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Interned Without Cause, by Peter Krawchuk


In the Kananaskis concentration camp there were 795 prisoners, of which there were some 700 Germans, 40 Italians, 39 antifascists (of various nationalities) and several Slovaks. Therefore we formed a small part, not more than 5%, of all the internees. Of course, in such a body the Germans had the advantage in the internal administration of the camp. They chose from among themselves the camp spokesman, his assistant, the secretary and also the person who in conjunction with the military administration assigned the prisoners to work. That person was Antony Buerzle, who had been educated in Hitlerite Germany and who had been a professor at the University of Manitoba for several years. (He is supposed to have gained that post through the influence of the German wife of the Manitoba attorney general J. W. Major.) The Germans appointed their own people to other responsible positions in the kitchen and the canteen. The Nazis designated "the elite" to better and cleaner jobs. As a result we found ourselves under the absolute domination of the Germans. Therein lay our misfortune: Canadian citizens, avowed antifascists, were dependent on the Nazis and had to comply with their orders. Thereby the federal Minister of Justice, Ernest Lapointe, did us the greatest harm, which we could never forget nor forgive.

Among the Germans themselves there was no agreement: members and supporters of the Deutsche Bund fur Kanada hated the members and supporters of Deutsche Arbeiter Front; German Catholics were hostile towards German Protestants; "pure-blooded Aryans" shunned "impure" Germans from Russia and other countries.

In the camp there were Germans from various social strata: businessmen, well-to-do farmers, shopkeepers, intellectuals (in name only), workers and ordinary ne'er-do-wells (thieves, gangsters and pimps). There were Germans who had come to Canada many years ago or who had even been born here. Only two men had arrived from Germany on the eve of war to go "hunting" in the far north of Canada, near the port of Churchill on Hudson's Bay. They were, in fact, spies. When war broke out in September, 1939, they did not succeed in leaving through the United States. The RCMP arrested them and placed them in the camp. One of them was a professor (it is interesting that every Nazi spy was a "professor" or a "doctor"), the other a baron. They bragged that they were personal acquaintances of the notorious Herman Goering, Hitler's Minister of the Air Force. We were soon persuaded that they were highly placed Nazis because after sometime they were exchanged for two English lords interned in Germany. That is how the Germans themselves explained it when those spies were released from camp at the end of 1940.

After a while 120 sailors from two German cargo ships, the "Walser" and the "Hernandez" were brought to camp. When war broke out, these ships were located in a Mexican port. Having set sail for the high seas to break through the British blockade, they were captured by the English. The captain of the "Walser" sank his ship. The captain of the "Hernandez" refused to carry out the order of the Hitlerite government and surrendered his ship. Nazis in the camp said that there could be no returning to Germany for him since death, or at best a concentration camp, awaited him there. The crews of both ships were brought to our camp. A large percentage of the sailors was 14-, 15- and 16-year-old boys. It was sad to look at those miserable kids. But you would have been disgusted when you saw in them at the same time the disjointed, depraved, fanaticized Hitlerite bastards thoroughly poisoned by Nazi propaganda. In their eyes Roosevelt, his wife and Churchill were "Jude" (Jews). They only talked about how they would stuff their bellies full and which bordello they would go to when they returned to Hamburg or Bremen. They personified the paradigm of Hitlerite "culture". It is no surprise that such evil caused so much misfortune for the peoples of the world, particularly for Europe.

The ships' officers refused at first to dress themselves in prison clothing. They wanted to keep their officer's uniforms and demanded that the camp administration, in compliance with international convention, treat them like captured officers of the army or the navy. But because they were officers in the merchant marine they did not fall within the terms of the convention. After several days of protest the arrogant Nazis submitted and donned the prison garb with the red stripes on the trousers and red disk on the back of the jacket.

In camp there was talk that among the sailors there were Gestapo agents because they were placed without fail on board each merchant ship to keep track of the crew members.

Though the Germans argued among themselves and frequently came to blows, almost all of them were united in the matter of hatred of Canada, calling it a "rotten Jewish democracy". The Nazis had their own organization in camp whose task was  to maintain good morale among the wavering with false propaganda, to create provocations in camp and to punish physically those who showed any disbelief. To this end they established a camp Gestapo and black list.

Among the 120 German sailors we discovered one communist (Willy Hartman) and one socialist (Erich Kubacky). Perhaps among them there were more communists and socialists but they did not reveal themselves because they were afraid that the Gestapo agents, who were sticking their noses into everything and sniffing out any heresy among the Germans, would learn about it. In June of 1941 when the antifascists were sent to the internment camp at Petawawa and the Germans to the internment camp in New Brunswick, Willy Hartman came to us in secret to say goodbye. There were tears in his eyes. He said that he would never return to Germany if it remained Nazi.

The Nazi organization was led by Bernard Bott (editor of the newspaper Deutsche Zeitung fur Kanada), Alfred Alius, Josef Kiefer and Hans Kuhler.

