via Ottawa Sun:
LAKE OF THE WOODS, Ont. – Birds circle in silence above Prisoner of War Bay like a snow dome for hundreds of metres back into the swamp.
Partly because of the richness of life that surrounds it, there isn’t much left to see on the site that was used as a German prisoner-of-war camp from 1943-1945.
Even now, it’s easy to tell why the site was chosen.
The nestled cove in the dark woods of northern Ontario feels like it’s the last refuge from the weather at the very edge of the Earth.
Fast-growing deciduous trees are rooted deep in the fields where wooden cabins once held 120 men working in a makeshift logging camp. Seven decades later, the conifers they cut for the Ontario-Minnesota Pulp and Paper Company have yet to return.
By almost all accounts, the 33,798 Germans sent to 26 camps and base camps throughout Canada during the Second World War were treated with strict adherence to the rules of engagement laid out in the 1929 Geneva Conventions. Soldiers maintained rank “within the wire” of capture and were able to choose to work, learn or volunteer to head across the vast country to camps like those on Prisoner of War Bay near Lake of the Woods, Ont.
C.M.V. Madsen and R.J. Henderson wrote in their 1993 book, German Prisoners of War in Canada and Their Artifacts: “In one sense, German PoWs recreated Germany in Canada. These men lived on small military cultural islands in a very strange enemy land.”
The Lake of the Woods camps were islands in a literal sense.
“I liked it very much because we were out of the barbed wire,” said Johannes Lieberwirth, who volunteered to be imprisoned here in what was then called Red Cliff Bay, back in 1944. The former broadcaster for South German Radio has passed away into history, just like the buildings that once stood here but his is the clearest story of life in this forest’s captivity. He enjoyed his time on Lake of the Woods so much that he returned in 1977 and has been the subject of almost every news and magazine article ever written on the camps.
Making 50 cents a day cutting wood to buy cigarettes, sweets or fishing gear was a snap after a while and he recalled the men swimming, carving, and canoeing through the summer’s days.
Lieberwirth and others described their fellow soldiers to be so close to their captors that they adopted a father-son relationship, leading to some remarkable situations. The supervisors would take the prisoners hunting, for example. There was one occasion where taking two prisoners to the dentist in Kenora, Ont. the guards became so inebriated at a local pub that the captives even held their rifles as they boated their captors back to camp.
He told the Daily Miner and News in 1990: “We came as temporary enemies in war and we left as permanent friends in peace.”
Down the lake, a finger-like river reaches out of Yellow Girl Bay. In the shelter of the rocks, remnants of camp Camp 52 have been protected from decades of storms on the Canadian Shield. Tools and bones are scattered on the site, amid the skeleton of a cabin whose logs are on their last step before returning to earth.
“I was homesick to Canada and to the lake,” German sailor and Oak Bay prisoner Hans Kaiser said of his 1953 return to Kenora, where he met two comrades who had already immigrated to the area. The carpenter worked in the local mill until his retirement.
“There was nothing there, just wilderness,” Kaiser recalled in a 1993 issue of Our Community Magazine. “It all had to be built.”
Those words echo down the channel as the wilderness takes all that was built back to nothing.