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Interned Without Cause, by Peter Krawchuk


When I was brought to the concentration camp at Kananaskis, on the roof of a barrack in the soldiers' section I saw my interned comrades John Stefanitsky and Tony Bilecki. They were covering the roof with tar paper. Having noticed me, Tony Bilecki began to shout loudly in his peculiar manner, "Why the devil didn't you hide? What do we need you here for? Aren't there enough of us here already without you?"

On the occasion of our first encounter in the camp my friend "greeted" me with those words. What could I answer? I merely lifted up my hands in embarrassment. Besides, I didn't have the right to talk with the internees because I still had not been "processed".

After all the routine formalities and the issuance to me of clothing and footwear from the quartermaster's stores, the sergeant-major took me to barrack No. 47 and showed me my bunk. I was glad to learn that living there were some antifascists John Naviziwsky, director of the Workers' and Farmers' Publishing Association, William Kolisnyk, a former Winnipeg alderman (1925-1930) and the first Communist alderman in North America, and John Protsak, an activist in the Ukrainian Labour-Farmer Temple Association branch in East Kildonan (Manitoba). All of them were significantly older than I and had more organizational seniority and experience. William Kolisnyk joined the Ukrainian branch of the Socialist Party of Canada in 1906 and was one of the initiators of the first Ukrainian workers' paper in the Americas "The Scarlet Banner" (published in Winnipeg in 1907-1908). John Naviziwsky had participated in the Ukrainian progressive movement since 1911, had been one of the leaders of the Ukrainian Social Democratic Party, and editor and business manager of "The Working People". For many years John Protsak too had given of his time and effort to the Ukrainian progressive movement. In that very barrack I became close friends with them, particularly with John Naviziwsky who was to have an important influence on my further organizational activities. From him I learned much about the first years of the Ukrainian progressive movement in Canada. He would spend entire evenings telling me about the conditions in which he and his comrades Mathew Popowich, Dennis Moysiuk, John Hnyda, Timothy Koreychuk and others were forced to work. John Naviziwsky was a marvelous storyteller. I would like to take the present opportunity to say that he himself suggested to me the idea of studying the history of the Ukrainian progressive movement. He encouraged me to write about it in articles and essays. I will always be thankful to him for that.

In those first days of October, 1940, like every newly-arrived internee, I became the centre of attention for the entire antifascist group which wanted to know to the least detail about "what's going on outside": who had escaped arrest, who of the activists had been sent to the internment camp at Petawawa, what activities the Communist Party was carrying out, how the business of the Workers Benevolent Association was doing, and whether organizational contacts with the comrades in the various localities had been re-established.

Having been a member of the directing committee up to the time of my arrest, I was well informed about organizational activities since they were discussed and planned at our meetings. When I had recounted all that I knew I noticed that the comrades were satisfied. They had feared that after their arrest organizational work would be paralyzed and that all contacts with active members throughout the country would be lost. Once they heard my report they could breathe easier, since they felt that work was continuing, though in difficult circumstances.

Of course, each one particularly wanted to learn about his family in Winnipeg about his wife, children and parents.

The Germans also approached me. Only one matter interested them: will the war end soon? My comrades advised me, and I soon discovered for myself, that it was better not to enter into conversation with the Germans. I avoided them.

On the second of October I was called to work for the first time. We carted wheelbarrows full of firewood to the soldiers' barracks. Mathew Shatulsky, Philip Lysets and I worked together. We had a quota to fulfill each day, to bring 7 wheelbarrows of wood before lunch and another 7 after lunch. The work was monotonous. It was not paid work, but one of the internees' work duties.


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