By Silvie Kuppek
About Newenka Isailowitsch:
Our mother, Newenka Anna Isailowitsch, was born on July 17, 1938 in Betschkerek (now Zrenjanin). As a citizen of the former Austrian Hungarian empire, she spoke German, Serbo-Croat and Hungarian and once she emigrated to Canada, she learned to read, write and speak English with no formal instruction. She had an amazing ear for dialects and could switch back and forth easily. This ability came so naturally to her that she did not realize how extraordinary it was to be able to speak without a perceptible accent in different dialogues. She did have a middle European, German accent when she spoke English, perhaps because she learned English as a young adult.
She was an extraordinarily kind, empathetic, warm and affectionate person who was born to be a mother. She was funny and sweet and always saw the good in others. We always found her generous spirit to be a remarkable trait in someone who had such a difficult childhood, both because of times of war and because of unusual family circumstances. It was her goal to provide her children with a warm, secure, environment full of unconditional love and open communication. At her deathbed, she was surrounded by her children and their spouses and the nurse remarked that she must be a kind, wonderful person and she had not often seen someone who was so obviously loved by her family. Indeed, we love our mom with all our hearts and miss her every day.
About Our Dad:
Paul Kuppek was born on December 8, 1933 in Ruma in the state of Syrmien (now Srem), part of the former Austro-Hungarian empire and now part of Serbia. He spoke German, Serbo-Croat and English. He had a beautiful bass singing voice and was self-taught on the accordion which he played to accompany his singing. He taught himself enough Spanish to sing along with his beloved Mexican folk and mariachi music. He was also a graceful dancer, a talent which sadly none of us inherited. His family were prosperous and respected farmers and community leaders in Ruma. He was a very intelligent and curious man with little formal education who would sit nightly and read dictionaries and encyclopedias to improve his English vocabulary and general knowledge. He held bricklayer journeyman papers from both Austria and Canada.
Dad had a pet billy goat which he trained to chase after his cousins! He had to work hard on the farm which as the eldest son, he would have inherited. He was a very smart but mischievous student. (There's a photo from his lower school days). His paternal grandfather, Josef Kuppek, was a community leader. His father, Josef Kuppek, had inherited the large farm as the eldest son. He was drafted late in the war as he was initially more valuable on the farm.
Their Memories Of Austria:
Dad fled to Austria with his mother, sister and older relatives in 1944 with the Soviet army on their heels. They finally settled in Lager Wegscheid, a refugee camp in Linz for ethnic Germans and others who were on the Axis side of the war. The camp was in a former barracks and was administered by the British and Americans. Initially, his family was in a camp administered by the Russians where conditions were much harsher and impoverished due to the lesser resources of the Soviet army. Dad was 11 but had to work to help the family survive. He worked at the huge steel works in Linz until he was medically unable to because of (mercury?) poisoning of his eyes. His eyes remained sensitive for the rest of his life. He then began to apprentice for bricklaying. He lived with his paternal grandmother, Magdalena Kuppek, in an old farmhouse during this time while the rest of his family lived closer to a farm in Traun where his father worked one of many jobs to save to buy land. Dad was very fond of his grandmother, who loved to read, and who taught him to be domestically self-sufficient, which was uncommon in culture for men. He could cook, iron, do laundry, clean and once in Canada with his own family, made great efforts to source natural, artisanal, local food even raising his own chickens and roosters in downtown Kitchener!
Within a few years, the family bought land on the outskirts of Linz in Langholzfeld and began to build a house. Dad's earnings had to go to the family coffers and were used to buy building materials and he was expected to work on the house with his parents and sister each weekend. For a young man who preferred hanging out in town with the American soldiers and dancing the boogie woogie, this was not fun. Apparently, he was the boogie woogie king for a while! He decided to emigrate to seek his fortune elsewhere and applied to Canada and the U.S. His dream was California, but Canada came through for him. He had to seek special permission from his parents as he was not yet 21 and they acquiesced, as they assumed he would be back. He never returned home after he left in June 1954.
Coming To Canada:
Mom came to Canada with her mother [Rosa], stepfather [Michael], brother John and sister Renate. They sailed on the S.S. Neptunia which departed from Bremerhaven and they landed at Halifax, Pier 21 in November, 1954. (I have a post card of the ship).
Paul Kuppek came to Canada alone aboard the Castel Felice which sailed from Bremerhaven to Quebec City, where he landed on June 25, 1954. (I have a post card of the ship and his landing card, which I can provide). His voyage was sponsored by the Roman Catholic church whom he paid back as soon as he could. He made his way to Hamilton where he stayed at the YMCA until he found housing and work in Kitchener. His Austrian bricklaying qualifications were not recognized here because of the different style of bricklaying, so he was put into an expedited apprenticeship program. (There's also a photo of his graduation).
