Seeing Double: POW Artists at Camp 133 (Ozada)

Updated March 7, 2022

Scenes from Camp 133 at Ozada remain among the most popular depicted by POW artists (for more on POW art, click here to read some of my earlier posts). The camp was one of Canada’s largest, holding over 12,500 POWs by November 1942, and among those interned were a number of talented artists. The camp’s location made it an ideal subject for POW artists interested in capturing Canada’s natural beauty. Situated on Mortley Flats on the Stoney 142, 143, and 144 Reserve of the Stoney Nakoda First Nation, the camp offered stunning views of the Rocky Mountains to the West.

Captivated (and captive), talented POWs dedicated much of their time to sketching and painting their new surroundings. Among them was Richard Schädler.

I know little of Schädler’s life, but he served in the Germany Army in North Africa and was captured sometime in 1941. He was subsequently sent to Canada, arriving at Camp 133 (Ozada) in May 1942. He would spend the next six months at Ozada but, a talented artist, Schädler turned to art to help pass the time behind barbed wire.

“K.G. Lager 133” by Richard Schädler. Author’s Collection.

Richard Schädler’s “K.G. Lager 133, Ozada, Canada” depicts a common sight at Ozada in the Summer of 1942. The scene shows the view from within the camp’s enclosure, focusing on the POWs’ living quarters. Five bell tents, each of which would have been occupied by POWs, take up much of the foreground. As Ozada was only a temporary camp built to accommodate POWs until construction of a permanent camp at Lethbridge (which would also be named Camp 133) was finished, prisoners at Ozada lived, slept, ate, studied, washed, and showered in tents. These were not ideal accommodations and complaints came from prisoners and guards alike, especially as the temperatures dropped later in the year.

The scene also gives a sense of the daily life within camp. A prisoner’s jacket (with a large red circle on the back) and trousers (with a red stripe down the leg) hang from a clothes line to dry while what appears to be a zeltbahn – a camouflage poncho that could be converted into part of a tent – covers the entrance of the tent on the right. A flag marks this same tent, perhaps making a specific camp block or the tent of a senior NCO or “barracks” leader. Update (07/03/2022): the left part of the flag bears a swastika over a palm tree, which was the insignia of the Deutsche Afrikakorps (German Africa Corps). The majority of the POWs at Ozada only recently arrived from North Africa.

Behind the tents, one can make out the camp’s barbed wire fences and one of the many guard towers that surrounded the enclosure. Each tower was constantly manned by at least three men from the Veterans Guard of Canada tasked with keeping watch on the thousands of POWs in camp. Dominating the background lie the Rocky Mountains, close but ultimately out of reach for those in the camp.

Now imagine my surprise when another reader forwarded a scan of the following painting only a few days later!

Untitled by Unknown Artist. Private Collection.

Although there are a few noticeable differences, the second painting unmistakably depicts the same scene down the clothing on the line, the zeltbahn, and the flag marking the tent on the right. Unfortunately, this piece is not signed and there are no clues as to who the mystery artist was.

The existence of both paintings prompts many questions. Were the artists friends or part of a group of artists at Ozada painting their own depictions of the same scene? Or were they in an art class in Ozada (or later in Lethbridge?) and copying another painting or image? Could one of these examples be a copy of the other?

It is unlikely that I will ever find the answers to these questions but the existence of these two examples makes me wonder if there are more out there. Do you have a copy or have you seen something similar? Let me know in the comments or get in touch.

Update on March 7, 2022:

Less than twenty-fours after my original post, a reader had forwarded a third copy depicting the same scene at Camp 133 (Ozada)!

“Ozada – Kanada – 1942 – Camp ‘133″” by J.B., April 1, 1943

Although somewhat “rougher” than the other two, the painting shows the same five tents, the clothes line (although simplified), the camouflage zeltbahn, the tent’s flag (more on this later), the single guard tower, and the looming Rocky Mountains. You can compare it to the original two copies seen below.

However, this third copy yields some more clues about the existence of all three paintings and provides some answers to my many questions. First, and most important, this is the only example with a date – 1.4.43. As the Ozada camp closed in December 1942, this indicates that this copy was not produced at Ozada but Camp 133 in Lethbridge, some five months after the POWs left Ozada. This supports the theory that POW artists were copying another version, perhaps as part of a group of artists or as students attending an art class. But they could also be making reproductions simply to sell to their comrades as souvenirs, trading them for canteen tickets or physical goods. Could Schädler’s version, as the most detailed, be the original? Or is there another, better copy out there that he was working from?

Another question that has been answered, at least partially, is the flag flying from the tent on the far right. In this copy, the artists has simplified the design and the letters “DAK” are clearly visible. “DAK” refers to Deutsches Afrikakorps, or German Africa Corps, the German force that fought in North Africa that the majority of the POWs in Ozada had served in. It is now clear that to the left of “DAK” is the insignia of the Afrika Korps’, a swastika over a palm tree. Referring back to Schädler’s version, the same insignia is visible, although “DAK” appears to be absent.

For those interested in how the same scene looks eighty years later, Google StreetView provides a more recent look from approximately the same location.

A special thank you to Lieselotte for graciously sending me Schädler’s artwork and to the owner of the unsigned piece for allowing me to share it with you.

Published by Michael O'Hagan

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

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