Update (May 15, 2020): A big thank you to Andreas who was able to decipher the handwriting and provide me with a transcription of the letter. Thank you to everyone else who offered their help, I really appreciate it! I’ve added the transcription and rough translation after the images.
I am hoping someone will be able to help me with this. I have a letter (written in German) that I am struggling to transcribe. The handwriting is rather difficult to read with my limited German so I’m turning to my blog readers for help.
For some context, the letter was written to the family of Bernhard Wardenski, notifying that them that he was missing in action. Wardenski, a German naval artilleryman, was captured on December 27, 1941, most likely during Operation Archery, a British Commando raid on the Norwegian island of Vågsøy (Vaagso). He spent a few months in the United Kingdom as a POW being he was transferred to Canada, remaining here until 1946.
The letter itself, dated January 8, 1942, appears to have been written by Wardenski’s commanding officer, but I have only been able to make out a few sentences, namely:
Sehr geehrte Familie Wardenski!
… Ihr Sohn, der Mar. Art. Bernhard [?] Wardenski wird seit dem 27.12.41 Vermisst…
If you are able to decipher any of the text below, please let me know in the comments below or by sending me an email.
Any help would be greatly appreciated!
Transcription courtesy of Andreas:
Leider muss ich Ihnen
heute eine traurige Mitteilung
machen. Ihr Sohn, der Mar. Art.
Bernhard Wardenski wird seit
dem 27.12.41 vermißt.
Wahrscheinlich ist er bei treuer
Erfüllung seiner Soldaten-
pflicht den …tod
gestorben. Alle Nachforschungen
und alles Absuchen der
fraglichen Stelle blieben
Ich kannte Ihren Sohn…(??)
und habe ihn wegen seiner
frischen und offenen Art, wegen
seiner Gewissenhaftigkeit und
seiner Leistungen besonders
geschätzt. Ich kann daher auch
Ihren tiefen Schmerz mit-
empfinden und kann Ihnen
versichern, dass wir das
Andenken Ihres Sohnes in
Ehren halten werden. Sein
Heldentod ist ein Glied in
der Kette der vielen Taten
und Opfer der Soldaten, die
dem Reich den Sieg bringen
Sobald die Kompanie etwas
Näheres erfahren sollte, erhalten
Sie sofort Nachricht.
Leutnant (?) u. Komp. Chef
And the translation:
Dear Wardenski family,
Unfortunately, I have to give you a sad message today. Your son, the Mar. Art. Bernhard Wardenski has been missing since December 27, 1941. He probably died if he fulfilled his duty as a soldier. All investigations and searches of the position in question were unsuccessful.
I knew your son … and I particularly valued him for his fresh and open manner, his conscientiousness and his achievements. I can therefore also feel your deep pain and can assure you that we will honor your son’s memory. His heroic death is a link in the chain of many deeds and victims of the soldiers who will bring victory to the empire. As soon as the company learns anything else, you will be notified immediately.
Lieutenant (?) U. Comp. Boss
Thanks again to everyone who offered to help! Bernhard Wardenski was very much alive and had already mailed a postcard to his parents notifying them of his capture by the time this letter was written.
While picture postcards of German prisoners of war in Canada are not particularly uncommon, examples from certain camps can prove more difficult to find (for more on PoW picture postcards, see my earlier post here). In my experience, images from Camp 100 at Neys, Ontario are among those harder to find. I was therefore quite happy to obtain this image recently. Depicting ten prisoners and their dog on a sandy beach with Lake Superior in the background, this postcard was sent by Enemy Merchant Seaman (EMS) Karl Hannover to his family in Germany in 1942.
Karl Hannover arrived in Canada in late June or early July 1940 and was likely first interned At Camp R in Red Rock, Ontario. However, he was soon transferred to Camp Q at Monteith, Ontario and, on November 25, 1941, he was transferred to Camp 100 (Neys) where he would remain for two years.
Located on the shore of Lake Superior, Camp 100 at Neys, Ontario, was arguably one of the most scenic locations for an internment camp. One of two purpose-built internment camps in Northern Ontario (the other being Camp X, later Camp 101, at Angler), Camp W (later renamed Camp 100) opened in January 1941 and initially held about 450 German officers and other ranks sent to Canada from the United Kingdom. By the end of the year, these men were transferred to other camps and replaced by about 650 civilian internees and enemy merchant seamen (EMS). The camp temporarily closed from December 1943 to August 1944 and re-opened as a “Black” camp – a higher-security camp primarily intended for pro-Nazis and troublemakers. The Neys Internment Camp finally closed at the end of April 1946.
