PoWs: Both sides of the wire
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.
In 1940 hundreds of these refugees were transferred from England to a PoW camp in New Brunswick, where they were forced to live side by side with Nazi soldiers. This CBC Television clip explores the story behind this unfortunate incident that one survivor calls "Canada's footnote to the Holocaust."
• Late in 1940 the first of several boatloads of Jewish refugees was relocated from Britain to Canadian camps. One group, which included students, professors, businessmen, priests and rabbis, arrived unexpectedly at the Ripples camp.
• After fleeing Hitler's Germany more than a year before, these refugees were greeted by the jeers and catcalls of the German PoWs.
• As Rabbi Erwin Schild recalls in this clip, Nazi soldiers sang anti-Semitic songs to welcome them. "We were scared to the very bottom of our boots," says Schild.
• After the pleadings of the refugees a fence was erected in between the two factions inside the camp.
• The refugees spent the better part of three years at the camp, where they took part in paid labour outings. They also set up a thriving cultural life behind the barbed wire.
• Thanks to their diverse backgrounds, the refugees established schools, orchestras and even a café which was run by a former chef from London's Savoy Hotel.
• While Canada had an official policy to restrict any wartime refugees from entering the country, in 1943 Ottawa relented and freed the refugees. While some eventually returned to Europe after the war, many remained in Canada.
• The sole camp in eastern Canada, the Ripples camp was all but covered up by the provincial government and federal officials.
• All of the camps were officially clandestine, with wartime censors covering up most evidence of them in the press. Occasionally stories of escapes would leak out to the national media, but any stories had to be passed through the censors before they were published or broadcast.
• A 1988 book and subsequent documentary on the Ripples camp helped shine light on this bizarre chapter in Canada's wartime history.
• To learn more about what became of the Ripples PoW Camp, please visit "The remains of Camp 70."
Broadcast Date: Sept. 27, 1993
Guest(s): Neal Livingstone, Erwin Schild
Host: Kevin Newman
Last updated: April 23, 2013
Page consulted on September 25, 2014
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...