19. THE TRANSFER TO PETAWAWA
The Ministry of Justice, as has already been mentioned, ignored our memoranda. We were further detained with the Nazis in the camp. The then Minister of Justice Ernest Lapointe made a statement in which it was said that even though the international situation had changed, the government was not considering releasing us from the camp because, he said, we had not been interned for our sympathy for the Soviet Union. Thus the Minister "spat in his own face" because until then he had maintained that we had been interned for the very reason that we were friends of the Soviet Union, which had a non-aggression pact with Germany.
Regardless of the facts that the trade union movement had reinforced the campaign for our release from the camps, that protests, letters and petitions inundated the government and that even the daily press was discussing the need to review the case of the interned antifascists we remained behind barbed wire. The Canadian reactionaries did not want to yield, because they did not know how the war between the Soviet Union and Germany would end. It appeared that we were being held "just in case" because the reactionaries might need us for "loose change". Had not Petain and Lavalle delivered into the hands of the Gestapo arrested communist deputies to the French parliament, whom they had acquired out of the "kindness" of Daladier and Bonnet?
These were hard times for us. Though we had accepted, until June 22, that we would have to be in the camps for many years, we now wished very much to go free, because our presence among the workers was ten times more necessary than before. It was necessary to support the workers and farmers spiritually in these dark days, to steel them to be steadfast, to expose the wicked propaganda of the Ukrainian fascists, to mobilize people to strengthen the war effort, and to maintain their belief in victory over Nazi Germany and its allies.
It became somewhat easier for us when we learned, in the second half of July, that we were being transferred to another internment camp — Petawawa. This made us happy because an even larger group of antifascists interned in Eastern Canada was staying there. We believed that through our joint efforts we could develop a more powerful campaign for our release, that we could more resolutely withstand any attacks by the fascists and that we would be better able to conduct our cultural and political activities.
The Kananaskis internment camp was divided into two groups: one group (antifascists, Italians and German Canadians) was sent to Petawawa, Ontario. The other group (German aliens and German sailors) was sent to Fredericton, New Brunswick.
Though we had known about the transfer to Petawawa for several weeks through unofficial sources, the camp administration said nothing about it until almost the last day. Not until July 19 were we ordered to collect all our things and be ready to leave Kananaskis. Where to? They didn't tell us that. There were various suppositions circulating. On July 21 we were given instructions to get up at 4:00 a.m. and to prepare to travel. Sometime around 9:00 a.m. the first transport left — to Fredericton. The Germans departed singing their Nazi songs. Why shouldn't they sing? After all, the Hitlerite forces were marching to the East. The Nazis believed that victory for Germany was merely a matter of a few weeks. Then there would be posts in Ukraine, Byelorussia, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Russia. We watched those degenerate creatures with repugnance. We were happy that finally we would be separated from this filth.
Around noon the second transport moved out — to Petawawa. From Kananaskis we were taken by truck to Seebe station and under armed escort we were transferred to the railway cars. We were seated two to a bench. Around 50 men were crammed into a car. We had to sit on the benches the whole time. We did not have the right to stand up and walk along the little corridor between the benches. We were only allowed to trade places with our comrade or go to the washroom. If a prisoner went to the toilet, behind him strode a military policeman who stood at the doorstep (the washroom door had been taken off) and watched that the internee did not break a window and jump out of the train car.
If a prisoner got up and tried to straighten his back a policeman would immediately run up, place his robust hand on his shoulder and order, "Sit down!"
In each train car the prisoners selected from among themselves a spokesman to represent them and settle all matters with the transport commandant.
During breakfast, lunch and dinner several prisoners from each car went to the dining car and carried back the meal which we ate balanced on our knees. Afterwards they took back the cups and bowls. Of course, everyone wanted to go to the dining car because he would then have a chance to see his comrades in the other cars, learn the latest news as he passed and, finally, straighten his back and stretch his legs.
It was the month of July. The heat fairly hung outside. The thick atmosphere was palpable in the cars overfilled with people. It was difficult to breathe the dirty air, besides which many prisoners smoked. Thick smoke hung in the cars. You couldn't raise the windows very high because, they were so made that they only moved three inches. Whenever the train stopped at a station the prisoners were strictly forbidden to get up from the benches, and from both sides of the cars a cordon of armed soldiers quickly fell in on the station platform.
Our comrades in Calgary learned in good time (perhaps from our friends among the guards) that we were being conveyed to Petawawa Internment Camp on such-and-such a day. They knew exactly when the train would arrive in Winnipeg, thus quickly informed our friends and relatives about this. We were to have arrived in Winnipeg (at the CPR station) at six o'clock in the evening. The City Committee of the Communist Party of Canada issued and distributed throughout the city an illegal flyer calling for the local workers to come to the station at that time and demonstrate their solidarity with us.