An artist, Hannover submitted a design for consideration as the 1943 Christmas cards printed and distributed by the War Prisoners’ Aid of the YMCA but it does not appear his design was chose for, in November 1943, he and the rest of the EMS at Neys were relocated to Camp 23 (Monteith). In March 1946, Hannover was transferred to the United Kingdom, likely returning to Germany the following year.
Camp 100 was abandoned and dismantled in the late 1940s and the site was eventually re-forested. In 1964, the former camp location and the surrounding location became part of Neys Provincial Park. Few traces of the camp remain today although one can still find pieces of scrap metal scattered throughout the site and you can still make out the outlines of some of the building foundations. Park staff also run regular tours of the site throughout the summer months.
Wishing a Happy New Year to all my readers!
In 1945, PoW Willi Nötel gave this Happy New Year card to his fellow PoW and friend Erich Neumann in Camp 132 at Medicine Hat, Alberta. Both the double-sided card and envelope are hand-made, presumably by Nötel, and note he even replicated the postal cancellation on the upper-right of the envelope.
In the summer, I ran the first of a series of posts about prisoner of war mail (see here) and I briefly mentioned the censorship of PoW mail. Incoming and outgoing mail was censored by Canadian military and civilian officials to prevent PoWs from leaking sensitive information about Canadian wartime operations, their locations, and information that could be deemed harmful to the Canadian war effort.
Now PoWs were aware that their letters were being censored and were instructed not to include sensitive material in their correspondence. While many followed these instructions, a number of PoWs sought to circumvent the censorship process by hiding secret messages. Some PoWs used elaborate codes hidden within the body of their messages, some used predetermined words or messages, and others turned to more secretive methods, namely invisible inks.
I came across one of these messages that appears to have employed some sort of invisible ink in an attempt to convey a message from the spokesman of a remote lumber camp back to the spokesman at the base camp (Camp 23 at Monteith, Ontario).
The original message (in black text) is quite innocent:
As you see, I have run out of writing paper. Have you received my letter of 20.12.?? Please acknowledge the receipt of it, so that I will know that you have been informed. I hope that everything turns out to our satisfaction.
Yes Felix, we took everything on our own heads when we left the camp — everything except injustice.
Now I have some more requests, which you will certainly fulfill for me.
I urgently need 3 arch-supports, 4 portfolios and 2 pads (jotting paper) — This sort of article is not to be had here, and you know — 30 cents.
I am enclosing a list for the exchange of clothing. Please send it here as soon as possible. When can I count on the case of books? Christmas is coming and we have nothing to read. Please see to it that the carpenters complete the case. As far as everything else is concerned, everything here is keeping with the times.
In the hope that you (plural) spend a happy Christmas, naturally wet, I remained with best wishes.–
Your comrade, Wilhelm
In the white text, the letter takes a different turn.
Interestingly, this is the first case of Anti-Semitism I have so far encountered in my (intial) research. I have yet to discover whether there were any repercussions for sending the letter but it does highlight some of the many challenges internment officials faced during the course of the war.
This is a bit of a longshot, but does anyone happen to recognize the individual second from the left? He looks extremely familiar but I have been unable to place him. The picture was taken at Camp 44 at Grande Ligne, Quebec, likely in the Summer of 1943. Apart from the fact that he is a Leutnant and a recipient of the Iron Cross, First Class and a Flying Clasp, I don’t have any more information about him.
The sender of the photograph, Oberzahlmeister Gustav Schneider, is third from the left.
Continuing with the topic of Prisoner of War mail, today’s post deals with the picture postcard, a popular form of communication between PoWs and their friends and family back home.
Picture postcards are exactly what they sound like: postcards with a picture on them. As I’ve mentioned before, these photos not only allowed PoWs to show their families they were alive and well but they also served as a form of propaganda in that they demonstrated that Canada was able to treat their PoWs well within the terms of the 1929 Geneva Convention.
Prisoner of War picture postcards had to meet fairly strict regulations. First, only photographers authorized by the Department of Defence were allowed to take these photographs and they subsequently had to be censored and approved for production (to prevent any unwanted information to be sent to Germany). Once approved, these pictures were generally made available for purchase. Each of the photographs were numbered, presumably allowing the PoWs to keep track of which image they were in.
While the subjects of the pictures were the PoWs themselves, there were a fairly wide range of photographs taken. For example, see the next three photographs. While the above picture shows a group of PoWs in their uniforms, they were also seen in a more “relaxed style” – I don’t think that shirt is regulation!
Sports teams and bands were also featured in photographs, such as the one seen below.
