10. BASE DECEIVERS
I worked for a while in the forest with the Germans. Our brigade was made up of 15 persons. Every morning after roll call a truck would transport us to work in the mountains 18 miles to the northwest of camp. Work began at nine o'clock, from noon to one o'clock was lunch, at 4:30 the prisoners returned to their barracks.
The work was hard. We had to fell great fir trees, then trim them of branches, cut them into two or three, and drag them out with a horse for cordwood. Another brigade loaded posts which would be used for bracing onto a truck which transported them to the coal mines of Alberta. Yet another brigade worked in a sawmill. The trees were large and after working all day a prisoner would be exhausted in the evening.
We worked for a contractor, Stanley MacLean. With a cheap labour force he wanted to prepare as many cubic metres of firewood or posts as possible. Hence he ran from one prisoners' group to another and screamed at them to work faster. He was never satisfied with the prisoners' work even when they did more than usual. He was always surly and dissatisfied. He was a very unfriendly person.
In accordance with regulations the prisoners in camp had an hour and a half for their lunch break but in the forest, when doing hard work, they were given only an hour. One day during lunch the Germans held a meeting in the canvas tent. They resolved to strike — without previous permission to prolong lunch time to an hour and a half. So that the strike would be unanimous they asked me if I would join in this endeavour. I agreed since the demand was just: why should we, in the forest doing hard work, have a shorter break than the prisoners in the camp who, compared with us, were doing significantly easier work. Thus, we all decided to begin work a half hour later.
When the contractor entered the tent at one o'clock and called us to work, he was told, "We're not going to work until 1:30. We have a right to the same break as those who are working in camp." In a minute the sergeant came and began to call us to work. He got the same answer. At 1:30 we all went to work.
When we returned to camp the soldiers at the gate stopped our brigade; they did not allow us inside. The contractor ran up and began to point at the prisoners. All those indicated were removed to the side. There were six of us. Lieutenant Brown took away our number disks. We were convinced that we would all be accused of organizing the strike and be punished with several days in solitary confinement. But in the evening we were informed that we should report early for work. The rest of the prisoners were placed in other brigades to do unpaid work. Nevertheless our entire brigade resolved to continue the struggle. After supper we held a meeting and decided not to go to work. In the morning when the soldiers began to summon us to work, not one of us volunteered for work in the forest. The next day the administration formed another brigade which went to work without protest. And so, our strike collapsed.
Three days passed and we thought the matter was finished. We would be doing unpaid work. But on the fourth day Sergeant Joe Bailey summoned us six to the office of the military police and from there, accompanied by the camp spokesman, took us to the commandant. When we entered his office we saw that he was very angry. He glowered at us. He asked each one individually, why we had not gone to work. At this point I saw the baseness of the Nazis stripped bare for all to see: not one of the Germans gave the real reason — each wriggled out of it, saying that he had not felt well and presenting a doctor's certificate. Then it was my turn. I did not have a doctor's certificate. I decided to disentangle myself from the matter in a direct manner. I said that I had not worked physically for many years, thus this work was too difficult for me.
The commandant scolded each of us, and threatened that if something similar occurred again he would take strong disciplinary measures against the rebels.
From that time on, I no longer trusted the Germans when they said that we needed to fight for our rights in camp. I avoided working with them. We antifascists strove to stay together to work and to be in separate barracks.
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