3. UNFORGETTABLE JULY 6
July 6 is my birthday. In 1940, it fell on a Saturday. It was a lovely, sunny day. Very early, as I did every morning, I was getting ready to go to the editorial offices to turn in the correspondence pages, for which I was responsible, for publication in "The People's Gazette". Suddenly I heard a heavy rap on the door of our apartment. At that time my wife and I lived on Selkirk Street. I quickly opened the door and was astonished to see, so early, my older brother Nick. I noticed a look of alarm on his face.
"What's happened, Nick?" I asked him.
"Get out of the house as fast as you can! The police have just arrested Tony Bilecki on College, while he was delivering milk for the Worker-Farmer Co-op."
Instead of hiding, I quickly and decisively made for the Ukrainian Labour Temple on the corner of Pritchard and McGregor to turn in my correspondence pages at the editorial offices of "The People's Gazette". As I drew near the building I saw the workers from the print shop — John Hunka, Steve Vasylyna and George Kanyuga — on the stairs. They were standing around helplessly, not knowing what to do, whether to continue working or to go home, because neither the editors nor the administrative staff had come to work. Not even Nick Bidulka, the manager of the print shop, was there. With a few exceptions, all of them had already been arrested and sent to jail.
When the printers saw me, they were amazed, because they thought that I had been arrested with the others.
"Why did you come here?" Steve Vasylyna asked.
"What do you mean, `Why?' We still have to put out the paper!"
"Get away from here as fast as you can, because the police were just here looking for the editors and rummaging through the offices."
I hurriedly ran up the stairs to the second floor, entered my office, grabbed several letters from activists in the provinces, tore them into little pieces and flushed them down the toilet so that they would not fall into the hands of the police. I went outside and, I have to admit, did not know what else to do. Where should I go?
I decided to find out if there were still any others of the editors left. Consequently I headed for the apartment of Nick Hrynchyshyn, one of the editors of "Farmer's Life".
When I turned off Pritchard onto McKenzie, I saw the news editor of "The People's Gazette", Emanuel Michailiuk, who was walking along swinging a stick. I was overjoyed -- so he too had been left free! But I did not try to catch up with him because I did not want to draw the attention of passers-by. Among them might be police agents who, that morning, were loitering about the streets of North Winnipeg where most of the activists of the Ukrainian progressive movement lived.
It should be mentioned that the police had broken into Mike Biniowsky's apartment that morning and arrested him. They had asked about Emanuel Michailiuk, who lived with him. They had dug through his trunk and taken a photograph of him. Luckily Emanuel Michailiuk was not there then, because he loved to walk the city streets in the fresh air of the early morning, before the start of the work day. As a result, though he was on the wanted list he avoided arrest and left for Alberta, where he lived among progressive Ukrainian farmers through the bad times.
As I approached the house on Burrows where Nick Hrynchyshyn lived, I could see him near the gate, as if he were waiting for me. So, then, another one of us had escaped arrest! If there are three of us left, I thought, then we can still put out a paper, if not every day then at least once a week.
Nick Hrynchyshyn, like me, was anxious because we had not expected such a sudden and swift offensive. We had not prepared for it. In a glance we asked one another what we should do. I suggested that we go to my apartment to think out a plan.
As we walked along and talked, we naively asked ourselves what our arrested comrades were thinking of us, not seeing us amongst them. Would they not be thinking bad things of us? They might be asking why we were not taken. Today this might seem stupid, but then we wanted to be with our senior friends and leading comrades, to share their fate and to be part of their collective.
My wife had already left when we entered the apartment. She had gone to her job at Buffalo Hat Company. I locked the door and began to wash the dishes, passing the cups and saucers to Nick to dry with a towel. He could not stand it any longer and, though calm by nature, exploded in a raised voice, "Peter, our comrades have been taken, and you're playing with dishes! What are we going to do?" "Stay calm, Nick. We'll think of something." Though I was calming him, inwardly I was alarmed myself because all this had hit us so suddenly, like an avalanche. We did not believe that a general arrest of the leading cadre of the Ukrainian progressive movement could have begun, all the more so because, in our minds, there were no grounds for it. Nick Hrynchyshyn and I belonged to the younger circle of responsible workers and did not have any experience in such situations.
We decided to go to St. Boniface to talk with Steve Macievich, the manager of the Workers' and Farmers' Publishing Association, who had just got out of the hospital after a bout with typhus. As we got on the bus, which ran along Arlington, the driver, Nick Malowany, a member of the ULFTA and the Workers Benevolent Association, was astonished to see us. "Boys, what are you doing here? The police are scouring the North End like madmen, looking for our leaders. They've already arrested some. Save yourselves if you can!"
