From July 6 to September 28 I was forced to work in conditions of illegality and to carry on organizational activity underground. Incidentally, I already had had some experience in working underground, in Lviv from 1928 to 1930 when I belonged to the Young Communist League of Western Ukraine. Of course, then I did not have this responsibility, which now fell on the shoulders of a few leading activists who had avoided arrest and remained free.
At that very time the government was conducting the registration of all adults in the country. Each such person had to have an identification card on which appeared his name and address. Of course, I could not register in Winnipeg, because I thus would fall into the hands of the police. Consequently I went to the home of my wife's parents in the Gimli, Manitoba, area and obtained the necessary document there.
We soon found out who of the activists in Winnipeg had avoided arrest, and formed a directing collective of five persons. The group was made up of John Boychuk, Steve Macievich, Nick Hrynchyshyn, Borden Harmatiuk and myself. This committee convened regularly. It planned the work for the restored collectives of the Ukrainian progressive movement in various cities in Canada and through its representatives maintained contact with the collectives.
Of greatest interest to us then were the living conditions of our interned comrades in Kananaskis, what charges the authorities were preferring against them, what questions the authorities were asking them during the hearings before a government commission, what requests they had of us and what help they needed. At the beginning, however, contacts had not been established with the internees because the regulations of the concentration camp administration did not permit even those closest to them their wives and children to visit them.
We were overjoyed when, at the request of the wives, Sol Greenberg agreed to act on behalf of the internees during the commission hearings. Sol Greenberg had been the lawyer for the Canadian Labour Defence League for many years. He had defended unemployed immigrants from deportation during the economic crisis, defended arrested Manitoba farmers for their participation in the fight against the sale of their farms for unpaid loans and taxes, represented in court members of the Communist Party of Canada and defended members of the Workers' Unity League arrested for their activities. He was legal counsellor for the ULFTA and the WBA. He was considered to be a liberal-democrat.
After he returned from the hearings we sent a representative to find out from him all that we needed to know. But he disappointed us because he declined to give any information whatsoever. He directly stated to our representative that he would be liable to imprisonment, as he had been sworn and did not have the right to reveal to anyone how someone behaved during the hearings or what conditions existed in the camp. With that, all contacts between him and us broke off, and we made no further use of his services.
Only after some time did we succeed in establishing a channel for receiving information about the living conditions of our comrades in the camp and informing them about our organizational activity in the different localities.
Some of the wives of the interned, thinking subjectively, began to complain that their husbands were behind barbed wire, while those who had avoided arrest had run away, were hiding out and were doing nothing. So that demoralization would not spread among the supporters of the progressive movement and in spite of the obvious danger (because police spies kept an eye on the wives of the interned men), I demanded permission from the committee to meet with some of the women to explain the situation and to assure them that none of us had fled nor was safely hidden away like a frightened rabbit, but that the directing committee existed and was doing all possible in the given circumstances. Afterwards all manner of unnecessary gossip was cut short, the more so since they soon saw for themselves that the directing committee did exist and was carrying out quite effective activities.
It must be said that generally the wives of the interned men stalwartly accepted their bitter fate and somehow or other solved their daily problems themselves, not creating needless problems for the directing committee. One could say that the internees' wives passed the test of civic awareness and organizational upbringing with flying colours. Some of them even showed themselves to be paragons of leadership in the battle for the release of the interned antifascists from the concentration camps. Among these Mary Prokop held first place.
To establish direct organizational lines of communication with the guiding collectives in the different cities around the country, the directing committee sent Mike Seychuk and Mike Walchuk on tour one to Eastern and the other to Western Canada. Their task was to gather the names and addresses of activists and arrange contacts with them, to form committees in the localities and to collect the money which had been gathered during the press campaign so that "The People's Gazette" and "Farmer's Life" could be published.