Officers, kept in separate camps from their enlisted counterparts, were also offered the opportunity to send picture postcards. However, unlike their comrades, them seem to have been afforded the privilege of having their pictures taken in smaller groups and in more scenic settings.
While the pictures were produced as postcards, some PoWs never sent their pictures home, instead preferring to keep them as souvenirs of their time in Canada. It also seems that some of these photographs, primarily those depicting funerals, camp life, or general views of the camp, were not intended to be mailed and were strictly sold or distributed as souvenirs. The photo below is one of these, kept as a souvenir and brought back to Germany after the war.
That’s it for this post – hope you enjoyed it!
Updated translations August 5, 2014 and November 29, 2016 – Thanks to Günther and Joel for their help!
In my last post I introduced the basics of Prisoner of War mail in Canada during the Second World War. Today, I’m going to continue this by showing another type of postcard.
In the early years of the Second World War, the YMCA set up the “War Prisoners’ Aid” to supply Allied and German PoWs with non-essential goods, such as sporting equipment, radios, movies, reading material, etc. Among the items produced specifically for German prisoners of war in Canada was a series of nineteen postcards.
The postcards featured artwork by two PoWs, one of who was reportedly Karl Kafka. The postcards were printed by the YMCA and were made available for purchase in the camp canteens. Many of the cards feature aspects of the day-to-day life in a Canadian PoW camp while others, as you can see below, portrayed camp life and work in a more humorous fashion. Some of the meanings of the cards are beyond me so if you have any insight into any of these cards, please leave a comment below!
One thing I will note is that although these cards were apparently approved to be sent home (and I know the PoWs brought them back to Germany with them)I have yet to find one that was actually mailed. It appears as though these cards were more souvenirs than post.
I have included the original German captions and their [rough] English translations below.
And, having saved my favourite for last,
That’s it from this series, I hope you enjoyed it! Check back soon for the next installment of PoW mail.
After an unintended hiatus, here is the first of a series of posts about prisoner of war mail. Now you may be thinking this isn’t the most exciting subject or the most exhilarating objects (and I don’t blame you) but there is more to it than it may appear!
First, some context. In accordance with the 1929 Geneva Convention, detaining powers (in this case, Britain and Canada) were to allow prisoners of war to send letters or postcards back to their friends and families at home. Article 36 of the Geneva Convention describes,
Not later than one week after his arrival in camp, and similarly in case of sickness, each prisoner shall be enabled to send a postcard to his family informing them of his capture and the state of his health. The said postcards shall be forwarded as quickly as possible and shall not be delayed in any manner. As a general rule, the correspondence of prisoners shall be written in their native language. Belligerents may authorize correspondence in other languages.
Now, because the majority of PoWs interned in Canada were actually captured by British or Commonwealth forces, the British provided newly captured prisoners with their first opportunity to let their loved ones know they were safe, albeit behind barbed wire.
Here’s an example of one of these postcards issued to newly captured prisoners. As you can see, the postcard is very simple, allowing the prisoners to fill out all the important details so their families can be tracked down.
The sender, Obergefreiter Siegfried Schwieger, was likely captured during Operation Crusader, as he penned this message to his parents on December 31, 1941. He ended up as a PoW in Canada for the rest of the war.
For those captured in North Africa, like Schwieger, their time in British camps was short. It would not be long before prisoners were loaded onto transport ships and taken across the Atlantic to their new home in a Canadian prisoner of war camp.
Canada imposed a limit on postcards sent by PoWs, as they were entitled to do in accordance with Article 36. For the majority of the war prisoners of war were allowed to send two letters and four postcards every month at no cost. The prisoners were not allowed to send any parcels or packages but they were allowed to receive an unlimited amount of letters, postcards, and parcels.
Sending and receiving letters to and from Germany could be a lengthy process with some letters taking months to arrive. Prisoners did have the option of sending letters and postcards by Air-Mail to speed up the process but they had to cover postage.
Here are some examples. First, a postcard.
This type of postcard appears to have been standard for most of the war but the format did change in late 1944 or early 1945. All the pertinent identification information (say that three times fast) was recorded on the front of the card including name, rank, PoW number, and internment camp. The red “A” indicates the sender, Soldat Werner Bomeyer, was a member of the Germany Army (each branch had a letter AF for Air Force, N for Navy, and MN for Merchant Marine). The backside was left blank for the messages and here Bomeyer has informed the recipient that he is doing quite well and asks him to send a photo.
The letters were quite similar to the postcards with the exception that they offered more writing space.
Quite clearly, this letter has sections that have been blacked out. I’m not sure what the sender, Feldwebel Henning von Neindorff, was trying to say but obviously someone didn’t like it.
