The Hartig Family
Rosa (ne Ginter)
By John Hartig
Opa and Oma Hartig were the first of our family to come to Canada in 1952, sponsored by the Lutheran Church. Then, in 1954, they sponsored us as immediate family: mom Rosa, dad Michael, my half-sister Newenka, me [Hansi aka Johnny] and my little sister, Reni. Canada was looking for immigrants to bolster the work force and also to boost the economy after the war. I mentioned somewhere that the ocean voyage from Bremen Haven to Halifax on the SS Neptunia was hard on my mom and dad. They spent most of the 11 days in the cabin, fighting sea sickness. I think my sisters didn't fare that well either. All I remember is running all over the ship, exploring. I was lucky not to be real sea-sick and I remember taking in a movie on board, a western, while the ship rock and rolled. I thought the waves were as big as mountains. They heaved up and down as far as the eye could see; it seemed like we'd never get to Canada. Halifax was a fog, not only in memory but literally. We landed at Pier 21 in November.
Kitchener Train Station - by Lorne Hymers /95:
The train ride to Kitchener, Ontario was cold and everything was white and wintery. The train was one of those classic steam locomotives with huge piston driven wheels and lots of smoke coming out of the smoke stack. It looked impressive and probably would be a great addition to a train museum now-a-days. But back then, in 1954, it was our transportation from Halifax to our new home in Kitchener. We chugged into the Kitchener train station, the 5 of us: mom Rosa, dad Michael, my half-sister Newenka [née Isailowitsch] age 16, myself Hansi [later John] age 8 and my little sister Renate [later Reni] age 5. We were bundled up in thick winter coats, the same ones we wore in the picture on the dock at Bremerhaven before we boarded the boat. If there was anything that looked like immigrants, we probably looked like it! We unloaded all our suitcases and luggage, wondering what this new home and new country would bring to the Hartigs. We couldn't speak a word of English. This would be our first Christmas in Canada. Funny, I don't even remember it! We lived with Opa and Oma in their basement for a while until we got settled. Dad got a job on construction [I think at 50 cents an hour] and then we had to find a place of our own to rent. We were in a new country with a foreign language. Our new home was Kitchener, Ontario. It was strange; there were no barracks. We were going to be Canadians!
Mom and dad were very interested in our Canadian Prime Ministers. They loved John Diefenbacker and thought Trudeau was too French and too quirky, especially with that rose in his lapel. They wanted to vote and finally got enough courage to fill out the papers and apply for Canadian citizenship. I suppose they could have done it 10 years earlier but somehow the issue never came up. Maybe mom and dad were afraid of the tests. When mom and dad finally decided to make it official, they wanted to make it a family affair which included mom, dad, Reni and myself. I was already in second year Double Honours English and History at the University of Waterloo. Reni was 21 and a secretary at the Mayor's office. My little brother, George, was 13 and had been born in Canada so he was exempt. My older sister, Nellie, had already moved out of the house, gotten married to Paul Kuppek and had a family of her own.
So, on June 11, 1969, four of us Hartigs trundled off to the Kitchener Courthouse. I remember the family answering a few questions for the judge, swearing an oath of allegience to the Queen and then singing the national anthem. We received our official Canadian Citizenship Certificate with a handshake from the judge and got coffee and donuts afterward. My parents were so pleased now to be real Canadians. Mom and dad never lost their charming European accents.
My family's ancestry is fascinating. Mom and dad spoke several languages and often switched to Hungarian if they didn't want the kids to hear something. You could say they were of Germanic descent but not German because their ancesters lived in Romania and Yugoslavia for hundreds of years before Germany ever became "Germany". Dad was a Siebenbürgen-Sax and mom was a Donau-Schwabian.
Dad's ancestors came from the Rhineland hundreds and hundreds of years ago, and moved to Romania to farm the land in Transylvania, in an area the Saxons named Siebenbürgen. Siebenbürgen means the region of 7 municipalities and dad was born in the village of Tekendorf. Villages in that area had the right to keep their original Saxon language. In a way, I see a similarity there when the English Monarch, King George III, signed The Quebec Act in 1774 which gave Quebec the right to its Catholic religion and its French language. Though with dad's ancestors, their language and religious concessions came from a peaceful invitation, not a concession through a benevolent conqueror.
The history of the Saxons in Romania goes back almost 1,000 years to the time of King Geza II around 1150 AD. They were invited into the land for their various skills, and therefore, were exempted from serfdom. The Saxons introduced wine growing to the region and also developed the mining industry in what is now known as Slovakia, then northern Hungary. I never could understand all the words in Saxon when my dad took us kids to visit Oma and Opa Hartig in Kitchener. A friend suggested that probably was the original Saxon language from a thousand years ago.
