The Canadian city of Winnipeg staged an enormous Nazi Invasion in 1942.
On If Day (French: “Si un jour”), the “Nazis” (played by young Board of Trade members in German uniforms borrowed from Hollywood) attacked Winnipeg at dawn in -24°C. Some painted sabre scars on their faces to look even more vicious. Super efficiently, they got Winnipeg’s surrender at 9:30 am, and renamed the city Himmlerstadt by noon.
In one fell swoop, they abolished Rotary, Kiwanis, Lions, Masons, Knights of Columbus, Odd Fellows, Boy Scouts, Girl Guides, and trade unions.
The authentic features of the If Day invasion included:
- A real blackout of the city
- Radio warnings to rural Manitoba in advance to prevent a War of the Worlds-style panic
- An internment camp
- An enormous gun fight (with explosions using real dynamite!)
- The local newspaper was ‘taken over’ and published a front page entirely in German
- Anti-aircraft guns fired blanks at fighter planes that flew over the city.
- Dynamite charges were placed on the ice below bridges. They were then “blown up” using smoke generators and coal dust
There were many advance “warnings” in newspapers about If Day. Nevertheless, some people managed to miss the advance publicity and must have got quite a shock.
Laugh or be imprisoned
The Winnipeg Tribune was renamed Das Winnipeger Lügenblatt (“The Winnipeg Lies-sheet”), a ‘Nazi’ publication featuring heavily censored columns and a front page written almost entirely in German.
One satirical story noted that:
“this is a great day for Manitoba …The Nazis, like Der Fuehrer, are patient, kind and tolerant, but THEIR PATIENCE IS RAPIDLY EXHAUSTED BECOMING”.
Another included an “official joke”, approved by the German authorities, at which all readers were ordered to laugh or be imprisoned.
Q: “Who was that lady last night I saw you out with?”
A: “That lady was my wife!”
(Joke) Ha Ha Ha!
At 6 p.m., the head of the family MUST read this column out loud, while family members laugh three regulation German laughs in unison at each joke. Dissidents were to be reported to the Gestapo by other members of the family. Only official jokes from this column may be told and all of them must be memorised. Official “laughing classes” were to be set up as soon as possible to better instruct the population in German humour.
Books were burned in front of the main Carnegie branch of the Winnipeg Public Library. Don’t worry – no books were actually harmed. They had been pre-selected for incineration as damaged or outdated.
At one local elementary school, the principal was arrested and replaced with a ‘Nazi’ educator dedicated to teaching the “Nazi Truth”. Most children were allowed to leave school at 11:30 am to listen to the radio play “Swastika over Canada” on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.
Canadian currency was replaced with fake German Reichsmarks, the only propaganda notes that Canada created during the war. Early morning customers at coffee shops were forced to take their change in “worthless paper Reichmarks”. Two dozen German soldiers barged into the cafeteria at Great-West Life, forced men and women from their luncheon tables and stole their food!
In the new food rationing, milk was only given to children five years old or younger—3½ cups per week. The Nazis were appalled at the huge amounts of soap available, and immediately reduced this to one tablet per family per month—including detergent.
One recipe had the Nazi seal of approval: “a meat dish approved and recommended by Der Fuehrer: a hamburger made from a cow’s udder.”
City officials were rounded up and taken to an internment camp at Lower Fort Garry. Among those marched off were Premier John Bracken, Mayor John Queen, Lieutenant Governor of Manitoba, and even visiting Norwegian ambassador to the United States Wilhelm de Morgenstierne.
One council member, Dan McClean, escaped but was recaptured after a rigorous search! Chief of Police George Smith avoided capture because he was at lunch when soldiers arrived at his office. So they went upstairs (to a store on the second floor of the police station) and confiscated dozens of buffalo coats. It was, after all, freezing.
The Union Flag at Lower Fort Garry was replaced with the swastika.The city was renamed “Himmlerstadt”, and Main Street was termed “Hitlerstrasse”
If Day casualties
The first mock casualty was reported at 8:00 am. Dressing stations were set up at strategic points to give the ambulances and medical officers some practice. They also treated the two real casualties of If Day– a soldier who sprained his ankle, and a woman (a Miss Gorin) who cut her thumb preparing toast during the early-morning blackout.
The simulation was over by 5:30 pm. A parade down Portage Avenue featured signs urging residents to buy victory bonds because “It must not happen here”. Over C$3 million was collected in Winnipeg on that day.
If Day Sources:
The Patriotic Consensus: Unity, Morale, and the Second World War in Winnipeg
By Jody Perrun