When Jews and Nazis Were Detained Together

Fear can cause people to do strange things. Like imprisoning Jewish refugees with Nazi prisoners of war.

Canada, 1940. The military transport SS Sobiesky arrives with a human cargo of both refugees and POWs. One of the former was Erwin Schild, a 20-year-old Jew who had fled Nazi-controlled Europe for the United Kingdom. But the climate of fear surrounding German-born immigrants was such that Schild and approximately 30,000 others were detained in internment camps on the Isle of Man, then shipped to Canada and Australia.

Everyone on the SS Sobiesky was classified as an “enemy alien,” which initially put Jewish refugees and Nazis in the same camp. Realizing the situation, the Canadians built a barbed-wire barrier between Jews and non-Jews, then placed them in separate camps a few weeks later. Still, the refugees would spend the next two years being shuttled between camps.  As Schild later wrote, “We refused to be identified as German prisoners, and the authorities refused to acknowledge us as refugees.

The problem was Canada was in the middle of an economic recession. Also considering the anti-Semitism in vogue at the time, the political climate was becoming distinctly anti-immigration. Consequently, refugees were a low priority. “They didn’t want to know. They were not interested,” Schild, now 99 years old and a rabbi, has said. At least they were safer than their brethren in Europe.

Prisoners at a World War II internment camp in Canada.

The good news is that by the end of 1943, the camps were closed and 966 refugees were allowed to stay in Canada for the remainder of the war.

Erwin Schild has written about his experiences. His Wikipedia page is https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erwin_Schild

Taken from “How Canada Imprisoned Jewish Refugees Alongside POWs” by By Carly Stern (https://www.ozy.com/flashback/how-canada-imprisoned-jewish-refugees-alongside-pows/95959?). The photo is from that site.

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