Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Der Lagerführer

One hundred and seventy-five Canadians were employed at the labour camp in Riding Mountain but this number still left a wide variety of occupations open. To fill the gaps, the Canadian officials turned to the PoWs for their assistance in running the camp. Of the 440 PoWs that arrived in October 1943, roughly 400 of them were assigned bush work while the remaining forty were to assist in the day-to-day operation of the camp. One of these men was Leo Manuel.

Stabsfeldwebel Leo Manuel, was the one of the highest-ranking PoWs at the Riding Mountain Park Project. Like the majority of his comrades, Manuel was likely captured in North Africa in the early forties and had been transferred to camps in Ozada and Medicine Hat, Alberta. Relatively little is known about Manuel before he arrived at Riding Mountain but his high rank would soon provide him with an unique opportunity.

The vast majority of German PoW camps in Canada had some form of a German administration in the camp. Each of these camps had a camp leader or spokesman who was responsible for maintaining discipline within the camp, negotiating with the Canadians, and communicating with International Aid Organizations. However, many of these administrative groups were self-appointed and composed of hard-core Nazis determined to ensure that Nazism remained strong among the PoWs.

Orderly, IRC Delegate, Unknown, and Manuel outside Orderly Room
Leo Manuel was selected to serve as the Lagerführer, or camp leader, at Riding Mountain. His allegiance is unknown to me but he was well respected by the majority of the PoWs under his command. Only a few prisoners, mostly pro-Nazis, criticized Manuel and his actions as they believed he was too friendly with the Canadian officials and agreed with many of their demands.

Manuel's work would have been conducted from the camp orderly room (seen in the picture) where he and his staff remained in constant communication with organizations like the International Red Cross, the YMCA, and the Swiss General Consul. In addition, Manuel was instructed by the Spokesman at Medicine Hat to write monthly reports on the happenings at Riding Mountain. Manuel served as an intermediary between the PoWs and the Canadians, negotiating requests with Colonel James.

Manuel would remain the Camp Spokesman until, following disagreements with the Lt. Col. Fordham, the officer in charge of PoW Labour Projects, he resigned in May 1944.

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