To prevent the PoWs from leaking sensitive information or from complaining too much, PoW mail was censored. Anything that did not meet requirements (specific location of camps, discussion of military movements, complaining about treatment, etc.) was blacked out by the censor’s marker. If the censor deemed fit, they could also reject the letter.
Once it arrived in Germany, it underwent a similar censoring (see the brown tape to show it had been opened and re-sealed), presumably to take out any references to Canada being a pretty good place to spend out the rest of the war. Also note the postage stamps, indicating the PoW sent the letter via air mail for $0.30.
That’s it for the first of the PoW mail series, stay tuned for more!
Picture postcards were quite popular with PoWs as it offered them a chance to show their families how they were doing as they waited out the end of the war in Canada. As these photographs were taken by photographers approved by the Canadian military, they also served an important propaganda by demonstrating that the prisoners were being properly fed, clothed, and housed.
This particular photograph was taken at Camp 132 in Medicine Hat, Alberta in 1943. Both Heer (Army) and Luftwaffe (Air Force) are present and the tropical (light-coloured) uniforms worn by a number of the PoWs suggest that some, if not most, of these men were captured in North Africa.
The sender, Heinz Gummert, is not identified in the photo but was a young Luftwaffe Obergefreiter (Lance Corporal) believed to have been captured in North Africa. The postcard, addressed to his father in Germany, simply states “Greetings to you from your son, Heinz!” Coincidentally, the PoW in the back row, third from the left, was a PoW at Riding Mountain but he too remains unidentified.
I know little about Gummert but, a few months after this photograph was mailed, he was working at a lumber camp near Hemlo, Ontario. In mid-April, he and two comrades attempted to escape from the camp. The Winnipeg Free Press of April 15, 1944 briefly described their capture:
“The Royal Canadian Mounted Police here revealed today that three German prisoners of war who escaped Friday from a prison camp, at Hemlo in northern Ontario were recaptured in the same general vicinity late yesterday. The prisoners were Robert Traut, 31, Heinz Gummert, 21, and Kurt Senmholz, 35. The three were former members of the Nazi air force.”
Hopefully some further research will uncover Gümmert’s identity and his fate following the failed escape.
As some of you know, I collect almost anything related to PoWs in Canada and among the most numerous objects in my collection are PoW postcards and pictures. For most of the war, PoWs were authorized to write up to four postcards and two letters a month and were allowed to receive unlimited quantities of mail and parcels. As this was the only method to keep in touch with friends and family in Germany, letter-writing took up a prominent portion of a PoWs’ recreation time and many eagerly awaited news from home.
For me, one of the most interesting aspects of PoW mail was the picture postcard. Taken by pre-approved photographers, these photos not only allowed PoWs to show their families they were alive and well but they also served as a form of propaganda in that they demonstrated that Canada was able to treat their PoWs well within the terms of the 1929 Geneva Convention.
Today, I’m going to show a postcards that I added to my collection this summer. This particular postcard was sent by Maschin Obergefrieter. Helmut Schöttler, who was a member of the Kreigsmarine (Navy). The reverse of the photographs provide some, but very limited, identification information. This includes their name, PoW number, rank, branch of service, and the camp they were interned in.
The above photograph was taken at Camp 21 at Espanola, Ontario. Camp 21 opened in 1940 and was located on the site of the former Abitibi Power and Paper Co. Mill. Of the ten PoWs in the photo, at least six are Navy while it appears there are at least two Army personnel and one Paratrooper. The sender of the photo, Helmut Schöttler, is the somewhat unhappy individual in the white Navy uniform.
As I’m very interested in the stories of individual PoWs and how they experienced internment in Canada, I’m always looking for more information on these PoWs. Unfortunately for me, the vast majority of personnel files of PoWs were destroyed after the war which usually means that I can’t really find out a whole lot about these men.
This time, however, was an exception! Thanks to the hard work of some very dedicated individuals, the history of German U-Boats is among the best documented aspects of the German military online and a quick search revealed that Helmut Schöttler served on U-93. Launched in June 1940, U-93 completed seven patrols and sunk a total of eight ships. Her luck, however, ended in January 1942, when she was discovered by a British destroyer and sunk (thanks to the dedicated volunteers at uboat.net, I can even see Schöttler’s final voyage aboard U-93!).
Forty of the forty-six crewman were picked up by British ships, including Schöttler. Following their interrogation in Britain (see report here), many, if not all, of the new prisoners were sent to Canada for the duration of the war. Coincidentally, this is my second picture postcard of a U-93 crewman; the first was sent by Hans Alsleben and can be seen here.