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Canadian Postwar Guards

May 29 2017 at 4:15 PM
John Sliz 

During the winter of 1945/46 did any Canadian units serve as guards for the German POWs that were still being held? I ask because I am reading an account by a SS POW who was treated brutally by the British guards in Belgium during the winter of 1945/46. I can understand that there wasn't any love lose for the members of the SS, but to keep them in an unheated hole in the ground during the winter seems a little extreme.

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Ed Storey


May 29 2017, 5:34 PM 

The short answer is yes although I don't think we held the same ambivalence towards the Germans as some of our Allies did, but we did have job to finish and the CAOF was instrumental in helping establish the peace in Germany long after the cease-fire.

Canada's commitment to Allied postwar European reconstruction fell under the code named Operation ECLIPSE. In light of the failures of diplomacy following the First World War, Operation ECLIPSE was designed to ensure that once and for all no possible shadow of doubt was left in the mind of a single German that the military might of the Third Reich had been shattered. To achieve this it goal it was envisioned that the means in which Germany could again wage war would have to be destroyed and that a new society would be constructed and educated to be ruled by law and order. Operation ECLIPSE came into effect late in the evening of 4 May when the ceasefire message was received by 1st Canadian Army from 21st Army Group Headquarters – less than a year after the landing of the Western Allies on the beaches of Normandy.

Located in the northwest corner of the British occupation region was the CAOF area which was centred on Oldenburg and contained the region between the North Sea and Osnabruck to the south. Both port cities of Emden and Wilhelmshaven were part of the CAOF area of operations.

The tasks of the CAOF were wide-ranging and included; the control, disarmament and disbandment of the Wehrmacht and other military forces, the elimination of the Nazi Party by counter intelligence personnel, the protection, care and evacuation of Allied prisoners of war, the deployment of displaced persons, the re-establishment of German refugees, the prevention of starvation and disease, the control of information services, the-re-education of the German youth, and ensuring that the Germans have no opportunity of reviving their ability to make war. The execution of these tasks did not proceed without several challenges such as controlling German POWs so that they could be systematically and effectively discharged from their military duties and returning them home. The numbers of Displaced Persons posed a challenge as many were destitute and suffering from low morale as many had not seen or heard from their families in years. Controlling the distribution and destruction of German war materiel and securing stores of food clothing and particularly arms and ammunition was also a priority as these items could easily be stolen and fall into the wrong hands such as the black market.

It was also one of the CAOF responsibilities to interrogate German officers, other ranks and civilians. Many of these were Wehrmacht in prisoner of war cages, some in civilian camps and other parsons who had either escaped from concentration camps or were suspect civilians. Initially CAOF fraternization with the German population was strictly prohibited although this was eased allowing casual meetings in public. For the most part there was a mutual disinterest in both the Canadians and the Germans from mixing and the numerous sports, education and recreational programs that were instituted helped to maintain high moral within the CAOF.

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John Sliz


May 30 2017, 6:18 AM 

I am sure that the Wehrmacht were treated a lot better than the SS no matter who were guarding them. The account that I am reading states that the SS were constantly asked what they thought of Hitler and the Nazis so this ties in with what you wrote. It is apparent that all the true Nazis were held until they were no longer believers.

The account also states that when they first arrived in the UK they were in such a horrible state that the locals were yelling at the guards for mistreating them. Manfred said that he was almost half his weight by this stage and had been wearing the same dirty uniform for far too long.

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Michael Dorosh


May 30 2017, 1:48 PM 

I wonder how much difference there really was between the members of the SS and the Wehrmacht. The western Allies were very keen on rehabilitating the Germans once it became apparent that the Soviet Union had been emboldened and empowered by its victory in the war. So lots of white-washing by way of histories, biographies etc. of Wehrmacht officers.

The actual situation as far as world view, adherence to Nazi policy, etc. is somewhat more murky. The Air Force was always the most 'national socialist' of the German services, the Navy retained some its Christian heritage and the Army was somewhat reactionary. Even so, far more Army commanders were adherents of Nazi racial policies than might be suggested from post-war accounts.

Not wanting to paint with broad brush, though worth noting that even the officers like Stauffenberg who opposed Hitler were not necessarily opposed to a Germany-over-all worldview. Stauffenberg, for example, was apparently thrilled with the result of the Polish campaign, and he is recorded having made anti-Semetic comments and approving of the notion of turning Poland into a slave-state of Germany.

Trying to understand the 'average German' may be a fool's errand, not because you would have to generalize over 90 million people, but because our own frames of reference have changed so much, directly as a result of the war.

I liken it to our strict no-smoking rules in public places (which I happen to favour). It's surreal now to see photos or film of people smoking on airplanes, in restaurants, etc. and we're at the point of wondering how and why they would have ever done that in the first place. So it is with the Germans' relationship to others in the 1940s. I think the average Wehrmacht troop (naturally, with exceptions) held ideas of racial and national superiority that would have come natural to him (and probably relatable to by Canadians, Americans, Brits of the 1940s where institutional racism was still practiced), but are repugnant to us today.

There are some good books about the myth of the 'clean Wehrmacht' representing more recent scholarship than the period of white-washing may have permitted.

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