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Seasons of Captivity: The Inner World of Pows

Copyright Date: 1994
Published by: NYU Press
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  • Book Info
    Seasons of Captivity
    Book Description:

    "[An] engrossing study, told mainly by the subjects themselves... a valuable addition to POW literature and unique for its positive view of wartime captivity."-;Publishers Weekly

    "Lieblich has skillfully integrated oral histories to produce a compelling story."-;Library Journal

    "The minutes of the meetings recorded hereby are an excerpt of the lives of ten men, who had spent all their days and nights together. Each one observed the other in his grief and joy.Each one, according to his ability and sensitivity, saw it as his duty to contribute to the general welfare, to save our boat from sinking....In fact, we managed to keep afloat most of the time, and if we erred here or there, at least we had the best intentions."

    -;From a secret collective diary kept by ten POWs

    A national bestseller when it first appeared in Israel,Seasons of Captivityis a story of human survival and hope that documents the experience of ten Israeli prisoners of war who shared a single jail cell in Egypt for more than three years.

    The engrossing chronicle of the prisoners' ordeal is told in their own words-;from their capture in 1969, through six months of interrogation, torture, and isolation, to their movement to a common room. A watershed event, their transfer to shared living quarters enabled them to forge a community and an almost utopian social system. They held weekly meetings, kept a common diary, started study classes, and, among other projects, translatedThe Hobbitinto Hebrew.

    The narrative goes on to describe the re-entry of the POWs into family and social roles upon their release and return to Israel in 1973. An exploration of the personal impact of the experience on the wives of the married prisoners introduces the women's own stories of separation and reunion. Some of them had suddenly found themselves, in effect, single mothers-;yet their husbands were alive. Their husbands found stronger, more independent women in place of the traditional ones they had left behind. One of the women remarks, I thought [my husband] had been angry at me, in part unconsciously, for being so strong and competent in his absence...I had managed, well, almost effortlessly.

    This dramatic and moving account illustrates the resilience of the human spirit in the face of the most dehumanizing circumstances.

    eISBN: 978-1-4798-9862-6
    Subjects: Psychology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. 1-12)

    Seasons of Captivityis a book about the experience of a group of ten prisoners of war (six of them military airmen) who shared a single jail cell in Egypt for more than three and a half years. It is a unique case study of survival on both the individual and the collective levels, an oral-history account that is presented from the personal perspectives of these ten men, as shared with me in 1987 in a long series of in-depth interviews.

    The story unfolds in ten personal voices, starting with the men’s capture in 1969–70 and continuing through the...

  5. 1 CAPTURE
    (pp. 13-44)

    The ten Israeli men who later formed the group in the common room all fell into the hands of the Egyptians between December 1969 and July 1970, during what is known in the Middle East as the War of Attrition. The first four were Dan, thirty-seven, severely wounded in the attack preceding his capture; David, nineteen; and Motti and Benny, both twenty-one years old. They were each captured in combat by Egyptian commando units who had penetrated Israeli territory. The next six men were Air Force pilots or navigators whose planes were hit during missions over Egypt. These men, twenty...

    (pp. 45-78)

    Each of the men went through a period of interrogation that lasted from a few weeks to three months. The Egyptians used various techniques, including torture, threats, isolation, and deprivation of basic needs. The prisoners developed individual strategies to avoid the pressure and minimize their pain, trying to maintain standards of behavior that they considered honorable.

    All the men agreed that this was the hardest time in captivity, a period they had tried to forget and about which they rarely talked. Revealing these experiences to me was simultaneously difficult and cathartic. Periods of silence were frequent during this talk, especially...

    (pp. 79-105)

    Throughout the period of interrogation, the prisoners were kept in solitary confinement, handcuffed, sometimes in extremely small, cold, or dark cells. After the termination of the intense stage of interrogation, solitary confinement went on for about three more months. Loneliness, lack of time-space orientation, and insecurity characterize this stage, together with continuous physical suffering and rare hallucinatory or suicidal states. Gradually, however, most of the men recovered from the initial trauma and found ways to structure the empty time. The initial visits of the Red Cross agents and letters from family members relieved the darkness of this period.

    Most of...

    (pp. 106-116)

    The moment of meeting was extremely moving for the men and resulted in a definite change in their lives in captivity. It was, however, a single event of short duration. As the reader will soon discover, the interviewees retained the sense of the emotional impact of the event, yet had different recollections about the people they met, or the order of coming together in the common room. The following versions are somewhat contradictory, probably due to the great excitement of the moment.

    One day they transferred Benny and me into a common cell. I have hardly any recollections of that...

    (pp. 117-146)

    This chapter, as well as the next two, is based on an open-ended request to describe life in the common room, which provoked long, detailed, and varied narratives. As each of the men presented his version of the collective experience, three general topics emerged: organizing the group as a solution to the men’s individual needs, the social aspects of life in the group, and their private experiences while living so closely together. The stories about the joint captivity often wandered back and forth in time, and many inconsistencies are obvious in the following accounts. Selections from the group diary, which...

