Skip to the main content

The Immigration Story of the Steinitz Family (German/American immigrants)

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.

Culture : 
Language: 
English
Creative Commons: 
CC BY-NC-ND 4.0
Accession Number: 
S2017.1024.1

Story Text: 

What is important about Canada…

As a scientist (university professor of physics for 43 years) I am particularly sensitive to the idea that it is often not the value of a given quantity that is important, but the rate of change of that quantity. Thus it is the progress that Canada has made in my lifetime that matters to me, i.e. the changes in its inclusive and welcoming face.

My father was a Cuban immigrant to the US, although his ancestry in no way prepared him for this role. In 1936 my grandparents, who later died in the Nazi concentration camp at Theresienstadt, received a visitor from the United States in their Berlin apartment. He offered to help my father get a visitor's visa to the U. S. and to assist him in becoming an immigrant after that. On short notice, my father packed his things and left his parents, and the only homeland he had ever known, never to see them again.

Once in the US, and having received an offer of a job, my father began the application process to become a "registered alien". Having a PhD in physics from the Polytechnic Institute of Berlin was of great help in this, but the Americans had a rule that once the application was approved, the final application had to be made from a point outside the country, at a US consulate or embassy. The American Consulate in Toronto was an easy choice.

To this end, my father undertook what he thought would be a one day journey to Toronto, to fill out the forms at the U.S. consulate and return to New York as quickly as possible. At the Canadian border the official looked at his German passport and asked whether he was Jewish. In line with the policy on Jewish immigration later enunciated by an official of the Department of Immigration, that "none would be too many", the official told him that Jews were not desired, not even for a one day visit. In the end my father returned to New York, took a bus to Florida, paid for an air ticket on a flying-boat to Havana out of his $40.00 monthly salary, and became a Cuban immigrant to the US.

In 1970 my wife and I and our two children came to Canada from Chicago and never looked back. In 1973 I accepted a position at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish and we have been here ever since. We were welcomed and made to feel at home in this town that is over 80% Scottish Roman Catholic. Although it can sometimes be a bit of a bore to be found “interesting”, “interesting” is several steps better than “disliked”. We have been accepted for who we are with love and kindness.

Antigonish has now welcomed six Syrian refugee families and my wife is teaching the women English. This is the most amazingly generous town and the enthusiasm with which the town has rallied to the idea of welcoming refugees (just as it did for several Vietnamese Boat People families in the late
1970’s) is wonderful to experience. It shows the change that has occurred since the 1930’s.

My parents eventually settled with us in Antigonish in 1989. They are buried in a small cemetery outside of Antigonish, as we were unable to find a cemetery to bury them in Antigonish.

Canada is a work in progress and the changes that have happened are what we should be proud of, without forgetting that we have a lot more to do to become the welcoming and diverse society which we aspire to being. As Rabbi Tarphon said in the first century AD, “It is not in your power to complete the work; neither are you free to desist from it.“ This could well serve as our motto.

The first one to see Pier 21
My maternal grandfather spent four years in the trenches for the Kaiser in the First World War. He refused to leave Germany until the day that he was told that he was unwelcome at the remembrance ceremony for war veterans at the cenotaph in their town.
My grandmother had been a nurse in a field hospital.
To emigrate to Canada was impossible, and to emigrate to the US one needed an "Affidavit" from someone who would accept financial responsibility for you. They had a very wealthy relative in New York City, who owned a company making steel-wool soap pads. He refused to give an affidavit, as he didn't want the financial risk! My grandmother got on a ship and sailed to New York and held a "sit-in" in the gentleman's office until he gave her the affidavit.
Oma, as we called my grandmother, then got back on a ship to Germany. The ship stopped in Halifax and my grandmother explored the city for one day.
She was the first of our family ever to see Pier 21.
If it hadn't been for her courage and persistence, I wouldn't be here today.