"WE CAN’T GO BACK”
To Canada, DP’s are so many strong backs. To DP’s, our Canada is a distant dream of freedom and plenty miraculously come true
GEORGES LURK got up at five that morning but already the other 23 men in the triplebunked cabin of the S. S. Marine Falcon were stirring. Karl Ohmet had his head out of the porthole and his voice was muffled.
“Fog,” he said, “can’t see anything.”
They took pains at washing and shaving and dressing. Not many had coats and pants that matched. Everyone’s clothes were worn too thin to stay in press. But they had brushed them the night before. Those who had two shirts had saved the clean, least frayed one for this morning. They hadn’t polish, but they had rubbed their boots and shoes until they shone.
Georges went up to the deck slowly although he wanted to run. The fog was still impenetrable. He leaned on the railing. He told himself this was a great moment, a moment never to be forgotten, 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, after they’d left Wesermünde, port to Bremerhaven in Germany, had been a lighthouse.
The decks were now filling with people. Georges recognized Jan Zaramba, the Polish lawyer, with his family. He was going to St. Georges de Beauce to be a mill laborer. And the quiet, dark Tadeusz Piekutowski, ex-engraver, who had signed up as a construction worker. Around him were his friends— Karl Ohmet, Ants Laid, Viktor Merimaa, Heino Homik, Juri-Udo Vooro, and the rest young Estonians like himself, whose destination was Campbell Red Lake Mines Ltd., Ont. He fingered the tag on his lapel. The printed address, a definite destination, gave him a feeling of security.
The pilot had come on board but the ship wasn’t moving. The fog was too thick. The dolorous sound of the foghorn emphasized the unreal silence. In the slowly moving throng there was hardly a sound. Four hundred and thirty-one displaced persons, the doors closed to their Northern European homelands because they knew, and hated, Communism, t urned strained eyes this spring morning of 1948, toward the still hidden shore of Canada.
Ten thousand DP’s had come before them. Another 10,000 would follow to fill the quota Canada had decided to let in by three separate Orders-inCouncil. Another million men and women and children, in the bleak camps of Europe, would wait for the nod they might never receive.
On board now are DP’s in five main categories.
1. Those who are vouched for by close relatives already in Canada.
2. Workers brought here by Canadian employers —garment workers, miners, lumbermen, metal workers, etc.— who have been assured jobs in these various trades, with the approval of a Government Immigration-Labor Committee. (The employers are required to promise they will provide employment for a period of one year at rates of wages and under working conditions no less favorable for the DP’s than those prevailing for Canadian workers in similar occupations.)
3. Domestics, sponsored by the Ministry of Labor.
4. Jewish orphans, looked after by a Jewish refugee committee.
5. Ex-soldiers of Poland brought out with a twoyear contract as farm laborers.
All these people may hojje for Canadian citizenship in five years.
Shortly after eight o’clock the fog began to undulate. 3’hey had stood on the decks for three hours. Now busy tugs, looting importantly, came to tow the liner in. Above the fog a hill emerged, a flat fortification crowning it. Then tops of buildings, smokestacks, masts. Then a long quay wall with grey high sheds running down the length of it. Halifax. Canada.
The people liner! the shoreward decks.
Sheltered from the thin grey rain in the gaping immigration shed doorway stood a small group of harbor police, immigration officials, representatives of the CNR, fhe mines and other interested employers, men from the local ships’ agency and a couple of re|x)rters. It was early and it was a dreary morning.
The bleak reserved line of faces looked down on them. The absolute stillness of the crowd was almost a shock. There was silence.
“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 und waved.
"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."
The two solid lines of brightened faces, the sudden wave of motion as though the still people had been brought to life, was literally like light bursting out of a thick cloud bank. With almost hurting eagerness the people on the ship answered him in a universal smile.
Christie spoke softly to his neighbor on the dock. “Treat others as you’d like them to treat you. Especially people coming in to become our fellow citizens. First impressions s4«y with you a long time.”
After the boat docked there was a three-quarters of an hour wait for the doctor. He would have to go on board first to give the ship a medical clearance before anyone could leave or enter. The doctor was late. After all, it was Sunday.
Now the loudspeaker on the ship was shouting in Polish, in Estonian. Orders were given for the grouping of the miners, the garment workers, the construction workers, the domestics. Tagged, numbered, accounted for, they could be more easily cleared through the immigration, Customs, package check. It was sheeplike but efficient. Christie, with many years of experience, had speeded the proceedings to maximum. “A pompous bureaucrat could make this misery,” an official explained. “Christie is efficient and he’s also human.”
