9. THE NAZI CHARACTER
During the Second World War the famous Soviet writer and journalist Ilya Ehrenburg sketched in his articles an entire gallery of portraits of Nazis. He depicted them as arrogant, vengeful and rigid. It was precisely among the likes of those that we had to live in the Kananaskis concentration camp.
Here, by way of example, are several types of the Nazi character which I remember from the camp.
At the end of 1940 the Germans opened a night school for the English language. They hastily studied English, regretting only that they would not be able to master the language because "the war will end soon". They were learning English so that, as they themselves boasted, they could find positions of Gauleiters (provincial governors) in the former British colonies, which Germany would certainly seize. The Nazi leaders spread maps out on the tables in their barracks and in advance selected for themselves positions as Gauleiter -- one took aim at Bombay, another at Cape Town, yet another at Bermuda, Jamaica, Singapore, etc. As the saying goes, they were counting their chickens before they hatched. Each tried to take for himself the biggest slice of the pie. In the spring of 1941 they divided up the positions of Gauleiter in the Balkans.
After Hitlerite Germany treacherously attacked the Soviet Union, the Nazis immediately opened a school for the study of Russische Sprache (the Russian language) as well. They all threw themselves headlong into studying "ruski yasyk" (the Russian language). Because they believed in the swift victory of the Hitlerites, they studied intensely day and night so as not to be delayed for their positions out of ignorance of the Russian language.
Having learned a few words, they would haughtily say [in Ukrainian] upon meeting Ukrainian antifascists, "We meet you schnell in Moscow.” We would derisively answer, "Auf Wiedersehen in Berlin" (See you in Berlin).
In camp there was a German by the name of S. J. Martens. He came from Ukraine. He boasted to us that under the tsar he had had a factory in Kharkiv, with 500 workingmen. He complained that the Bolsheviks had nationalized his factory and that he had had to work as an ordinary worker to survive from day to day.
"Oh, how terrible that was," he whimpered in Russian.
In 1926 by some means he fled to Poland, and from there he set forth to Canada where he became a minister in a Protestant church.
Because he was already more than 60 years of age, he was freed from work duties in the camp.
One day in July, 1941, John Naviziwsky and I were walking on the path by a barrack near which Martens sat writing something on a little table. John Naviziwsky asked what he was writing. He answered, "A book."
"In what language?"
"Now I am writing it in German, but when I return to Russia I will publish it in Russian."
We merely glanced at each other, shrugged our shoulders and, smiling, left the Nazi fool. Just imagine! A sixty-year-old man behind barbed wire in Canada, thousands and thousands of kilometres from the Soviet Union, was writing a book and dreaming of returning to Kharkiv and regaining his factory where 500 Ukrainian labourers had poured sweat so that this parasite could become rich. What desires he still had!
The Nazis crowed that they were "the chosen superior race" — the Aryan race. In camp we saw this "superior race": it was crippled, blind, hunchbacked and deaf. There were even men afflicted with syphilis who had to be kept in isolated barracks.
In barrack No. 47 the leader was a detestable Nazi named Werner. He was truly a mistake of nature — a crippled and hunchbacked creature. But what a mouth he had! He detested not only Jews, but also the English, French and Russians. He was slovenly, almost never washed in the morning. He brought back leftovers from the kitchen and hid them under his bunk, where they went mouldy, rotted and stank. Having no shame, he frequently fouled the air and his barrack-mates had to flee the barracks for the outdoors. Yet among the Nazi "elite" he was one of the most prominent. There were many more such Nazi types in camp.
It was hard for us to believe that in 7 years the Hitlerite regime was able to transform the Germans into such fanatics. However one year's stay among them persuaded us that the Nazis Neue Ordnung (New Order) had attained its end — it had created Ubermenschen (supermen) who were convinced that they would rule the world.
To maintain morale, the Nazi organization spread various false rumours. Once it circulated the rumour that on September 16, 1940, Hitler would be in London. Almost all the Germans believed this fiction and prepared for the celebration of the event. If someone wanted to contradict that lie then they said that he was a fool who did not understand politics and did not know the power of the Wehrmacht. Many times they set the date when Hitler would land his Wehrmacht on English territory and compel England to capitulate.
