Prisoner of War Mail and the YMCA – Part II of PoW Mail

Updated translations August 5, 2014 and November 29, 2016 – Thanks to Günther and Joel for their help!

In my last post I introduced the basics of Prisoner of War mail in Canada during the Second World War. Today, I’m going to continue this by showing another type of postcard.

In the early years of the Second World War, the YMCA set up the “War Prisoners’ Aid” to supply Allied and German PoWs with non-essential goods, such as sporting equipment, radios, movies, reading material, etc. Among the items produced specifically for German prisoners of war in Canada was a series of nineteen postcards.

The postcards featured artwork by two PoWs, one of who was reportedly Karl Kafka. The postcards were printed by the YMCA and were made available for purchase in the camp canteens. Many of the cards feature aspects of the day-to-day life in a Canadian PoW camp while others, as you can see below, portrayed camp life and work in a more humorous fashion. Some of the meanings of the cards are beyond me so if you have any insight into any of these cards, please leave a comment below!

One thing I will note is that although these cards were apparently approved to be sent home (and I know the PoWs brought them back to Germany with them)I have yet to find one that was actually mailed. It appears as though these cards were more souvenirs than post.

I have included the original German captions and their [rough] English translations below.

YMCA-Capture

“Gefangennahme”
“Capture”

YMCA-Fruhstuck

“Fruuuhstuck” – (Frühstück)
“Breakfast”

YMCA-Health

“Achtet Auf Eure Gesundheit”
“Watch Your Health”

YMCA-Meal

Mealtime – Note the red circle on the back of the jacket and the red stripe down the pant leg, indicating they were PoWs.

YMCA-Music

Not sure what happened here but someone looks to be in trouble!

YMCA-News

News – With access to newspapers, English-speaking PoWs would often translate the news for their comrades.

YMCA-Plane

“Tapsi! Tapsi!!”
Reader Günther writes, “‘Tapsi’ comes from ‘tapsen’ (=toddling,plodding). Its the nick name in the army for an unexperienced new soldier in the area (rookie?)… So you can see, that “Tapsi” comes from “tapsen”, although TAPSI ist now “officially” an akronym for Total Ahnungslose Person Sucht Information . (Translation: Absolutely clueless person seeks information).”

YMCA-Potatoes

Peeling

YMCA-Rauchen

“Rauchen Verboten”
“No Smoking”

YMCA-RollCall

“Morgen Roll-call”
“Morning Roll-call”

YMCA-Rundendreher

“Die Rundendreher”
I feel it sums up the attitudes of many PoWs to larger camps – endless strolls along the barbed wire enclosures. As for the translation, Joel writes, “I’d wager that “Rundendreher” might refer to a walk around the camp, since ‘runden’ means ‘around’ and ‘dreher’ means to ‘turn.’ So like a turn around the camp?”
Update 2016: “Runde Drehen” was slang developed by PoWs in Canada during WWII and referred to a walk along the barbed wire.

YMCA-Smoke

Work Break

YMCA-Stabsgefangene

“Der Stabsgefangene”
Reader Günther writes that this is a play on Stabsgefreitter, the German equivalent of Corporal, and Gefangene, German for “prisoner”.

YMCA-Tan

Relaxing

YMCA-Germans

“Uff! The Germans are going!”

YMCA-Guards

Guards with Prisoners

YMCA-PingPong

Ping Pong. I wasn’t sure about the significance of the portrait of Marlene Dietrich, but Günther has provided a likely explanation: “In the ping pong one the portrait of Marlene Dietrich could be a hint at an episode in her life. When she returned from America the first time she played ping pong on deck of the ship, when it arrived in Marseille. She was wearing a suitpant and could not change her clothes before leaving, because her suitcase was already in disembarking process. So she appeared in this suitpant, But german press found her outfit absolutely inappropriate. So maybe this post is a sophisticated hidden wish of POWs to return home also.”

YMCA-Skating

Skating – the YMCA was one of the organizations that provided skates to PoWs.

And, having saved my favourite for last,

YMCA-Woodcutting

Woodcutting

That’s it from this series, I hope you enjoyed it! Check back soon for the next installment of PoW mail.

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About michaelohagan

PhD Candidate at Western University - Studying German Prisoners of War in Canada during the Second World War

3 responses to “Prisoner of War Mail and the YMCA – Part II of PoW Mail”

  1. thejoelybean says :

    Haha, fantastic post!! These are really cool! The stylized art of the woman in the first postcard cracks me up!

    As for translations, I’m not sure about some of those either, but I’d wager that “Rundendreher” might refer to a walk around the camp, since ‘runden’ means ‘around’ and ‘dreher’ means to ‘turn.’ So like a turn around the camp?

    And in the ping-pong one… maybe they keep dropping the ball because they’re distracted by the giant portrait? I know I would be!

    • Günther Burghauser says :

      Your translation is correct! in the pinp pong one the portrait of Marlene Dietrich could be a hint at an episode in her life. When she returned from America the first time she played ping pong on deck of the ship, when it arrived in Marseille. She was wearing a suitpant and could not change her clothes before leaving, because her suitcase was already in disembarking process. So she appeared in this suitpant, But german press found her outfit absolutely inappropriate. So maybe this post is a sophisticated hidden wish of POWs to return home also. By the way, the “Tapsi, Tapsi” is also very funny. A “Tapsi” (in this case the pilot of the airplane) is a “rookie”, “Tapsi” comes from “tapsen”. It means “toddling or plodding”

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