    (pp. 147-173)

    This chapter is based on collected quotations that focus on relatively informal interactions among the men. It reveals how, on the one hand, the prisoners experienced a great deal of togetherness, even when doing something individually, such as reading or writing letters; on the other hand, respect for individual privacy was highly regarded and exposure of feelings or intimate material was rare. The chapter describes the tensions among the men and the means used to reduce them. The emerging picture indicates the different roles of some of the individual members: Menachem, who insisted on organized activities and improvement in standards...

    (pp. 174-197)

    The prisoners’ emotions of longing, fear, or despair, their fantasies and dreams concerning escape or release, were rarely displayed in public. Various defense mechanisms were utilized to fend off these feelings, which constituted a major part of the inner world, and found virtually their only expression in the men’s letters to their loved ones. These interviews, which occurred so many years later, in a safe situation, enabled the men to face their inner world at that time. Some of the men brought these up spontaneously during our conversations, as in the long detailed narratives about the pets in the common...

    (pp. 198-217)

    Following are some translated protocols and excerpts from the diary, and a sample of the Red Cross reports to the families. Rather than one prisoner’s impressions, this diary records the decisions made and the guidelines set up by the group as a whole. As the reader will note, the diary is both cryptic and full of humor, revealing daily aspects that were not emphasized in the men’s narratives. The Red Cross reports add a new perspective, from observers of the captives in “real time.” All these documents are arranged chronologically, so that the reader can follow some of the developments...

  13. 9 THE RETURN
    (pp. 218-233)

    The release after close to four years in prison, the return to Israel, and the reunion with family and friends was, naturally, a peak experience for the men. It took place in November 1973, within the framework of a massive POW exchange, following the termination of the Yom Kippur War between Israel and Egypt (as well as other Arab states). Dan, who was still suffering from his injuries, was returned a few days earlier, while the remaining nine prisoners were released together and received in public with great honor.

    The circumstances of the return, however, were far from simple. Not...

  14. 10 BACK TO LIFE
    (pp. 234-250)

    The ten former POWs painted very different pictures of the sensitive first weeks back home. Some tried to return to their former routine as soon as possible, while others felt changed by their experience and looked for a place that would be adequate for their new needs. Their career paths went in different directions—some returned to military careers, others chose to explore the civilian marketplace. Some of the men had difficulty negotiating with the Israeli authorities for compensation for their captivity. Their return to their families was even more complex. Readjusting to a marital relationship and the parenting of...

    (pp. 251-263)

    Toward the end of our interviews, I asked each of the men to reflect on the lessons he had learned from captivity or on what remained of the experience. It was surprising for me, again, to find great diversity in the men’s responses and the variety of moods expressed at this request to summarize the experience in its totality.

    I won’t say that I was left with the feeling of being a hero. Throughout my captivity I felt like a defeated Israeli soldier. I have seen many times how our country gives every returned POW the sense that he is...

    (pp. 264-272)

    The next three chapters are based on interviews with the five wives of the POWs who had been married at the time of their captivity. Dan’s wife, the mother of his three children, died of cancer two years ago, and was the only wife whose account could not be obtained. I also interviewed Michal, Yitzhak’s ex-wife, who divorced him six months after his liberation. Generally, my interviews with the women revealed a depth of emotion sometimes subdued in their husbands’ accounts. Their stories present an unusual display of courage, which is frequently omitted in war-related accounts. This chapter explores the...

    (pp. 273-293)

    “What happened later?” I asked. The women provided their individual reports of the next three and a half years of their lives as wives of missing husbands and as single mothers. The outstanding features of this existence were, of course, knowledge that their husbands were alive, the inability to directly communicate, and the uncertainty about the time of reunion. It seems that the emotional responses to separation were more heterogeneous for the women than for the men. In addition to the normal variability in their personalities and marital relationships (as in the case of the men), the women’s lives differed...

    (pp. 294-309)

    The return of the men was, naturally, the happy conclusion of the long waiting period of their wives and children. At the same time, they viewed this return with a certain apprehension about the need to adjust to living together again. Most of the wives felt that they had acquired strength and independence and were ambivalent about giving that up. Since they had to adjust to the changes that had occurred in their husbands as well, all of which had occurred during and after the recent war, the transition period was not easy.

    From a long-range perspective, the couples seemed...

    (pp. 310-338)

    The evidence presented in this book provides ten different perspectives on the experience of a long captivity. The physical and psychological difficulties of the various stages of confinement, and the mechanisms for coping with them, both on the individual and group levels, are manifested in the personal narratives and the shared diary. We have learned about hidden feelings that reflect the inner reality of fear and uncertainty and also about external behaviors that display the interrelationships of a small group of men incarcerated together for almost three years. We have felt the men’s longing for their former world of attachments...

    (pp. 339-342)
  21. Back Matter
    (pp. 343-343)