The directing committee took pains to restore the publication of the aforementioned newspapers because the governmental ban had not extended to them. When concrete steps already had been made in that direction the government again passed an Order in Council which forbade the existence of the Workers' and Farmers' Publishing Association and confiscated the print shop. Afterwards, in a series of localities the police sealed up the Ukrainian Labour Temples. Some of them were "sold" at an absurdly low price to the Ukrainian National Federation, an organization which maintained contacts with the pro-fascist Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists in Europe. Some were sold to private businessmen.
But the directing committee felt that with each day the need grew to publish a newspaper around which again could be rallied the thousands of Ukrainian workers and farmers who had subscribed for many years to "The People's Gazette" and "Farmer's Life". Without their newspapers the people felt lost, isolated from truthful information which they could not draw from the daily bourgeois press, especially from the pages of the Ukrainian nationalist press which became even more false and deceitful at that time.
The directing committee decided to have recourse to Michael Cependa, an "independent" orthodox clergyman who, in the Alberta farming community of Smoky Lake, published the newspaper "The Voice of Truth" (Holos Pravdy) in which he sometimes printed articles which were progressive in spirit. Incidentally, he maintained a correspondence with John Naviziwsky for many years before the eruption of the Second World War and occasionally received help, particularly newsprint, from the Workers' and Farmers' Publishing Association. We contacted him and he came to Winnipeg for negotiations which took place in a hotel and in which Steve Macievich and I took part. He demanded that someone from our collective come and edit the newspaper because he himself could not cope with such a great and responsible obligation. Of course, we ourselves did not wish that he be the sole editor because he was an illiterate and untrustworthy person, capable of all sorts of mischief. He understood that thousands of people who had subscribed to "The People's Gazette" and "Farmer's Life" would read the newspaper should it be edited by our person, immediately strengthening the material base of "The Voice of Truth". In the directing committee, we decided that our editor on "The Voice of Truth" would be Nick Hrynchyshyn. He edited this newspaper from October 1940 to the end of August, 1941. As soon as he took the paper in hand, "The Voice of Truth" became a serious spokesman for the Ukrainian progressive community.
Each week the number of subscribers grew by the hundreds. Later, when "The Voice of Truth" had a strong material base and several thousand subscribers, Michael Cependa began to resort to various despicable stunts, thinking that he was on top of the world. He began to carry on sectarian politics of an odd "philosophy" in the newspaper. In a word, the Ukrainian progressive movement and he had come to a parting of the ways and it became necessary decisively to break off all contacts. By then, the newspaper "Ukrainian Life" (Ukrainske Zhyttia) was being issued in Toronto, and with that the matter was finished once and for all.
Although measures were taken to transform "The Voice of Truth" into a progressive newspaper, the directing committee made an effort to issue a paper in Winnipeg. We decided to turn to Steve Sawula, well-known in Winnipeg as a lawyer and a democrat, to inquire if he would agree to be its publisher because a person with a reputation was needed for this. We delegated Mike Walchuk from Port Arthur for the negotiations with him. That was our mistake, for though Steve Sawula attentively heard out the proposal, even showed interest in it, all the same he did not agree unconditionally. He stated that he wished to discuss this matter with someone in the leadership whom he personally knew because he had just met Mike Walchuk for the first time in his life. He was quite correctly cautious since it could have been a trap set by the enemy, who had no love for him because he openly supported the struggle of the unemployed, spoke against fascism and expressed solidarity with the Popular Front government of Spain.
At the next meeting of the directing committee it was proposed that Steve Macievich and I go to negotiate with Steve Sawula. When it came to the vote on my participation the vote split two for my going, two against. The comrades who spoke against my inclusion argued that it was dangerous for me to appear in the city because I might draw the attention of the police and be arrested on the spot. I was the fifth member of the committee and had to resolve with my own vote whether to go or not to go. Of course I raised my hand for the motion, as I believe that each member of the committee would have done in my place. Although reason dictated that I not go, how could I in such a situation show not refusal but any vacillation? How could I appear a coward in the eyes of my comrades with whom I had spent many years of common organizational activity and struggle? It was impossible.