Settling In Canada:
My father's parents sent a package along with my mother's family to give to Dad when they arrived. It was mainly warm underwear and socks for the cold Canadian winter. For many years, our Kuppek Opa & Oma sent beautiful winter clothes to us that were far better than what was available in Canada at the time.
Michael Hartig, mom's stepfather, was a barber who served many of the ethnic Germans (Volksdeutsche) who had newly arrived in Kitchener. Dad also went to Mike for his hair.
Mom and dad bought the house on 5 Betzner Avenue in Kitchener in 1960 and kept the tenants Mr. & Mrs. Foley who lived upstairs until Sandra was born. We sold the house in 2007. It will always be my home. Dad died on August 25,1991. Mom died on September 17, 2005.
Nellie & Paul's Three Daughters:
Silvie [born October 1963]
- Hon Bachelor of Arts (English) (University of Western Ontario)
- Certificat de franais pratique (University of Western Ontario)
- LL.B. (Queen's University)
- called to the bar in Ontario 1997
Monika [born February 1965]
- board certified as Registered Massage Therapist by Ontario College of Registered Massage Therapists and by the British Columbia College of Registered Massage Therapists
- certified Reflexologist
- works in a wellness clinic in Welland (Mony to provide more info if desired)
Sandra [born January 1969]
- diploma in Early Childhood Education, Conestoga College
- Honours Bachelor of Social Sciences ,Human Social Development Studies (University of Waterloo)
- Manager of the LINC and childcare programs for the Waterloo District Catholic School Board
Sharing Our Memories:
Victoria park - skating in the winter and the playground in the summer on Sundays after a delicious lunch, usually something barbecued on the fireplace. Neither mom or Dad skated, however they held us up and provided moral support as we learned. Dad kept the car warm for when we were finished. We always had on way more layers than the Canadian kids because Mom and Dad always thought we were going to catch pneumonia in the Canadian winter. Dad was sick almost every winter, which we believe contributed to his throat cancer.
Kitchener market - neither sleet nor snow, wind nor rain, could keep Dad away from the market. He was usually there for 5:30 when it opened. The few times I managed to be awake to accompany him at this time was very interesting - all ethnic Germans at that time of morning! He NEVER went to the market after 8:30 when the tourist hordes descended. He was extremely efficient and speedy at the market, knowing which vendors sold the best goods and who would be there at what time of year so if he was stuck behind folks who simply wanted to explore, he would get very impatient!
Helping us keep language, culture and tradition alive - Concordia German Language School, Schwaben Klub Gymnastik, Jungschar at the Martin Luther Evangelische Kirche
Concordia German Language School - every Saturday morning, we had to be ready with Hausaufgabe fertig, to be driven to German School when Dad returned from his final trip to the market. He almost always walked to the market, making two trips if needed. Dad would bring us warm, yeasty, jam-filled freshly baked doughnuts from the market for us to eat before we left. He always warmed the car up in the winter so it was not cold when we got in (and as the 1968 Barracuda got older, so it would not stall!) The drive was a great stress for him as all the bad casual drivers bringing their kids to school tested his patience (of which he had very little when it came to bad drivers).
Schwaben Klub Gymnastik - every Tuesday and Thursday, at the gym behind the Donauschwaben Klub, we learned gymnastics from old school German coaches who were very strict and demanding. Mony was very good and had strength and coordination. I improved however was not naturally talented. Sandra had fun!
Jungschar at the Martin Luther Evangelische Kirche - Although Dad was an avowed atheist and Mom was a disaffected Catholic, they sent us to Jungschar at this German evangelical church because all activities took place in German, it was run by nice people, we learned hymns and bible stories in German and we learned all sorts of handicrafts from German women who had learned properly in Germany and Austria how to do these crafts. It also occupied our Friday evenings with something constructive.
For many years, Mom and Dad kept us busy every night except Wednesday night and Sunday with music lessons, gymnastics, cultural activities, sports, camp, etc. Not only did we benefit from what we learned, we certainly had little time to get into trouble! Growing up downtown, keeping us busy was important.
"Since 1718, Ruma was under administration of the Habsburg Monarchy. In 1746, the town of Ruma was founded near the village of Ruma. First inhabitants of the town were Serbs, who came from neighboring settlements, as well as Germans, who came from Germany."
*[check detailed history]
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