Story of Nazi’s Canadian female prisoner told at library

Women’s stories are often overlooked, marginalized, denigrated, and dismissed, says the biographer of the only known Canadian female held prisoner in Nazi Germany.

During a presentation at the S. Walter Stewart Library on Oct. 9, Andria Hill-Lehr, author of Mona Parsons: From Privilege to Prison, from Nova Scotia to Nazi Europe, shared the story of Parsons with a small group of people.

“Women’s stories need to be told,” she said.

Lehr discovered Parsons’ story in August 1994, when she was looking for a topic for her thesis at Acadia University. She found a newsletter from September 1945 about an ex-Acadia student found safe at the war’s end who Lehr initially thought was a man.

In 2000, Mona Parsons’ biography was published. The story describes Nova Scotia-raised Parsons’ journey as an actor turned nurse who was later involved in Dutch resistance in the Second World War.

When Parsons moved back in the ’70s, people thought she had a drinking problem, Lehr said. However, this was just a rumour.

“She was having mini-strokes,” Lehr explained. “Frankly, if you spend four years in Nazi prisons or camps, I wouldn’t be surprised if you came home with a substance abuse problem or alcohol problem.”

This is the story of a woman who never wore a uniform and never carried a gun but laid her life on the line for what she believed was justice. Despite that, she has been denied recognition, Lehr said.

“The very first prime minister of this country was a well-known alcoholic,” Lehr said. “We tell stories of him getting up on a campaign train, vomiting and addressing people in a drunken state and laugh about it.”

How is that we can tell that story about the prime minister of this country, Lehr wondered, but this woman doesn’t even get a street named after her?

Parsons did, however, receive commendations from the British Air Marshal and former U.S. president Dwight D. Eisenhower.

A bronze statue of Parsons was placed in her hometown in Wolfville, Nova Scotia in May last year — 72 years after German forces surrendered.