We want freedom, even if there are bombs in England and none here.
Internment bears heavy on my nerves, the barbed wire seems almost choking me. Freedom, freedom. Henry Kriesel, one of the “Camp Boys”
Walter Igersheimer’s certificate of registration, October 9, 1933. As a foreigner, he was issued this certificate by the British government during his stay in the country.
– Courtesy Walter W. Igersheimer
A cartoon from Eric Koch’s internment scrapbook of a Sergeant-General yelling at four trembling internees, artist unknown.
– Courtesy Eric Koch. Source: Library and Archives Canada/Artist Unknown/Eric Koch Fonds/e010939544
Barbed wire fence and tower surrounding the parameter of Camp L (Quebec City, Quebec).
– Courtesy Marcell Seidler/Library and Archives Canada/PA-143488
A drawing of the St. Lawrence coastline by Hans Falk, Camp L (Quebec City, Quebec), circa July – October 1940.
– Courtesy of the family of Hans L. Falk of NC, PA, and WA
Camp A (Farnham, Quebec) school matriculation photo with instructors, 1941.
– Courtesy Frank Koller
A lecture on molecular rearrangement presented by Dr. Michaelis for the internee students of Camp I (Île-aux-Noix, Quebec). Jack Hahn is in the middle row third from right; physicist William Low is seated closest to the professor, who founded the Jerusalem College of Technology post-internment.
– Courtesy Jack Hahn. Source: Library and Archives Canada/Standard (Montréal, Québec), February 7, 1942/AMICUS 8382399/11
As Nazi Germany drew the world into war, Canada’s discriminatory immigration policies denied entry to those seeking refuge, particularly Jews. In 1940, when Canada agreed to Britain’s request to aid the war effort by taking in “enemy aliens” and prisoners of war, it did not expect to also receive 2,284 refugees from Nazism, most of them Jews.
These men, many between the ages of 16 and 20, had found asylum in Britain only to be arrested under the suspicion that there were spies in their midst. After a brief period of internment in England, they were deported to Canada and imprisoned in New Brunswick, Ontario and Québec alongside political refugees and, in some camps, avowed Nazis.
Although the British soon admitted their mistake, Canada, saddled with refugees it did not want, settled into a policy of inertia regarding their welfare, their status, and their release. Antisemitic immigration policy and public sentiment precluded opening Canada’s doors to Jews, and that included through the back door of internment.
The refugees faced the injustice of internment with remarkable resilience and strived to make the most of their time behind barbed wire. Meanwhile, Canada’s Jewish community worked with other refugee advocates in an effort to secure freedom for the “camp boys.”
Through testimony and artefacts, this exhibit illustrates a little-known chapter of Canadian history – the story of Canada and the interned refugees. The remarkable postwar contributions of these men highlight the lost potential of the fragment of European Jewry that Canada might have saved. Their journey – from fascist Europe to refuge in England, imprisonment by Britain and Canada and eventual release – is a bittersweet tale of survival during the Holocaust.