Behind Barbed Wire: A German POW in Canada

Exploring the memoirs of a captured Nazi sailor.
Interview by Kate Jaimet Posted December 13, 2023

Wilhelm Rahn was a 19-year-old German naval ensign when his U-boat was torpedoed by a British submarine off the coast of Corsica in 1943. Plucked from the water by the submarine's helmsman, he ended up in a POW camp in the Canadian backwoods, where he remained for the rest of the war. His memoirs, written years later, describe life in Camp 33 near Petawawa, Ontario — including a failed escape attempt in which he posed as a wandering lumberjack — and show how he eventually disavowed the Nazi ideology.  In this episode of our Stories behind the History podcast,  Rahn's grandson Sebastian Koester and historical researcher Bernard Wood discuss Rahn’s wartime experiences and what they reveal about life in a Second World War Canadian POW camp.

Read the transcript

You could win a free book!

Sign up for any of our newsletters and be eligible to win one of many book prizes available.

More from Stories Behind the History

NATO vs Russia: 75-year standoff

Founded in 1949, the NATO military alliance grew out of the ashes of the Second World War.

Mi'kmaw Myths & Canadian Lore

What uncanny creatures lurk in the depths of the Canadian wilderness? Gather ’round the campfire for some spine-tingling stories of the supernatural.

Vancouver: Hippie City, Heroin City

From Vancouver’s nineteenth-century opium dens, to the 1970s hashish trade through Montreal’s French Connection, drug use and abuse has created subcultures with their own personalities and rituals. 

Canada in the Korean War

A stress point in current global tensions, the border on the 38th Parallel is a seventy-year-old legacy of the Korean War. Seventy years after the 1953 armistice, Canadian War Museum historian Andrew Burtch and Chief of the Defence Staff General Wayne Eyre discuss Canada’s involvement on the Korean Peninsula, from wartime to the present day.

How Prince Edward Island Joined Canada

More than 200 years ago, the British monarchy promised the Mi'kmaw people the right to hunt and fish on the island forever. But what happened to those treaties when PEI joined Canada in 1873?

Quest for the Northwest Passage

Best-selling historical author Ken McGoogan discusses the bold and gruesome search for the Northwest Passage with Kate Jaimet, senior editor of Canada's History magazine.

The Canada-India Connection

Many of the same British aristocrats wielded power in both India and Canada. A podcast with international relations scholar Madhuparna Gupta, historical non-fiction author Stephen Bown and senior editor Kate Jaimet.Winner of the 2023 Canadian Ethnic Media Award for Podcast Feature.

Related to Military & War