Rosa Hartig Obituary Trinity Home Kitchener

Historical Gems

Dancing Talent & Saxon "Tracht"

Transylvanian Tracht Schwaben Club 1956
        Rosa & Mike Wearing The "Tracht" c1956
Emails: February - March 2012

I can't identify the club where mom Rosa and dad Michael Hartig danced and wore their "tracht" or European costumes. Your parents were Saxon; can you help? Was it the old Transylvania Club in Kitchener?


The one club is the Transylvania Club, the other is the Victoria Club pavilion. There might also be the Schwaben Club. Your mom and dad are wearing the Transylvanian Saxon "tracht" in one of the pictures you sent and 2 gentlemen on the left also--I think the one facing is Mathias Wolf. Again, most of the people here are wearing the Donau-Schwäbische tracht (or is there also a Gottscheer-tracht there?) I could identify that your parents and the lady beside your dad are wearing the Saxon costumes. In another picture, the sign on the left side looks like it might identify the Victoria Park pavilion (can't really make it out). I think I recognize some other people here, too. (Maybe my dad [left side]; Nick Kuehn; ...Stach?..Rosi Wolf/Emrich. Unfortunately, I don't think I recognize anyone in the band.  
Wally Scholtes


I'm wondering if the traditional costumes worn at the various clubs were not from the competitions held there for the best dancers. A lot of times the winners and runners-up would lead the troups back into the halls where they competed. As you can see in the various pictures mom and dad always were first and lead. Mom and dad used to tell me they won a lot of the dance competitions back then. I was fortunate to see them dance and it was incredible. I wish I had that talent over anything else. They would have been famous today with all these phony reality shows of today. They had a natural God given talent and not a taught talent as so many performers today. God bless them, and I hope they're giving the good old Lord a lesson or two.
George Hartig

Columbuskaje Dock - Bremerhaven

Columbuskaje Dock Bremerhaven 1954
               Our Family & Friends On The Dock
I was 8 years old when the 1954 photo of us as immigrants was taken, all crowded together and bundled up for winter. I can't remember whether it was taken in Bremen Haven on departure, in Halifax on arrival or at the Kitchener train station? Any ideas?


Hi again,
I went by the clues that were there...actually the picture looks similar to the one of us when we were in Bremerhaven, except that we left in 1949 and everyone looked a whole lot more emaciated and poor.

Main Clue:  (I love this sleuthing business);

The partial word on the back wall intrigued me, so I did a search with part of the word. The last part looked like "Kaj", which is German for "Quay" (as in "Queens Quay" in Toronto)!! to do with the rest of it?  What word includes "umbus"? with the Kaj at the end?  After a search: the "Columbuskaje" in Bremen, which was rebuilt/rededicated in 2003.

Go to Wikipedia: for an enlargement of the following picture with all kinds of historical information, such as "1927 war die Kaje 1000 Meter lang."  "An der Columbuskaje betrat Elvis Presley 1958 als GI deutschen Boden, bejubelt von tausenden jungen Fans."

Deutsches Auswandererhaus Bremerhaven 

The German Emigration Center is located on an authentic location in Bremerhaven. It is located directly on the New Harbor, which was opened in 1852. From then until 1890 almost 1,2 million people left from here to the New World. Aside from the New Harbor there was also the Old Harbor, the Emperors Harbor and the Columbus Quay, which served as departure harbors for the 7,2 million emigrants, who left from Bremerhaven. 

So..problem solved??
Wally Scholtes


Thanks Wally! 
One of my favourite shows on PBS is "History Detectives".  I'm so busy collating and enhancing a lot of old pictures, I haven't thought of researching a lot of stuff myself and probably wouldn't have had the know-how to track down the word Columbuskaje as the name of the dock or quay.  I really appreciate this.  We boarded a Greek liner, the SS Neptunia, docked there which took 11 days to get to Halifax.  I remember a fog enfolded town and then getting on the train (the old piston locomotive) in November 1954, to travel across the cold snow covered landscape of Quebec until we finally arrived in Ontario and then got off at the old Kitchener train station.  We roomed with Oma and Opa for a couple of weeks (months? I'm not sure) until dad could find work on construction and then rent a place of our own.  It took dad 5 years to pay the Greek ship line back for the trip across the ocean.  

This year in 2012, our Church is sponsoring a Muslim family (from Iraq) and paying for their cable TV, a computer (rationale to help learn English), food and apartment renovations.  That family also took a jet airplane to Canada, not an 11 day ocean trip on the high seas. English lessons have also been set up in classes at the Cultural Center in St. Catharines. I wonder if new immigrants have it easier somehow now-a-days?

I learned English the hard way, at the foot of a sour-pussed old Nun at Sacred Heart Elementary School getting me to read about “Dick and Jane”: “See Jane run!”. How boring! I made the mistake of wearing my Lederhosen (Austrian leather shorts) to school one day. The school was in a predominantly Polish district. Five older boys waylaid me after school, called me “Nazi” and beat the crap out of me: two holding my feet, two my arms and the other one straddling my chest and whacking away at my head. I had swollen lips and two black eyes. I identified those boys the next morning at school and the principal [a nun] strapped the kids good and hard. I determined to learn English without an accent and did so within 3 years by the time I hit grade 4. I guess it helped that I learned to skate and liked hockey and so picked up the language on the outdoor rinks that local communities made in those days around various neighbourhoods.

I wonder what that sour-pussed nun would think now with my M.A. in English Literature and my occasional urge to write a poem in the Queen’s vernacular?

By John Hartig
Monday June 11, 2001

Something to find leads me away
To woods and lonely trails unseen,
To question the road I’ve taken…
And the different future that might have been.

Some trail leads me to waterfalls that crash.
My eyes see sparkles in a single splash…
Tiny drops, like people, that tumble and toss, and teem and toil,
And run…oh, where?
Like love, like life, so precious,
Like things, not always fair!

I imagine a droplet is the sun,
A splash -- the galaxy,
Our existence -- a miracle,
Our universe – you and me!

Tired, so tired, I discover a cliff and clearing by a tree.
I make my campfire and feed the flickering flame.
Orange embers cast a spell for quiet questions…
What changes and what remains the same?

A leaf, sun’s light,
This silhouetted tree…a simple delight!
The sky, white cloud,
Small and large existence, in all I see!

What’s in that sunset…that stills the soul in me?
Caressed by all of nature and touched by eternity!

The day trickles by… the moon comes up.
It lulls my mind to rest,
Embraced by bigness, and that which is truly blessed.

Seeing is more than eyes alone,
And more than merely looking.
We have a mind, a heart, and soul,
To behold small wonders within their parts,
Or to see the beauty in the whole.

And yet the city awaits
.with the road there that I've taken,
Where I still need to make more choices,
to face my fear,
And to ask more questions:
"Now! Where do I go from here?"


A poem is like a baby. When I wrote it, I had intended for it to take only one hour of my attention. But it kept calling me back, time and time again that morning, to change a line here, a word there, to juggle phrasing around, to delete or add an image. I had to caress it, and coddle it, and care for it. I couldn’t walk away from it for keeps, until it said, “I’m finished.”

For us, Canada was The Road Taken. I'm wondering what our lives would have been like had we stayed in Austria and never decided to take the voyage to a new land and a new life? I'm glad Canada was the road we took!
John Hartig


E-mail: March 1, 2012
Hi Wally:

My brother George says: "Dad's Saxons left around the Rhineland area in the 10th century to move into Siebenbürgen". So the Hartigs have a long history in Romania. Siebenbürgen means the region of the 7 municipalities. That region is also known as Transylvania. My dad's folks were called "Siebenbürgen-Saxons."  They also spoke a dialect which I couldn't quite understand. A friend suggested that this was the original German from the 10th century.

Mom's history is similar, in that her people moved to reclaim the marshlands around Banat Serbia [formerly Yugoslavia], so they could farm that area. But their history is a lot later than my dad's, more like the 18th century. You've dabbled in all these ethnic histories, Wally. Since I'm so busy with the layout and design of my family website, do you know anything about the background of the Saxons and about the Donau-Schwabians?


E-mail: March 1, 2012
Hi John,

The first documentation of the Saxons in Transylvania (Siebenbürgen) is 1141 A.D. They came from the Eifel / Mosel / Rhine area, as well as Luxemburg; this is based on linguistic evidence of the dialects.