All the same, we went to St. Boniface, where the three of us discussed our immediate plans. Certainly we did not have any right to leave the city and leave everyone without leadership in order to save our own skins, as the saying goes. We understood our responsibilities to our consciences and to our comrades around the country. They were expecting direction on what to do and how to proceed. Then, too, there were still the newspapers, the Ukrainian Labour and Farmer Temples, the readers' money gathered for the press fund, and the Workers Benevolent Association. The June 4 ban had not extended to the WBA, though the secretary of the Head Office, Tony Woytyshyn, had been arrested with the other Winnipeg antifascists.
True, we did not know at that time that, besides the four of us, John Boychuk, the secretary-treasurer of the Central Executive Committee of the ULFTA, had avoided arrest.
At this first meeting we discussed what needed to be done immediately to establish contact with our comrades in the different provinces.
In the belief that there was no warrant for my arrest and, in any event, not having a safe place to hide from the police, I returned home. In the evening Mary Prokop visited. Mary was the wife of Peter Prokop, one of the editors of "The People's Gazette" and secretary of the Party Fraction Bureau for Ukrainian progressive organizations. She told us that when the police had arrested her husband at daybreak they had questioned them about me because at one time we lived in the same building in the Rosenblat Block. However, while I had been on the organizational tour in Eastern Canada in May my wife had moved to other lodgings and, consequently, the police (who had already been keeping us under surveillance) lost track of us. They had not arrested me because they did not know the address to my apartment. In this way I learned that I was on the wanted list and had to go underground.
Mary Prokop reported that on that day in Winnipeg the police had arrested 17 Ukrainian antifascists. Among them, besides those already mentioned, were: editors of "The People's Gazette" Mathew Shatulsky, Philip Lysets and John Stefanitsky; editor of "Farmer's Life" Mike Sawiak, manager of the Worker-Farmer Co-operative Andrew Bileski; Manitoba organizer of the ULFTA John Dubno; public figure William Kolisnyk; Ukrainian children's school teacher Nick Krechmarowsky; worker for the Worker-Farmer Co-operative Myron Kostaniuk; manager of the Worker-Farmer Bookstore Dennis Moysiuk; ULFTA activists John Protsak, Tony Bayliuk, Jim Petrash; manager of the print shop Nick Bidulka.
Mary Prokop reported that at dawn she heard a knock on the door. When she opened it, several policemen in plain clothes came inside and told Peter Prokop to come with them.
In some homes the police dragged the antifascists straight from their beds, disregarding the protests of wives and the lament of frightened children. Those not found at home were taken right off the factory floor. Several milkmen for the Worker-Farmer Co-operative were hauled out of their wagons before the eyes of passers-by on the street.
The arrested men were taken to the police station on Portage. There the police took short statements from them, took photographs and fingerprints, wrote out documentation on the arrested men and sent them to Headingly Jail. Here their personal effects — ties, belts, penknives, money, etc. — were taken from them.
While preparing their reports, the police endeavoured, through clever questioning, to gain information about those antifascists whom they had still not succeeded in arresting. But those arrested limited themselves merely to short answers of a personal nature. They gave their name, year of birth, address and profession. They all proved themselves to be models of solidarity and high organizational awareness. Not one of them broke down and confessed. (True, arrested with them was John Pastukh, former activist in the Communist Party of Canada, member of the ULFTA and trade union activist, who in 1936 had joined a group of Lobay renegades and was expelled from the ranks of the organized labour movement. He was released shortly from the concentration camp.)
Early the next morning, Sunday July 7, the police handcuffed the arrested men and escorted them to the concentration camp at Kananaskis.
The same Sunday morning, print shop worker Tony Kobylyansky arrived on his bicycle at my apartment. He brought instructions from the leader of the Manitoba District Committee of the Communist Party of Canada, Jim Litterick. "Go underground at once. If you do not carry out this order, you will be expelled from the Party immediately."
But where could I go? Where could I find safe quarters when the police terror was running amuck in the city, when people were terrified? I turned to one sincere comrade, a tried and true activist who would have taken me in gladly, but his wife was afraid that he would be sent to the concentration camps. Then what would she do, with little children to care for?
During the several days when all efforts were being made to seek safe quarters, I had to stay at the very inconvenient lodgings of my wife's brothers-in-law. At one of their places it was so crowded that when one of the neighbours came in about some matter I had to go into the cellar and wait there quietly until he left the house.
Still this did not continue for long, because Steve Macievich found me a refuge on Doucette Street in St. Boniface. That house soon became not only my dwelling but also our organizational office, where the committee gathered at night to process the mail and prepare the first issue of the illegal mimeographed newspaper "For Freedom" (Za Volyu).
Copyright South Branch Publishing. All