PoWs: Back in Canada, a free man
While few people remember it now, Canada was home to thousands of German and Italian prisoners during the Second World War. With Britain fearful of a possible invasion, more than 37,000 of their PoWs were transported to remote camps across Canada. Over a seven-year period the prisoners basked in a unique brand of Canadian hospitality, enjoying a lifestyle that convinced some to eventually call Canada home. CBC Archives takes a look back at the reality of life behind the Canadian barbed wire.
As this CBC Television clips reveals the one-time member of the Hitler Youth had a remarkable change of heart thanks to what he call his new "Canadian parents."
• The camp was situated on the site of what had been a boy's prison. It held some 1,800 German soldiers, sailors and merchant marines by the time the war ended in 1945.
• Like many prisoners, Osteimer volunteered to work and live outside the camp on a probational basis. He ended up on the farm of Edith and Earl Willows in Carleton Place, Ont., and was quickly won over by the wide-open spaces and the hospitality of his hosts.
• With their sons off fighting in Europe many farmers eagerly accepted the German PoWs and paid them a small allowance for their work.
• Osteimer was so moved by the kindness of his hosts that he came to consider them his "Canadian parents." His fondness for Canada lingered even after the war ended in 1945.
• Like many German prisoners, he was told he could remain in the country as long as he had a sponsor here in Canada. But in 1946 Britain decided that the PoWs had to return to England to get officially discharged.
• After the PoWs left, the Canadian government passed legislation that restricted immigration from residents of former enemy states. Along with hundreds of other ex-PoWs, Osteimer reluctantly returned to postwar Germany where he married and started a family.
• His wife recalls him saying at the time "You can give me heaven, I'd still go back to Canada."
• Though the majority of PoWs returned to Germany, a small amount managed to elude authorities and remain in Canada. Historians estimate about a dozen prisoners remained illegally after 1946.
• According to a March 1949 story in the Globe and Mail, PoW Willie Gottschlak was arrested three years after disappearing from a farm in Tillsonburg, Ont. The 28-year-old told police that he fled because he didn't want to return to Germany.
• Gottschlak, who was working in a suburban Montreal chemical plant, had been imprisoned in the same Monteith camp as Osteimer.
• In 1951 Canada lifted its immigration ban, opening the doors for Germans, Japanese and Italians. Spurred by this, hundreds of ex-PoWs applied for immigration status and were accepted.
• Joachim Osteimer was one of them. He promptly quit his job in Germany and sailed with his family and two small children to Quebec City. After an emotional reunion with the Willows, he moved to Montreal where he eventually became the owner of a Mercedes-Benz dealership.
• Despite the massive presence of German PoWs during wartime, there are only a few monuments to their existence in Canada.
• A historical plaque in Alberta marks Canada's biggest PoW camps in Lethbridge and Medicine Hat, while the bodies of German prisoners who died while in captivity are buried in Woodland Cemetery in Kitchener, Ont.
• To hear Peter Gzowksi discuss a unique exhibit of German PoW art, please visit "From Foe to Friend."
Program: Here & Now
Broadcast Date: June 23, 1999
Guest(s): Joachim Osteimer, Rosie Osteimer, Edith Willows
Reporter: Gerri Barrer
Last updated: April 23, 2013
Page consulted on April 23, 2013
All Clips from this Topic
Actor Hardy Kruger reveals the sad fate of celebrated German escapee F...
Former German PoWs gather for an unlikely reunion beneath Alberta's Ro...
Thirty-four former German PoWs return to the scene of their wartime im...
A former German PoW reflects on his lush life in a Canadian camp.
Months of planning and a 150-foot tunnel help German PoWs pull off Can...
An investigative look at what became of New Brunswick's only PoW camp ...
The strange story of how a camp in New Brunswick came to house both Je...
Veteran newspaper journalist Scott Young reflects on how he scooped th...
Peter Gzowski discusses a rare exhibit of German PoW art on display at...
How a Canadian PoW camp changed the life of a member of the Hitler you...
Canada takes custody of its first boatload of prisoners from British P...
How Nazi sympathizers conspired to kill two fellow prisoners inside a ...
While few people remember it now, Canada was home to thousands of Germ...