They were invited by the Hungarian king (the Hungarians settled in the Pannonian plain and were christianized very early on -- 10th century.)  The so-called "Saxons" were to settle the land, create farms from the forests, and also provide a bulwark against the hordes from the east who would occasionally raid the area, pillaging, razing buildings, etc. [Hungary would have had some economic advantage, as well, I would think.]  That's why they built their churches as walled fortresses. Apparently there were also Walloons (French-speakers) who went there, because they were good fighters. They settled at the outskirts of Saxon cities, as a first opposition to any invaders.  Later, the Ottoman Empire moved in and exacted tribute from the cities and towns in Transylvania. There were later migrations to Transylvania, too.   Eventually, the Hungarians were subsumed by the Habsburg Empire, and it remained thus until the 1867 "Ausgleich", where Hungary took over control of its internal matters.  This created a lot of conflict, since they tried to "hungarianize" (Magyarisierung) all the ethnic groups including the Saxons.  So after WWI, and the Treaty of Versailles, Transylvania opted (voted) to join greater Romania, which promised them more freedom. In 1940, Transylvania was split into north an south (zweiter Wiener Schiedsspruch), and that is how we were able to escape from the Russians in WWII.  (This history is off the top of my head; I hope I got the details right.)

The Donau-Schwaben have a totally different history. This was after the Turks were driven back (Prinz Eugen!) in the early 18th century. The Habsburgs needed some military strength in the south-east, and they also wanted an economic base there.   The Danube-Swabians were settled en masse (Gemeinschaftssiedlung). Then there are other "Swabian" groups elsewhere.  Maria Theresia (mother of Marie Antoinette) was the main ruler at the time.  The Swabians came from many areas, not only Swabia. So Alsace-Lorraine is probably one of several areas. One of the conditions of their settling there was that they had to be Catholic.  There are many Donau-Schwaben in St. Mary's Church, and of course, that's the background of the Schwaben Club in Kitchener. There are many in the Chicago area, too.

There's lots of information about this on Wikipedia, if you want to pursue this further.
Hope this sparks your interest!!
Waldemar Scholtes


E-mail: March 2, 2012
From: Dieter Schuender
[Friend in Vineland}

Hi John,
Waldemar Scholtes’ info is correct.  About 1000 years ago, during the great migrations in Europe (Völkerwanderung), your mother’s ancestors probably left Allsace-Lorraine and migrated east and settled eventually in the Siebenbürgen area of today’s Rumania. That is why the Siebenbürgen local language (dialect) is so different from any other German dialect.

My mother’s ancestors are also Sachsen descendants, but they came (around 1600) from the German area north of today’s Czech Republic and have a totally different dialect (more Dresden German mixed with some Austrian “Mundart”).

Yep, ancestry research can be a lot of fun, but also very time consuming.
So have fun,


E-mail March 2, 2012
To: Silvie Kuppek
Subject: Photos of Silvie's grandfather,
Zoran Isailowitsch, and soldier buddies c1938

I'm organizing slideshows and a family web site for all of us with all these pictures processed and labelled with year and description.  I've taken out a lot of the stains and the rip marks in these old photos.  Also a friend suggested the 1954 picture with my half-sister Nellie, your mom in it, was of the family at Bremerhaven on departure and that the background lettering was the Columbuskaje dock where numerous displaced people boarded ships, like our SS Neptunia, to start new lives in Canada. 

Thanks for e-mailing me those black and white photos of your grandfather, Zoran Isailowitsch, in Yugoslavia. Can you tell me a little more about him?
Onkel John


E-mail March 2, 2012
To: Onkel John
Reply: Photos of Silvie's grandfather,
Zoran Isailowitsch, and soldier buddies c1938

I assume the photos in uniform were taken after mom was born [i.e. July 17, 1938] and sent to her when they were still in Yugoslavia.  Anka and Marie Tante told us that mom's dad made great efforts to keep in touch and know about her. He sent a baby carriage and money.  Very tragic story that she did not know him. He also maintained contact throughout his life with mom and sent letters and photos to Kitchener.  As far as I know, she did not reply much but did send him photos of us. We have never met that side of the family.  

We did a family trip to Austria in 1988. However going to Yugoslavia was still somewhat tricky for Kuppek Oma, Opa and Tante Eva, as it would have been for anyone who was born there.  Kuppek Opa did drive down with his brother-in-law, Hans Weger (der Wegerhans), in 1987 to see his farm in Ruma. They were greeted at gunpoint by the Serbs who took over their farms and were asked to leave.  Opa was devastated at the neglected state of the farm and complained about the broken fences, weeds in the fields and general dilapidation.  It is good that he did not live to see the war in the 90's that destroyed most of the area.  He and Oma never really recovered from losing their very large farm and basically everything. It is hard for me to even grasp.

Do you have any memories of the journey over?
Silvie Kuppek


E-mail March 2, 2012
Subject: Onkel John's Memories

Dear Silvie:
Our ship took 11 days to crawl across the Atlantic Ocean with a lot of rolling and bad weather.  As an 8 year old boy I ran all over the ship, while mom and dad (and Nellie too I think) had a great time in the cabin barfing. The journey was an adventure for me but there must have been a lot of fear though for the adults, mom and dad, and even for your mom, Nellie, who was only 16 at the time, in regard to an uncertain future in Canada. I'm sure Opa and Oma Hartig had written mom and dad that Canada was a great country for good jobs and a better life. But as I said, the fear of the unknown for mom and dad was greater than my 8 year-old carefree perspective could fathom.

The most salient memory I have of the S.S. Neptunia was how big it was, how I had fun running all over the ship and how I enjoyed watching a western movie [in colour] on board. Too bad mom and dad were so sick most of the voyage and had to spent time in the cabin. I can't remember much about either of my sisters, Nellie or Renate, and how they fared, since I was busy snooping around the boat.

I remember looking down at the tiny people on the stop-over at Liverpool, England. They were waving little Union Jacks down on the pier. I also remember how huge the rolling waves were on the Atlantic. The sky was gray and when we pulled into Halifax, Pier 21, it was very foggy. Mind you, it was November! I sort of remember customs checking dad's "koffer" [trunk] where he kept a bottle or two of his home-made wine from Austria. The customs official lifted the towels, saw the bottles, asked dad a question and then just put the towels back and waved us through. That was 1954. The train ride through Quebec and finally to the Kitchener station was long and tedious chugging over a cold countryside. I thought the steam locomotive was huge, loud and very impressive.

Dad continued to make his homemade wine in the basement of our Pandora Ave house through my teenage years. The whole house reeked; but he was so proud of that wine which he mixed with ginger ale, you'd think it was champagne! 
Uncle John


E-mail Monday, May 28, 2012
To: Onkel John
Subject: [re. family trip to Austria 1988]

Sadly, I have never met my mom's family in Belgrade. We spent the summer of 1988 with the Kuppeks - we lived with Oma & Opa who lived beside Tante Eva. We hung out with Onkel Horst, his wife Martha, and our cousins Robert, Karin & Armin and the extended family of great aunts, uncles, second and third cousins. Opa and Tante Eva showed us where the Lager Wegscheid was, where they first lived and worked after the war, the farm were dad worked and we met the farmer who gave Opa his first job when they arrived in Austria. Opa had two houses with lots of land so we went with him to pick cherries, garden (massive gardens of fruit, vegetables and flowers) and we hung out in Tante Eva's garden which she had modelled after Monet's garden in Giverney. It was amazing to be amongst our paternal side of relatives whom we had not met before and it struck me how easily we fit in and how familiar the lifestyle was. Still feels most like home to me and the place where it is easiest to be myself. No struggle to hide a kind nature as most people are kind.

As the Berlin Wall had not yet fallen in 1988, we did not go to Yugoslavia as travel for our relatives who were born there was still risky as the Yugoslavian government was known to detain Germans who were born there. Opa offered to go as he spoke fluent Yugoslavian, however we did not want to risk that he would be detained when we returned. In hindsight, I wish I had risked it as he died the next year and I would have loved to have experienced the Heimatland with him.

Opa did risk the trip twice in the eighties to see his farm in Ruma; once alone and once with his brother-in-law, Martin Weger, who also wanted to see his farm again. They were not received well even though they only intended to look. The Serbs who now lived in their homes still had most of their furniture, linens, etc. Martin Weger was upset about the decrepit state of his farm; our farm was reasonably well tended. They both remarked on how the fences were falling apart. My Onkel Horst (your age, dad's younger brother) went to Dubrovnik and Split for vacation once but was not well received by the Croats who swore at him and did not realize he could understand. I would be curious to know whether the subsequent war there changed the locals' views.

Some of the Serbs I know here still viscerally dislike the Schwabs; I do know one Bosnian Serb who looks like mom and who had told me that he is quite sad about the atrocities committed against the Schwabs during and after the war. I wish he and my mom could have met. He is in his thirties. Like in much of the world, time and distance enable people to gain a broader perspective.


[From an observation
George made to John]
re: the Kuppeks losing their farm in Yugoslavia
and also about the history of the Saxons
and the Donau-Schwabians

There were a lot of German speaking people with homes and farms in Romania and Yugoslavia, similar to the German speaking Mennonites in the Ukraine after World War I. The Saxons in Romania had been living there for hundreds of years. They were a sort of "diaspora" of German descent in foreign lands, who were mostly farmers. When the war broke out, many of these "Volksdeutsche" from Romania and Yugoslavia were conscripted into the German military once Hitler took over those areas. I don't think they had much of a choice once boys became of military age; it wasn't like Canada where you could be a "conscientious objector". I know of 3 of my uncles who ended up in the German military. Two of them were never heard from again until years later through a bit of geneological research.

