Tag Archive | Kitchener

Volkstrauertag 2016 (German Remembrance Day)

The annual German Remembrance Day service will be held Sunday, November 13, 2016. This service takes place at Woodland Cemetery in Kitchener, Ontario (119 Arlington Boulevard) at 2:30 p.m.

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Volkstrauertag 2014

Volkstrauertag 2015 (German Remembrance Day)

The annual German Remembrance Day service will be held this coming Sunday, November 15, 2015. This service takes place at Woodland Cemetery in Kitchener, Ontario (119 Arlington Boulevard) at 2:30 p.m.

For more information, please visit the German Embassy’s website.

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Volkstrauertag 2014

German Remembrance Day 2014

As I am in the midst of my comprehensive exams, this is a just a quick update!

The annual German Remembrance Day service is being held on Sunday, November 16. This service takes place at Woodland Cemetery in Kitchener, Ontario (119 Arlington Boulevard) at 2:30 p.m.

For more information, please visit the German Embassy’s website.

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2013 German Remembrance Day Service

PoWs who Died in Canada – Johann Schäfer

Johann Schäfer was one of the thousands of German soldiers captured in the North African Campaign. A member of the German Afrika Korps, Schäfer was in his early twenties when his war ended in 1941 or 1942.

Following a brief period in a primitive internment camp in North Africa, Schäfer and his comrades found themselves aboard an Allied vessel on their way to Canada. Following a long journey around the African coast, the ship would have slowly made its way across the Atlantic before docking in New York or Halifax. Offloaded under careful supervision, the PoWs were placed on a train heading West. It is likely that Schäfer was first interned in the tent camp of Ozada, Alberta, located at the foothills of the Rocky Mountain. Spending only a brief (but cold) period here, Schäfer was relocated to Camp 133 at Letbhridge, Alberta in the late fall or early winter of 1942. Camp 133, having only recently been opened, and its sister camp, Camp 132 in Medicine Hat, had been built to each accommodate over 12,000 PoWs. Surrounded by tall barbed wire fences and guard towers, PoWs made the best of their time by joining sports teams, playing in orchestras, taking educational classes, or by “walking the wire.” In 1943, Schäfer was photographed with a group of fellow PoWs and was authorized to send the photo back home.

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Postcard sent by Johann Schäfer to a friend in Germany. While he is likely one of the individuals in the photograph, he remains unidentified. Author’s Collection.

Two years later, Schäfer was working in one of the many PoW logging camps in Northwestern Ontario. Like many of these isolated labour projects, there were no barbed wire fences or guard towers and the PoWs were granted with considerable freedoms. While they worked eight-hour days, six days a week, the PoWs had ample free time and popular pastimes at these camps included hiking, swimming, canoeing, wood-carving, and reading.

As the war in Europe finally ended in May 1945, many PoWs looked forward to finally returning home. Unbeknownst to them, the majority would have to wait years before returning to Germany. Schäfer, however, would never return home.  On June 20, 1945, at the age of twenty-five, Johann Schäfer died in a drowning accident.

In accordance with the terms of the 1929 Geneva Convention, Schäfer was granted a funeral with full military honours. Escorted by members of the Veterans Guard of Canada, his comrades conducted a service at Port Arthur, Ontario (now Thunder Bay). Following a brief ceremony and a rifle salute, Schäfer was laid to rest in Port Arthur’s Riverside cemetery. The photograph below was sent to Schäfer’s family in Germany through the International Red Cross.

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Funeral Service for Schäfer at Port Arthur’s Riverside Cemetery, 1945. Author’s Collection.

Johann Schäfer would be one of fifteen PoWs who drowned while in Canadian captivity. Drownings were one of the primary causes of PoW deaths in the country, representing ten percent of the total. The increased rate of drownings in labour projects in 1944 and 1945 prompted Canadian internment officials to either restrict or completely prohibit PoWs from swimming or canoeing.

Johann Schäfer's grave in Kitchener Ontario. Author's Photo.

Johann Schäfer’s grave in Kitchener, Ontario, November 2013. Author’s Photo.

In the early 1970s, along with 147 of his fallen comrades, Johann Schäfer’s grave was relocated to Kitchener’s Woodland Cemetery where it remains today.

A Long Way From Home

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Tucked away in a corner of Kitchener’s Woodland Cemetery lies the final resting place of 187 German Prisoners of War who died in Canada during their internment. One hundred and forty-eight of these men were German PoWs from the Second World War while the remaining thirty-nine were civilian prisoners from the First World War.

