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VE-Day countdown: A truce lets Canadians tour behind enemy lines

Day by day, the news got better as the Second World War wound down in Europe. Sixty years ago, CBC Radio brought home reports of retreating Germans, freed prisoners of war, captured spies and surrender in Italy. But with the end of hostilities came dark news of hellish concentration camps, starving civilians and a rocky future for U.S.-Soviet relations. CBC Archives counts down the days to victory in Europe.

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April 22, 1945: BAD PYRMONT, Germany -- German soldiers respectfully salute Canadian officers as German Luftwaffe officers and "monocled colonels of the SS" pass by. It could only happen in the "open" German town of Bad Pyrmont, where retreating Germans have called a truce with advancing Allies. It's been an eye-opening experience for RCAF officer Ron Gadsby. "It seemed to us to be part of a cockeyed chapter of an imaginary war that might have been designed by Walt Disney," he tells CBC listeners.

The Germans haven't had time to pull out 3,000 of their wounded from Bad Pyrmont, so they've asked the Allies to declare the town "open." Under rules of the Geneva Conventions, a town can be declared open if the parties in a conflict agree to it. The town must be undefended and may not host any armed force. Civilians carry on their business, liberated prisoners of war move freely and servicemen from both sides pass each other without animosity.
• "Open" towns were not common during the war, but neither were they unheard of. In early 1940 the British government removed about 300 soldiers from the Channel Islands, British possessions in the English Channel near France. Britain declared the islands "open" but didn't tell the Germans they were undefended for fear of inviting a takeover. In July 1940 Germany invaded the islands, building them into a fortress against a British counterattack that never came.

• The Geneva Conventions are a set of rules governing the wartime conduct of nations. There isn't one single "convention" -- there have been several conventions since the first one was held in 1864.
• The 1864 convention was held at the instigation of Red Cross founder Henri Dunant to lay down rules about the treatment of the sick and wounded in war.

• Subsequent conventions have prohibited certain weaponry and specified treatment of prisoners of war, civilians and the shipwrecked.
• As heard in this clip, casualties -- wounded combatants and prisoners of war -- are considered neutral under the conventions. They must be treated as such by opposing or occupying forces.
• Bad Pyrmont is a mountain town in the northwest German state of Lower Saxony. It is renowned for its natural bubbling spa.
Medium: Radio
Program: CBC War Recordings
Broadcast Date: April 22, 1945
Reporter: Ron Gadsby
Duration: 2:36
Photo: National Archives of Canada / PA-134408

Last updated: April 18, 2012

Page consulted on September 2, 2014

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