Knowing that telephone conversations were being listened to by the police we resolved that on September 28 we would go by streetcar directly to Steve Sawula's office, which was located on Main Street, not far from City Hall. When we entered the office the secretary told us that the lawyer was in court and would not return until one o'clock in the afternoon. It was eleven o'clock. What could we do? We could not wander about the city centre in the light of day because at any minute the police or their informers, of which there was no lack, could recognize us. Steve Macievich suggested that we go for dinner at the Blackstone Restaurant and wait there for a few hours. I was against it because I considered the restaurant to be a dangerous place where scores of people came, among whom could be persons undesirable to us. I advised going to the movies because I thought that there it would be safer. In the dark no one would recognize us. There we could also wait out a couple of hours. We went into the Capitol Theatre on Portage. The film Foreign Correspondent with the famous actor Joel McCrea was being shown.
We took seats by the aisle. After 10 or 15 minutes had passed, a young man sat down by me. I did not pay any attention to him. I thought he was just another movie-goer. But he suddenly turned his head in my direction and asked in English, "What's your name, Peter?"
"That's strange," I answered. "You called me by my name and inquire what my name is."
"Oh, I want to be certain if you are the person that I need."
"You need me? Enough is enough. Who are you?"
He drew a leather folder from his jacket pocket, opened it, leaned towards the light which was mounted in the seat, and showed me. I could only make out the thick script of "Royal Canadian Mounted Police".
"Please come with me."
"For a short investigation. I'll bring you back here and you can finish watching the film or I'll return the money for the ticket."
When I got up from the seat to go with him he said, "Tell your friend to come too."
"I don't know him. He's not my friend. He was already here when I encountered him. This is, after all, a theatre."
"Oh, don't joke, Peter. I saw you come in and sit down together. I'm convinced he's your buddy."
I said nothing, however. Then he told Steve Macievich to come along with us. As we left the theatre, Steve Macievich only uttered, "We're sunk, Peter. We're sunk!" I remained silent all the way to the police station.
Officer William Grinley arrested us at 12:15 in the afternoon.
At the police station they asked me all sorts of questions. Steve Macievich was left in peace. The police sergeant demanded that I tell them where my brother Emanuel was. I answered that I never had had a brother with that name. Then he pushed a photo of Emanuel Mikhailiuk at me. Again he asked, "Where is he?"
"I don't know this man and I've never seen him."
Steve Macievich who, as they say, had never seen hard times began to explain, thinking that in this way he would help me get out of their hands. "No, no, he's not Peter's brother. I know him. Peter comes from Galicia but Emanuel comes from Bukovina. These are two different regions. I come from Bukovina."
We were sitting beside each other at the table and I stomped heavily on his toes as if to say, "Be quiet. Don't needlessly give them information." He finally got his bearings and stopped talking. He thought that the police were searching for Emanuel Mikhailiuk and not for me. Thus if he explained to them that we were not brothers then they would free me.
Soon afterwards they let Steve Macievich go, and took me to another room, their "laboratory", where a scale stood and numbers were hung on strings. There was a large camera and near it was a table with a glass top. They weighed me, hung a number on my chest and photographed me, and took my fingerprints. I knew that after this procedure they would take me away to jail and then send me to a concentration camp.
And so it happened.
However, before that, they again took me to the office and began to write out a document a pass into the concentration camp. Again they asked me several questions. They were particularly interested in my friends and demanded that I name them. I began counting off John Naviziwsky, Peter Prokop, Philip Lysets, John Dubno, Mathew Shatulsky, Tony Bilecki... The sergeant asked me, "Where are they now?"
"The same place where you are getting ready to send me. In Kananaskis."
"Oh, you're a smart one," maliciously remarked the sergeant. "Don't you have any more friends?"
"Isn't that enough?" I sarcastically threw back at him.
In several minutes they took me away to the city jail on Vaughan Street.
For the first time in Canada I found myself behind prison bars.
