(Title image: Postcard sent by Hans Pfeffel (back row, left end) from Camp 133 show Afrika Korp POWs. Photo via David Carter.)
Feldwebel Gotthardt Leisner
Gotthardt Leisner (POW No. 19237) is not among the 187 interred Germans at Woodland Cemetery. The Luftwaffe Feldwebel (Sergeant) was fortunate to have survived World War II, and his captivity as a prisoner of war in Canada.
The following images display samples of his correspondence that was sent during his time in Canada, and they provide a small glimpse into the life of a German POW.
When looking over Leisner’s letters we can determine that he was a prisoner of Camp 133, which was located in Alberta. Camp 133 first opened on 6 May, 1942, a temporary city of tents at Ozada with a capacity of 10,000 POWs. By November of that year the camp was relocated to a newly built collection of barracks at Lethbridge, which increased the camp’s capacity 12,500 prisoners.
Camp 133 remained in use until well after the end of the war, and was finally closed on 18 December, 1946.
Group photos such as these were used as postcards for the POWs who could send them home and show that they were still alive.
The postmark on the back of this postcard proves its origin. The information encircling the August 31, 1943 mailing date states “POW” and “133”, which indicates mail from a prisoner of war being kept at Camp 133.
The POW had to hand write this information as well, and understandably was not allowed to disclose the camp’s geographical location anonymous. To aid anonymity, the prisoner had to also write that it was being sent from the “Base Post Office, Ottawa, Canada.”
Another stamp indicates that the postcard was examined by censor D.B. 682 to make sure that the POW wasn’t trying to disclose any important information to the enemy.
The recipient of the postcard, Fräulein Hanna Schneider, also survived the war but was one of the millions who lost their homes and suffered the effects of the ethnic cleansing program initiated by the Allies.
Hanna Schneider lived in a small town called Gross Wilkau, which was located in the Prussian province of Silesia. This land was gifted to Poland after the war by the Allies and resulted in the forced expulsion of those who had lived there for centuries.
Censored at both ends: The two stamps on the back of this letter not only indicate that it had been opened and read by the Wehrmacht (Army) High Command, but that it had also been scrutinized by the Berlin censoring station, which handled airmail received from North America during the war.
The letter was of course first read in Canada; on the front of the envelope we can see that it had been investigated by the unwavering eyes of censor no. 682, who would also in two months time examine the postcard that had been sent by Leisner.
Equally fascinating is the date on this letter: June 7, 1944 was the day after D-Day.
How much Leisner, as a POW, might have known about the Allies’ invasion of France would be interesting to know.
Any information disseminated to POWs would have been the subject of further censorship, or based on speculation and rumour. It could also be unreliable: There was a German language newspaper distributed to the POW camps, but the weekly publication was produced by “re-educated” German POWs in Camp 45 and was part of a Canadian propaganda effort.
Alfred Pobel (Prisoner No. ME35828)