In my last post I reviewed The Traitors of Camp 133 by Wayne Arthurson. The most intriguing aspect of the book was its setting - a World War II POW camp located near Lethbridge, Alberta. Over 12,000 members of the German military were in the camp. In the book a former village policeman, Sergeant August Neumann, and his trusted assistant, Corporal Klaus Aachen, investigate the murder of a Captain Mueller.
The book is based on a real life POW camp that was located close to Lethbridge whose actual name was Internment Camp No. 133. It was one of five POW camps in Alberta.
It was the second largest internment camp in North America with 13,341 prisoners after it opened in 1942.
Arthurson accurately describes the layout of the camp which covered one square mile. There were six sections with six dormitories. In addition there were recreation halls, mess halls, kitchens and administrative buildings.
While there were armed guards around the camp there were selected guards called Scouts who roamed the camp keeping track of what the prisoners were doing and being alert for any signs of tunelling. The Scouts were unarmed. Being unarmed brought about some mutual respect between the prisoners and guards.
In the Medicine Hat camp committed Nazis were elected Camp Leadership. Once in place they created a Camp Gestapo which spied on prisoners. They sought out prisoners considered anti-Nazi, brought them before courts of inquiry and punished them with beatings.
In his Master’s thesis, a link is below, at the University of Saskatchewan titled Camp 132: A German Prisoner of War Camp In a Canadian Prairie Community During World War Two, Robin Warren Stotz, provides a history of the Medicine Hat camp which details incidents that appear, somewhat adjusted, in Arthurson’s book.
Arthurson sets out the fear within the camps of the dedicated Nazis who were convinced Germany would win the war and tolerated no dissent.
The book also sets out the actual suspicions of the Nazis of prisoners who had been members of the French Foreign Legion and subsequently joined the German Army after the fall of France. Many Nazi prisoners did not consider Legionnaires “real Germans”.
Arthurson uses a real life event involving two Legionnaires, August Plaszek and Christian Schulz, who were suspected of plotting to overthrow the leadership. As they were being escorted to a hut Schulz dramatically broke free and managed to attract the attention of tower guards and escape the Nazis. Plaszek was killed by angry prisoners with Werner Schwalb actually putting the noose around Plaszek’s neck. Stotz sets out the conclusion of the camp authorities that the killing was not the intended punishment but resulted from an “outburst of anger”.
What was not impulsive was the killing of Karl Lehmann.
Stotz describes him:
Lehmann was the antithesis of Nazism. He was highly educated with a Doctoral degree in Philosophy. He was fluent in three languages including English. At one time he was a reporter for a German newspaper which had been banned by the Nazi Government because of its Communist leanings. Aa a teacher he would not include Nazi doctrines in this lectures which did not please the Leadership. The Leadership also viewed his translation of English newspapers and the reports of Allied victories as a deliberate attempt to undermine their control and decrease prisoner morale.
In the book the victim, Mueller, is an equally cultivated man who taught in the camp.
After the failed assassination attempt of Hitler the prisoners on a home-made short-wave radio heard that “Anyone suspected of being a traitor should be killed”. The leadership acted.
A CBC news story, link below, describes what happened. Four Nazis (Bruno Pereszenowski, Walter Wolf, Willi Mueller and Heinrich Busch) lured Lehmann to a hut where:
"Do you know anything about the communistic activities in the camp?" they asked.
When Lehmann said no, they beat him and slipped the noose around his neck. The men left Lehmann dead at the end of the thin rope, his face swollen and battered, his knees bent, feet dragging on the floor.
The fictional Mueller was killed in much the same way.
In the book the Mueller’s murder is solved by Sergeant Neumann.
In real life the RCMP could not gain evidence from prisoners during the war. After the war ended and prisoners no longer feared Nazi reprisals the truth emerged about both murders.
The prisoners who committed the murders were tried.
Legal arguments in the trials of the Lehmann killers that they should be tried in Germany in courts martial were rejected. All the accused were convicted.
Peter B. Smith in Prairie Murders: Mysteries, Crimes and Scandals recounts a dramatic moment in the sentencing of Lehmann’s killers:
In his book Behind Canadian Barbed wire, David J. Carter talks about George Krause, one of the RCMP officers who was at the sentencing. Years later Krause recalled just as the judge pronounced the dreaded words, “You shall be taken to the place of execution and there be hanged by the neck until dead. May the Lord have mercy on your soul,” the nearby school bell started to toll. Krause told Carter that every face in the courtroom turned white. He described it as one of the most gripping moments of his life.
Schwalb and the four convicted of murdering Lehmann were hung.
A true Nazi to the end Schwalb’s last words were:
“My Führer, I follow thee.”