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Leaving Home and Coming to Canada

Empress of Britain - Peter Duschinsky

Time 6:33


But we used to walk around the the, the hills of Salzburg. We used to watch the skiers, it was really great. And then uh, we got the okay to go to Canada, very rapidly, because, and I hadn’t mentioned this before, the third sister Boezsi [Elizabeth]—Remember there was Olga, there was my godmother in Budapest—but the third sister, by this time, was living in Montreal. They had left with her husband as one of the last that would get out of Hungary before the controls by the Communists were clamped down and they had managed to come to Canada. They, basically, they got the okay. That’s the only way they could get out to go to Israel. But her husband never wanted to go to Israel and stayed in Vienna while she—she had no choice—went to Israel for a few months. She didn’t like it, she hated it. She just, you know, it was hot and it was, it was just strange. And uh her husband managed to arrange—I don’t know how he did it, who knows? Paying somebody off? I don’t know how he did it—but managed to arrange to get to Canada and he went to Canada. She joined him. And so, by that time, they were living in Montreal for about four years. And so, when we got out, of course, one of the things that was taken into consideration is whether you have family in Canada, and we were able to say that, “Yes, we do.” And uh they made them sign some papers in Montreal. And so, our, our onward transportation was arranged very rapidly. Like, we got to uh Austria—I think it was December sixteenth—and by February twenty-first, we were in Montreal. So, you know, we basically, it was Salzburg. Nice time. You’re in this hotel in Salzburg. The papers came through. We have medical exams. We went to Vienna. We spent a night at uh, the uh southern—the Südbahnhof —the southern railroad station in Vienna. We took the train across Europe to Ostend in Netherlands and it was a truly glorious journey. It shows you how politics really works. In the Cold War, my God every station in Austria and Germany, they had banners out: “Welcome Freedom Fighters! Freedom will be Victorious!” All sorts of good stuff. And we got to Belgium and we got on the boat to Ostend. We went over to Dover. In Dover it was suddenly, everything was strange. I’ll never forget that, that as long as you were on the continent, everything was still quite familiar and, I mean, it was German around and I heard German in my childhood very often. And, you know, by the time I left Austria, I say that I didn’t but I probably must have spoken some German because then when we went back to Germany, I literally learned German in two months. You know, to do—to a level that, after two months, I could go to university. So, like, that doesn’t happen. I mean, I know I’m a relatively good linguist but that’s—It must have been in my head. So uh on the continent, everything was still, I don’t know, kind of what to us, seemed normal. But then, once we were in England, suddenly everything was totally strange. Strange trains where you kind of—Instead of going in on the side, they had these little doors all along. I don’t know if you remember those trains in England. But, dun dun dun dun dun. A language that was total total—n—n—n—not a syllable was was familiar. Like, even the way of speaking was totally different. The way people looked and dressed and everything was different. So, I mean, I realized that I was really totally abroad once I hit Dover. And then, on the ship—we came over on the Empress of Britain. And the Empress of Britain, which is, was, quite a nice fancy CP ship. Half the people on the ship were people who paid for the passage. So they were well-dressed, dressed for dinner, you know, a beautiful dining room. And half of us were ordinary refugees. And I, I mean, everybody was just sort of—we didn’t know where—what to do or where we were. Like, your, they made us sit down in the dining room and, of course, there were all these eating implements kind of one knife, two knives, three knives, one for—and nobody had any idea what the heck all these things were for. And we were, somehow, the average Hungarian of the post-Second World War period was not exposed to eight knives and, and an under plate and a soup plate. That just wasn’t the case. You basically, you know, in the orphanage, I remember very well: we had the one plate and one spoon. And whatever you ate, you: in there, you ate that, and the other course: in there, you ate that. So here we were on this ship—it was very strange. And it was North Atlantic. It was middle of the winter. Very stormy crossing. And sort of—there was another Hungarian boy of my age and we wandered around the ship and looked at the sea and, we were both—I remember being very excited, but also very, very guilty. Just totally—I’m betraying everything. Sinful. Totally sinful. Like, really guilty.

Oral History 15.12.01PD with Peter Duschinsky
Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21