After the war, families of these Volksdeutsche in Romania and Yugoslavia lost their farms and fled away from the partisans and Communists, leaving everything behind in 1945/ 46. My brother, George, notes that their story never made it to the front headlines but that they also should have been recognized as real victims of the war, who suffered an injustice where they went from productive farmers to refugees with nothing. They became "Flüchlingen", fleeing away from Tito and Stalin's armies.

Eric Margolis writes articles about the hidden history of these persecuted German speaking refugees. George, my brother, says that Margolis sheds light on this neglected part of history and puts it into focus. My brother also likes to quote my mother Rosa when it comes to a perspective on those unsettling years between 1939 and 1945: "We've accomplished nothing from the war," she used to say. My brother feels strongly about the stories mom told him. He says, "We've lost our homeland and so much more. We as a people have gotten no reparations from the Communists because they took everything."

History is written or rewritten by the victors. It's amazing how one-time enemies can become allies in another decade and time. The point here is that there were German speaking people outside Germany who were victimized by the war and lost all they had, homes and property and freedoms. My folks from Romania and from Yugoslavia were such folks.

George cited two great sources for our family histories. I found several passages especially fascinating but to appreciate the whole history of our peope, which was Germanic and not specifically German [since Germany didn't yet exist], a person should go through the whole site and check the details in a history that goes back a thousand years. This quote, however, should get the point across about the Saxons on my father's side in Romania: "Almost none of the German settlers came from Saxony. The exact origin of most of the settlers in the 12th and 13th century is unknown, but opinions coincide that they came from all over the German-speaking territory. Some of the settlers even were of French or Flemish origin. It is certain that many of them came from the Rhine and Mosel and introduced wine growing to the region where they settled, in the Southeast of Transylvania."
History Source:
*[check the site for details: ]

The Donau-Schwabians on my mother's side in Yugoslavia, specifically Banat [where mom came from], may not have as ancient a history as dad's in Romania but there are interesting details that go back at least a couple of hundred years: : "After the Banat area of Central Europe was annexed from the Ottomans by the Habsburgs in the Treaty of Passarowitz (1718), plans were made to resettle the region, which became known as the (Temeschwar/Temeschburg), as well as the Bačka (Batschka) region between the Danube and Tisza (Theiss) rivers. Fledgling settlements were destroyed during another Austrian-Turkish war (1737–1739), but extensive colonization continued after the suspension of hostilities. The resettlement was accomplished through private and state initiatives. After Maria Theresa of Austria assumed the throne as Queen of Hungary in 1740, she encouraged vigorous colonization on crown lands, especially between Timişoara and the Tisza. The Crown agreed to permit the Germans to retain their language and religion (generally Roman Catholic). They steadily redeveloped the land: drained marshes near the Danube and the Tisza, rebuilt farms, and constructed roads and canals. Many Danube Swabians served on Austria's Military Frontier (Militärgrenze) against the Ottomans. Between 1740 and 1790, more than 100,000 Germans immigrated to the Kingdom of Hungary."
History Source:
*[check the site for details: ]



E-mail from George and Shelley
Sat. March 10, 2012,

Hi John & Marjorie
I thought you may be interested in the following. Being we are members at the Transylvania Club, I noticed an article in the monthly club updates. It reads as follows: A History of Transylvanian Saxons in Canada. A request for information about our heritage in Canada.

Dear fellow Saxons,
An initiative has been put forward by Mathias Wolf to create a document with the title proposed above. At this point a book is being considered, although a power point CD or DVD might be included: it was suggested to produce this in English for the sake of the younger and future generations. We are hoping to make it as all-inclusive as possible, to include Saxons throughout Canada. The Aylmer and Windsor clubs are informed about this, and are prepared to submit materials. If you have any materials that you would like to include in this project, or would like to work closely in a committee to move this project along, please get in touch with: Mathias Wolf or Waldemar Scholtes in Kitchener.

It sounds interesting. I'd like to submit some of mom and dad's dance photos since they won all sorts of awards for their traditional dancing. Shelley has also some stories in the buisness community of grandma Hartig's baking skills. anyway see what you think. Wally Scholtes is involved as might be expected. I think with your computer skills you might be a great help. Talk to you later.
George and Shelley


Distinctions Between
Germans & German-speaking Folk

Note About Farmer/ Soldiers
From Stories Told
By My Wife, Marjorie's Grandfather:

Opa Peter Boldt [1900-1992] was a camel driver in the First World War. He came from a Mennonite village in the Ukraine. He was a useful farmer, who would work now for the Red Army, now for the White Army, depending upon who captured him. It should be noted that he did not take up arms; he was a camel driver and not a soldier because Mennonites were by faith Pacifists.

He told stories about Russian farmers who were conscripted into the army. They didn't know their left foot from their right, so the sergeant would get them to march with orders in language they could understand: "March! Straw foot! Hay foot! Straw foot! Hay foot!"

I suppose they didn't know what they were fighting for, as long as they were fed. They were given a rifle and told to shoot the other guy in the other uniform.
John Hartig


E-mail from Mark Hymers
Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Hi John,
Reminds me of the grandfather of my two surrogate sons (Heather used to daycare them while they were growing up), Bill and Bobby McIntyre. Their late grandfather (Roch) was a Luftwaffe ME109 pilot during the end of the war. But only for a short time as they ran short of fuel and he like many others was thrown into an infrantry unit. And so he ended up in Italy (presumably fighting my dad's first cousins from Perth County).

He was a very fine gentleman and I had the honour of chatting with him many times. Shortly after the war, he, his wife and a son immigrated to Canada. Then their daughter, Marion was born in Saint John, NB and subsequently married her sweetheart, Terry, when they were both going to Mount A University in Sackville and raised two fine boys. Bill is now a medical intern grad from Queens in medicine and Bobby is an accountant (grad from Acadia U) fro an Irving owned trucking company.

I always thought it a rare privilege to meet Marion's dad, someone with such an unusual background. Marion by the way is fluent in German so not all German-speaking Canadians immigrated to the KW area!
Marcus Hymerius
Fredericton, NB


E-mail From Vineland Friend
Diet Schuender
Thursday, March 15, 2012

Hi John,
Re the connection of Nazis and Germans you will find all the answers on Wikipedia, type Nazism into the search field and you will get the lowdown.

My answer to your question:
Germany suffered extreme unemployment and most people lived in poverty after the country was destroyed by WWI. The mostly unemployed population saw a savior in the National Socialist German Workers Party and many joined, but not all.

Hitler, just before WWII made himself the leader of the party, which eventually became known as the Nazi Party, short for National Sozialismus, or National Socialism, an extreme right wing party, promising a new beginning for Germany. The party won the elections with Hitler as their leader, or Führer, of not only the party, but of Germany as a whole. With the rallying cry for a new and powerful Germany, Hitler gained a large percentage of the population to his side and felt confident to create the Third Reich, which shortly thereafter led to WWII.

Unfortunately, as the war dragged on and Hitler’s extermination of the Jews became widely known throughout the world, all Germans were labelled as Nazis. But not all Germans were Nazis, only those who joined the Nazi Party just before and during the war years. Hope this helps,
Diet Schuender
Vineland, ON


Distinction Between
"Nazis" and "Germans"

I chatted with my friend, Diet Schuender, recently. He pointed out that not everybody in the German military was a Nazi. That was a misconception by other countries, where they typecast, not only German soldiers, but the whole German population as Nazis. To be a Nazi, you had to have a membership in the Nationalist Socialist Party. Not every German, let alone every German soldier, was a member of that party. But it was an easy thing to paint all Germans as "the bad guys" during the war and call them Nazis, especially after it was publicized that millions of Jews were being exterminated in the concentration camps..

Even after the war, after I moved to Canada, I was called a Nazi, as a little kid, by the Polish kids in my class in Kitchener. I didn't know what a Nazi was. I just happened to speak German.
John Hartig


E-mail To Marjorie's Aunt Irene
Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Aunt Irene:
What was the name of the village that your dad, Opa Boldt, came from in the Ukraine? I want people to know that there was a parallel experience of how the Mennonites were displaced from The Ukraine in Russia after WW I, similar to my family's "Volksdeutche" being displaced from Romania and Yugoslavia after WW II.


E-mail Reply
Tuesday, May 15, 2012

I am getting this from my "Aunt's Recollection Book".

My dad would have been born in Molotschna Colony in the village of Alexanderkrone. They moved to Marianowka #7 in the Terek Colony when dad was about 2 years old.( 1902.) It was situated 70 miles north of the Kaukasus Mountain range. It was close to the river Terek to the north and close to the Caspian Sea in the east.

