Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Dissidents in the Camp

Today - 68 Years Ago

Before beginning this post, I'm going to clarify a point that has been brought up in presentations that I've given in the past about the camp. Since the end of the war, German soldiers have often been grouped together and labelled as "Nazis" but this was not the case. Technically a Nazi was a member of the Nazi Party, Hitler's political party that rose to power in the 1930s, and included thousands of German soldiers and citizens. However, one did not have to be a Nazi to be in the Germany Army. Like many armies in World War II, the German military brought countless numbers of German men who were certainly not members of the Nazi party as well as those who considered themselves anti-Nazis. It is these men I'd like to talk about briefly.

Only two months after their arrival in Riding Mountain National Park, a clear group of hardcore Nazi prisoners has established themselves in the camp. Like many camps in Canada, these pro-Nazis took it upon themselves to ensure that the Nazi ideals were present in all internment and labour camps and were willing to go to great lengths to do so. Punishment for those who spoke out against the Nazi Party, the German War effort, or Hitler was often brutal and swift. At least two prisoners who spoke out against Hitler and the war were murdered in Medicine Hat and while no murders were commited at Riding Mountain, my records indicate this was certainly an option that the Nazis in the camp had considered.

On December 15, 1943, four PoWs, each of whom were against the war, decided they had had enough. Two prisoners, Fritz Dornseif and Otto Ecker left the camp at 8:30 pm and gave themselves up to the guards at the camp entrance, asking for protective custody. Two others, Paul Nowack and Peter Fergen, left the camp boundaries and were found by farmers the next morning.

With the four prisoners back at the camp, each stated that had been "mentally tormented" to such a degree that they felt their lives were in danger. For them, leaving the camp was the only answer. The four had one thing in common and this lay with the careers they had chosen in the inter-war years...

Anyone have any idea what this may be? Post a comment if you do! I'll give the answer in the next day or two.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Changing the Guard

This Week - 68 Years Ago

The first week of December 1943 marked the first official change in the Veterans Guard detachment stationed at the camp. The Veterans Guard of Canada, which I mentioned here, was the official military guard compliment that supported a Civilian Guard force. Each Veterans Guard company spent only a few months at a PoW camp to prevent the guards and PoWs from getting to familiar with one another and Riding Mountain Park Project was no exception.

The first Veterans Guard compliment at Riding Mountain were among those that escorted the PoWs to Dauphin and were selected to stay. Commanded by Lt. Shewfeld, these men spent a little over a month at Riding Mountain before being replaced.

The new guards were members of a platoon of No. 23 Company, Veterans Guard of Canada. No. 23 Compnay was one of two Active Service companies formed in Manitoba, with No. 22 based out of Winnipeg and No. 23 out of Brandon. About twenty-five men were selected for guard duty at Riding Mountain and the majority of these men were locals from communities like Clanwilliam, Neepawa, Brandon, and Minnedosa. One can imagine that they must have been happy to be stationed so close to home.
Lt. Mann (crouching in the front row, far left) and his platoon of the No. 23 Coy. VGC during training at Port Arthur, Ontario

The officer in charge, Lt. Colin "Scotty" Mann of Neepawa had enlisted shortly after war broke out in 1939. He and his men had already served in various internment camps including those at Gravehurst (Ontario), Medicine Hat, and Lethbridge and were well experienced in guarding PoWs.

Despite three or four years experience, the PoWs at Riding Mountain would soon put these men to the test...