ST. JOHN'S, Newfoundland (AP) _ Police said they are trying to determine why markings in German were found on life jackets worn by some of the 152 rescued Sri Lankans who said they sailed to Canadian waters from India.

A spokesman for the Sri Lankan Tamils, 46-year-old Nalliah Wijayanathan, repeated at a news conference Wednesday that the would-be refugees began their passage aboard an Asian-crewed freighter in India in the first week of July.

''We need not lie. I'm telling you the truth,'' he said.

But Rudolf Fischer, a West German state legislator, said he had information that the Sri Lankans left Jork, near the port of Hamburg, on July 27 bound for France, where they reportedly were to board a freighter for Canada.

Inspector Jack Lavers of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police said he was investigating German markings on life jackets worn by the Tamils when they were rescued from two lifeboats Monday about 6 miles off Newfoundland.

Markings on one of the jackets read: P.M. Hamburg-Nov. 1964.

Some of the refugees were also carrying West German currency.

Spokesmen for the 144 men, five children and three women have said they were fleeing persecution in Sri Lanka, where Tamils account for 18 percent of the country's 16 million population.

Most Tamils are Hindu, while the majority of Sri Lankans are Sinhalese Buddhists.

Of the 152 refugees, 130 were to fly from St. John's to Montreal's Dorval airport aboard a government charter this afternoon. They were being provided free hotel rooms until community groups can find them permanent homes.

The remainder were to fly to Montreal later in the day before heading to Toronto.

Employment and Immigration Minister Benoit Bouchard issued the Tamils one- year permits to live and work in Canada, pending final judgment on their applications for refugee status.

But with indications that the Tamils may have sailed from West Germany, Immigration spokesman Jerrett Letto said ''the question of what Germany was prepared to do'' with them would have to be considered.

Tamil militants are fighting for an independent homeland in northern Sri Lanka. It is Canadian policy not to return refugees to Sri Lanka as long as the situation there remains unstable.

Ron Dalton, one of the Newfoundland fishermen involved in the rescue, said earlier this week that some of the Sri Lankans wore life jackets with ''Hapag- Lloyd'' written on them.

Hapag-Lloyd is a major shipping line based in Hamburg, whose container ships make regular calls in Halifax, Nova Scotia, south of Newfoundland, and New York.

The Canadian Press quoted a source close to the investigation as saying that many of the Sri Lankans reported seeing the word Werft imprinted on their ship. The word means ''shipyard'' in German.

The Canadian Press also said that one Hapag-Lloyd container ship, the Nurnberg Express, left Scotland around Aug. 1 after arriving there from some undetermined point.

The ship arrived in Halifax on Sunday, then sailed on to New York, where it arrived Wednesday, the news agency said.

The Nurnberg Express was manufactured by Flender Werft A.G. of West Germany.

A ship's name was scratched out in the lifeboats carrying the Sri Lankans, but police said the letters may have read Regina Maris, a Canadian cruise ship that later became a floating casino and was lost track of in 1982.

But police cautioned that does not mean that the ship that ferried the refugees was necessarily the Regina Maris.

The Tamils were kept under guard at two Memorial University dormitories in St. John's while authorities questioned them. They are mostly in their 20s and described themselves as students, businessmen, teachers, mechanics and other skilled workers.

Each said he paid the equivalent of $3,000 to $5,000 for the illegal passage from India.