War broke out in August 1914 and the revolution followed later. From there on life became intolerable and Feb. 1919 a grand exodus began for us Mennonites. The Boldt family went for 2 years to Stavropol. Then they went back to Alexanderwohl for 1 year. Then to Gnadennheim. Things became worse and the family left Russia finally in 1924. They arrived in Quebec and then went to Waterloo. Dad was 24 years old.

I hope this helps. I have the entire story of my Aunt Sarah.
Aunt Irene


History Detectives
For Lost Uncles & Aunts

E-mail from George and Shelley
Sat. March 13, 2012,

Hi John & Marjorie
We were talking with Mom and asking her questions and she had told us she had 2 brothers in the German army, and she had never known what had happened to and since I was doing genealogy on my side, I thought I'd try and find something out. I went onto a German site for lost soldiers and put in Nikolaus's name and birth year and ended up with a letter from the Deutsche Dienststelle, in Berlin with information. Nikolaus Günther was born Dec 29th, 1909, in Kathreinfeld/Banat and he survived the war and moved to Lebach Germany where he died in 1973. Mom had mentioned he was one of her favorite brothers. Being 10 years older, he always looked after her. As for Matthias, we have never been able to locate him. He could have possibly gone to the capital of Argentina. Mom was really happy to hear that Nikolaus had survived the war. [Both Marie Tante and mom cried.] I will scan the letter and send it to you in an email from work. Have a good weekend.
Luv Shelley & George Hartig


E-mail To Silvie Kuppek
Thursday, March 15, 2012

Marie Tante's son, John Marton, e-mailed me about some of the Ginter [Günther] siblings. There were 7 of them, I understand from Omi Rosa's obituary. But when I was a kid, I thought mom Rosa mentioned 9. I personally only knew two of mom's siblings, Marie Tante [Bischta Bachi's wife] and Onkel John ["der Bruder" from Saskatchewan]. I didn't even remember Regina and Anka until a recent mention of them. Anyway here's what cousin John e-mailed me re. checking family facts:

"There was a sister Regina and sister called Anka who had a daughter. Anka Tante lived in Belgrade and Regina in Zagreb Yugoslavia. We visited them in 1968 when I was 16. I thought there was another brother Mike but not sure because my dad [Bischta Bachi] cannot remember. Onkel John's wife, Lilly, who lived in Saskatchewan would know but how do you locate them?"
[From E-mail John Marton March 15, 2012]

Silvie, I assume you visited with Anka Tante in 1988 during your Austrian visit? We've also discovered the names of two other brothers on Omi Rosa's side: Nickolaus and Matthias, both of them in the German military and both of them now passed away. I put that information on the website under Historical Gems, regarding the Family History. Your Opa Kuppek's story about visiting their run-down farm in Ruma is sad and is also included in details about the general family history.

My wife's grandparents, the Boldts and the Janzens, who were Mennonites had similar stories about the farms that were confiscated in the Ukraine during the 1920s by the Russians. They all immigrated to Canada to farm in Saskatchewan and eventually uprooted themselves from there to come to the orchards of the Niagara Peninsula. Like a lot of new Canadians, they found themselves starting over, from scratch, not only once, but twice and even three times!
Onkel John


E-mail To Silvie Kuppek
Friday, March 16, 2012

The family has come up with all 7 names of the Günther siblings: Mom Rosa, Aunts Mary, Anka, Regina, and Uncles Johann, Nickolaus and Matthias. Do you know anything about another two?
Onkel John


E-mail From Silvie Kuppek
Friday, March 16, 2012

Onkel John:
My mom always told us that Ur Opa Guenther was a widower with five children when he married Ur Omi [your grandmother, Barbara] with whom he then had four children.  He was a stone mason like my father.  He was a very kind man although poor and sadly died rather young [1942].  My mother was very young when he died yet also had a special love for him (as well as for Marie Tante and Ur Onkel John who were also responsible for caring for her despite being just kids themselves.

There was one child who died as a baby when he/she rolled off the table. I suspect the first wife may have died giving birth to this baby, however Omi told me the story and my mom also recalled the story. I can no longer recall whether Omi was around when this tragedy occured or whether she just knew the story, so I cannot definitively say whose child the baby was. Very sad.

Ur Omi must have been overwhelmed with so many children and so much work.  She was made of tough stuff.  I have very fond memories of her toothless kisses!  She doted on me, Monika and Sandra as her Ur Enkelkinder and always gave us sour candies. We were very well behaved children which she also liked.  She and my dad got along very well and I recall that we rearranged the house as she was going to stay with us while Marie and Bischta went to Europe; however, it did not work out as we did not have a bathroom on the main floor.  I recall very well when she died [1976] and how sad my mom was as Ur Omi essentially raised her until the Lager [the refugee camp].

Among the children from the first wife were twin girls who both entered cloistered convents - one who went to a convent and worked in a leper colony in Hawaii and I am not sure where the other twin went.  I do not recall the orders which they joined; however, Carmelites sounds familiar.  It should be easy to determine which orders ran leper colonies in Hawaii.

Children From Ur Omi - [your mom] Rosa, Anka, Marie and John.

From the first wife - Nikolaus, Matthias, Regina and twin girls whose names sadly, I do not recall.  My mom remembered them clearly. My mom also had some recollection of Matthias and of course, we all met Regina when she came to visit.  Anka knew my mom's dad as he lived in Belgrade and she brought gifts and letters from him on her visit.  I still have the little purse he sent for me as well as the gifts he sent for my mom and Dad.  Also, I recall that Regina lived in Zrenjanin, not Zagreb.

My mother spoke of her aunts and uncles often.  She said you in your younger days reminded her of Matthias - artistic, creative, very intelligent, searching for a meaningful path in life.  He was a goldsmith who created beautiful jewelry.  I have a photo somewhere of Omi (your mom) with him.  Mom loved him as he was kind and goodhearted (also like you).

I recall that Regina was a serious person and already elderly when she came to visit.  She was definitely much older than Omi [Rosa] whom I believe was the eldest of Ur Omi's biological children. Regina was in stark contrast to Anka Tante and loved fun.  As such, she and my Dad got along famously.  Onkel Heinz (Berthok) and my Dad among others made sure Anka Tante was entertained when she visited us: food, accordian playing, dancing, singing and remembering the old country.  It was also very emotional for my mom as Anka brought news, gifts and stories from [Zoran] her father.  She brought photos and took back tons of photos of us kids.

It was always a big deal that we were blonde and that Mony had blue eyes and there were always arguments about whose eyes Mony had.  Anka confirmed that Zoran had green/blue eyes so that gave mom an argument for the paternal side. Also, Ur Omi had blue eyes.  Kuppek Opa also had light blue/green eyes, so that was Dad's argument.  Of course, later when my dad read about genetics, he realized that the recessive gene for blue eyes had to come from both parents, so that argument finally ended! Hilarious in hindsight!

As little kids, we visited Marie Tante most Sundays to see Ur Omi.  Mom dressed us up in fancy hats held on by elastics which Mony loved to snap, white gloves, dresses, and fancy coats.  We also often wore traditional "dirndls".  A favourite story I recall - When our neighbours asked us where we were going all dressed up, I said that we were going to visit Ur Omi.  They looked at me quite puzzled, and asked again, who are you going to visit.  Realizing that I needed to translate the German to English, I analyzed the words - "Ur Omi" - and concluded that since Uhr is a clock in German and Omi is grandmother, we were going to visit our "clock grandmother"!  It made sense to me, as Marie Tante had a cuckoo clock in the dining room/kitchen.  Years later, I learned the difference between Uhr and Ur.

Ur Onkel John and his wife lived in Regina. [He worked for Bell Canada and died in 1983].

One of my favourite Omi stories comes from his funeral and it cracked me up when she told it.  She and Marie flew out to Regina for his funeral to see where he was buried.

So she and Marie are on the plane which in itself must have been a complete gong show.  This was in the days when air travel still had cachet and you actually received food and drinks in coach.  The flight attendant approached Marie and Omi and asked whether they wanted anything to drink.  Omi said no as she did not want to pay.  Then Marie, who had flying experience from going to Europe told her: “Nemm was, du musst nett bezahlen.  Alles ist frei.” [Take something, you don't have to pay. Everything is free!] So Omi called back the flight attendant and asked for a cognac!  She always had a taste for luxury!  And she proudly sat and sipped her cognac.  Brilliant!


E-mail To Silive Kuppek
Friday, March 17, 2012

This is really interesting stuff you sent about the family.  I remember how blue my Oma Ginter's [your Ur Oma's) eyes were and yes, she was toothless and I'm sure gave you girls slurpy kisses. When we were still in Austria, I remember her and your mom going out into a farmer's field and collecting pears into a sack.  They probably would have rotted on the ground anyway.

