23. THE TRAGEDY OF MICHAEL SAWIAK
Among those arrested in Winnipeg on July 6, 1940, was Michael Sawiak, the editor of the weekly newspaper "Farmer's Life". For several years before his arrest he had been severely ill with a stomach ulcer and had suffered from bad headaches. He lived continuously on pills and medication. He had a large family of small children and found it difficult to feed them on the salary he received for his work with the Workers and Farmers Publishing Association. (It was a time of economic crisis and the pay of employees of the labour-farmer press was scanty. It did not exceed twenty-one dollars a week.)
Michael Sawiak had not been hardened by the class struggle. This was his first arrest and he took his internment very hard. He slipped into a depressed condition at once. As a result his health started to decline continuously. He lay in bed and ate almost nothing. He wasted away before our eyes. As has been mentioned previously, in Kananaskis there was almost no medical care so Doctor Heuston turned Michael Sawiak over to the supervision of the German veterinarian Bodewein who did not improve Sawiak's health with his method of treatment but on the contrary tortured him with "massages".
On the eve of our transfer from Kananaskis to Petawawa Michael Sawiak's physical health failed completely and we had to carry him in our arms into the train car. He was delivered to Petawawa in this condition. The journey through Winnipeg, where his wife and children were, significantly worsened the condition of his health. When we arrived at Petawawa he already could not rise from his bed. He lay in Pembroke military hospital, wasting away. This upset us very much and evoked hatred towards those torturers who kept him in prison yet at the same time let go Italian millionaire Franceschini, who was supposed to be a great admirer of Benito Mussolini. They freed him out of sympathy because, supposedly, he "was ill"!
All of us comforted Michael Sawiak and assured him that it would not be long before they let us go. He would be the first because he was ill. He merely smiled and waved his hand. "Comrades, don't try to console me. I'm not a child. I will not live to see freedom."
Several days after we were transferred from Petawawa to Hull Jail, Michael Sawiak was brought from the military hospital in Pembroke. We had not seen him for some time. He had been very sad and he had begged that he be taken to Hull Jail to his comrades. When he was brought to us he was just a skeleton. He weighed only 89 pounds. He could not stand on his feet. The muscles had utterly atrophied. We carried him in our arms to the washroom, to our meetings, get-togethers and concerts because he always wanted to be as close as possible to us.
On the outside, a great movement was growing to release him from prison to go home to his family. Nonetheless the Ministry of Justice kept silent, not wanting to let him go free. Tormented, he suffered horribly. The condition of his health worsened; he was in agony. He wept, tore his hair out with his withered fingers, struck his head on the cement wall and cried out for his children. Frequently his endless weeping had all of the second floor up on their feet. Then we pounded on the iron door and demanded that the doctor come and quiet him with an injection. Instead of a doctor, however, the commandant sent an ordinary military corpsman who gave Michael Sawiak a shot, injecting morphine into his arm. He would thus be silenced for several hours. He lay on his back looking at the ceiling with his glazed eyes, his teeth clenched, his lips blue as if from cold. Before us lay a living corpse.
In January, 1942, his son Walter came to Hull Jail for a visit. However, he was not admitted to his father. (Relatives were still not allowed to visit with the interned antifascists.) He wanted to take him home. True, one more hearing was arranged for Michael Sawiak to determine whether he could be released, or whether he would still "constitute a danger" to the state and the ruling class. Soldiers carried him to the hearing on a stretcher. Each time that he was carried away to that inquisition of three judges and an RCMP representative we gathered in the corridor and accompanied our comrade with revolutionary songs. Only after that hearing was he finally freed from the camp. However his family was ordered to keep his arrival in Winnipeg a deep secret so that people would not organize a big demonstration on this pretext.
He suffered in a Winnipeg hospital for several months more. On August 8, 1942, his suffering ended. He died. He weighed less than 80 pounds then.
Copyright South Branch Publishing. All