In dad's immediate family, there were Opa Johann, Oma Sophia, the twins, George and Martin, dad Michael [or Mitchi, as they called him] and the youngest, Aunt Sofi. Dad liked music, soccer and dancing. He worked at a steel factory in Austria where an industrial accident split his left ear and scarred his cheek for life. In my birth certificate, he was labelled as a barber [Friseur] by profession and years later in Canada he'd give hair cuts to friends on Saturday morning for 50 cents. Dad was proud of his Saxon heritage and I remember we had a pillow on the couch in the living room which had a needlepoint cover that read: "Siebenbürgen".
On mom's side, the Donau-Schwabians, have at least a couple of hundred years history in what is now Serbia. Mom told me that her ancestors came from "Alsace-Lotrine", i.e. Alsace-Lorraine, which is now part of France but which had been previously "German", ceded to Prussia in 1871 by the Treaty of Frankfurt. Mom's history though, goes back 150 years even before that into the early 18th century when the Banat area of Central Europe was annexed from the Ottomans by the Habsburgs in the Treaty of Passarowitz (1718). Banat is the area where mom came from. There were several waves of Germanic settlers in the 18th and 19th centuries coming into the Serbian, Croatian, Hungarian territories. They came from Swabia, Hesse, Franconia, Bavaria, Austria and Alsace-Lorraine. However, they were named Swabians collectively by their neighbour Serbs, Hungarians and Romanians. The Batschka settlers called themselves "Schwobe". All these sub-divisions created interesting tensions but still liveable arrangements among all these diverse groups.
A major influx of Germanic speaking people came when the Austrian Queen Maria Theresia also became Queen of Hungary in 1740. She wanted colonization of the crown lands especially between Timisoara and the Tisza River. Germans were permitted to keep their language and religion (generallly Roman Catholic). Settlers drained marshes near the Danube and the Tisza, rebuilt farms and also constructed roads and canals. It is estimated that during this wave of immigration more than 100,000 settlers streamed into the Kingdom of Hungary in the 18th century.
I wonder sometimes if those German speaking settlers just wanted to be left alone to farm and get along with their Hungarian, Serbian or Romanian neighbours [despite local differences]. Hitler shook everything up when he moved East to annex the outlying German speaking people [Volksdeutsche] wherever they were. When World War II broke out and the Russian armies pushed west, then a lot of German speaking people lost what they considered their homeland [not Germany] because their ancesters had been there for hundreds of years. My parents were called DPs, displaced persons.
I must admit how proud I was of mom and dad for becoming Canadian. They assimilated very well into this country and certainly knew who the Prime Minister was at any time and had their various opinions about what was going on in the country. Dad became a real hockey fan.
When I was in grade 1 at Sacred Heart School in Kitchener, I made the mistake of wearing my "Lederhosen" [Austrian leather shorts] to school and was beaten up by 5 Polish kids after school. I determined never to wear those "national" pants again and vowed to learn English so I wouldn't be seen as different. I learned the language without an accent within 3 years. Hockey helped me since I liked the sport, got a cheap pair of skates and a stick and always headed off to the outdoor rink with other kids near Sacred Heart School on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon. Later when we moved to Courtland Avenue, I always trundled off to Victoria Park in the middle of winter with my skates and stick in hand, looking for a Saturday or Sunday afternoon game. So I assimilated well, absorbing Canadian culture [hockey] and the English language.
My brother, George, was born later in Canada in 1956 and was our first true blue Canadian in the family. He liked hockey too and in fact won two trophies, including Most Valuable Player, at the age of 19, in the Kitchener Young Men's League in 1975.
I'd say, coming to Canada was the best thing that ever happened to us, all around. I have an MA in English Literature, play the violin and am a wedding photographer. My sister, Reni, became secretary to the mayor in Kitchener after high-school and my kid brother, George, became an electrician. My older sister, Newenka became a house-wife after marrying Paul Kuppek, but with her ability to debate, she could have become a lawyer had she had the educational opportunity. In fact, her oldest daughter, Silvie, did indeed become a lawyer in Toronto. Dad Michael became a fork-lift driver on construction for George & Asmussen, grew to love hockey like I said and worked hard to get his kids through school. Mom Rosi was the mainstay in the household as a house-wife who always had meals ready, dad's aluminum lunch-pail packed and who made her weekly visits to the Kitchener market on Saturday mornings in her high heels. She could talk about Canadian politics in 5 different languages.
*check detailed history of the Siebenbürgen-Saxons: http://www.alanier.at/Sachsen.html
*check detailed history of the Donau-Schwabians: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Danube_Swabians