In the summer of 1941 I shaved my head bald. One day Professor Anton Buerzle met me while out for a stroll. He threw his hands in the air. "What have you done to your head?"
"I shaved it. It's hot outside."
"How can you think of going home with your head like that?" "By the time we go home, my hair will have grown out more than once."
"You're mistaken. The war will end soon. Next month we'll be free already. You'll see..."
"Don't fool yourself, Professor, because the war has only just begun."
"Nonsense! Mark my words, we'll soon be home because England is about to capitulate."
That is what the professor thought. What, then, could an ordinary German, who was being continually pumped full of Nazi propaganda that Hitler will soon secure victory, think?
In their free moments the Germans, like us, made various souvenirs: little boxes, cigarette boxes, picture frames and other items. Some of them already had stacks of these "treasures". Then they spread the word that the war was over! The Germans began to lament — how would they take their souvenirs home to their wives? They hastily began to make suitcases. They banged together boxes from boards, they tore up mattresses and covered their primitive suitcases with the material, and they painted them with brown paint. They wrenched the locks off the barracks and fastened them to the boxes. The suitcases dried out in the sun by the barracks. The Germans were ready for the road. It was only May of 1941!
The Nazi organization in camp had its own "press bureau" which circulated a new falsehood every day. This "bureau" had its own agents who bustled about among the prisoners spreading these fictions. Such an agent had only to appear on the "Hitler Platz" and the Germans would immediately huddle around him and ask, all at once, "Was gibt Neues?" (What's new?).
The agent would add his own fantastic inventions to the fictions of the "bureau". Listening to these absurdities the Germans would merely murmur happily, "Sehr gut! Sehr gut!" (Very good! Very good!).
And what fairytales they dreamed up! One day Hans Koester stepped up to me after roll-call on the parade ground and with great satisfaction exclaimed, "I have some very good news! Churchill has committed suicide."
The next day he approached me again and said, "Did you hear? Churchill resigned!"
I already had had more than enough of it all and I sarcastically retorted, "Of course, after committing suicide, he rose from the dead and resigned as Prime Minister. Hans, are you in your right mind?"
From then on Hans Koester did not trouble me anymore with his fictions, though we stood near each other every day because his number was 631 and mine was 643.
In the neighbouring barrack, No. 46, lived Friedrich Senger, from Saskatchewan. He came from the Mykolayiv Region in Ukraine. That man was very backward. He was convinced that the Russian tsar Nicholas II lived in California, and that he would return to Russia and would give back to all the wealthy German farmers their estates confiscated by the Bolsheviks after the revolution. He boasted that he had huge tracts of land on which worked "Ruski muzhiki" (Russian peasants). Now he himself had to work hard on his farm. He hated communists terribly. To him they were all Jews — Karl Liebknecht, Ernst Thaelmann, Klara Zetkin. Stalin was the son of a "Jewish general".
Several of the Germans cleaned the soldiers' barracks. Though the soldiers had instructions to hide their fresh newspapers from the prisoners, every once in a while the Germans succeeded in seeing the main headline from afar. From what they read they created fantastic inventions. One day, for example, a German ran back to the prison section of camp and, gasping for breath, began to shout ecstatically, "The war has ended! The king is in Canada!"
He had come up with this foolishness because he had seen in the Calgary newspaper, the "Albertan", the headline "King in Canada". The truth of the matter was that the prime minister of Canada, Mackenzie King, had gone to the United States of America to meet with President Franklin Roosevelt and when he returned to Canada the "Albertan" had carried the news with that headline. The German, having seen the headline, came to the conclusion that England had capitulated and its monarch had fled to Canada.
Another time a German who cleaned the soldiers' barracks returned with this bit of nonsense: "Germany has seized the Dardanelles!"
He had concocted it in a similar manner, after he had seen the "Edmonton Journal" headline "Germany may snatch Dardanelles". By leaving out the word "may", he made an accomplished fact out of a possibility, and the rumour flew through camp to the joy of the Germans.
