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War and Ethnicity

The articles in this section will address the roles of the Dutch, Poles, Japanese, Italians, and Germans during the war. With respect to the Germans and the Japanese, this article will primarily focus on the German-Canadians and Japanese-Canadians who were not associated with prisoner of war or internment camps and to the manner in which fifth column hysteria affected their lives.

Alberta's landscape had been significantly affected by the arrival of hundreds of thousands of European immigrants during the first half of the 20th century. German, Italian and Japanese immigrants faced constant scrutiny and were often regarded with suspicion regardless of their political alliance. Many Japanese immigrants spent a considerable portion of the war working and living in internment camps. Germans who openly supported Fascism and Hitler were treated with hostility; many spent time in Alberta’s numerous prisoner of war camps.

The Governments of Alberta and Canada, in collaboration with local media, perpetuated the idea that all Germans should be regarded with general distrust and skepticism. German-Canadian labour and socialist organizations first appeared in Calgary and Edmonton as early as the 1930s. Some of these groups expressed pro-Communist sentiments and, not surprisingly, Albertans viewed them with disdain and suspicion.

Attempts to organize German-Canadians in the service of the Nazi cause largely failed; most German-Canadians disagreed wholeheartedly with Hitler's regime and policies. Swept up by fifth column hysteria, Albertans were warned about their German neighbours serving as potential spies for Germany. There are documented cases of German-Canadians' being victimized by fifth column dissent. Potential saboteurs and innocent Canadians alike were arrested and held indefinitely.

The story of Paul Abele is one such example. Abele was a German-born Canadian who had lived in Canada since 1911. When rumours spread throughout Edmonton of Abele's supposed plan to blow up the High Level Bridge, he was immediately arrested and detained indefinitely. His drugstore was seized and his family evicted. No evidence was ever found linking Abele to any illegal activity.

The Abele story illustrates how precarious the situation was for many German-Canadians during the Second World War. Despite the lack of evidence, one's ethnicity could be the sole determinant in an arrest. For persons with a German last name, finding work was extremely difficult. Propaganda was everywhere continually reminding Albertans about the possible presence of German spies.


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