Com­ing to Canada

Es­cap­ing Com­mu­nism to seek free­dom and a new life in Canada

Our Canada - - Contents - By Ruth Hotzwik, Pic­ton, Ont.

On Good Fri­day in 1959 my fi­ancé Hel­mut and I left our vil­lage in East Ger­many on the bus go­ing to Leipzig, hop­ing to es­cape to West Ger­many via West Berlin. Since it was Easter week­end, we would not be missed at work un­til Tues­day. We were 24 and 26 years old at the time and Hel­mut re­sented the lack of per­sonal free­dom in com­mu­nist East Ger­many.

From Leipzig, we trav­elled by train to East Berlin. There we took the sub­way, which at that time still served the whole city, and got off at the Berlin-Marien­felde sta­tion in West Berlin, where one of the refugee camps was sit­u­ated. Here, thou­sands of refugees from East Berlin were screened for their ac­cept­abil­ity to West Ger­many.

Our screen­ing process took 12 days, af­ter which we were flown to Frank­furt, West Ger­many. At the next refugee camp in Worms, a city in the Ger­man state of Rhineland-palati­nate, we were as­sisted in find­ing em­ploy­ment. We found work, two rooms to live in and got mar­ried that fall. The fol­low­ing spring, Hel­mut be­came rest­less once again. He re­sented be­ing a refugee in his own coun­try and be­gan think­ing of em­i­grat­ing. Where to? Canada. Why? It looked and sounded as if there were lots of space to live, op­por­tu­ni­ties to work, and many other im­mi­grants to feel equal with.


In May 1960, we had an in­ter­view at the Cana­dian Con­sulate in Cologne. By July, we were granted im­mi­gra­tion visas into Canada. Hel­mut, a tai­lor by trade, chose to go to Toronto be­cause of its tex­tile in­dus­try. I was a cer­ti­fied mid­wife and could work any­where. Then, we starved and saved for the pas­sage to Mon­treal be­fore win­ter, and learned English by cor­re­spon­dence course.

On Oc­to­ber 17, we stood in Bre­mer­haven, look­ing up at this huge white ship—the Arka­dia— which was go­ing to take us to Canada on what we called our be­lated hon­ey­moon trip.

The ac­tual leav­ing was sad, of course. The ship’s siren loudly sig­nalled our de­par­ture —the band played the Ger­man folk song, “Wem Gott will rechte Gunst er­weisen den schickt er indie weite Welt,” which trans­lates into, “Whom God favours, He sends out to dis­cover the world.” The tears flowed as the dis­tance be­tween ship and quay widened, mark­ing the fi­nal­ity of our de­ci­sion.

Life on board was won­der­ful for us. There was so much to see and do, such as the ac­tiv­i­ties in the ports of Southampton, Am­s­ter­dam, Le Havre and Cobh, as well as watch­ing the waves and the hori­zon while cross­ing the At­lantic Ocean. The ship had a li­brary, writ­ing room, gift shop and swim­ming pool. English and French classes were of­fered. There were games, sports, movies and evening en­ter­tain­ment. There were four meals a day and a cold buf­fet at night— a to­tal and un­ex­pected lux­ury!

The pas­sen­gers and crew were of many dif­fer­ent na­tion­al­i­ties, and we had fun try­ing to un­der­stand one another.

Mid­way through the cross­ing, we en­coun­tered strong winds. Ropes were strung on the decks and the din­ing rooms stayed quite empty. I was among the sea­sick for two days, but Hel­mut did not suc­cumb.

On the sev­enth day, we saw land! Belle Isle and New­found­land were vis­i­ble. Canada started to be­come a re­al­ity! We were very ex­cited as we sailed up the fa­mous St. Lawrence River.

On Oc­to­ber 26, 1960, we stepped on land in Que­bec City. We thereby stopped be­ing East Ger­man refugees

and be­came landed im­mi­grants in Canada. Seven years and three kids later, we be­came Cana­dian cit­i­zens!

Af­ter the land­ing for­mal­i­ties, we had free time to visit the city. It seemed like a friendly fortress on a hill. Then, we spent one more day sailing to Mon­treal.

There we saw the first sky­scrapers and many “room to let” signs. We ex­changed the ship for a train that took us to Toronto. There, again, we saw many “room to let” signs, which was re­as­sur­ing. Home­own­ers had ac­tu­ally come to the train sta­tion look­ing for im­mi­grants as ten­ants. But the Depart­ment of Cit­i­zen­ship and Im­mi­gra­tion had al­ready ar­ranged rooms for all new­com­ers and was go­ing to help us find work. It was all well or­ga­nized. We ar­rived on a Thurs­day. I be­gan work the next Mon­day in a nurs­ing home. Hel­mut was not quite so lucky. He had sev­eral job changes and even be­came se­ri­ously ill dur­ing our first year in Toronto. But then he started a per­ma­nent po­si­tion on the day our first son was born. Another lucky break was the fact that the On­tario Health In­surance Plan had re­cently been cre­ated. There were also Well Baby Clin­ics for fam­i­lies who could not af­ford a fam­ily doc­tor. Soon af­ter, the Canada Pen­sion Plan also be­came a re­al­ity. We could not have im­mi­grated at a bet­ter time! The Depart­ment of Cit­i­zen­ship and Im­mi­gra­tion also pro­vided free English classes, which we took in the evenings. We even made some life­time friends at that school.

Ad­just­ment to this new land was not very dif­fi­cult for us—the On­tario sea­sons and land­scapes were sim­i­lar to Ger­many. Also, in Toronto, a good va­ri­ety of Euro­pean food was avail­able, es­pe­cially rye bread and salami!

Over the past 50-plus years, we have trav­elled back to Ger­many from time to time, but are al­ways very happy to come home again to Canada.

Left: Ruth and Hel­mut‘s wed­ding photo in 1959. Above: Ruth and Hel­mut (cen­tre) cel­e­brat­ing Christ­mas 2011 with the whole fam­ily.

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