World news – California – recalls the « bittersweet » legacy of Jewish and Italian concentration camps in wartime Canada


In 1940, a Jewish student in the United Kingdom named Edgar Lyon was dispatched to Canada against his will on a ship carrying German languages, Austrian Jews and Nazi prisoners of war

When he first arrived at a concentration camp in Trois-Rivières, Kyos soon realized that the local citizens gathered near the entrance to the camp did not know the difference between the two groups.

“People were cursing and throwing stones at us,” he said in a recent interview: “We had to get past the gauntlet of citizens who knew some of us were prisoners of war, but (I didn’t know) some of us were just ordinary prisoners.

Al-Assad, now 100, is one of thousands of Italian, Austrian and German citizens who were arrested by the British government and sent to Canada to be arrested as « enemy aliens » in what is still a relatively unknown chapter in Second World Canada’s history of war.

The men, including Jewish refugees and civilians working in the United States, and students, are scattered in camps across Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick, where they are surrounded by armed guards and barbed wire.

Andrea Shaulis, curator of the Montreal Holocaust Museum, said Canada was not prepared to receive the detainees – the Italians, Germans and Austrians living in Great Britain who had been sent abroad because the British government feared it would pose a security threat in this event of the invasion

The Canadian authorities believed that they would receive prisoners classified as « dangerous enemy foreigners, » and did not realize that they would mix with ordinary citizens or even refugees fleeing Nazi persecution, they said.

The facilities it was sent to were rudimentary at first, including a garage in Sherbrooke, Que, with automatic bays filled with water. A camp in Quebec received a load of blankets but no mattresses; Another got the opposite

In some cases, Nazi prisoners of war were arrested alongside Jewish refugees at first, causing tension and even quarrels

Read more:
A Montreal veteran of WWII celebrates 100 years: « We should all look forward to being like him. »

But in the end, conditions improved in many of the camps, and prisoners settled into routine

Raffaello Gonella, son of an Italian-born man held in a camp in El Saint Helen, Montreal, says his father described life in the camp as boring but safe

He said in a phone interview from Glasgow: « The war was raging in Europe and Britain, so their families were more in danger than they were. »

Unlike Great Britain, there was no legalization in Canada, and « being Italian men, they ate fairly well » thanks to the chefs and other restaurant staff among the number who had been working in restaurants before they were trained, Günela remembers


Leon remembers that in the camps, the university educated detainees set up schools and study groups for their younger counterparts.

“We started a camp school for the youngest people who were detained with us, and they didn’t have a chance to go to high school, so we made up for it,” Leon said.

This effort will pay off later: After their release, many of the detainees have gone on to study at universities across Canada and Europe, becoming architects, prominent professors and even Nobel Prize winners

To this day, the history of Italian and German concentration camps in Canada is still unknown among the general public, with few plaques indicating the locations where they previously stood

The building that houses the Ile Ste-Hélène concentration camp in Montreal now offers tours to visitors who are often surprised to hear that there is a concentration camp near a major Canadian city

Paula Draper, a historian who has written books about the Holocaust experience in Canada, said this lack of knowledge may be partly because the situation is generally perceived as less egregious than the detention of Canadian-born Japanese citizens

Because conditions were relatively good, she said many of the former detainees may have been reluctant to tell their stories.

“Although the experience was upsetting in Canada, how do you complain about this when in fact the arrest saved your life?” she said in a phone interview

Draper asserts that the arrest was an « unfair » that should never happen. On the other hand, it also kept the men safe, and eventually allowed some to emigrate to North America, where many found great success

Günela says the biggest difficulty the men in the camp faced was the uncertainty of not knowing what was happening back home. “They were worried about their families more than they were.”

But while his father told him stories of pranks and good food, as a young teenager, Gunela learned how this experience affected his father

One day, while materializing his father’s wardrobe in search of something to wear to school, young Goonela came across a denim shirt with a large red, white and blue circle on his back that looked like a target when he asked if he could wear it. / p>

Without his knowledge, Günela removed his father’s camp uniform, which was decorated with a target code to make the detainees visible to the armed guards in case of an escape attempt.

“I still fill my tears when I think about it,” said Günela

“He was totally crazy, screaming, shouting and shouting in Italian”

After spending time in camps in Troyes-Riviere, Key, Fredericton and Sherbrooke, Lyon was released in 1941. He moved to Montreal to live with his family friends and continued to complete his university education, raise a family and build a successful career in the construction industry

He now lives in a long-term care home in Montreal, and describes himself as a « survivor » whose life has changed with his time in the camps

“It definitely changed my life, because, for one reason, I became a Canadian citizen,” he said

Get a report on the hottest and most interesting national stories delivered to your inbox every day of the week

Get a report on the hottest and most interesting national stories delivered to your inbox every day of the week

Canada, WWII, Nazi Germany

World News – California – Remember the « bittersweet » legacy of Jewish and Italian concentration camps in wartime Canada


Donnez votre avis et abonnez-vous pour plus d’infos

Vidéo du jour: