not surprisingly.48 –. or failure than did normative males (see Table 1).200 / BARRETT ET AL.11 +.11 +. friends.000 **.018 *.09 –. striving. success.02 **.000 **. family. and dead or imaginary characters. Some of the escape dreams. misfortune. and more eating (see Table 2).000 **.

Male Norms Dream variable Actual POW camp Any other imprisonment Total Escape POW camp Escape themes other Total Battle WWII Battle other warlike Total Eating POWs Male norm h 18% 4% 22% n/a 1% 1% . It was striking how often Hopkins and the dreamers made reference to expectations that the war would be over soon—all made during the years 1940-42. Woke up sweating although with effort not with fear.20* .51** 5% 2% . At the end he succeeded. A non-escapee had the following rather anti-escape dream (which still coded for having escape content) which implied there might be tense disagreements around this topic in the waking world: The guards had gone off.CONTENT OF DREAMS FROM WWII POWS / 201 Table 2. I was hoping no one would order us to arm ourselves and break out as I felt time was not right. We lay up all day near the Slav border and we were going to cross at night. Ad hoc Scales POW vs.33** . The same prisoner also had metaphoric one of a horse race but he wasn’t trying to win. The experimenter commented parenthetically that the laughter may mean that the dreamer thinks that if the war ends soon their escape attempts will seem unnecessary and therefore laughable.17* Myself and three others escaped from prison. that dreamer really did escape and the experimenter died in the camp. Around midnight we got into the car. The one driving the car was dressed as a Gerry officer. As evening wore on. However.34* 6% 9% 15% n/a 2% 2% . leaving their rifles stuck in ground. suddenly an audience exploded with mirthful laughter. we got prepared and were lucky enough to get a car. just trying to get the horse away from one area to another without anyone noticing and stopping him. Many of the battle-themed dreams were realistic: .20* . amusing.78** 3% 4% 7% n/a 1% 1% .

In contrast. the POW dreams would look blander yet. This was often combined with content about homecomings. Food appeared with amazing frequency.202 / BARRETT ET AL. I am horrified. Then I had a dish of prunes and custard into which a bottle of ale had also been poured. a lacivious dance by a British aristocrat. or bombing—or serious attempts to kill by those means. And was bombed the whole way by German aircraft. If the wartime battle examples. painful prophylactic. and—when physically aggressive at all—shoving or pushing. Ariadne said she was rightful heir to the throne of England and the dark one was an interloper. . When these POWs dreamed of aggression. Ariadne advanced as far as Kingston but didn’t have the force to go straight through to London. were omitted from the results. Then went to another pub and had some food there. I was in a large ship going down a river from Southampton. There was a red queen on one side and white queen on the other. The white queen’s name was Ariadne. Both queens whereever they went received much cheering and acclaim by the populace. insulting. But they could also be horrific in surreal ways: Two Englishmen running from Germans intentionally dive into a vat of green acid. The POWs’ sex dreams are not only fewer. it was usually extreme—killing by shooting. and a proposition from a friend’s wife that involved wearing a massive. stabbing. The following was typical: I was at home and went to the larder and ate everything I could see. She was in England but her army had to land at Portsmouth and the dark queen marched on Watford and occupied it. I want to help them. Then back to the pub and had a large mixture of various snacks. Then went to another pub and had more food. but I knew I would be too late. I rejoined my sister and had another meal. DISCUSSION The POW dreams are blander on most dimensions. These scores tended to come from seductive female behavior which was not possible to act on such as the sexy clothing of an officer’s wife (a dream wife—there were no actual officers’ wives in the camp). in the male normative sample. Went out and met my sister and a friend at a restaurant and had a large dinner. some German guards arrived with more prisoners. The low rate of “striving” scores indicates that. Went back to the first pub and found a good mixture of drinks—barley wine and mild ale. aggressions were most commonly arguing. but also peculiarly frustrated. Their contain less of any kind of social interaction—positive or negative—for the length of the recalled segment than most other populations as well as the original normative sample used for comparison here. or occasionally fanciful: Civil War in England and something to do with chess. While I was there. many of which re-enact real traumas.

& van de Castle. Cambridge. (1985). R. The National Ex-Prisoner of War Association Newsletter. for providing access to this collection of dreams. Amityville. L. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS We wish to thank the Wellcome Collection in London and its director. McIntyre (Eds. MA: Harvard University Press..). D. Probably the early capture of the Laufen population is why their dreams resemble other prisoners more than other post-combatants. The high numbers of family members could have been a function of either nostalgic longing or the fact that they were exchanging letters with families at a very high rate with plenty of time to write and not much else to do. This group differs from other prison dreams only in that there are a small proportion of post-traumatic dreams directly related to the period of combat before capture.htm Barrett. D. (2003). C. these dreams resemble the blandness of Berendt’s sample from civilians in Nazi Germany. Laufen lacked animals or the prisoners’ friends and also any animals—two groups of characters especially low for the POW dreams. J.prisonerofwar. . Iraqi invasion.uk/winter_2003.). Posttraumatic nightmares in Kuwait following the QA: Please supply ref.CONTENT OF DREAMS FROM WWII POWS / 203 in their dreams. _______________________ (2012). ________________ or delete from text ____________________________ Beradt. (1966). and reserving their occasional enthusiasm for dreams of release. D. Retrieved January 19. 2012 from http://www. NY: Baywood..). NY: Appleton-Century-Crofts. Ken Arnold. Day residue may account for other character differences. location of publisher Hall. the POWs were not yearning for and achieving in other assorted areas as much as normative samples. & Behbehani.org.. with all authors (6 total) Barrett. (1996). low interactions. (2003. We wish to acknowledge the late Major Kenneth Hopkins for carefully recording them during his own imprisonment. Psychological effects of war on civilian populations. It cannot be ruled out that the Laufen dreams are blander because the men knew a peer was reading all their dreams or due to some other quirk of the collection process. Winter). _________: Aquarian Press. Trauma and dreams. In S. The Third Reich of dreams: The nightmares of a nation. reunion with loved ones. 1933-1939 QA: Please supply (English trans. However. New York. The higher percentage of male characters and dead characters probably reflected previous wartime and camp experience. C. The content analysis of dreams. and—not least—for gorging on favorite foods. The Laufen dreams are even more similar to other prison populations—sharing the characteristics of blandness. Krippner & T. (Ed. REFERENCES Allan. Barrett.

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