Christmas in Canada, 1941

As part of their efforts to help POWs interned in Canada, the War Prisoners’ Aid of the YMCA printed and distributed thousands of Christmas cards each year for POWs and internees in the country. Calls for art submissions were issued to internment camps and POW artists submitted sketches, paintings, and linocuts in the chance of having their art reproduced. Of the many submissions, a few (or one, depending on the year) were selected and printed. In 1941, the YMCA selected this wintery scene as the annual Christmas card.

Christmas card printed by the YMCA and distributed to POWs in Canada. This example was sent by Karl Vogel to his wife, Helen, in Germany. Author’s Collection.

This particular example was one of a few hundred distributed to POWs at Camp E at Espanola, Ontario. The sender, Karl Vogel, was a Luftwaffe pilot shot down over England during the Battle of Britain, and had been sent to Canada to wait out the war. He was first interned at Camp W at Neys, Ontario before he was transferred to Espanola in March 1941. Vogel addressed his card to his wife and added a brief message wishing her a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year (“Fröliche Weihnachten und ein glüchliches Neues Jahr!“). Although the image on the postcard did not depict Espanola, it just so happened that Vogel had taken in the very same view less than a year prior.

Earlier this year, I acquired a small collection of POW artwork from Neys and Bowmanville. Unbeknownst to me, one of them was an original print of the artwork used for the YMCA’s 1941 Christmas card. The print, shown below, shows the view from within the camp enclosure with the barber and tailor shop and the recreation hut on the left and, just beyond the barbed wire fence, the camp office. Snow drifts fill the compound while ice-covered Lake Superior can just be seen in the background.

“Camp W,” November 1941. Linocut print by unknown artist at Camp W, Neys, Ontario. Author’s Collection.

The print is from a linocut done by a POW at Camp W (later Camp 100) at Neys, Ontario in 1941. Linocuts, a form of print making similar to woodcuts, involves carving an image or design into a sheet of linoleum, applying ink, and then pressing the design on canvas (click here for a video explaining the process).

Linocuts proved a popular form of POW art in some camps for they allowed artists to reproduce their work with relative ease. While I have not been able to confirm the artist’s identity, the initials “B.M.” that appear on another print suggest it may have been Bernhard Malischewski, a Luftwaffe pilot shot down during the Battle of Britain. Regardless, the artist produced a series of linocuts depicting various scenes of life at Neys in 1941 and either gifted or traded prints to his fellow POWs.

Happy Holidays to all of my readers, thank you for your support!

Published by Michael O'Hagan

Historian studying German Prisoners of War in Canada during the Second World War

2 thoughts on “Christmas in Canada, 1941

  1. Thanks for the art history …did not know of Y sending those cards, and have a fine season even if we are also contained or restrained Dieter

    Sent from my iPad


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