26. FREEDOM AT LAST
I have already mentioned that in Camp Kananaskis none of the interned antifascists was allowed to go free. True, a few antifascists were freed from Camp Petawawa due to the serious condition of their health even before our arrival there. Among those freed was the well known activist of the Ukrainian farmer-labour movement Mathew Popovich, formerly a prisoner in Kingston Penitentiary where he had been sent in 1931 after the government had banned the Communist Party of Canada. After some time he died of a heart ailment. Others released from the camp also passed away at approximately the same time — Solly Markman, Sidney Neal and A. Aubry.
Under pressure from the Canadian public, particularly workers organized in trade unions, the government started to permit men to go free from Hull Jail little by little. In September, 1941, ailing William Kolisnyk (he went blind in time), Dmitri Nykyforiak and Joseph Sheer were released. In October, Nick Kashchak, Ernest Holwell, Max Boitler and Prof. Samuel Levine were set free. In December only two antifascists were released. In January, 1942, four more antifascists left prison. In February no one was allowed out, whereas already in March ten antifascists went free. Afterwards ten to twenty men were allowed out each month, and by the beginning of September there was already no one left in Hull Jail. Internment Camp "H" had been eliminated.
Up to the last moment the camp administration would not inform the prisoner that he would be released on such and such a day. Suddenly, however, the sergeant-major and two policemen would enter a cell and order the prisoner to gather his things together without delay. Several minutes were permitted to do so.
I confess that it was a very tense moment when you learned that in just a few minutes you would walk out of that building and start to breathe fresh air, that the steel doors would no longer close with a screech behind you and that you would not hear the shrill voice of the sergeant-major crying, "Lights out!" At that moment when they informed you of your release you did not know what to do, what to say to your comrades with whom you had passed so many days, formed friendships and lived as if they were close family. At that moment, as the poet said, joy mingled with sorrow. Each pressed close to you, hugged, kissed, said a few words and passed on greetings to the family.
You stood before the steel door with your bundle. In farewell the comrades sang "Hold the Fort For We Are Coming". Suddenly the door opened; escorted by policemen you stepped across the threshold behind which remained your friends. The door screeched. The sound of the farewell song was silenced but you heard its echo in your ears.
They conducted you to the commandant's office. He sat behind a desk, nasty, some false ascetic, smiling viperously, "Now, old man...
You did not listen to him. You did not want to listen because your thoughts were already beyond those walls; You just wanted to physically extract yourself just a bit sooner, not look at that contorted face which long ago had become hateful and disgusting to you, and not listen to his ironic remarks.
You were told to sit down. You mechanically assented and were silent. They shoved paper after paper at you and told you to sign them. You quickly skimmed through them with your eyes. You knew that this was only a formality which had to be fulfilled if you were to see freedom.
You thought of returning as soon as possible to your comrades, workers and farmers, members of the Ukrainian progressive organizations, together with them to dig in and contribute your own meagre efforts to help hasten victory over the evil powers of blood-thirsty Nazism. You knew that you would have to keep quiet about the wrong done to you because it was trivial in comparison with that misfortune which Nazism was causing. Of course, you would never forget the injustice done to you and your comrades. Even so, that was not the time for self-pity or complaints.
You signed the "Release Declaration". In it you swore an oath that, having received conditional release, you would not give an interview to a representative of the press or other organization, and that you would not write letters to newspapers or organizations about what had occurred in one or another internment camp. In the document it was further stated that if the signatory broke this vow he could be interned and dispatched to a camp again.
The document signed, a second was pushed at you in which you had to state that you were not carrying any concealed letters, that you would not verbally pass along information about your friends in camp, and that you would not criticize in any manner the authorities, their officials or civil servants. You could be interned anew for breaking this vow.
There was still a third paper, an "Undertaking". In it was stated that you would report to a certain civil servant or government official whom from time to time the Canadian authorities would designate, and that you would assent to the laws and regulations which would be especially set for your conduct by competent authorities.
The fourth and last paper was a "Route Letter". In my instance these instructions were indicated — trip to Winnipeg by Canadian Pacific Railway. After arriving in Winnipeg I was to present myself to the RCMP twice a month.
For the trip I was given a railway ticket (second class), a bag with provisions, a sum of money which I had had with me when arrested and a copy of the signed documents.
The commandant warned me not to inform my family or friends in Winnipeg about my arrival.
I had been arrested on September 28. The autumn weather had been beautiful. I was wearing a summer suit. I was released on January 23. It was extremely cold out of doors. The summer suit was returned to me and, wearing it, bareheaded, I went home to a wintry Winnipeg, where the temperature was -40C. Though I had been forbidden to send a telegram home, just the same I sent one to my brother from the first railway station where the train stopped for ten minutes. I requested that he bring a winter coat and hat to the train for me. I gave the exact day and time of arrival in Winnipeg. It was early Sunday.
When I entered the station lobby from the train, I saw hundreds of people, among them many familiar faces who had come to greet me. The meeting moved me to tears. I climbed on a bench and passed on greetings from those comrades who remained in the camp and who called for solidarity and active participation in the war effort.
A few days later I spoke at a meeting of the Ukrainian Association to Aid the Fatherland, calling for those present to strengthen the struggle to liberate all antifascists from Hull Jail because they were very necessary to mobilize the people for the war effort, to mobilize forces in the battle against fascism and to achieve victory by the anti-Hitler coalition.
I would like to note that the other antifascists and I were released conditionally, under police supervision. All of us could be interned anew and banished to an internment camp if we were to break any of our promises. We had to present ourselves regularly to the police, some once a month, others twice. None of us could leave town without police permission, whether for a short or a long period.
Soon after leaving the camp I began to work in a furniture factory, my first profession in Canada. At the same time I regularly sent articles, news items and feuilletons to "Ukrainian Life" in Toronto, signing them with various pseudonyms, some of which I presently utilize. However, the leadership of the Ukrainian Association to Aid the Fatherland and the editorial board insisted that I come to Toronto as soon as possible to work on the newspaper. Having received permission from the police, I moved to Toronto in May. My wife, however, arrived in September because she could not do so sooner due to her work.
I also had to present myself to the RCMP in Toronto twice a month. Later, when all the antifascists were out of the camp, we refused to present ourselves to the police. With that we ceased reporting. None of us was taken to task.
All antifascists who had gone free swiftly became involved in the war effort. Some enlisted in the armed forces and on the front lines defended the future of humanity in the struggle with fascism. Some stood at the factory workbench and manufactured materiel needed for the battle against fascism. Some produced foodstuffs on the farms for the army and industrial workers. Journalists for progressive newspapers who were freed from the internment camps used their pens to mobilize the citizenry to strengthen the war effort, and revealed the terrible crimes of the Hitlerites, the Italian fascists and the Japanese militarists. The Ukrainian progressive journalists also had the particular task of exposing the Ukrainian nationalist puppets who had gone to serve the Hitlerite occupiers in their native lands, and also their ilk in Canada who furtively undermined the war effort because they yearned for the victory of Nazi Germany.
In these reminiscences, only the antifascists who were exiled to the internment camps have been discussed. However, besides them, in various Canadian prisons were a considerable number of antifascists who had been sentenced to different prison terms. Among them were activists of the Ukrainian farmer-labour organizations. Mitch Sago had been sentenced to two years in Headingly Jail in Manitoba. After a year he was taken to Hull Jail, together with Tom McEwen. In prison in Saskatchewan was John Alexiewich; in Manitoba were Nina Rud and Michael Bilinsky; and in Alberta, George Rudak.
Copyright South Branch Publishing. All