The Maclean's Excerpt

Georges Lukk's Brave Journey

September 6 1999
The Maclean's Excerpt

Georges Lukk's Brave Journey

September 6 1999

Georges Lukk's Brave Journey

The Maclean's Excerpt

He was one of the lucky ones who made it out of the DP camps to Canada. Then another struggle began—helping to build a nation

Two hot summer topics in Canada are the boatload arri va/s of would-be immigrants from China and the debate about the "brain-drain. "Both issues are as o/das the century. From the start ofthe 1900s, Canadians argued over who should be allowed to move into the country and whether newcomers offiet the southward ou~fiow of brains. The constancy ofsuch controversies is recorded in Canada's Century, selected and introduced by Maclean's General Editor CarlMollins for Septemberpublication by Key Porter~ The bookc record on migration exposes a two-minded tradition. The century was only two years old when afederalpaneljudged immi~ration from eastern Asia as "obnoxious. "Soon after, Ottawa imposed barriers in turn againstAsians, blacks, Jews, Eastern and Southern Europeans. But the humanitarian impulses ofa caring community ultimately overrode the biases. Canada prosperedfrom a net gain in mzgration, brainpower and the enriching growth ofa multicultural population. The accompanying excerpt by Eva Lis-Wuorio from the magazine ofJune 1, 1948, reflects both the bias and the humanity in Canadian attitudes.

Georges Lukk got up at 5 that morning but already the other 23 men in the triple-bunked cabin of the S.S. Marine Falcon were stirring. “Fog,” he said, “can’t see anything.” They took pains at washing and shaving and dressing. Not many had coats and pants that matched. Those who had two shirts had saved the clean, least frayed one for this morning. Georges went up to the deck slowly, although he wanted to run. He told himself this was a great moment, but his mind was curiously blank. And then to the right a lighthouse lifted out of the fog. The last he had seen of Europe had been a lighthouse.

The decks were now filling with people. Around him were his friends—young Estonians like himself, whose destination was Campbell Red Lake Mines Ltd., Ont. The dolorous sound of the foghorn emphasized the unreal silence. Four hundred and thirty-one displaced persons turned strained eyes this spring morning of 1948, towards the still-hidden shore of Canada. Ten thousand DPs had come before them. Another 10,000 would follow to fill the quota Canada had decided to let in by three separate orders-in-council. Another million men and women and children, in the bleak camps of Europe, would wait for the nod they might never receive.

Shortly after 8 o’clock, the fog began to undulate. They had

stood on the decks for three hours. Now busy tugs, tooting importandy, came to tow the liner in. Above the fog, a hill emerged, a flat fortification crowning it. Then a long quay wall with grey high sheds running down the length of it. Halifax. Canada. The people lined the shoreward decks.

“It’s a pity there is no way to say welcome,” someone on the dock said. “Even a band.”

“They don’t need a band,” someone else said. “The fact they’re allowed to come here is good enough. They should be grateful.”

A. G. Christie, inspector-in-chief of immigration in Halifax, a quick-moving, slight man, took a couple of swift steps forward. He lifted his hand and the smile that breaks up his whole thin face came out. “Welcome,” he shouted and waved. The lines of brightened faces, the sudden wave of motion as though the still people had been brought to life, was like light bursting out of a thick cloud bank. With almost hurting eagerness, the people on the ship answered him in a universal smile.

Finally, they started moving off the ship, carrying their hand luggage and their smallest children. Down the ramp they went and up the stairs, to wait on the long yellow benches for a doctor’s examination. To many it was the fifth

or sixth medical since they got tentative permission to come to Canada in a DP camp in Germany.

A CNR train is pulled up beside the shed. This is a DP Special, as the one that had taken the upright, wooden-shoed Dutch off the Kota Inten, earlier in the week, had been a Settlers Special. (Settlers pay their own fares.) From here on, the bill for transportation and food is footed by firms who have undertaken to employ the new arrivals. This, ultimately, will come out of their wages, refunded in 10 months.

Displaced Persons are truly people naked of the past, with no goods to bring, with memories they want to forget, seeking a chance to start again. Some bring hatreds— hatred of the Russians and communism and the Germans—but even these are diluted in the deep well of tragic experiences they have known. You can suffer so much. Hate so much. Fear until the very fear is dead. Then, dully, you must begin to build up your dead reflexes again. That is the impression a Displaced Person gives you.

As the train leaves Halifax, I look for Georges Lukk again.

He is 29, a six-foot-two, slender man, with blue eyes behind horn-rimmed glasses, and a sombre face, until it lightens with a frank young smile. The tag on his lapel says No. 136. He waves a hand at the magnificent, lonely landscape. “Like Estonia,” he says with an unexpected smile., “Like home.” Here are the steps that went into the making of Georges Lukk, 29, Displaced Person, and brought him on a spring Sunday in 1948 to a westbound train from Halifax: A happy boyhood in the ancient walled city ofTallinn. Later, as a scholarship student, he went to the Vienna Technical University, where he won his science doctorate in 1941. He returned to Estonia, but by then the ordinary way of life was broken. Russian armies had entered in

1940, Germans invaded in

1941, Russians would take over again in 1944. He had married during his last year in Vienna

§ and managed to get back there I to his young family.

1 The Austrian town in which I he was living was liberated I by the Americans on May 4, 1945. All foreigners were instructed to report to UN officials. He marked down his preferred destination, “Canada.” Later, with two babies now, they made their way to the seaport of Hamburg.

Canada began accepting DPs as immigrants in the spring of 1947. The first scheme was for single men only. Twenty men in each DP camp in the British and American zones of Germany could go. Georges tells how the element of luck entered right there. You were fortunate to even hear the -there weren’t enough printed notices. One day,

word came that five families could enter. The Lukks were selected as one.

Not more than half of those who had indicated their desire to go to Canada got beyond the preliminaries. Of the semifinal group of 150, only 40 passed the last screening. The rest “were not strong enough.” There were tragic eyes of many good friends that lucky Georges Lukk didn’t like to meet. He says: “In the camps there are many sensitive, famous men and women. They have suffered more than we who were young and less conspicuous. No one wants them now.” E3