My wife, Marjorie, said she could see the qualities your mom described in Uncle Matthias, as clearly evident in me.  Marjorie thought that the description was a very nice compliment to me and evidence of good traits that can be passed on from generation to generation. I wish I had known Uncle Matthias.

I also remember your Ur Onkel John, who is now buried in Regina, Saskatchewan. He was a little wiry guy with a big heart. Uncle John bought me a BB gun when I was 11, which my dad bent into a pretzel over a curb after I broke a neighbour's window with a pellet, not being responsible enough to handle "firearms" as a kid. I remember Uncle John's smiling eyes though [blue, I think, they were] and his willingness to buy us kids presents because he had a good job with Bell Canada out West.

That story about you as little girls going to visit "clock grandmother" is quaint.  Stories like that should be included in the family history and not be lost.  I can see the logic in it.  When I was in grade 6 or 7, I confounded several phrases between German and English.  My youth was during the start of the Folk Singing era and every Friday we'd sing songs as a special treat in class, especially things like "Michael Row The Boat Ashore" or "Sinner Man Where 're Ya Gonna Run To?"  I used to think they were singing, "Cinnamon Where Are Going To Run To?" which doesn't make any sense at all...but that's what I heard.  Also, at Christmas time, the old turn of phrase didn't make any sense to me, "Round Yon Virgin."  I used to think it was "Round Young Virgin."  Marjorie says, I'm still her "foreigner" and screw idioms up with a quaint twist.

I thought that story about mom Rosa and Marie Tante flying out west for Uncle John's funeral was charming.  The way you told it is just priceless.  I do remember when mom came back home, she told me the air out West in Regina was so pure and fresh that she "felt like a sparrow."  
Uncle John

PS I'm looking forward to getting something from you so I can complete the Kuppek page of the family history. I'm also intending to take a picture of your old house in Kitchener where you girls lived for years.


To Uncle John, Shelley and George Hartig, Tim and Monika
From: Silvie Kuppek
Tuesday, March 27, 2012, 2:23 AM
Subject: Ur Omi's Obituary [1976]

Hi all,
I found Ur Omi's obituary in Dad's documents. It is too yellow to scan well so I have transcribed it below:

Guenther, Mrs. Heinrich (Barbara) - Of 430 Greenbrook Drive, on Tuesday, May 4 at Freeport Hospital, after a lengthy illness, 91 years of age. A member of St. Francis RC Church and the Hungarian Club.

Mother of Maria (Mrs. Steve Marton), Rosa (Mrs. Michael Hartig), both of Kitchener, John of Regina, Matthew and Miklos, Mrs. Regena Knezevic, Anna Guenther, Mrs. Sophia Holass, Mrs. Anna Jarmatia, all of Yugoslavia. Also surviving are 10 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. Predeceased by her husband Heinrich.

Resting at the Schreiter-Sandrock Funeral Home, Benton and Church Streets, where parish prayers will be recited on Wednesday at 8:00 pm. Prayers will be said at the funeral home on Thursday, at 10:30 am, followed by an 11 am funeral mass at St. Francis RC Church. Interment Woodland cemetery.

Not sure whether Anna is Anka's proper name or whether someone misspelled it. I remember mom talking about a Sophia which I presume was the daughter listed above.


E-mail To Silvie
Wednesday, March 28, 2012

It's amazing what a person unearths going through old photos and all the memories that come to the surface. I remember your Ur Omi [my Oma] very well. She had blue eyes and was a soft soul, though not much humour, I guess, probably from the serious period of history she was born in and all the hardships she went through. Your mom, Ur Omi and I went out in a field in Austria to gather pears into a sack. She lived to a good old age, 91, the same age as my mom Rosa when she died.

Thanks for sending this to me. I hope to get something re. your branch of the family shortly? See you on Saturday at Mony's for the family photos.
Uncle John


Family Gathering
To Bury Mom's Ashes

E-mail To George and Shelley:
Monday, April 16, 2012
Subject: Burial Date for mom Rosa's Ashes

Just want to confirm the burial date: Saturday, April 28 at 2:30 p.m. at the St. Peter's Lutheran Cemetery off Weber St. in Kitchener. Do we meet you folks at your place first and then go together? Are any or all of the nieces coming? Trish, Kelly, Silvie, Monika, Sandra? I'm also e-mailing Silvie to remind her about her portion of the family story regarding her mom and dad's backgrounds and their settling in Canada to make new lives for themselves.I want to burn DVD copies for family soon. I'm hoping for the best in weather and looking forward to seeing everybody again. As far as we know, all our nieces will be there.

January, when mom died, now seems so far away. It was winter then but strangely warm. Now it's spring-time and we're finally burying mom Rosa's ashes on April 28. Again, I'm praying for a warm day.


E-mail To Silvie:
Friday April 27, 2012
[Day Before Burying Mom Rosa's Ashes]

Dear Silvie:
I've taken on a mammoth task in another web site for Fair Havens Ministries which involves a bunch of slideshows, so I won't have time to fine-tune our own family site as quickly as I'd like, despite my best intentions to get it on DVD this weekend, so I could get copies to you girls at my mom's burial ceremony in Kitchener!  My projected plan now is to get the family site done and burned onto DVD a month later than expected, by the end of May.  I don't know if you girls are intending to drive to Kitchener for the burial ceremony tomorrow, but if you can't make it, then I'll drop copies of the DVD off at Monica's house in Welland by the end of May.

I'm so grateful for you getting your Kuppek page done as you did and e-mailing it to me by Wednesday, April 25.  Great job! Lots of detail and stories about your mom and dad and you three girls. It brought back so many neat memories about my sister Nellie and Paul.  I liked the story about your dad training his pet billy goat to chase after his cousins back on the farm in Ruma where he grew up. What an uprooting experience he must have had fleeing to Austria with his mother, sister and older relatives in 1944!

You reminisced about Victoria Park in Kitchener where you skated in winter and played in summer. Victoria Park was also significant to me as a kid because that's where I learned to skate, play hockey and learn English.  I also loved to fish off the dam there for minnows and I remember canoeing there during the summers.  Oddly enough, I remember your dad's old Barracuda, a snazzy car!  The thing that sticks out in my mind about your mom was her warmth for people [if they were honest] and of course, her long, flowing black hair and those dimples in her cheeks [which I always thought were attractive]. 

If you e-mail me the various photos you mentioned in your write-up, I'll get them incorporated into the slideshows before I burn the DVDs.  Also, if you have more family stories, I'll create a link to an extra page for you on the site!  That should make your contribution more complete.  This doesn't have to be done though, but it would be nice to include more pictures and stories before the end of May.  I've already added the write-up you e-mailed me to our current family site.  You can find it on:

What a neat write-up you've done for your family!  Thanks again,
Your Uncle John


Columbuskaje Dock Bremerhaven 1954
                     Burying Mom Rosa's Ashes
E-mail To Silvie:
Sunday April 29, 2012
Subject: Yesterday Saturday's Event
Re: Burial Ceremony for Rosa's Ashes

We missed you and Doug, Silvie! I hope you are recovering from your bronchitis which seems to be going around this spring. I was so glad to see Trish, Kelly, Sandra and Monika there with their husbands and kids. Reni, George and I were touched by their special attendance. I'm sorry you were sick. Here's a report though, on what happened Saturday.

The ceremony went ahead very smoothly and quietly.  I took off my jacket because the sun actually broke out and the air warmed up quite a bit for this little family gathering.  Father  Kuzma opened with a brief prayer  for the family. 

St. Peter's Lutheran Cemetery is located off the S curve on Weber St. in Kitchener and ironically only a few blocks away from Pandora Ave. where mom and dad used to live.  Mom Rosa used to walk those couples of blocks when the weather warmed up, so she could water dad Mike's gravestone after he died in 1980.  This made me think of watering a plant to make it grow but it was really to keep the face of the gravestone clean, especially from the birds that liked to perch on cemetery stones there.  Maybe I'll visit myself sometime and do the same thing as a kind of remembrance ritual. 

My sister, Reni, in the wheelchair, cried quietly while my brother, George, and I placed the little box containing mom's ashes into the hole dug right above my dad's gravesite. 

I'm glad most of my other nieces made it.  George reserved a table at the Concordia Club for supper which gave us a chance to visit.  I buzzed around with my camera to give us pictures of the event.  Let me see:  Marjorie asked for a "Naked Schnitzel" which was gluten free.  I asked for a "Jägerschnitzel" which had gravy and mushrooms.  Marjorie allowed me my yearly beer and glass of wine.  I nudged away from the table, once in a while, to get lots of pictures of Monika, Sandra, Trish and Kelly and also of the little kids, Jaidyn, Jackson and Kieran.  It was good to see how Nick was so solicitous of Reni's needs as he fed her her Schnitzel and then her Black Forest Cake. It's been tough years since she'd been stricken with Multiple Sclerosis...but Reni did enjoy seeing all the nieces, her brothers, her daughters, and kids there at the table.

