17. JUNE 22, 1941
For a whole week there was talk about the inevitability of a German-Soviet war. In newspapers news items appeared about the assembly of German forces on the eastern frontier and about the dispatch of Wehrmacht divisions to Finland. This, of course, could have been conjecture by the newspapers, so we took a cautious stance on the talk. But other facts soon began to convince us that relations between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany were becoming sharper. Those facts were: the appointment of Joseph Stalin as "Chairman of the Council of People's Commissars of the USSR"; the statement by Georgi Zhukov, commander of the Kiev Special Military District, at a convention of the Communist Party (Bolshevik) of Ukraine that they should "keep their powder dry" and "to be prepared for whatever surprises on the western border"; the warning from the Soviet government to Bulgaria which had permitted the presence of German forces on its territory; the decree from Peoples' Commissar of the USSR for Foreign Trade Anastas Mikoyan on the banning of the transport of war material through the territory of the Soviet Union to warring countries; and the mysterious flight to England by the Fuehrer's representative Rudolph Hess.
Taking all these facts into account, everyone could see that something was "cooking". On the morning of Sunday, June 22, before sunrise, one guard soldier (one of our friends) informed our contact that "Hitlerite Germany has attacked the Soviet Union". By nine o'clock in the morning the whole camp knew about the war between Germany and the Soviet Union. The Nazis gloried in it. They stuck their noses in the air and began to look on us disrespectfully. We, of course, were hard hit by the news. The impact on us was oppressive. We did not comfort ourselves with illusions, though we were convinced that the Soviet Union would be victorious over Hitlerite Germany. But we were completely conscious that the war would bring great ruin to the Soviet Union, particularly to Ukrainian lands, to the national economy and to the Ukrainian people. We knew that war would interrupt the building of socialism in the Soviet Union for years and that our Ukrainian nation, like other Soviet nations, would suffer a great loss of people and property.
We were deeply disturbed by one point — what position would Great Britain take toward this war? Would it stand with the Soviet Union against Nazi Germany or would it come to an agreement with Hitler and together with him move against the USSR? We remembered well the mysterious flight of Rudolph Hess to England and also that in Great Britain there was a strong, influential group of fascists at the highest levels of the aristocracy which, in its hatred of Bolshevism, was prepared to take part in any disgusting venture.
But when, several hours later on the same day, John Dubno returned from the soldiers' mess where he worked and said that the prime minister of Great Britain, Winston Churchill, had given a speech over the radio in which he announced the support of the British government for the Soviet Union in its fight against Nazi Germany, we immediately gained new spirit. Our hearts filled with happiness and still greater faith in the victory over that evil band of Nazis. We all surrounded John Dubno and flooded him with questions: what exactly did Churchill say? did he hear the speech himself? had he gotten the gist of it correctly?
After some time the guard soldiers confirmed John Dubno's story when they met us. This, of course, greatly lightened the load which had suddenly fallen on us that day when we heard the first news of the Nazi attack on the Soviets.
On the afternoon of the very same day, our steering committee called a meeting of all antifascists. During the meeting we discussed a wide range of questions. We came to the conclusion that our continued stay with the German Nazis might have tragic results for us. Since we had been interned on the charge that we maintained friendly relations with the Soviet Union, the change in the international situation immediately demanded re-examination of our case. The blame and accusations against us had now lost all their meaning even for extreme reactionaries.
At that meeting we prepared a memorandum with these demands: (1) immediately release us from the camp; (2) until our release give us appropriate protection; (3) separate us from the Nazis.
Our representatives, Andrew Bileski and Fergus McKean, delivered the memorandum to the camp commandant on June 23, so that he could send it immediately to the Minister of Justice in Ottawa.
After several days we gathered in barrack No. 57 and Bill Rigby gave a lecture on the theme "War Between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany". Of course, the war immediately sharpened the already tense relations between the Germans and us.
We received fairly quickly from the Ministry of Justice an answer in which we were informed that the war between Germany and the Soviet Union did not change our status and the cause of our internment.
We immediately sent a second memorandum in which we emphasized that in the charges against us it was stated that the non-aggression pact between Germany and the Soviet Union made us "allies of the Nazis" and "disloyal to Canada". We indicated in the memorandum that events, however, proved the groundlessness of such charges and that our sojourn in the camp was now in no way justified.
We also said that we were interned not for some act committed by us to the detriment of the state, but only on account of the existence of a non-aggression pact between Germany and the USSR. Thus this pact was used as justification of our exile to a concentration camp on the basis of section 21 of the Defence of Canada Act because, supposedly, we might "be dangerous to the state". Now it was entirely obvious that these fictitious accusations should be dropped and we demanded our release from the camp so that we could devote our efforts to the struggle to defeat Hitlerism and its allies.
At the same time that we in camp demanded the immediate review of our case, the wives of the interned antifascists, who from the first days of our isolation had fought for our release, intensified the campaign which was under the leadership of the National Council of Democratic Rights.
From Mary Prokop's letters we learned that on June 27 the Committee for the Release of Labor Prisoners sent a telegram to the Minister of Justice Ernest Lapointe demanding the immediate release of the interned antifascists from the concentration camps.
Besides that the wives of the interned antifascists sent a telegram in which they stated that they had learned from their husbands' letters that their lives were in constant danger from the moment that Nazi Germany had attacked the Soviet Union. They, therefore, insisted upon the segregation of their husbands from the Germans in Kananaskis because the Ministry of Justice would be answerable to them (the wives) and the Canadian people for whatever might result.
The writer of the letter informed us that on June 28, at the exhibition grounds in Winnipeg, a mass meeting took place protesting the further detention of the antifascists behind barbed wire.
A second mass protest meeting occurred in Winnipeg on the corner of Dufferin and Sinclair. Despite the rain 600 persons took part in the meeting which adopted a resolution to the government demanding the release of the activists in the labour-farmer movement from the concentration camps at Kananaskis and Petawawa. From all corners of Canada people sent thousands of postcards to the authorities in Ottawa, demanding our immediate release.
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