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A Trip No One Dreamed of Making

Time 0:02:41


In January 1945 my mother’s family, as Germans, fled Poland westward into Germany, trying to stay ahead of the advancing Soviet armies invading from the east. My mother’s family had to pick up everything and flee on a moment’s notice three times. Life was not easy in the first few years after the war– housing had been largely destroyed and there were few jobs and food shortages. One of my Mom’s aunts had gone to Canada very soon after the war, and she kept writing to family still left behind how good life was saying ‘you should come!’. In 1950 my Mom and her family, having not much to look forward to in Germany as it was then, decided to come to Canada.

My Mom’s family were sponsored to come to Canada as refugees by the Canadian Lutheran World Relief , including their ship’s passage and the train trip from Halifax to Kitchener, Ontario. Shortly after arriving in Kitchener, the Lutheran Relief helped them find ‘permanent’ housing and introduced my Mom and her sister to the families for whom they had pledged to become housemaids for one year. My Mom committed to paying back the Lutheran Relief $265. I was astonished when I discovered the original promisory note in my mother’s belongings- they only had one year in which to pay back what was then a large amount of money! To pay back the debt my Mom and her family of five all lived together in two rented rooms. My Mom and her sister worked as domestics and my uncle as a baker and in construction. They managed to pay back all of the money within the year.

I grew up very conscious of being German – one of those “reviled” Germans who had caused two World Wars, with all of the loss of life and suffering that resulted.I was aware as a child that there were a lot of Germans in Canada who did not admit that they were German – they lied, saying they were “Dutch” or “Swiss”. I did not appreciate that. I always admitted to being German and actually became a little defiantly German when I was in high school and university. It’s only in the last few years that I can sense no reaction in people when I tell them I am of German descent. I used to feel a discomfort arise in people unless I quickly moved on to another topic. The American talk show host Jimmy Kimmel quoted a survey in 2014 that revealed that the country most people in the world wanted to immigrate to was Germany. He joked “What a comeback!” I know exactly what he means!

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