Wishing a Happy New Year to all my readers!
In 1945, PoW Willi Nötel gave this Happy New Year card to his fellow PoW and friend Erich Neumann in Camp 132 at Medicine Hat, Alberta. Both the double-sided card and envelope are hand-made, presumably by Nötel, and note he even replicated the postal cancellation on the upper-right of the envelope.
Happy Mother’s Day to my mom and all the others out there!
Sometime during his internment in Canada, PoW Albert Ammer wrote one of Bruno Schönlank’s poem in the empty pages of his copy of Ein Kleines Buch, a PoW-produced book describing life at Camp 132 in Medicine Hat, Alberta.
Meiner Mutter Hände sind
Von der Arbeit schwer.
Dennoch streicheln sie so lind,
Wie niemand mehr.
Meiner Mutter Haar ist grau,
Müd oft ihr Gesicht.
Doch wenn ich ihr ins Auge schau
Strahlt mir Sonnenlicht.
And here is a rough translation:
My mother’s hands are
Hard from work.
Yet they caress so gentle,
like no one.
My mother’s hair is gray,
tired often her face.
But when I look into her eyes
radiates me sunlight.
Stumbling across this in my search for intelligence reports regarding the VE-Day announcement in Medicine Hat, and Lethbridge, I wanted to share. Unsure of how PoWs would react to news of the German surrender, intelligence personnel at Medicine Hat’s Camp 132 asked a group of PoWs their thoughts as they were being transferred to a logging camp. Here are some of their answers:
“Another P/W carried a small painting which showed an old wood-cutter with a long beard, an axe over his shoulder, standing among numerous mountains which were completely bare (Apparently all trees had been cut). In one corner there was a little tree and some bush to be seen. The Painting was named ‘The Last Wood-Cutter in 1976.’ The painting was mounted on a bone which was engraved ‘From the old bones of Room No. 2’ P/W received this from his comrades who apparently were kidding him about being sent out to a Logging Camp.”
“Another P/W carried a bright red flower in a flower pot, and explained that he is a gardener in civilian life, and that the flower was presented to him by his comrades so he would feel at home when arriving in the bush.”
“One P/W could not be found until the last moment and he gave his reason that he is strong Anti-Nazi and devout Catholic and would have liked to go out on a work project where also Anti-Nazis and Catholics would be sent. He had already taken all Swastikas off his tunic and cap, and said that he refused to use the Hitler salute since several weeks ago, and was therefore afraid to go with a group of P/W who were not Anti-Nazis. He was assured that his group did not contain any fanatical Nazis, who were expected to cause no trouble whatsoever. He then jumped in the jeep holding in his left hand a small bible and saluting smartly with the old German military salute.”
Overall, the staff noted the general sentiment to be “very favourable” – a contrast to previous working parties who, as the report describes, “…were partly unwilling to do any work for the Allies which would be useful in the prosecution of the war against their homeland.”
Sentiments of P/W transferred to Logging Camps from No. 132 Camp on May 13, 1945, HQS 9139-4-133, Camp Intelligence, 1944-1946, C-5365, LAC.
Life behind barbed wire was generally monotonous and strictly regulated and for those spending upwards of five years in internment camps were liable to suffer significant mental strain. In an attempt to both prevent this and to break-up their daily routine, among the many activities organized by PoWs were sporting events. A variety of teams and competitions were organized inside the camps, including football (soccer) and hockey. Equipment was often provided by the War Prisoners’ Aid of the YMCA.
Some camps, particularly those that held officers, had access to facilities that let them take part in activities including tennis and swimming. This, however, didn’t prevent PoWs from improvising; faced without any suitable structure for sporting events, PoWs at Medicine Hat built their own stadium. However, playing sports like soccer and volleyball within a barbed-wire enclosure brought about another issue – in one camp, barbed wire ruined an average of eight soccer balls and four volleyballs every month.1
1. C.M.V. Madsen & R.J. Henderson, German Prisoners of War in Canada and their Artifacts, 1940-1948 (Regina, SK, 1993.), 42.
Having recently celebrated my 26th birthday, I can’t help think how differently this PoW celebrated his. Unfortunately, I do not know his name (might be Hans), but this individual celebrated his birthday in 1943 as a PoW in Canada, likely in in Medicine Hat or Lethbridge.
This card was made by one (Fredl) or more of his friends and demonstrates the creativity and talent of PoWs living behind barbed wire. I’m not sure what the significance of the “SS” is, possibly initials?
With text and images cut from newspapers and magazines, the left shows an ensemble of “What I wish you” (“Was ich dir Wünsche”) and “What I do not” (“und was nicht”). The start contrast between girls, money, music, and “longer hair” (not sure about that one!) and war, the army, gray hair, and false teeth (just can’t make this up!) gives a sense of what PoWs were thinking as they idled the hours in internment camps.
The card also included a poem (I’m still working on a translation) and photos of what I’m assuming are his friends.
The portraits have been cut from PoW group photographs intended as postcards. The names on the back include (?), Hans Lehmann, Franz Schell, Alfred Glatz, Gerhard Schmales (?) ,and Alfred Gottinger.
Picture postcards were quite popular with PoWs as it offered them a chance to show their families how they were doing as they waited out the end of the war in Canada. As these photographs were taken by photographers approved by the Canadian military, they also served an important propaganda by demonstrating that the prisoners were being properly fed, clothed, and housed.
This particular photograph was taken at Camp 132 in Medicine Hat, Alberta in 1943. Both Heer (Army) and Luftwaffe (Air Force) are present and the tropical (light-coloured) uniforms worn by a number of the PoWs suggest that some, if not most, of these men were captured in North Africa.
The sender, Heinz Gummert, is not identified in the photo but was a young Luftwaffe Obergefreiter (Lance Corporal) believed to have been captured in North Africa. The postcard, addressed to his father in Germany, simply states “Greetings to you from your son, Heinz!” Coincidentally, the PoW in the back row, third from the left, was a PoW at Riding Mountain but he too remains unidentified.
I know little about Gummert but, a few months after this photograph was mailed, he was working at a lumber camp near Hemlo, Ontario. In mid-April, he and two comrades attempted to escape from the camp. The Winnipeg Free Press of April 15, 1944 briefly described their capture:
“The Royal Canadian Mounted Police here revealed today that three German prisoners of war who escaped Friday from a prison camp, at Hemlo in northern Ontario were recaptured in the same general vicinity late yesterday. The prisoners were Robert Traut, 31, Heinz Gummert, 21, and Kurt Senmholz, 35. The three were former members of the Nazi air force.”
Hopefully some further research will uncover Gümmert’s identity and his fate following the failed escape.