What the prisoners wouldn't listen to from the Nazi "press bureau"! One day they sank the whole British navy, on another day they wiped out the British army in North Africa, and on still another day they destroyed the British air force. The greatest amount of such news could be heard most often in the latrine. They would sit on the holes like laying hens, one beside the other, and pass on the "dispatches" from their "press bureau". We called it "latrine news".
On April 18, 1941, one of the Nazis wrote an anonymous letter to the president of the United States, Franklin Roosevelt. The letter was full of insults and vulgar epithets aimed at him. The commandant punished the whole camp for this. He forbade the delivery of newspapers to the prisoners. He said that the punishment would continue until the name of the author of the letter was disclosed. Joseph Kiefer, who was the secretary of the administration for the prison section of the camp, confessed that he had written the letter. The commandant punished him with 28 days in solitary confinement. By the way, Joseph Kiefer bragged to us that he was a personal friend of General Nicholas Kapustiansky of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists. When the general came to Canada, he drove him in his own car throughout Saskatchewan to the members of the Ukrainian National Federation. The UNF was ideologically connected with the OUN, led by Col. Andrew Melnyk who had his headquarters in Berlin and worked for Hitler's secret service.
While working in the forest the Germans caught a raven for which they made a cage. They wanted to teach it to cry "Heil Hitler!" From time to time several Nazis would gather near the cage and teach the raven. They would cry, "Heil Hitler!" The raven would answer them with "Krr! Krr!" This scene would repeat itself several times a day. Finally, they did not succeed in teaching the raven to salute their Fuehrer. We would watch this Nazi comedy and almost die laughing.
The Germans argued among themselves very often. Sometimes the argument came to blows. The Nazi organization had its own group of storm troopers who with fists, stones and clubs would make short work of their political opponents and heretics. In the very first days of my stay in camp I saw Nazi "superior culture". In the evening of October 4, 1940, I was in the barrack where Mathew Shatulsky, Peter Prokop and Mike Biniowsky lived.
I had recently arrived from the world of freedom, and they were interested in all that was happening at home. In particular they wanted to know about their families. I had been sitting there till almost 8 o'clock and it was time to return to my own barrack. When I went outside I heard a shrill human cry as if someone were pinned under a tree or being beaten. Together with other prisoners I ran to the source of the scream. In the mud on the ground lay the German David Hartman. Two Nazi storm troopers had beaten him with stones. In the morning when he came out for roll call his face looked like raw steak. It was covered with clotted blood and bruises; his eyes were swollen. The Nazis had beaten him because at a meeting he had publicly accused the administration of the prison section of the camp of the theft of milk, butter, sugar, fruit and other food stuffs from the communal kitchen.
In the camp there was a young German from Vancouver by the name of Alfred Wolf. Having listened to propaganda for several years he had become captivated by fascism and joined the Nazi organization. The police had arrested him and dispatched him to the concentration camp at Kananaskis. There he tried to become closer to the Nazi leaders, and hence chose the barrack where the "elite" was. He listened to the conversations of the Nazi leaders. What he heard frightened him since they spoke about how many millions of Jews, Poles, Russians, Ukrainians and Czechs it was necessary to kill to create Lebensraum (living space) for the Germans. When he began to express his contradictory thoughts concerning their "plans" he quickly fell into disgrace. The Nazi leaders hated him for heretical thinking.
Alfred Wolf resolved to break completely with the Nazis. He wrote a letter to the Minister of Justice in Ottawa, Ernest Lapointe, in which he renounced fascist points of view and requested a hearing to be arranged for him. The commandant did not pass the letter on to Ottawa, but rather, returned it to the sender. Since the letter went through the hands of the camp spokesman the Nazis became informed of its contents and decided to teach the renegade a lesson. While Alfred Wolf was resting on his bed in the barrack during lunchtime, two storm troopers with stones entered in broad daylight and beat him until blood flowed. They threatened that if he did not keep quiet he would be "kaput".