Finally they started moving off the ship, carrying their hand luggage and their smallest children.
Straggling though they seemed to be, they moved in a definite pattern. For example, men assigned to various mines stuck to their respective groups, were met by representatives of those mines. 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. “Screened,” was the word they used for it. “We’ve been screened,” or, “We’ve been processed, often.” This time it’s just a slow line moving past a Canadian doctor, whose sharp eyes and long exf>erience could tell him when to pull a man or a child out of the line for a more thorough examination.
Then there are 12 tables with 12 young immigration officials. Here they were checked off the passenger manifest which had been delivered by the ship. Here also a document check and the issuing of entry stamps.
At the doorway to the Customs corridor there is the Imj>erial Tobacco Co.’s stand. Every DP, settler and immigrant, is handed a couple of packages of cigarettes and some tobacco, the gift of the company. Majority of the displaced persons do not own a single Canadian cent.
Down the ramp again and on the ground floor of the shed there are, under the auspices of the
Federal Immigration Department, a rest room with a Red Cross Canteen, a nursery, washrooms— provided with what must be the world’s smallest flush toilet for the infant immigrants, and a room partitioned off for use of advisers from various church denominations. (Not once during the couple of days I kept an eye on the place while ships were coming in, was there a priest, rabbi, minister or any church representative in evidence. Occasionally a DP or an immigrant would stop hopefully by the door.)
A CNR train is pulled up on the tracks beside the shed. This is a DP Special, as the one who 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.) Here the cars are still allotted in pattern, the members of the domestic workers’ schemes up ahead, then the car for families traveling together, coaches all of these. There is a sleeper for the Canadian officials accompanying the party, two dining cars, and at the back the colonists’ cars for the men going to mines and other manual jobs.
The DP’s way to the port of Halifax has been paid by the International Refugee Organization. When UNRRA was discontinued a constitution was drawn up by the Economic and Security Council of the UN which required at least 15 members to becom contributing members of the proposed IRO These conditions have not yet been met and the IRO operates as a preparatory commission, at the present time, on funds supplied by the countries already committed to membership in the Economic and Security Council.
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, to be refunded in 10 months, if the DP is still then in the company’s employ.
In the musty train the quiet DP’s pick the seats on which they’ll spend their first day and night in Canada, and then go back for the Customs inspection of their heavy luggage—those who have heavy luggage. Some have needlessly brought the instruments of their trade, the garment workers their flat irons, the lumbermen their saws. These are allowed through. The DP’s luggage is small and pitiful in comparison to, say, the British immigrants’ or the Dutch settlers’ who bring all their possessions.
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, untouched as a baby, you must begin to build up your dead reflexes again. That is the impression a Displaced Person gives you.
Continued on page 25
"We Can't Go Back"
Continued from page 6
By now it’s noon. Everybody files up the gangways again, back to the ship for lunch. All that most of them see of Canada in their first few hours is the bulk of the Nova Scotian Hotel, rising high behind a spring-touched rose garden. To the right the wharf roofs slant toward Lower Water Street and the sheds and masts of ships down along the Quay Side. By one o’clock most of j the 431 DP’s are in their cars, though the train won’t leave until 4.30 p.m. Some, girls and men mingling, walk up and down the platform. There is -none of the noisy conversation or shouting of an average train platform. Voices are hushed.
As the train leaves Halifax for the ! bare rocky lands and spruce forests of the Nova Scotia interior, I look for Georges Lukk again. He is 29, a sixÍ foot-two, slender man, with blue eyes ¡ behind horn-rimmed glasses and a j sombre face, until it lightens with a frank, young smile. The tag on his lapel says No. 136.
His bow is accented by the swaying train. The background for our long conversation was the monotonous humming of the train, the swaying that caricatured each gesture. He waves a hand at the magnificent, lonely landscape. ‘‘Like Estonia,” he says with an unexpected smile. ‘‘Like home. Father told us it would be so.”
His father, owner of a large glass factory in Estonia, had once spent some time in Calgary and come back to tell his family of a fabulous land where ‘‘there is no fear.” With the idea of immigrating to Canada, the Lukk family began to learn English. Today Georges speaks the language fluently.
