Time in Lethbridge PoW camp left lasting impression on German soldier

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Lethbridge and southern Alberta have many connections to the Second World War, and it's not just through stories from Canadian soldiers. Thousands of German troops were brought to our city as prisoners of war during the 1940s, and for some of those PoWs, our country left a lasting impression. Malika Karim explains – Nov 9, 2018

During the Second World War, German prisoners of war were sent to Canada. The British army wanted them far away in a place that would be hard to escape.

“In November 1942, they set up a large prisoner of war camp here at the outskirts of Lethbridge, as it was then,” said Belinda Crowson, president of the Lethbridge Historical Society. “Over 12,500 German prisoners came to find Lethbridge home for the next four years.”

The remnants of the PoW camp were demolished in the 1950s, but its area once covered a square mile just off 28 Street and 5 Avenue North in Lethbridge.

A monument now exists where the camp once stood.

WWII PoW Camp monument in Lethbridge. Global News

Johaan Pfeffel was a German soldier captured in Africa and sent to Canada during the war.

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Not all soldiers were trusted to leave the camp, but some had the opportunity to work while in Canada.

“At the end of the war, my dad was in the Lethbridge camp,” Pfeffel’s daughter, Gisela Kellner, said. “He requested to work for a farmer and so he lived out on this farm.”

Pfeffel was sent back to Germany when the war ended, but despite coming here as a prisoner, his time in southern Alberta changed his life.

“Once (he was) back in Germany and he had married my mom and I had come along, my father continued to correspond with the farmer in Canada, and the farmer had indicated that he was quite willing to sponsor my dad if he wanted to come over,” Kellner said.

“Germany was suffering a lot of difficulties after the war,” Crowson explained. “Ten per cent of the prisoners actually returned and became Canadian citizens.”

Pfeffel was part of that 10 per cent.

READ MORE: Local World War II vets honoured in Halifax

“I think he recognized that there were more opportunities for him here than there would be in Germany,” Kellner said. “I think he saw there were more opportunities for his children to progress than there would have been in Germany.”

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Johaan and Elisabeth Pfeffel lived in Magrath and later Coaldale with their three children, becoming business owners and making Canada their home.

“I think we’re all very grateful that we were here in Canada,” Kellner said. “I, for sure, am very grateful that I became a Canadian.”

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