Those interred in Kitchener represent a wide swath of the German armed forces in the Second World War – ranging from airmen shot down in the Battle of Britain to U-Boat crewman picked up in the Atlantic to infantrymen captured in North Africa. Their average age was thirty-three but their ages ranged significantly, with the oldest at age 70, Mtr. Heinrich Burmeister, having committed suicide on January 26, 1944 and the youngest at age 18, Grenadier Adolf Steuer, dying of Tuberculousis on July 5, 1945.

The causes of death were mixed. Ninety-one of those buried in Kitchener died of natural, medical, or health-related causes, including heart attacks, tuberculosis, cancer, and pneumonia. The next most common causes of death was accidents, notably drownings or work-related incidents, which claimed twenty-nine lives. Thirteen men were also reported to have committed suicide during their internment in Canada. The least common causes of death include four PoWs shot while attempting to escape as well as two PoWs murdered by fellow PoWs and the five men convicted of these murders.

Depending on the size of the camp, funeral services could either be held directly at the camp, like in Medicine Hat, or at local civilian churches. The prisoners were originally buried in civilian or small, dedicated cemeteries near the place of death and graveside services were attended by a select group of PoWs. An escort of the Veterans Guard of Canada often provided a rifle salute. Graves were often adorned with wooden grave markers painstakingly carved by their fellow comrades and it was not uncommon to see an Iron Cross or Imperial Eagle adorning the markers.

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Funeral procession at Camp 133 in Lethbridge, Alberta. Author’s Collection

Because the cemeteries were scattered across the country and many were falling into disrepair, the German War Graves Commission looked at the possibility of relocating all of the fallen PoWs to a central site that could be easily maintained. After a long search, the Commission settled on Kitchener, Ontario as the cemetery’s location.

While the project attempted to relocate all PoW graves, at least three prisoners who died in Canada were not relocated to Kitchener. One prisoner lies unidentified in Saskatchewan, one Ontario grave could not be found, and the body of a drowning victim was never recovered.

For those interested, a list of the PoWs who died in Canada will be posted in the coming days.

Volkstrauertag – German Remembrance Day

Today, I attended the German-Canadian Remembrance Society’s annual German Remembrance Day (Volkstrauertag) service at the Woodland Cemetery in Kitchener, Ontario. Honouring the sacrifices made by veterans on both sides as well as the victims of war, this moving ceremony was attended by representatives of the Federal Republik of Germany, the province of Ontario, the cities of Kitchener and Waterloo, the Canadian Armed Forces, the German Armed Forces, and over a hundred visitors.

The site of the service was aptly chosen. Tucked away in a corner of the Woodland Cemetery lies the final resting place of 187 German Prisoners of War who died in Canada during the First and Second World War. One hundred and forty-eight German PoWs from the Second World War are buried in this cemetery while the remaining thirty-nine were civilian prisoners from the First World War. I must also note here that at least two other PoWs who died in Canada have no known grave and are not commemorated here in Kitchener.

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German Soldier’s Cemetery

While the Second World War has been over for almost seventy years, the German Soldier’s Cemetery has only been in Kitchener for forty. Initially buried in thirty-six cemeteries scattered across the country, the remains of these men were relocated to Kitchener in the early 1970s in an attempt to bring together all of the prisoners who died in Canada. Today, these men lie side-by-side with their comrades under simple stone gravestones.

Each of these gravestones tells a story. Thirty-three year old Max Neugebauer died on March 16, 1944 in Dauphin, Manitoba after being struck on the head by a falling tree. Major Wilhelm Bach, one of Rommel’s commanders in the Afrika Korps succumbed to cancer on December 22, 1944. Twenty-five year old Johann Schäefer drowned while working at an labour project near Thunder Bay. Erwin Stöckl and Wolfgang Bergter went missing from a labour project in November 1944 and eventually succumbed to the elements. Ludwig Krumb was one of thirteen PoWs to commit suicide while interned in Canada. Ernst Müller was one of four PoWs shot while attempting an escape. Two of PoWs August Plaszek were murdered by fellow PoWs, five of whom were executed and lie in nearby graves.

Of the PoWs who died in Canada during the Second World War, ninety-one died of medical causes, thirty-one were killed in accidents, thirteen committed suicide, six died in escape attempts, five were executed, two were murdered, and two of unknown causes.

The service today reminds us that war has victims on all sides. Like the thousands of Canadians buried overseas, these men now rest a long way from home…

Der gute Kamerad

I once had a comrade,
You will find no better.
The drum sounded for battle,
He walked at my side,
In the same pace and step.

A bullet came flying towards us,
Is it meant for me or you?
It tore him away,
He now lays at my feet,
As if he was a part of me.

His hand reaches out to me,
Meanwhile I am reloading.
“I cannot shake your hand,
You must remain in eternal life,
My fine comrade.”