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 of Tallinn, during Estonia’s young years of independence. Later, as ! a scholarship student, he went to the ! Vienna Technical University, where he j did research on how coal is converted ! into petroleum, and 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 j married during his last year in Vienna ! and managed to get back there to his | young family. When the Germans ; ordered him to enlist he went into hiding until his former professors got him a permit to work in the research branch of the university.
The Austrian town in which he was living was liberated by the Americans on May 4, 1945. All foreigners were instructed to report to UNRRA for repatriation. Estonia under the Russians was not Georges’ goal, so he marked down his preferred destination ‘‘Canada.” The family was sent, in crowded lorries from Austria to Mannheim in Germany. Later, with two babies now, they made their way to the seaport of Hamburg where Georges ultimately found a post with the newly founded Baltic University for refugees. Because of his postion the family lived in luxury—a 250-foot square hut, all to themselves.
Canada began accepting DP’s as immigrants in the spring of 1947. (The first ones got here last July.) The first scheme was for single men only. 1. R. O. passed the news around. 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 news—there weren’t enough printed notices or registration blanks to cover the camps.
Three factors could eliminate you, even though a non-German. If on your arm you wore the blood category scar of the Hitler S. S. with which good party members were branded; if you had served in the German armed forces; if you had been a collaborator.
The screenings were thorough. There were a good half a dozen of them. The I. R. O. officials accepted no hedging. You accounted for each move, each month of the war years.
While they were told that families were not allowed to go as units, the Lukks had decided that for the sake of their children they would separate. However, one day word came that five families could enter. The Lukks were selected as one. Georges’ wife and two small daughters were launched into the screening process.
Medically speaking DP’s immediately eliminated were those suffering from TB and venereal diseases and crippled persons. Not more than half of those who had first 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 now; “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. They’ll never get out. What will happen to them?”
For the Lukks, the preliminaries had taken a couple of months. Sometimes they take six. Now a representative of the Canadian Labor Commission appeared on the scene. To the Lukks he spelled disaster. Reversing the decision of the first official, he said there wasn’t a chance of getting the whole family to Canada. It was then December, 1947.
However, they completed the final medical, lasting three days. At the end, those rejected were sent back to their old DP camps. In most cases they found their beds gone, no place for them.
“Leadership” is a Disease
Georges was in a cold sweat. He’d heard again, “We want no whitecollar men. Only strong labor.” That was the catchword for Canada among the DP’s. But he passed on to the next stop, Wendorf Camp.
The familiar routine started all over again. First processing stage. I. R. O. medical. Labor Commission investigation. (Canada has at the moment four men and two women of the Department of Labor in Germany, selecting DP’s “for their occupational suitability.”) The Lukks passed.
The issuing of the Temporary Travel Document was something of an event. It’s the best thing next to a passport a DP can have. It makes him almost a real person again.
At this time Georges knew his mother had died, his father was “somewhere in Russia.” One brother and one sister had reached England. Two sisters were later to leave Germany, reaching Canada on a DP ship preceding the SS Marine Falcon. He didn’t know where they were, or how to reach them. His wife, Gerti, was promised a job in England, as a children’s nurse, with the permission to bring her two small daughters, Karin, 3, and Margit, 4, with her. A week after she left, Georges was fortunate in getting on a transport. Sometimes DP’s must wait in crowded transit camps for months. The rule is to always have enough DP’s available to fill a ship.
Outside it was dusk now. The train lurched through the'gatheringdarkness. “You seem to be a leader of your group of 16,” I remarked. Georges flushed. “No,” he said sharply. “We have had enough of leadership in Germany. I speak English. So I translate for my friends.”
He slowed down a bit. “I think,” he said, “it is a German disease to seek leadership. Or course, one day I would like a position of importance, but not one of command, merely to do good work well. We wanted to come to Canada, we Estonians, because Canada we knew had a climate, a way of life, of our own land. We had heard that our countrymen who had come here had been able to become happy without changing completely. In America, we understood, you must change into another person.”
He stared out of the window, wideeyed. “I don’t worry at all,” he said. “I have a feeling lean doanythinghere. Anything can happen. It is a little like being a child, with faith, again. I think here it is a question of work and of being honest. If I work I can reach my place.”
He didn’t expect an answer.
When he got up I said, stupidly, “Don’t any of you ever want to go home?”
He stared at me, long and blankly. Then it was as though his knees caved a little. He slumped back on the seat, leaned forward and said a little harshly, “Don’t you understand? Don’t you people here understand at all? We can’t go back. Russians would kill a man who wanted to think for himself.”