George's wife, Shelley, talked privately to the Concordia kitchen staff who prepared a fuit dish with a lit candle in it for Marjorie's 55th birthday that very day:  April 28.  Marjorie blew the candle out and we sang Happy Birthday.  It was somewhat ironic that Marjorie celebrated her birthday at this gathering for my mom's little funeral ceremony.  But I suppose it's in keeping with a kind of tradition because when we spent the 1988-89 year in France. Marjorie and I used to find cemeteries there to have a quiet picnic.  One such occasion was the Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, where Chopin and Jim Morrison are buried, and we'd sit on a bench there and unroll our cold-cuts, cheese and slices of bagette.  Well, that's a far off thought: maybe to say that things of life keep happening even amidst things of death.

Shelley, Sandra and Monika reminisced about the numerous shoes mom Rosa had and how she could walk all over Kitchener with these high-heels.  Most of us felt it was time to leave when the band started playing at about 8:00 p.m. I took a photograph of Monika dancing with her little tyke, Jaidyn, just before we headed out to the parking lot.  It was still light outside when we drove away from the Concordia Club, winding our way towards the highway for our hour and a half drive to Vineland. 

It had been a full Saturday:  the burial of mom Rosa's ashes, the supper with family at the Concordia Club and of course, my wife Marjorie's birthday "party".  I owe her another supper for her birthday at the Thai Restaurant.
Uncle John and Aunt Marjorie

PS  I stopped by at 5 Betzner St to take a picture of your old house, which will be e-mailed shortly. We received your Easter card. It is very lovely. Thank you.

PPS I finally finished The Elegant Universe by Brian Greene.  I read the whole thing tenaciously but have come away with a superficial understanding of what Greene was explaining. I could only handle reading the book bits at a time.  I guess physicists must still be waiting for results from the Swiss Hadron Collider about exotic particles.  We still don't have the capability to see gluons and gravitons, let alone vibrating strings, if indeed they are the irreducible things that make up everything.   It's hard to conceive of a Planck length that measures one millionth of a billionth of a billionth of a billionth of a centimeter.  I was intrigued by the concept of 11 dimensions and the Calabi-Yau shape that has 6 curved-in dimensions. Good luck uniting general relativity with quantum mechanics!  Maybe physicists will be able to do that someday with superstring theory [there are 5 of them, mabye 6] which give consistent formulas to the movements of stars and of quarks.  Anyway I found the book interesting, especially with the concept of multiverses.  My how big is big and how small is small!  Now it's back to my murder mysteries where I know the formula is:  the good guy rescues the girl, kills the bad guy and drives into the sunset with his gal [probably in a Dodge Viper.  Actually I'm reading the Jack Reacher series by Lee Child.  I had a great time with the family at Mony's in Welland.  Just love those kids.  Jaidyn is a little pixie.  I'm glad you and Doug do cultural things with her like taking her to ballet performances in Toronto.
Uncle John


Refugee Camp In Austria

"There is nothing more dismal than a refugee camp in winter. Running water may be thirty yards away through ice and mud, with washing in a communal shack increasing the danger of pneumonia. In Europe there are still 120 camps like this one at Kapfenberg, Austria." -- [1959] [note from the Internet]

A melting pot of nationalities lived in the barracks of Lager Wegscheid, Austria after World War II. There were about 100 barracks accommodating the “Flüchlingen” or DP s (aka displaced persons) who left Romania, Hungary and Yugoslavia, moving west away from the Communist armies. A camp of barracks was called a “Lager”. It seems my parents moved from Lager to Lager but that was the nature of refugees in those days.

I was quite naive about Lager Wegscheid. For years, I thought it was a camp owned by the Allies who were humanitarian enough to donate "their" barracks to the poor homeless refugees in Europe. That was partly true. But I never thought about the full story behind it until mom Rosa passed away. I googled Lager Wegscheid and got into a German-speaking forum in an Austrian blog. A contact there sent me some eye-opening information about the Wegscheid's background before 1945.


E-mail March 4, 2012
Contact Through Austrian Blog

Hello John
There were a lot of Lagers around Linz. Lager 67 Wegscheid was a training camp for the several military units of the German Luftwaffe, especially for anti-aircraft guns. Lager 56 Kleinmünchen where I lived 1946 - 1961, just 15 minutes south/east of Lager 67 was a former camp for Italian forced laborers who had to build the Reichsautobahn (motorway) between Lager 67 and Lager 56.

If you look for "linz steinackerweg 2" on google/maps you will find a tennis court just in the middle of the former Lager 67. Typing "linz hirtstraße 2" you find the former Lager 56.
all the best


It only makes sense. The German military had all these bases with barracks strategically built as living and training quarters for their soldiers during their expansion across Europe. However, when the Allies won, they inherited all those barracks from the defeated German army. What to do with them? Their answer? Make them into housing for homeless refugees after the war. The UNRRA [United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration] was a relief organization that took over these camps or Lagers in 1946 and helped to resettle DPs [Displaced Persons] so they'd have homes to live in. There were not only a mish-mash of German-speaking Schwabians and Saxons [Volksdeutsche] but also Poles, Hungarians, Jews and Slavs who found homes in these former military barracks. So a military base was turned into a humanitarian camp for DPs! I fouond it ironic that old photos of Wegscheid from 1940 showed 2 large German army platoons lined up in the square, with discernible anti-aircraft guns and rows of barracks in the background, those same barracks that I and my folks lived in after 1946. Oneo of the photos also showed the barracks in Wegscheid covered in a foot of snow in the middle of winter. I have memories of the barracks I lived in covered in heavy snow,some years later during the winters of the early 1950s when I was a little boy.

Mom and dad were lucky to get a roof over their heads, especially after fleeing from Romania and from Yugoslavia as German speaking people when the Russian army rolled west at the end of the war. Old abandoned army barracks were a perfect blessing for “Fluchlingen”, once the Allied soldiers took them over after 1945/46. A refugee camp was a haven for displaced persons.

However, there was also the other kind of “camp”, still fresh in people's minds in 1946, the year of my birth. The concentration camp, Matthausen, was half an hour's drive away from where I lived in Wegscheid near Linz. People were still being incinerated there only 6 months before I was born. My wife, Marjorie, and I drove to Matthausen in a rented car in 1989 and went through this memorial of human cruelty and were saddened to see the furnaces and the black and white photos of emaciated inmates, “die Katzetlers”, as mom used to call them. I also had to find Lager Asten where I was born. The police made fun of my accent when we stopped at a station to ask for directions. Yes, there is the village of Asten, no longer a Lager Asten. We drove the car from one end of the village to the other in 5 minutes, got out by the church, looked around and left. There was nothing of interest that I could see in the hamlet where I was born, once a string of barracks. I took a photograph of the sign: Asten. Wegscheid itself only existed now as a road sign, an exit off the highway to an empty field.

Onkel Johann Nellie and the Hartig Family 1953
                Onkel Johann, Nellie, Rosa, Michael
                              Hansi [me], Reni
Well, back in 1954, Wegscheid was a bunch of barracks, like Asten, a camp for refugees, thank goodness, and not a concentration camp. It was a welcome haven for DPs (displaced persons), so they had some kind of homes after World War II. There were hardships in those after-the-war refugee camps. People suffered from health problems and winters meant huddling by a wood burning stove. I remember having high fevers in Austria as a kid, to the point of delirium, pin worms that mom picked out with her finger nails inside my bum (I was only 4 or 5). I had the mumps when I was 7 and had to wear a sling around my head and swollen cheek. Before my childhood memories really kicked in, when I was 2, I guess, I had also been sent to a sanatorium in Linz because of tuberculosis. I was in there for 2 years mom told me. She'd come and visit and could hear me way down the hallway, lowing like a forlorn calf with a deep and rough voice: “That's my Hansi,” she would say in German. She wasn't too happy to find lice on my head and accused the little Saxon girl, “die Saxin”, in the next crib of giving it to me. I find that comment ironic in that mom Rosa married my dad, a Transylvanian Saxon. She, herself, was a Donau-Schwabian from Banat [now part of Serbia]. I remember an army chaplain, Dale Ackerman, driving his jeep to the barracks in Wegscheid to bring the Hartigs a Care Package of oranges and clothes because I was on his list of children with tuberculosis. Mom and dad kept in touch with him for years and made sure that I wrote him letters about how we were doing once we moved to Canada.  I wrote him until I was 18 years old.

I also had rheumatic fever as a baby which damaged my heart, so that my aortic valve had to be replaced years later with an artificial valve when I was 41 years old (thank goodness for Universal Healthcare in Canada).