The commandant refused to give him protection. Alfred Wolf turned to our antifascist group for assistance. We prepared a memorandum in which was stated that if Wolf was not given proper protection then the commandant would answer to the Canadian people for the consequences. In other words we hinted that we would inform the outside world about this incident by the appropriate channels. Fergus MacKean and Andrew Bileski handed the letter over to one of the officers on duty. Afterwards Wolf was placed in the infirmary to which the Nazi storm troopers did not have access. Several months later (when we were already in Hull Jail) we learned that Alfred Wolf had been released from the concentration camp in Fredericton, N.B., where he had been transferred with the rest of the Germans.
The news about Alfred Wolf's beating by the Nazi storm troopers in Kananaskis Internment Camp leaked out and was published in Canadian daily newspapers.
In barrack No. 46 lived two Germans — Friedrich Senger from Saskatchewan, who has been mentioned previously, and Herman Brugger from Calgary. Senger was from Ukraine. Brugger from Germany. Brugger considered himself "rein Deutscher" (a pure German) and called Senger "schmutzig Deutscher" (a dirty German). On this basis arguments frequently occurred between them. Both of them were Nazis. To prove his superiority over Senger, Brugger rubbed his body with vaseline every evening before going to bed. One of his German barrack mates poured turpentine into the vaseline. When Brugger rubbed his body that evening he began to burn terribly and wriggled about under the blanket. His barrack mates roared with laughter. Senger laughed the loudest. Brugger tore out of bed, grabbed a wooden log and began to beat Senger. However, the farmer had a powerful build and began to pay him back. He grabbed a bench and sent it crashing down on Brugger. After this "blitzkrieg" Brugger went about with a bloody face. Senger, bent in two, walked bowed over because his spine had been injured.
On September 1, 1941, on the office wall of the camp spokesman, appeared an announcement: "A disagreement arose between Pops and Selinger and they cut each other's throats."
What really happened? Both worked in the forest. For some reason they had begun to argue. Pops had attacked Selinger with a knife. With a flick he cut him on the chin. To cover up this scandalous affair (both belonged to the Nazi "elite") which was already beginning to spread through the camp, the leaders of the Nazi organization decided to disclose the affair.
On April 25, in my barrack, a disagreement occurred between Willy Bauman and Martin Bodenstein. They fought over a newspaper. Bauman threw a punch at Bodenstein and a fight began.
They wrestled on the bed and then on the floor, each punching the other in the face. For several days both went about with black eyes and battered noses.
Almost every day you could hear about such "blitzkriegs" among the Nazis.
When a prisoner was brought to camp he was issued clothing, underwear, a razor, straw mattress, towels, blankets and a large duffel bag from the quartermaster's stores. The prisoner signed for the items received. When he was released he was obliged to return all the items to the administration. If the prisoner wore out the clothing or footwear they were issued anew.
Every Saturday after supper the quartermaster's stores were opened and you could go for new clothing or boots. To obtain the new clothing or shoes it was necessary to bring the old worn-out item. But nobody checked whether you brought in the used items. In the stores there was no order whatsoever. A prisoner could obtain two pairs of socks every week, a pair of shoes, underwear and trousers every month. The quartermaster did not check who took what and when from the stores. Often there was not enough of certain items in the stores because they were issued to anyone at all without order or control.
Here is a characteristic example of the squandering of goods in the stores. A prisoner would come and say, "Please give me some shoelaces."
They would answer him, "There are no shoelaces." "Then what should I do?"
"You can take a pair of shoes. They have shoelaces," the quartermaster would reply.
The prisoner received the shoes, and took the shoelaces from them. He could do with the shoes whatever he wanted -- throw them away, burn them or sell them. The Nazis did just that; they would tear brand new shirts into rags and burn shoes in the woodstoves.
Some, having contacts with the soldiers, passed the shoes on to them. The soldiers would sell them in Calgary and they would divide the money. For example, work boots cost 7 dollars, but the soldier sold them for 5 dollars, of which he kept 3 dollars for his trouble and gave 2 dollars to the internee. And all this because of shoelaces which cost a mere 10 cents!
That property was acquired with the Canadian people's taxes. That was how Kananaskis Internment Camp was managed.
Copyright South Branch Publishing. All