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The Immigration story of Reinhard Berg (German Immigrant)

The Museum reviews and accepts donated personal or family memories and histories into its collection. As a learning institution, the accounts help us understand how individuals recollect, interpret, or construct meaning from lived experiences. The stories are not modified by Museum staff. The point of view expressed is that of the author and not that of the Museum.

Category: 
Country of Origin: 
Port of Arrival: 
Language: 
English
Creative Commons: 
CC BY-NC-ND 4.0
Accession Number: 
S2019.32.1

Story Text: 

To explain why we ended up in Edmonton, it is necessary to involve three of my uncles.

My father’s oldest brother was after the war a medical missionary for the Swedish Evangelical Covenant Church. In early 1948 he was murdered by Communist or other bandits. Soon thereafter his widow, also a doctor, toured North America to raise money for the mission.

The second brother, Rene (who was incidentally involved in the Stauffenberg plot against Hitler) was in Sweden at the time. At that time, the Soviet government was exerting great pressure on the Swedish government to surrender to it persons born on territory which after 1939/45 was taken over by Soviets. This included the Berg homeland of Estonia. Since Uncle Rene did not want to end up in Siberia (there are pictures of a ship leaving Stockholm harbour, with people jumping overboard), he asked his sister-in-law to ask in the congregations of her church if there would be a farmer willing to hire my uncle as a farm labourer, and in the process be his guarantor. Such a farmer was found near Nisku.

In 1950 my father had decided he wanted to leave Communist East Germany, so he asked another brother, a Finnish citizen, to send us Finnish passports. With these we were able to emigrate legally (!) from Communist East Germany. Dad even dismantled a car he owned, crated it, and took it along to Helsinki.

After a year in Finland, my parents decided they were not really happy there (language problems, even though Dad was fluent in Estonian). Uncle Rene offered to be our guarantor for Canada. I remember (age 5) asking my parents to show me where Edmonton was on a map of the world pinned to the wall. They showed me, whereupon I exclaimed “That’s the most northerly city in North America. That will be a great adventure!”

So we took the train to Turku, passing through the newly established Soviet military base (I recall attendants coming and pulling down the blinds, but not before I saw a locomotive with a red star in front getting into position to pull our train). From Turku we travelled to I believe Malmö, and there we embarked the Stockholm to Halifax. My only memory of the voyage is of a tour we were given to the engine room, where I was totally fascinated by the valve lifters rhythmically raising and lowering. We arrived in Halifax in a light rain, and I remember waiting for what seemed like forever on the gangplank waiting for our turn to be processed, the whole time needing desperately to visit the bathroom!

The train we boarded was a special immigrant train; my mother had taken along a small alcohol stove, on which she cooked our food. We arrived in Edmonton in an April snowstorm and were put up in Uncle Rene’s attic, which proved to be incredibly hot in the summer. I attended Grade 1 at Ritchie School, a walk of 3 blocks, which I undertook myself almost on the second day of school. I spoke not a word of English, 6 months later I was perfectly fluent, how that happened I have no idea.

My father ultimately became an insurance broker catering to the large number of recent German immigrants (both parents were ethnic Germans from Eastern Europe; father from Estonia; mother from Poland). Mother never worked. Nonetheless, Dad was able to save up for the down payment on a house by 1954; in this house I still live.

My family and all their friends were grateful to have escaped from the Iron Curtain. But even in Canada they did not feel completely safe. I have an audio tape of Uncle Rene sitting at the coffee table with other Baltic German friends, opining that “At most three, four years, and the Russian tanks will be rolling through Edmonton”. The year was 1985!