An Enemy’s Welcome
Canadian military officials at the docks in Québec City were armed and prepared for the arrival of dangerous parachutists and spies. Instead, they were baffled by the sight of teenagers and religious Jews that disembarked among the civilian internees.
Once the ships had sailed, Britain had informed Canada that the majority of civilians on board were refugees from Nazism. As the ships entered Canadian waters, the men hoped their long and dangerous journey was over. They soon discovered that Canada was unprepared to deal with them, and that they were to be considered guilty until proven innocent.
The Duchess of York refugees were immediately sent by train to Camp R in northern Ontario. Eugene Spier, a German Jewish financier, described how they were met by “vigilant soldiers with rifles and fixed bayonets ready to charge at us at any moment.” These refugees remained unprotected from the Nazis in the camp for several months.
Refugees arriving on the Ettrick and Sobieski were shocked by the hostility of their reception. Many had their belongings “confiscated” by Canadian soldiers. When nothing was returned, they filed official complaints that eventually led to several court-martials.
In the hastily organized Canadian internment camps, refugees soon realized that officials expected them to be interned for the duration of the war. Neither refugees nor Canadian personnel were prepared for what was in store for them.