The German group subdivided into the German Canadians and the German sailors. It must be mentioned that the German Canadians (of course, not all) were worse fanatics than the German sailors who well knew conditions under the Hitlerite regime. The sailors were not in a hurry to leave the camp, where it was safe and where there was something to eat. The German Canadians, stuffed full of Nazi propaganda from the short wave radio and literature, strove to prove to the "Fuehrer", as they themselves stated, that through their diligence, together with him, they would conquer the ganze Welt (the whole world). Hence they made every effort to incite a riot in the camp. They provoked the soldiers, attempting to start fights with them. Even before my arrival the Nazis had caused a minor riot in camp. During my stay in Kananaskis they twice incited riots which could have ended in bloody massacres. The first riot occurred December 26, 1940, during the Christmas holidays. It began because the administration did not allow the Nazis to hang swastikas on the Christmas trees in the barracks. When Captain A. Bachelor, in the absence of the camp commandant, took inspection and saw the swastikas on the Christmas trees, he told the prisoners through the camp spokesman to take them down by noon. The Nazis refused to carry out the order. For their refusal the captain deprived the prisoners of lunch. But they forcibly broke into the kitchen and took their rations from the pots.

As answer for the punishment the Germans resolved to strike -- not to work after lunch. Our group, which was also punished groundlessly, promptly called a meeting and decided to separate from the Nazis and informed the military administration about the decision through two of its own representatives. We stated that whatever the results, if they occurred, we would lay responsibility on the administration which, disregarding our resolute demands, continued to group us with the Nazis. At the same time we decided to inform the Germans that we were entirely uninterested in their battle for the swastika, which we considered to be a hated symbol.

The Nazis ran about the camp like scalded cats. They held meetings in their barracks and they laid in stores of sticks and stones to use in fighting the military police or even soldiers. Nazi Willy Bauman from our barrack, No. 47, walked about the parade ground with a big club and hollered that now he had an opportunity to demonstrate his "talents". Almost all the Germans thronged on "Hitler Platz." They shouted at the military police and threatened them. Their rage knew no bounds.

The administration called in several hundred soldiers from the garrison in Calgary to reinforce the military guard at the camp. Soldiers entered the prison section of camp and began forcibly to drive the Germans into the barracks. A meeting of the barrack leaders and the camp spokesman was called in the recreation hall. Captain Bachelor was present too. Only because the administration made concessions was bloodshed avoided. The Nazis considered this a great victory on their part and became even more insolent. They subsequently created new provocations.

The Nazis instigated the second riot on July 10, 1941. It was larger and more menacing than the previous one. It began when the camp commandant ordered the canteen closed for 10 days, deprived the prisoners of newspapers for the same period, and sent the prisoners to their barracks at 6:00 p.m. (instead of 8:00 p.m.) because several prisoners who worked in the forest had escaped. The Germans refused to comply with the order. They did not go to the barracks at 6 o'clock but, on the contrary, gathered on "Hitler Platz", lined up in fours and marched around the camp territory, shouting the Horst Wessel Lied which contained the line, "Today Germany is ours tomorrow, the whole world".

The administration promptly reinforced the guard towers with additional soldiers and had machine guns aimed at the prison section of camp. Bailey, the sergeant of the military police, shrilly yelled through a megaphone, appealing to them to break up and return to the barracks. The Germans answered him with a roar of laughter. They became increasingly wild.

The camp commandant, Lieutenant-Colonel H. de Watson, perhaps having seen his fill of Hollywood films about riots in the American prisons Sing Sing and Alcatraz, wanted to apply the same "psychological method" which the wardens there supposedly used. Accompanied by Captain Dawson and a military policeman, he entered the prison section of the camp and moved into the very thick of the enraged Germans. He hoped that his "heroism" would have an effect on them. But he miscalculated since he was dealing not with ordinary criminals but with inveterate Nazis on whom his "psychological method" had no effect whatsoever. Besides that, the commandant was not a person who could have any influence on normal people, let alone an angry mob of Nazis with animal instincts. From the very beginning he behaved tactlessly, for he began to argue with the entire mob which burned with hatred of him. Curses and profanities were hurled at him. In the eyes of the mob he became a miserable wretch. One Nazi shouted a profanity at the commandant, for which the policeman wanted to beat the German with his truncheon. Another Nazi sent the policeman flying to the ground. The mob began to trample him. Wilhelm Diesing grabbed the commandant by his collar and struck him on the chest with his fist. The situation became tense. It seemed that the machine guns would begin firing at any time, blood would flow and bodies fall.

However, the camp spokesman, Hans Brendel, saved the situation. He began to ask the Germans to disperse to the barracks, promising to settle the matter the next day. The mob listened to him and began to scatter to the barracks. True, the inveterate Nazis insisted that the riot be prolonged, because they wanted blood and victims which they needed for propaganda.

Our group did not take part in this riot. We knew that continuation of the turmoil could end in tragic results which, of course, would not leave us unaffected if the barracks were fired on, because at that time we were still scattered among the Germans.

The next day we asked the Germans what good would have come of the riot if the soldiers had opened fire on the mob. They replied that that was what they had wanted because it would have paid off for them even if several men had been killed. They said, "Our Fuehrer in far-off Germany would learn that we are loyal to him, that we along with him desire victory for the Third Reich."

It was with such fanatics that we were compelled to live a whole year in the same camp, even in the same barracks.


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