25. OUR DAILY LIVES
Throughout these reminiscences I have recounted, among other things, our living conditions in the internment camps. Of course, our lives changed in response to the conditions, circumstances and surroundings in which we happened to find ourselves. Thus in each place and for a specific time the conditions would be different. At Kananaskis, for example, we were 40 people to the hundreds of Germans who for the most part, if not by membership in the Nazi party then ideologically, were Nazis. The commandant helped the Nazis and did not disguise his hostility towards the antifascist prisoners. By the way, at Kananaskis Ukrainians constituted three quarters of the antifascist group. Almost all of them had emigrated from Ukrainian lands. Only three had been born in Canada.
We were transferred to Petawawa after Hitlerite Germany invaded the Soviet Union, causing the international situation to change so that it was impossible for it not to have had significance for our continued sojourn among the Nazis. At Petawawa the majority were Italians who behaved towards us more or less indifferently though they were sympathizers of fascism. Besides, our forces had strengthened numerically and the camp administration had to reckon with us more carefully.
In Hull Jail we were alone and the entire internal administration was in our hands. We had our own official spokesman and we had our kitchen and canteen. Letters were delivered directly to us from the office of the censor. Here, too, the guard soldiers (except for individual instances) behaved sympathetically towards us. This meant a great deal to us.
As I have already mentioned at the beginning of these reminiscences, we planned our leisure time beyond the daily official routine to be as pleasant and as useful to us as possible. We lived in a strongly cohesive commune — organized and disciplined: each was responsible for all, all for everyone. Each of us was aware of his comrade's strong shoulder close by him in everything. If occasionally some misunderstanding or quarrel arose between individual comrades then it was resolved and settled in an organized fashion — fairly and to the satisfaction of both. From the beginning to the end of our stay in the internment camps there was not a single instance of one of us bearing any malice or hatred against another of the interned antifascists. On the contrary, as the French say, a peculiar camaraderie was created which exists to this day. True, few of our cohort are still alive.
Even so, this does not mean that we were homogeneous in everything, even in relation to one another. Far from it. We were people of different ages, different nationalities, different schools, so to speak, of different personal preferences, upbringing and character. Some of us liked to make various souvenirs, others read a lot and still others played chess, checkers or cards. People were friends with each other while still free and this carried over into the camps. It was all like that! But with regard to our social and political convictions, we were monolithic.
One must remember that not all the interned antifascists were members of the Communist Party of Canada. There were a certain number of non-party people among us. Nonetheless we were all ideologically united. Among us there was no division. Party members respected the non-party people, and the non-party people honoured the communists. Equalization was integral to the division of parcels or money received from organizations or committees on the outside. Everyone, without distinction, received equal portions or equal sums of money. There was no discrimination.
At Kananaskis we transformed one barrack, No. 57, wrenched free from the very beginning, into our "headquarters". Here occurred sessions of the steering committee, our internal meetings, lectures and political discussions. Our library was located here from the start. At our "headquarters" one could read our internal newspaper "The Kananaskis Clarion" or "The Canadian Tribune" received by covert means.
We tried to make our stay in the camp as easy as possible so that it would not be monotonous and boring. Thus we often got together and had our little concerts or friendly group dinners, particularly on the occasion of holidays — May Day, November 7 and the New Year. We celebrated jubilee birthdays of individual comrades — thirtieth, fortieth, fiftieth and so on. At such parties we could not do without anecdotes, jokes and friendly jest, created already in the camp. Particularly popular were burlesques of the hearings before the commission and impersonations of behaviour, mannerisms and so on. Max Boitler was often the object of such imitations. The legal proceedings against him (according to his account) were parodied in particular.
In passing I would like to tell about some of the imitations. Max Boitler was a Jew from the Ternopil area in Western Ukraine. He worked as a salesclerk in the store of Mayor Dubinsky of The Pas, Manitoba. Max held a progressive point of view and took part in various affairs at the Ukrainian Labour Temple. He had never belonged to the Communist Party of Canada. On one occasion, in conversation with an English-speaking customer, he expressed himself critically on the behaviour of Great Britain in the war. A chauvinist complained about him to the police. They arrested Max and laid formal charges against him. Max retained a local lawyer for his defence.
