| On the wind-whipped North Atlantic somewhere off Newfoundland,
high drama was being enacted on October 16, 1942. The German submarine
U-353 was engaged in a running gun battle with a British destroyer. the
U-353 lost. As the submarine slid beneath the waves for the last time,
its crew abandoned ship. Another group of German sailors would soon be
on their way to Canada as prisoners of war.
Among the 39 survivors of the ill-fated U-353 was Oberleutnant Rolf Holtz, who is today a successful bank director in Baden-Baden. On that epic day, however, he was but one of 6,000 German submariners who were to end their service in captivity. Oberleutnant Holtzís long period as a prisoner of war began when he was picked out of the stormy waters by the British destroyer which had sunk his sub. On October 20, 1942, Herr Holtz and his fellow mariners docked at Liverpool and were taken to a small British hotel in the town of Shap which served as a marshalling point for German POW's destined for Canada.
| The following spring, April, 1943, Oberleutnant Holz along
with approximately 300 German officers and men from the three services,
(Wehrmacht, Kriegsmarine and Luft-waffe), arrived at Halifax under armed
guard aboard an Allied merchant ship. From there they were put aboard a
heavily-guarded train bound for Internment Camp No.44 at Grande Ligne,
just south of St. John's, Quebec. The POW camp at Grande Ligne consisted
of two distinct and separate parts - one for the guards and staff and the
other for the POW. The POW area containing the living quarters was roughly
600 feet square. In this area were nine buildings and three small houses
for senior German officers. In one of these houses, (THE PRINCIPAL'S RESIDENCE),
lived General Schmidt, former commander of a Panzer Division who was captured
in North Africa with the remnants of Rommel's Afrika Corps.
The entire domestic area was enclosed on all four sides by an "apron" fence. This consisted of two rows of fences six feet apart and topped by barbed wire. Along the inside Perimeter seme twenty feet back was the warmng wire. Any POW seen between this wire and the apron fence was to be stopped by a bullet and, if found alive; was then asked questions. To the south of the domestic and working area was the "Yard" in which the prisoners were permitted to hold sports contests or simple exercises. This area was roughly 400 feet square and was also surrounded by can apron fence and warning wire. The Yard was connected- to the main grounds by an elevated catwalk some 35 feet in length with stairs at both ends.
To prevent night escapes, the entire Area housing the POW's was illuminated with floodlights all along the outside fence facing inward. Of course, the inevitable trademark of a prison camp, the guard towers, were spaced at regular intervals along the apron fence. Grande Ligne POW camp was different in one respect from all the others in Canada in that it was a former agricultural school (SIC). This, of course, explains why many of the buildings were of a permanent nature. Also, being a former agricultural school, it naturally had its own piggery , cow and hay barn, dairy building and? assorted sheds. The produce derived from these sources qelped to feed the camp occupants.
The other side of the fence contained the quarters, messes, canteens, etc., of the guards arid house- keeping staff. The guards and staff had their own camp parade ground and sports field separate from that of the POW's.
The uniformed guards and staff at Grande Ligne, as with all other POW camps in the country, were members of the Veterans' Guard of Canada. These were older men who voluntarily gave up homes and businesses to don the khaki uniform for the second time in their lives. In a POW camp the size of Grande Ligne there were approximately 350 to 400 guards and staff under the command of a lieutenant-colonel.
The German POW's in Canada were lucky in having members of the Veterans' Guard as their custodians. All of them had seen action in the First World War and many had sons or close relatives fighting in the Second World War. Most also realized that ill or harsh treatment could be accorded to POW's on both sides. The vast majority of them were not trigger-happy youngsters but rather a group of sensible, patient and fair-minded men. They could be tough and firm when faced with obstinate and unruly prisoners but they were willing to understand and help those who obeyed the rules of the camp. For those POW's who disobeyed rules, punishment was usually swift and to the point. The Canadian C.O. was empowered to impose disciplinary measures extending from loss of certain privileges up to and including solitary confinement in the camp "cooler." But normally, strong disciplinary measures were not required.
In December, 1944, Herr Holz and some of the other prisoners were moved from the POW camp at Grande Ligne to a camp at Seebee, Alberta. ..The transfer took four days and five nights and here probably for the first time, the German officers and men realized the immensity of Canada. Lacking any escape routes in this vast strange country, the German POW knew he had pretty well "had it."
The Canadian military authorities and education institutions. ..provided the German POW's with the opportunity for a very broad level of education.
Study time (in Grande Ligne and at Seebee) was designated each year from September to April. During these months, each POW was expected to attend 28 hours of formal instruction per week. .. Some of the courses offered included English, French, Latin, Spanish, Mathematics, Chemistry, Common Law and World History .The instructors were recruited from the ranks of the POW's themselves and many of them were well equipped for the task. For example, Herr Holz recalls that one instructor of English and Spanish was a former professor from Heidelberg OmversIty who had been captured as an officer in the Afrika Korps. .
Herr Holz remembers that at both Grande Ligne and Seebee the big libraries were well stocked with the best books available; a large part being donated by the YMCA. Later. as the POW's became more involved in their studies they were allowed to receive and read books from Germany. Not all prisoners became inspired with advanced educational opportuni- ties, but they were the exception and not the rule.
The period from April to September was better known as the sports season. Then the POW's had the opportunity to play soccer, tennis, basketball and other outdoor sports within the confines of the barbed wire fence, of course.
The Canadian military authorities continually stressed constant activity for the POW's in order to counteract boredom and discontent. Even in the realm of messing, the authorities knew that an adequate and balanced diet was needed if the Prisoners were to cope WIth the heavy program of studies and sports. Holz remarked that "the normal fare was adequate but not overdone." Food was prepared in the camp kitchens by German POW cooks who knew, of course, the type of food and its preparation best suited for the German male.
On September 4, 1947, almost five years to the day that 0-353 slid to a watery grave, Oberleutnant Holz was released.
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