My birth certificate, “Geburtsurkunde”, had to be reissued on July 5, 1952. It records that Johann Iwan Hartig was born in Lager Asten Nr. 100 on Feb. 23, 1946. It further states that both Rosa and Michael Hartig lived in Lager Haid Nr. 121 at the time of the issuance on July 5, 1952. Dad is described as a “Friseur” (barber) and that he is Protestant. Mom is described as “Haushalttätig”, a house-wife and Roman Catholic. It would have been shortly after the re-issuance of my birth certificate, that we would have moved to Lager Wegscheid where all my Austrian memories reside as a little boy. My half-sister, Newenka [Nellie], would have had to move with mom and dad (even though dad wasn't her biological father) because, she was still a minor, a young teenager at the time.

By that time, my other sister, Renate came along in 1948, so we had 3 kids and two adults housed in 2 rooms in our portion of the barracks.  We all slept in one room and the other room was cooking and living quarters. Bathing was done in a big galvanized tub.

Summers got dusty and hot in the camp; everybody had a flower garden by the front window and a little plot with vegetables and tomatoes if there was room. During the autumn and winter, everything seemed dirty and muddy when it rained or snowed. Despite the poverty, people still got real Christmas trees which they decorated with tinsel and actual candles. I'm sure the occasional barracks went up in flames in December or January. Oranges and tangerines were a special Christmas gift.

I don’t remember suffering terribly in Austria as a kid, but then I was a kid, and kids can make their own fun no matter what the environment. By the time I was 3 or 4, I began to accumulate memories that still reside in a corner of my mind.

My first ever recollection of dreaming was at the age of 5, in colour, where I dreamed I could fly. The height I achieved depended upon how hard I could kick my feet in the air, like a swimmer, to keep afloat above the ground. Maybe there was something Freudian there by trying to escape problems on the earth and trying to fly away from it all. I knew something terrible would happen if I landed. Today, I don't dream. At least, I can't remember any of my dreams, only on a very rare occasion. Psychologists say everybody dreams and people who say they don't just can't remember them.

My favourite playground was the dump outside the edge of the barracks. I cut the wrist-bone on my left hand with the lid of an open soup can, so that the flap of flesh almost came off. It got bandaged and to this day, I bear the scar from my 5 year old childhood foolishness.  

Bathroom duties were done in a separate barracks that served as the toilet for the whole camp, like a huge long outhouse. A wooden wall separated the men's and women's sections. There were no partitions in the men's half for privacy, just the long bench with the potty holes all along the length of the barracks. A runnel at the end wall was for peeing. If you stuck your head inside one of the outhouse holes you could see the rats scurrying along the crap at the bottom.

We got the notion one day, as 7 or 8 year olds to get a long stick and when nobody was inside the men's section, just wait for a woman on the other side to use the facility. Poke our long stick down the potty hole and reach over to whack the lady's bum on the other side. Drop the stick and skedaddle out of there. We thought that was hilarious. Well, I guess we were never on the receiving end of this joke and fortunately we were never caught. We only did this a couple of times [but I don't think a low number for such misdemeanors would qualify us to be waved through the Pearly Gates with just a wink from St. Peter].

I have memories of getting into real trouble in Austria. I hung out with the tough boys around the camp. Boyhood disputes were settled with a stone throwing fight like duelling at a distance. I got dinged in the head and that really hurt and it bled. There were lots of stones in the pathways that ran along the streets in the camp; there were no cement sidewalks.

There was also a lot of ethnic hatred in the camp because it was crammed with all sorts of nationalities: Polish, Hungarians, displaced Germans, Yugoslavs, Russians and heaven’s knows!  It couldn’t have been easy living there, let alone parenting. 

I was not a very good kid from grades 1-3, not bothering to do homework and kibitzing with buddies in the back of the room. The teacher [an old guy] often hit me [I cannot remember his name] though I have a vivid picture of his face in my mind: a wide ugly face, fat porous nose, glasses, and a feather in his Austrian hat. He used to walk up and down the aisles and when he came to me, he'd make a fist and hit me smack in the forehead. He had a meeting with my parents, I vaguely recall, where I think he expelled me from class. Imagine that getting expelled from Grade 3...or was it grade 1 [they could fail you in those days!].

When we got to Canada, I was 8 years old and the principal at Sacred Heart Catholic School in Kitchener thought it was best that I be put in grade 1 again to learn English. Since I was little for my age, I guess they just forgot about me and I continued throughout my whole school career 2 years behind kids my own age. That was always an embarrassment to me until I got to university.

Maybe my grade-school teacher in Austria might have been somewhat justified in hitting me out of frustration. Corporal punishment was the norm in school way back when. Kids don't appreciate that now-a-days with their notion of rights. Anyway, I often joke that had I remained in Austria, I would have made it to Austria's top 10 Wanted Poster.

My best friend was Adi. He and I set a bunker on fire. We were looking for bullets and found nothing but rags and old tape inside the bunker [we were about 7]. Smoke was seen in the camp and a fire truck and police came out to the bunker. I remember being chased by a German Shepherd dog and barely got away. The police somehow tracked us down and we ended up being interviewed in Linz. I cried and swore up and down that I didn't know anything about it. The police let us go. Mom Rosa, of course, insisted that her “Hansi” would never do such a thing.

This fiery escapade was only made possible by me starting to smoke at the age of 6 and getting hold of matches. We stole them, Adi and I, and brought along a candle to our secret hideaway in the bunker. We rolled our own cigarettes and coughed 'til out eyes welled up in tears.

I miss Adi. He and I spent hours together as energetic, creative little urchins. We made up a gutteral language all our own, that only we could understand, just uttering nonsense syllables, pretending to talk English.  We were about 6 or 7 years old at the time and speaking our English was fun. 

Well, I wasn't a nice kid then, a real barracks ragamuffin, a little tough urchin. We had a cripple in the village who was in a wheelchair and had a lame hand. I made fun of him. He said, “Come here, I'll show you something.” I thought, he can't do anything, so I approached him. Before I knew what hit me, he did, slapped me right across the face with the other hand. I was 7 and deserved it. Do people get the mumps from an “Ohrfeigen”?

Things were funny and sad at the same time, in Austria, in those poverty ridden barracks. Mom told me a story about "Palachinken Hans." [Palačinke=Serbian flat pancakes like a crêpe]. Palachinken Hans was a sort of simpleton in the camp. Everybody tolerated him and made fun of him because he got into weird problems. One day, a lady made a whole plateful of "palachinken", which she placed on her open window sill to cool down for the family. Hans wandered by and smelled temptation, so he snuck up to the window with an eye on those pancakes. But he didn't want to be caught, so to hide them, he rolled a few of them up and placed them on his head under his hat. But he was bald and forgot how hot those pancakes were! Within a minute, he was running through the camp, yelling: "Fire, fire, fire." When people asked him where the fire was, he said here, lifting his hat. Well, everyone thought this was so funny, they gave him the nickname: "Palachinken Hans" -- which probably stuck with him for the rest of his life. You can imagine never living down a nickname like that in a camp where a bunch of impoverished and gossipy people needed a distraction and something or someone to laugh at! That's the camp story mom told about poor "Palachinken Hans"!

I have trouble remembering my two sisters in Austria. Newenka, my half-sister, was 8 years older and Renate, my other sister, was 3 years younger. I do remember that my sister Nellie had long black beautiful hair. She was gorgeous [like my mom] and she had also inherited mom's dimples, an attractive feature to her cheeks that I always thought made her extra pretty. I also remember family friction with Nellie in Austria. She was already 15 or 16 years old back in 1954 and a real beauty. I recall family arguments when she got interested in a young guy who was training to be a professional pugilist. We called him “Der Boxer”, The Boxer. Dad didn't like the situation and talked to the fellow about dating an under-aged girl. The guy disappeared from the scene. When our passports came through in 1954 to move to Canada, that ill-fated romance with the Boxer stopped anyway. Dad had trouble though trying to be Newenka's “father” and guardian because she didn't want to listen to him. Maybe it was a teenage thing and besides, my dad wasn't her real father anyway. [Mom and Newenka's real father, Zoran Isailowitsch, somehow got separated in Serbia during the war]. I only wish that Dad Hartig and Newenka (Nellie) had gotten along better...but hey, I was an 8 year old juvenile delinquent doing my own thing, so all that family friction was sort of on the fringe of my own involvement in boyhood mischief and fights with friends.

Maybe all my own mischief and also my poor health had something to do with my bed wetting. The straw in my mattress had to be changed regularly and I was plagued with this handicap until I was about 9. My bed wetting stopped in Canada.

The only other traumatic thing that happened to the family in Austria was my dad's accident at the steel factory where he worked. Some heavy equipment had split the lobe of his ear in half and put a gash in his left cheek. He took some weeks to heal. He carried scars on his cheek and ear for the rest of his life. Dad, however, was active on local soccer teams in the camp, as was my Uncle Johann. Dad liked fancy footwork with the ball and mom called him “Tiddly-tiddly” because of that.

