Sunday, September 23, 2012

A Long Way From Home

Yesterday I took a drive to Kitchener, Ontario to visit the Woodland Cemetery. Here, in a small plot tucked away in the corner, lies the graves of 187 German prisoners of war who died in Canada in the First and Second World Wars.

Like every military cemetery around the world, each of these graves has a story to tell. While many of these stories have been lost to time, fragments have remained. Of the 148 casualties from the Second World War, sixty percent died of medical causes while twenty percent died of work-related incidents and injuries. The remaining twenty percent include five prisoners hung for murder and four prisoners shot while attempting an escape.

I have already shared the brief histories of two PoWs, Max Neugebauer and Walter Wolf, both of which were working at the camp in Riding Mountain National Park, but two more deserve mention. Richard Becker and Karl Karg were also employed at Riding Mountain. While they were transferred from the camp in June 1944, both men died in drowning accidents, Karg shortly after his arrival in Ontario and Becker in 1945.

In 1970, the graves of German PoWs buried across the country were exhumed and relocated to Kitchener, Ontario. However, not all of these individuals were accounted for. At least three prisoners who died in Canada were not relocated to Kitchener. One prisoner lies unidentified in Saskatchewan, one presumably was not found in Ontario, while the body of a drowning victim was never recovered.

Hopefully with some more research, their stories can all be told.

Monday, September 10, 2012

The Wolf

Sixty Eight Years Ago
September 10, 1944

On September 10, 1944, a German Prisoner of War in Camp 132, Medicine Hat, by the name of Dr. Karl Lehmann was beaten and hung by his fellow comrades. After a lengthy investigation four German PoWs, Heinrich Busch, Willi Mueller, Bruno Perzonowsky, and Walter Wolf were arrested for the murder. After a trail held in Alberta, the four were found guilt of murder and sentenced to hang.

Walter Wolf (Source: Library and Archives Canada)
Unteroffizier Walter Wolf (ME 42576) was captured at Halfaya Pass in North Africa on 17 January 1942. He was married but had no children. He had received the Iron Cross, Second Class. Before enlisting at the age of 19 in 1937, he was a financial tax inspector. After the French campaign, he was transferred to a unit in the Afrika Korps. Arriving in Canada on 26 May 1942, he was interned at Ozada, Lethbridge, Medicine Hat and Neys.

What many don't realize is that Walter Wolf spent a few months in Manitoba, working in Riding Mountain National Park.

Wolf enlisted in the Germany army in 1937 at the age of nineteen and after service in the French Campaign of 1940, he was transferred to North Africa. Captured at Halfaya Pass in January 1942, Wolf arrived in Canada in May of that year, first interned at Ozada. In the summer of 1943, Wolf volunteered for a labour project and was one of 440 PoWs that were sent to the Riding Mountain Park Labour Project at Whitewater Lake. His career as a woodcutter was short-lived as Wolf was quickly identified as a pro-Nazi and a troublemaker. Having been accused of harassing fellow prisoners, Wolf was transferred from Riding Mountain back to Medicine Hat in January 1944.

In 1946, Wolf and his comrades were found guilt of murder. On December 18, 1946, the four prisoners and an unrelated sex offender were hung in Canada's second largest mass hanging. The bodies were buried at the Lethbridge jail before being relocated to Kitchener, Ontario where they remain today.

For more details about the crime and trial, please click here.

Summing Up

Well the last two weeks seem to have flown by very quickly so I thought I should give an update about what has been going on!

First, I'd like to thank the Parkland Regional Library in Dauphin for hosting my presentation on August 30 and thank you to all who came out! It is always great to share the story of PoWs in Manitoba and am looking forward to doing some more presentations in the future.

The next event was the Friends of Riding Mountain National Park's "From North Africa to the North Woods Wagon Tour which was a great success! About forty people in total came out for the tour to the site of the Whitewater Lake Prisoner of War Camp. With perfect weather, few bugs, no rain, great food and a great crowd, I couldn't have asked for more! Thank you to all those who participated in the tours this year, they were really great. Made some more contacts who shared their stories with me but that is another story to come later. We should be offering the tours next year so if you missed out, get in touch with Friends of RMNP or me, and we'll add you to the list.

This past week I've relocated to London, Ontario, where I'm starting my Masters Degree at the University of Western Ontario. I'm looking forward to it but most of all, looking forward to doing some more research about PoWs in Canada. Hopefully this means that I'll be updating this more regularly as I get into more of a schedule.