Gracanica Community Festival 2024

Remembering the Serbian and Romanian Internees in World War I Canada

A new book by Dr. Marinel Mandreš of Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario entitled “A Memory Reclaimed, a Commission Fulfilled: Serbs and Romanians during Canada’s First National Internment Operations of 1914-1920” (Kingston: Kashtan Press, 2022) documents the names and tragic experiences of early Serbian and Romanian immigrants who were interned in camps across Canada during and after the end of World War I.

A grievous injustice occurred in this land between 1914 and 1920 when thousands of early 20th century immigrants were stigmatized as “enemy aliens” and their loyalty to this new homeland was placed under suspicion. They were monitored, reported, financially penalized, arrested and interned in 24 camps in Canada’s frigid hinterlands. In 1915 Canada registered 165,775 “enemy aliens” Of the 8,579 who were interned, 5,954 were Austro-Hungarian citizens, among whom were several hundred ethnic Serbs and Romanians. At that time, there were fewer than 3,000 Serbs across the vast expanse of Canada’s territory.

Bringing his own Serbian and Romanian roots to the important topic of the World War I internment operation in Canada, Dr. Mandreš has paid tribute to those suffering innocents and preserved the memory of the injustice they experienced.

Their stories, obscured by time, were buried for a century, only to be forgotten again during the 2014 centennial commemorations of the beginning of the Great War held in Europe. In other words, they continued to be excluded from humanity’s memory. Serbian and Romanian internees have finally been given a voice and saved from the passage of time thanks to the outstanding research of Dr. Marinel Mandreš. In this study Dr. Mandreš identifies and confirms the names of hundreds of Serbs and Romanians from among the thousands of names of internees and “enemy aliens” and documents their tragic fates which had been heretofore unknown. This volume is the result of ten years of exhaustive exploration in archival collections in Ottawa, Toronto, Victoria, Minneapolis, Belgrade, Washington, London and Geneva.

On Sunday, September 17th, the Serbian Heritage Museum hosted a presentation and book signing at the Serbian Centre. Dr. Mandreš delivered an intense and absolutely engrossing presentation to those in attendence and we learned of things that were truly hard to comprehend in this sad chapter of Canadian history. We also heard about uncovered evidence of the heroic efforts between two noted Serbian diplomats, Mihajlo Pupin and Consul Antun Seferović and the Srpska narodna odbrana u Kanadi helping to liberate internees. We wish the entire community would have been present to learn about this Canadian-Serb history, and because of positive feedback, we are considering another presentation date in the future and will be working towards funding this endeavor. We are thankful to those who continually support our Museum, which is entirely run by volunteers with only donations and government grants keeping our doors open. Thank you to Anne Dube for organizing this important presentation and we are thankful to all attendees. We appreciate your zest to learn about Serbian history and our board will continue to work to hold events such as this one, that educate and maintain our mission to promote Serbian history and culture.

Draga Dragasevic with event report by Andjelka LaMarre

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