Monday, September 7, 2009

Prisoners of the Home Front: German POWs and "Enemy Aliens" in Southern Quebec, 1940-46

(Studies in Canadian Military History
By Martin F. Auger
227 pages Paperback UBC Press 2006 978-0774812245
Little is known of the internment of German prisoners of war, civilians and merchant seamen on Canadian soil during the Second World War. In the midst of the most destructive conflict in human history, almost 40,000 Germans were detained in twenty-five permanent internment camps and dozens of smaller work camps located across Canada. Five of these permanent camps were located on the southern shores of the St. Lawrence River at Farnham, Grande Ligne, Ile-aux-Noix, Sherbrooke, and Sorel in the province of Quebec.
Martin Auger’s book provides a fascinating insight into the internment operation in southern Quebec. The study examines the organization and day-to-day affairs of internment camps, and offers an in-depth analysis of the experience of the German prisoners who inhabited these camps. The author shows how the pressures of internment, such as restricted mobility, sexual deprivation, social alienation, and the lack of material comfort created important psychological and physical strains on inmates. In response, Canadian authorities introduced labour projects and educational programs to uphold morale, to thwart internal turmoil, and to prevent escapes. These initiatives also aimed to expose German prisoners to the values of a democratic society and prepare their postwar reintegration. The author concludes that Canada abided with the provisions of the Geneva Convention, and that its treatment of German prisoners was humane.
A few minor quibbles with this work are the lack of illustrations and the textbook format, which includes a summary at the end of each chapter.
Prisoners of the Home Front sheds light on life behind Canadian barbed wire. The study fills an important void in our knowledge of the Canadian home front during the Second World War and furthers our understanding of the human experience in times of war.

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