After returning home, Steve Macievich informed my wife that I had been arrested as soon as she came in from work. I was permitted to telephone my brother Nick to say that at 9 o'clock in the evening they would be sending me to Kananaskis by train and to tell him to come to see me off.
I told the police that I was staying at my in-laws in Gimli, as my registration card witnessed, and did not reveal my real address. I did not disclose my apartment in Saint Boniface for these reasons: it further remained the organizational offices, committee meetings continued to take place there after my arrest, the mail and addresses of people in the province were kept there as well as the prepared matrices of the first issue of the illegal newspaper "For Freedom" (I had finished it the day before my arrest).
My brothers Nick and John, my wife Mary and Mary Naviziwsky, wife of the interned John Naviziwsky, came to say goodbye to me.
I wish to note that the RCMP officer who escorted me to Kananaskis revealed himself to be somewhat human because he moved off a little distance when I spoke with my wife in the train car. He did not want to hear our conversation. This gave me the opportunity to pass along to Borden Harmatiuk, through my wife, where the matrices for "For Freedom" were to be found, and where the typewriter, newsprint, ink, letters and addresses our files were kept.
In time I found out that that same evening, when I was being escorted to Kananaskis, in the garage of a certain activist, a Bukovinian worker, a mimeograph machine was running, tossing out page after page of the newspaper "For Freedom" which I had prepared. Borden Harmatiuk and William Yarmoliuk (he now lives in Odessa) were running the mimeograph machine. Steve Macievich edited further issues of "For Freedom" after my arrest.
At present, the fifth issue of this newspaper, dated April 22, 1941, lies in my personal archives. Unfortunately, I have not unearthed that first number from 1940 which has a particular value to me.
In that relatively short time during which I was free and working underground much useful organizational work was done. First of all it had been necessary to renew the Party Fraction Bureau for the Ukrainian progressive organizations in the different cities because these very bureaux led the activities of the groups of ULFTA members who met in private homes.
Great attention was devoted to the matter of saving the WBA. Though it had not been formally banned by the government, the authorities, particularly in Manitoba, hindered its existence and activities. The provincial attorney general W. J. Major ordered the removal of the financial books of the Head Office of the WBA for investigation. They continually called in Stella Seychuk and demanded various explanations from her.
After each such session at the offices of the provincial attorney general she reported to the directing committee. I met with her in the evenings in one of the little parks of Saint Boniface. The committee gave her advice on how she should conduct herself and how to avoid answering provocative questions. This young woman carried on her shoulders the considerable burden of rescuing the WBA from the axe brandished over it by the reactionaries who wanted to destroy it at all costs.
Though it was difficult to lose my freedom, because I did not know what awaited me beyond the barbed wire, I consoled myself that nevertheless I had left a good collective which would carry on work and would mobilize the Canadian citizenry for our release from the concentration camps, for the legalization of the ULFTA and for the return of the Ukrainian Labour and Farmer Temples to their rightful owners the Ukrainian Canadian workers.
My keeper, police officer Herbert Bloxom, truly belonged to that group of persons of humane sensibilities, for though he had orders to put me in handcuffs he did not do so. The whole time on the road to Calgary no one paid any attention to me as they would to someone under arrest. In Calgary on September 29, in the evening, he handed me over to three policemen who were waiting at the railway station and who immediately took me to the police jail located on the floor above the post office. In the jail cell there was neither a bed nor blankets; I had to spend the whole night on the cement floor.
Early on September 30, I was called to breakfast. In the dining hall there were a score or so of criminal prisoners. For the first time ever I heard their slang, from which I drew the conclusion that these were repeat offenders and that this was not the first time for them to be behind jail bars.
At 8 o'clock in the morning officer Herbert Bloxom took me by train to Seebe railway station and there delivered me to the secondin-command of the Kananaskis concentration camp Major Jordain. He and guard soldiers escorted me to the camp.
Copyright South Branch Publishing. All