Here is final part in our series of recollections by Canadian Lt. Leo L. Hamson, regarding his time as a guard at the Wainwright POW camp. (minor typos corrected)
(The full set of Recollections is back online, with photos.)
Long years passed. It was not until the fall of 2001 that the National Film Board of Canada asked me to participate in a film by German-born film-maker Eva Colmers of Edmonton, along with a number of former German POWs she had located. Some of them have since passed away. It was a stunning moment on Dec 21, 2001 when director Eva Colmers brought me face-to-face for the first time in 56 years with former Oberleutnant Siegfried Osterwoldt, and had us shake hands on camera. Unknown to each other, we had been living in Edmonton for many years. Now we are close friends, trying to make up for lost time.
Titled “The Enemy Within” these are the stories of German prisoner-of-war camps in Canada told in our own words. The film opens in Regensburg, the lovely old German city on the Danube, and the original home of Eva Colmers. She went back to interview her father, a former POW in Lethbridge. As a child, Eva had heard her father many times speak gratefully of the humane and very correct treatment he had received as a prisoner of the Canadians. It was this memory that had inspired Eva Colmers to make this historic film.
Also present at the filmed meeting in Regensburg was Eva’s uncle, who had been taken prisoner on the Eastern Front where millions died and where the soldiers of neither side had any protection from the Geneva Convention. At Stalingrad and countless other battles on hundreds of miles of battlefront, hundreds of thousands of exhausted German soldiers fell into Soviet captivity. Only a very small number survived execution, starvation, and years of brutal slave labour to see their homeland again. The voice of Eva’s uncle chokes with emotion as he recalls his determined struggle to survive and see his family again.
The contrast in the experience of the two brothers is profound beyond words. Large numbers of those held captive in Canadian camps were so impressed with their treatment that they could hardly wait to return to make Canada their home. One wonders if any former prisoners of the Soviets did likewise!
Few Canadians today are aware of this episode in our history. After seeing the theatre screening of the film, my academic friend Dr. Don Kvill declared, “That made me really proud to be a Canadian!” Indeed, we should take pride in the fact that in those dark and desperate times when other nations lost their humanity and forgot the meaning of civilized behaviour, we did not. War and hatred go hand in hand. It is the real test of any people when they can treat their defeated enemies with humane decency whether they have signed a convention or not.
“The Enemy Within” won the top award in an international “World Visions” festival of documentary films in competition with 66 other films. It received its television premiere on the History Television channel September 12th, 2004.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Copyright 2004 by Leo Hamson; used with permission