||February 15, 2002
Prisoners of War: Lest we forget
The new prisoner of war movie "Hart’s War" starring Bruce Willis is
coming into theatres today. This, plus the treatment of the Taliban and
al Qaeda "detainees" in Cuba and the discovery of a wonderful new book
on the prisoner of war camp at Gravenhurst sparked my interest in WW II
prisoner of war activity in our area. One thing I discovered was that many
former Canadian prisoners of war get angry over the "romantic" versions
of stories about allied prisoner of war escapes from PoW camps. Hogan’s
Heroes in particular insulted many PoW because there was very little humour
in life in these camps. There were very few escapes, and most were not
successful. In one case, 72 allied men escaped, and only three made it
to England. Fifty, including some Canadians, were lined up and shot in
the back, as if they had been running away.
The prisoner of war numbers are staggering. One source says there were
as many as 15 million on both sides, including Italy and Japan. There were
hundreds of PoW camps, 500 in the US and 26 in Canada. Three in the prairies
held over 10,000 PoWs each. On top of that, there were millions interned
simply because they were "aliens," like many Japanese and German people
in Canada. Elsewhere, many were used as slave labour to keep the enemy
war plants going, and raising food for the military. There were of course
the concentration camps, where people —mostly Jews—were incarcerated for
cultural, political, racial, religious or sexual reasons, and were brutalized,
starved, and murdered by the millions, in what was the Nazi’s "Final Solution."
Even more shocking than the numbers above were the conditions in many
of the enemy camps. The Geneva Convention laid out very generous rules
on the treatment of prisoners, but Russia did not sign, Japan did not ratify,
and Germany ignored it. Canada and the US, to their credit, followed the
Convention remarkably well. One of the main reasons the Convention was
followed in North America was the desire to not offend the enemy who had
our PoWs even though, in hindsight, this made little difference. In Canada
there were only 187 deaths over five years in PoW camps, and most were
due to natural causes. There were a few forced suicides, a few murders,
a few executions for murder, and a few deaths while escaping.
The Gravenhurst Prisoner of War Camp
The nearest of Ontario’s ten PoW camps to North Bay were at Gravenhurst,
Montieth, Petawawa and Espanola. The closest, and now remarkably well documented
Gravenhurst camp has been profiled in the book The Gilded Cage (1999) by
Cecil Porter of Gravenhurst. The book is beautifully designed and well
written, with many excellent photos, maps and drawings.
||The Gilded Cage: Gravenhurst’s German Prisoner-of-War Camp
The Gilded Cage tells the story of how Gravenhurst Minnewaska Resort
became a TB sanatorium and then a PoW camp (July 1940—June 1946), a resort
again, and finally a ghost town waiting for development. The book tells
the story of the town’s reaction to the marching of still uniformed German
officers and men through town from the train station to the camp, and their
presence in the life o the community for five years. Norwegian flyers in
training nearby were especially unhappy, but knew they had no choice.
||German prisoners of war marching through the streets of
Gravenhurst on their way from the train station to the prisoner of war
The PoWs at Gravenhurst developed extensive educational and recreational
programs, and were often taken to the beach outside the barbed wire for
swims. A small farm was also established, where certain men were allowed
to work. Later, when the Canadian government began to classify the PoWs
in terms of the extremity of their views, many of the worst Nazis were
sent to Gravenhurst were the guards had to be extra alert.
The attempted escapes are outlined in detail in the book. The only one
who got away was a young Luftwaffe pilot, Walter Manhard, who disappeared
while swimming and was presumed drowned. In 1991, he reappeared in Gravenhurst
on a PoW reunion tour. He had escaped to New York State where he married
a Lieutenant in the US Navy and turned himself in in 1952. Many former
PoWs have returned to visit the site and several have emigrated to Canada
and have had productive lives here. One of these men wrote the last chapter
of the book telling about his experiences in the camp.
The largest Ontario escape took place at Camp Angler on the north shore
of Lake Superior, where 28 men broke free. Two were shot and killed, and
two got 2,000 km out west before being caught. One became a successful
Toronto businessman after the war.
A North Bay Connection
Lt. Peter Krug, at age 21, escaped from Bowmanville and ended up in Texas
were he was discovered and returned. This time he was sent to Gravenhurst,
where he developed a detailed plan to escape again. The October 5th, 1943
edition of the North Bay Nugget ran a headline that said "Nab Krug in N.
Bay." The Nugget story tells how Sgt. S.E. Devine of the Canadian Provost
Core spotted Krug at the CPR station on Oak St. and with the help of another
officer arrested him. He was returned to Gravenhurst 24 hours after his
escape, where he remained until 1946. The Krug and several other escape
stories are told in the book, Escape From Canada (Macmillan 1981) by John
Melady, available in many libraries.
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