During the trial the judge asked him, "What do you think about Russia?"
"Your honour, you want to know what I think about Russia? Give me three hundred dollars, I'll go there, look around and when I return I'll tell what I think about Russia. I wasn't there yet."
When the crown attorney asked him an irrelevant question which did not have any relation to the case, the lawyer would stand and protest, "I object."
Max would propel himself from the armchair and rebuke him. "Who told you to object? I hired you to defend me, not to object."
When the proceedings began there had only been one charge against him but by the end of the trial there were three — two for contempt of court.
They stuck him with a year in prison. After completion of his sentence he . was brought to Kananaskis and placed in the internment camp. There he joined our collective.
In a word, we had much amusement at Max Boitler's expense. Everyone in camp — the interned Germans, Italians and all the guards — knew him. He would appear anywhere and join in conversations. He always brought us some news, very often rumours which he gleaned from the camp, particularly from agents of the Nazi "press agency".
When war between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union began, Max even approached the officers (which regulations did not allow) and questioned them, "What's new in the world?"
One time he went up to Captain Brown and asked, "Officer, what's new in the world?"
"I don't know anything, Max."
Max did not retreat. "Come on, officer, don't be afraid to tell me. We're allies now, aren't we?"
However, Max Boitler was not unique in having behaviour that easily lent itself to imitation. For example, when Nick Kashchak appeared before the commission, instead of saying "honourable Judge", he said "horrible Judge". How the judge took this, we don't know. For us, however, the incident was happy and diverting because the remark was wittily and justly spoken, though incorrect.
When the judge told Tony Bayliuk (non-party) during the hearing that he was a communist, the astonished Tony protested immediately, "Who, me, a communist? But I have a house!"
It was upon such "incidents" (there were more of them) that we built our parodies and friendly jests. We laughed at ourselves — sincerely and agreeably. No one was offended by it. All accepted it in a friendly manner.
In Hull Jail we not only had our own choir but also an orchestra, because we had obtained mandolins, guitars and a banjo from the outside. Thus our concerts here included instrumental music. Besides that we had a dance group which performed Ukrainian folk dances. Tom Chopowick of Toronto directed the group. Norman Freed distinguished himself with a traditional Jewish dance solo. The dance group, however, did not have enough Ukrainian dancers. Several younger Jewish comrades learned the Ukrainian dances and would perform the "Kozachok" or "Arkan" together. Once, before a performance, Misha Cohen from Toronto shouted, "Let's go, Cossacks from Jerusalem!" Thus, they became tagged with the label "Cossacks from Jerusalem".
Our soloists were Dmitri Nykyforiak and Dr. Samuel Levine. The latter jested more than sang, performing humorous songs for our entertainment.
At Petawawa, but especially in Hull Jail, a large contribution to our concert and party programs was made by the French Canadian antifascist singers, Ernest Gervais and Jean Bourget. Ernest sang French avant-garde songs. Jean sang French folk songs and led us in the popular "Alouette".
The older, grey-haired Napoleon Nadeau, an intelligent and witty French Canadian, masterfully imitated bourgeois politicians, particularly French Canadian members of parliament. He skillfully conveyed the accent and gesticulations of these politicians during heated debates in parliament.
We also had our strategists. They were Tom Chopowick and Muni Taub from Montreal.
After nine o'clock at night when the lights had already been turned out in the cells, some of us, especially the younger ones, gathered in the big prison washroom, which we kept very clean, to listen to our strategists on where, when and in what direction would begin the offensive by the armed forces on the Eastern or Western Front, in Africa or Asia. We often laughed when our strategists crossed swords, each trying to prove the correctness of his prophecy. We happily whiled away the night time because we did not want to sleep from nine at night til seven in the morning.
There were many so-called practical jokes. They were all perpetrated to ease our stay in camp, to break the monotony of prison life and to pass the time more quickly.
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