After early dinner the Zarambas, from Poland, came down the swaying train to see me. With them came silent Tadeusz Piekutowski. The two children, Barbara, 9, and Maciej, 7, had been left in the coach in the care of another of the Poles who was going out as a construction laborer.
Jan Zaramba is a lean, aestheticlooking man with a high-bridged nose, deep-set eyes. He is a lawyer from Warsaw. His wife Alina is pretty, though harassed-looking, with huge brown eyes and a vivacity even exhaustion cannot completely drown.
The Zarambas’ story began the day the Germans invaded Poland. Jan Zaramba, already in the army, was captured and sent to a Bavarian prison camp. After surviving the bombing of Warsaw his wife, Alina, who was pregnant, took baby Barbara to live with relatives in the mountains.
In 1945 Jan’s camp was liberated by the Americans. Alina, now with two children, had moved to Cracow, where she prayed for word from Jan. He heard of them by coincidence. A family newly come from Poland to Bavaria moved next to the house where Jan’s sister lived. She overheard the new children talking of Bashia (Polish nickname for Barbara) and Maciej, and she questioned them. They didn’t remember the last name of their former playmates—but their mother recalled it had been Zaramba.
Jan reached the house in Cracow one night, after dark. Alina remembers the knock on the door, how she thought it might be looters and called “Go away.” Jan knocked again and called “It’s me, Jan.”
Poland was entirely held by the Russians now. From Germany they might be able to get out to the free world, so they fled. At a Catholic Welfare office where she worked in Germany Alina met Ludger Dionne, seeking workers for his mill in Quebec. He said Jan had too much education for the jobs he had to offer, but if they really wanted to come . . . And here they were.
“The children,” Alina said slowly, “will grow up North Americans.”
Tadeusz Piekutowski, dark, blueeyed man with an open grave face had sat by throughout the long story, understanding only the occasional Polish word. As the Zarambas introduced him formally again he got up and bowed and with an unexpected grin handed out his identification papers.
These included his concentrationcamp registration. He had been No. 104007,61824,9286 at Oswiecim No. 3, Sachsenhausen, Ravensbruck. Arrested 21,9,1942. Liberated 2, 5,1945.
He had been an engraver and typesetter on a newspaper in Cracow before the war. When UNRRA officials had asked him where he wanted to go he put down Canada because of hockey.
It was like this. He began to smile as he explained. In 1932 a Canadian team had come to play in a hockey tournament at Katowice, Silesia. All the best Polish teams were beaten 9-0. Piekutowski’s team—he’d played defense— was beaten only 8-0. They had considered it something of a success. He had thought of Canada warmly since then.
He began to talk of the concentration camp. It was winter when he was caught. The morning they arrived in Oswiecim it was a blizzardy, freezing day. They stood outside the bath building from 8 a.m. until late afternoon and as they stood there some 150 corpses, Poles beaten to death the day before, were carried on planks by them. Some had blood frozen on their face. He remembered an eye hanging out of its socket.
“Thank you, Mr. Piekutowski,” I said. “I don’t think I need—please don’t remember any more.”
Through the Night
The three Poles stared at me expressionless fora moment. Then they smiled at one another and spoke in their liquid tongue, among themselves. “What did you say?” I asked,
“We say it is marvelous,” Alina Zaramba said, “to find someone who cannot stand to hear of the horrors. They have become so commonplace to us.”
It was midnight when I saw them all again. Joseph Podoski, CNR Port Reception Officer, was making the first of his nightly tours to see that everything aboard the DP special was all right.
Podoski, Canadian for years himself, is a bit like a character out of a Hitchcock film. He is tall and heavy-set, with a massive head, proud nose, heavy-lidded eyes and a drawling Oxford accent. He has a mask of impassivity that breaks into humanity only when he speaks to the frightened people in his charge.
He picked up a flashlight and I went with him down the swaying train, with gusts of blizzard blowing in at the rattling passageways between the cars. The Zarambas and their two small children had made themselves comfortable on two seats of the family coach. Young Maciej was asleep against his mother’s breast, his mouth a little open so that the gap where he had lost a tooth showed. Barbara, legs curled under her, leaned drowsily, still awake, against her father. The parents would have no sleep tonight, holding the children on the narrow seats.
The air was heavy from the sleeping people. Everywhere adults sat small, trying to give the kids room to stretch out their legs. Their eyes looking at you, who saw their privacy, were blank.