Having learned about the planned demonstration, the RCMP took measures to speed the train up by several hours. Instead of six o'clock, we arrived in Winnipeg at two o'clock in the afternoon. When our wives and several hundred workers gathered at the station at six o'clock, the train carrying us was already racing across the vast reaches of Ontario.
Our transport stopped in Winnipeg for half an hour. The car in which were John Boychuk, Nick Kashchak, Mike Sawiak, John Weir, Bill Tuomi and I stood on the bridge over Main St. in the North End of Winnipeg (a working class district). Through the window we could see people walking north and south. Among them we recognized our comrades. We could have shouted to them. However we did not want to place them in danger for, besides the armed guard, RCMP officers stood on the platform along both sides of the cars. Nonetheless, one of the passers-by recognized us. He stopped and started to wave his hands at us. Others began to join him and in a few minutes quite a group — several hundred persons — had gathered. They waved their arms and yelled something at us. Among them we recognized Mike Ukas, George Pavlovich, and John Melnyk, our co-workers. Some tried to approach the cars; however, the police drove them away.
That was a difficult moment for us. After a year of isolation we had again arrived in our native Winnipeg where we had worked among the people for many years and where we had left our families. Now we were in Winnipeg with automatic rifles aimed at us. We saw streets and buildings which were near and dear to us. There before us was sketched just a bit of the roof of the Ukrainian Labour Temple on Euclid Avenue in Point Douglas. We had constructed this building with our own hands and at our own cost. We had built it for the workers and their children that it might be one more workers' university. And now? Our sworn enemies — the Ukrainian nationalists, long time friends of Hitler and Mussolini — had installed themselves there, with the protection, consent and blessings of the Canadian authorities. How long would they lord it over our hall?
Though it was pleasant to be in our native Winnipeg, at the same time we wanted to tear ourselves away as quickly as possible so that our hearts would not break. Every minute there became more painful for us.
I would like to mention that in our car we felt this very strongly because the severely ill Mike Sawiak was with us. During the trip he lay half-dead on a bed. He was white as plaster; there were just the very bones onto which his skin had dried and his deep-sunk eyes. He didn't have the strength to talk and would address us in whispers. We carried him like a babe-in-arms to the toilet. He couldn't eat and lived only on liquids. When the train halted in Winnipeg he begged me to lift him up to the window. He grabbed at the pane with both hands and painfully looked down at the street. Tears rolled from his sunken eyes. Here were his wife and children. Would he ever see them again? He wept like a little child separated from its mother. We were not strong enough to look upon our comrade's tragedy. We all suffered with him. Never, never will I forget those horrible moments, our comrade's agony and the great wrong done to him.
We suffered in the train cars for three days, till we came to the appointed place. On July 24 we arrived in Petawawa. Trucks drove up to the cars and under a heavy escort of soldiers we were conveyed to the camp. They took us on bad roads through the bush. Internment Camp Petawawa was located by a lake several miles to the south of the station.
The area of the camp was smaller than at Kananaskis. Prisoners and soldiers lived here in huge barracks. Forty-five prisoners could be placed in one barrack, sleeping in bunk beds. The camp was filthy. The regimen was a lot easier here than at Kananaskis.
The Germans and Italians greeted their friends from Kananaskis with fascist songs. Our friends welcomed us with the "International" and "O Canada". We were assigned to a barrack beside that of our comrades from Eastern Canada. Once we had gone through all the formalities our Eastern Canadian comrades began to hug and kiss us.
Afterwards those who had arrived from Kananaskis were assembled on the camp parade ground and the commandant, Colonel Pence, spoke. He began to deliver us a "sermon", complaining how hard he worked, how he was losing sleep at nights because he was thinking about the fate of the internees and how he "was continuously concerned about them".
One of our comrades, Orton Wade, interrupted his talk, shouting, "Who wants to listen to this shit!"
The sergeant-major present yelled to an officer "Take him away!"
Orton Wade was arrested on the spot and placed in solitary confinement. By the way, this was not the first time that Orton Wade had had to sit in solitary confinement. While still at Kananaskis he had been put in the "cooler" for refusing to salute camp officers. When the commandant tried him for insubordination and inquired why he refused to salute the officers he retorted, "I only salute officers of the Spanish Republican Army. I don't recognize other officers!"
It should be mentioned that Orton Wade had volunteered and served in the Canadian Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion which was part of the International Brigade which fought against the fascist rebels in Spain from 1936 to 1939.
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