Podoski’s flashlight made a bleak, weak beam in the darkened cars. He stopped to try the drinking taps at water coolers, check on unaccustomed rattles, turn off lights where they shone into people’s eyes. In the women’s cars there was a smell of oranges and humanity. The young girls, some of them with their hair in curlers, trying to cover themselves with coats, slept in one another’s arms, searching reassurance in touch, in closeness to another human being. The train rattled and swayed, the wheels sang their rusty, monotonous song.
We turned back, and knowing I had a bed to go to, I found it difficult to meet the eyes looking at me blankly. A child chuckled in his sleep—he was a small, blond boy—and somehow it was worse than if he had cried.
Podoski’s light sent out its slanted beam into the thick, sweaty air of the miners’ car. Here some of the men had undressed almost completely, others had just taken their boots off and their bare feet stuck out from under a coat or a blanket with peculiar defenselessness. And here, too, some had sought closeness to another human being, an arm thrown over a friend, or a back to back, firmly. Open across the naked chest of a young man, where it had dropped when he fell asleep, was a book of poems. Two heavy-eyed young men were the only ones up. Fully clothed, they sat near the end of one of the carriages playing chess in the dull light. Their first Canadian night.
A Sigh Like A Soft Wind
At noon the next day we dropped the Zarambas and three other mill workers at Lévis. There was a CNR man to meet them, to put them on the train to St. Georges de Beauce. Across the river still filled with ice floes, the towers and spires of Quebec shone on their rock in the sun.
The train, being a special, was making its own schedule as it could fit it between the regular trains. We were well ahead of time. We were in Montreal's Point St. Charles coach yards in the early afternoon. Here the miners’ colonist cars were disconnected.
They had had their lunch while still attached to the dining cars. Now they had to wait for the northbound trains until 11.30 p.m. There would be nothing to do.
Remaining on the train were the domestics, the garment workers, and those who had not yet been allotted to their employers. All these would go to St. Paul l’Ermite, to the Labor Dept. Hostel, 20 miles from Montreal, where they would remain until placed.
We were late in start ing off and slow in going and the light had gone when we got there. The platform was empty and bordered by two high wire fences. We all had too much luggage to carry. There was a slight man in front of me carrying a child and a heavy bag. Behind him came his wife with a load strapped on her back, a bag in her hand and a child hanging to the other one.
! Something was happening in the front j we could not see.
We picked up our luggage, took a few j steps, waited, put it down. Picked it up again, another few steps. For half a j dozen times. The pull, the ignorance of the reason for the long delay began to tell. But the children didn’t whimper. Only a sigh went up—a sound like a soft wind.
Finally the train moved out of the way and we saw, beyond the high wire fence, across a bare field, a row of barracks. Carrying our luggage and the children we started in a long file toward it. It seemed like a thing done often and often before. The road was muddy. Our shoes sank well into it. I wondered how it would be if I had holes in my shoes, like some of the others. The luggage dragged at my arms, shoulders. It wasnT as much as the others had.
It was a good half-a-mile walk before we got to the lighted portico of the central barrack building. It was quite handsome. It had been the living quarters for the workers of an ammunition plant during the war. By the time we’d put down our luggage, in the hall, most of the others from the train had been shown into a highceilinged, long hall.
A man wearing dark sunglasses, incongruous in the lamplight, and a bow tie, a cigarette hanging from the corner of his mouth, was speaking loudly. A young man beside him translated it into German. They were explaining to the new arrivals that they would have to line up as their numbers were called
“Ein, zwei, drei, vier, fünf . . .” the interpreter began to count loudly. Another voice was raised: “Stay in one line! Go in order in which you’ve been called,” he shouted.
Almost last in the line I saw Tadeusz Piekutowski, No. 104007,61824,9286, graduate of Oswiecim No. 3.
I remembered some of the conversation on the swaying, dusty train during the night and day of the trip. So many had said, “The biggest thing will be to be normal people again. To forget we are numbers. To forget we are DP’s.”
That will come, I thought. God help all of you to believe on this, your second night in Canada, that it will come . . .
Yesterday I had a letter from Red Lake, which is a barren miningtown in Northern Ontario, near the Manitoba border. Kar’ Ohmetand Georges Lukk write it and their 15 friends sign it. In part they say “ . . . and the best of it is, today, the bread we eat we earn. We have left behind the DP status. We are free men n charge of our own lives. 11 is good to greet each new morning as individuals, ordinary human beings” ★