I also remember dad enjoying his meals. Mom baked paprika filled with hamburger when we could get it. And dad loved his bacon, “Speck”. He'd cut slices of pumpernickel bread into cubes and do the same to his Speck. He'd put each piece of Speck on each piece of bread, line them all up and pop them into his mouth, washing them down with either a beer or wine. Dad called the meal, “Soldaten”, which with the rows of Speck and bread was an apt name for the meal, soldiers in a row. I loved the meal too, adding hot peppers to it [minus the beer, of course, as a kid]. I remember eating that on Friday nights in Canada as I watched Mr. Lucky or Peter Gunn on TV during the 1950s. In Canada, we could afford an egg-white dessert that mom made, called "Schnee Knockeln", which was egg-white meringue floating in a yellowed, sugary liquid made from the egg-yellows. It was chilled in the fruit cellar and hmmm, I loved it!

My grandparents, Opa and Oma Hartig, had already moved to Canada in 1952. We immigrated 2 years later in November 1954. We were very excited to leave the barracks, pack up and head to northern Germany by train, where we'd get on a huge boat to travel over the Atlantic Ocean to a new land, a new land that sounded strange on our tongues, Kanada. Goodbye barracks!
John Hartig


The Promised Land, Canada 1954

I sort of remember my parents packing a huge “Koffer” and suitcases full of clothes in preparation for the move to Canada. I don’t remember the train ride from Linz to northern Germany, though I do remember the port of Bremen Haven vaguely. I remember the dock and this huge, huge ship, the SS Neptunia, which would take us across the ocean to a new land and a new life. Crossing the Atlantic took us 11 days. We made a pit-stop in Liverpool, England. Nobody was allowed to get off. When I looked over the railing, I saw hordes of small people down there waving the Union Jack. Reni was 5 years old and too small to look over the railing so she got up on the first rung and I thought she’d go overboard. Mom and dad spent most of the time in their cabin for the entire 11 day trip, heaving up when the ship heaved to and fro. I made myself scarce and lost track of my sisters, and like an 8 year old boy, scouted out every corner of the ship. I remember taking in a movie on the ship, a colour western where the Indians had the Fort surrounded and were shooting masses of arrows into the fort at the Union soldiers. The arrows sailed and whistled through the sky in a huge arc on their deadly path into the fort. Some of them had flaming tips. I loved westerns from that point on and dreamt of becoming a cowboy.

Halifax Pier 21 Docking
                       Foggy Halifax Docking 1954
I wasn’t sick at all on the high seas. Meantime, mom and dad and I suppose my two sisters were not having a good time in the cabin. The port of Halifax was foggy as the SS Neptunia sailed in. That was disappointing but then it was November. We came through Pier 21 which, I guess, is comparable to Ellis Island New York where American immigrants were cleared for entry.  Customs looked through dad’s huge “Koffer” and I suppose laws were not as strict in those days. The officer uncovered a towel and dad’s home-made bottle of wine which he brought from Austria. He put the towel back and waved dad through. Then came the long train ride through the East to Ontario. The countryside was rolling and snow covered and looked cold. The train made real choo choo sounds and clickety clacks with those huge wheels powered by chugging pistons. I heard the steam whistle blowing loud and clear like in the old black and white movies. We chugged into the old Kitchener station, laden with heavy winter coats and suitcases in November.

We lived in Oma and Opa’s basement for a while until we could rent a house on our own. Dad got work with a construction company as a labourer for 50 cents an hour. I think mom and dad did a stint at the B.F. Gooderich Rubber Factory too for a couple of years.

Welcome to Canada
                    Getting Settled In Kitchener 1954
I made the mistake of wearing my “Lederhosen” to Sacred Heart School in grade 1. It was a real mistake. The district was mainly Polish and I was called a Nazi. Five boys waylaid me after school and pummelled me so hard that I ended up with two black eyes and a huge swollen lip. They got strapped by the school principal the next day, a nun who knew how to use the strap. I determined to learn English as fast as I could.

Mom and dad maintained a traditionally European household. Dad worked and mom was the “Hausfrau” having suppers ready when dad got home from construction work. It was my job to make cigarettes for dad in the evenings (with a little hand machine) and stuff his little plastic container full of home-made cigarettes for the next day. During my teen-age years, mom also worked on the line at the Smiles and Chuckles chocolate factory in Kitchener. She brought home shoe boxes full of “seconds” which my teen-age friends and I dug into while watching late shows in the basement at my house on Pandora Ave. Dad thought he had indeed arrived in a land of plenty. He had work and he was able to save enough money to buy a house. I think they paid it off by the time I was 18. Dad also bought an aluminum boat with a little motor and he went out to Puslinch Lake to fish for sunfish, perch and pike. Dad got hooked on hockey when we got a TV back in 1955 or 56 or so. There was no other sport for him except soccer until hockey came along. Mom just watched because he watched. Dad also borrowed a press to make his own wine in the basement and the whole house stank to high heaven. But he was proud of his product, “Look how clear it is!” You couldn’t shake the bottle much though with the sludgy sediment on the bottom. He added ginger ale to make the wine sparkle. Dad had also apprenticed as a barber in Austria, so he cut hair for friends in the basement on Saturdays where he charged 50 cents a hair cut.

Mom shopped for groceries every Saturday at the Kitchener market. Sometimes she bought too many bananas which went rotten within the week and dad was upset that all this fruit would spoil with his hard-earned money. Mom would also buy the occasional live chicken while we lived on Pandora Ave. She had a chopping block in the garage and killed the bird herself. There was one occasion where the garage door wasn’t quite closed and the headless chicken flapped out on the road. There were no complaints in those days about city bylaws. Mom loved the Kitchener market.  She could shop and visit people in 5 different languages and so interact with tons of folks while she got the weekly provisions for the family. That was my mom!

Mom could "murdelize" the English language but she always made herself understood.  She'd pronounce all of the vowels and syllables in "House For Sale" and she'd transpose letters too, like calling a so and so, a "som-a-na-gun!"  If anything, this mistreatment of the English language belied a certain ingenuity with words.  For years, mom called my cousin John (much younger than I), not by his first name but "Tchussi", which I thought was a legitimate Hungarian nickname.  Well, Cousin John asked Uncle Steve (a true Hungarian) about the origin of that moniker.  Uncle Steve said, "It was just made up."  Cousin John was convinced that mom had called him "Juicy" through all these years since he was a little boy.  Her own invention of endearment for a juicy little sweetheart! I used to visit a friend, Otto Giesbrecht (now deceased), in the United Mennonite Home in Vineland. He loved reminiscing and often said: “Jah, das war einmal.” Yes, that was…once upon a time!" How far we’d come since 1954!
John Hartig

John's Young Years As A Canadian

Art Linkletter used to say: “Kids say the darndest things.” I guess they think and do the darndest things too. I'd fantasized about being a cowboy since I watched that Western on the ship coming to Canada. By the time I was 9 years old, in Kitchener, I'd gotten my first two cap pistols and practiced doing twirlies with them.

We got our first TV set around 1955/ 56 or so, black and white of course! Otherwise, you could buy a plastic cover for the screen that was three-coloured, green for the bottom, pink for the middle and blue for the top, giving you “colour TV”...but we didn't go that expensive. I think our TV was a used one. I could watch The Lone Ranger on Sunday afternoons, old Gene Autry westerns, Roy Rogers and one of my favourites, Robin Hood, starring Richard Greene. I pestered mom and dad to take me to see Gene Autry in 1955 when he came to the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium. He did gun tricks and displayed his horsemanship with his trusty stallion, Champion. I remember Gene Autry nudging Champion into a kneeling position at the end of the show and Gene waving his big cowboy hat to the Kitchener crowd. How I wished I could do that and have my own horse!

The best I could get was to pester dad for a dime, so I could ride the mechanical horse at the entrance of the Loblaws Grocery Store on a Friday night when we did our usual grocery shopping for the week. Dad, I think, made 50 cents an hour then and begrudgingly gave me the dime. So there I was bucking up and down at the age of 9 pretending I was Gene Autry...on a mechanical horse. I guess dad thought that grocery shopping and putting food on the table were more important!

Those were the days too when Lucky Green Stamps were in. If you collected so many books you got a “gift”. Those were also the days, when mom and dad's favourite TV shows were Perry Como, The Honeymooners and Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Dad would always make fun of Alfred Hitchcock, who'd walk in as a silhouette and fill in the artistic outline of himself and then he'd face the audience and say, “Guud evenink,” in his inimitable way. Dad always rebutted: “Nah, so erwischts dich!” [Is that how it's grabs ya?] By 1957, mom and dad were also hooked on Don Messer's Jubilee, down East hoedown music originating out of Halifax. Dad was also getting hooked on hockey and loved to watch Rocket Richard and Gordie Howe score goals. He joked about the Montreal Canadiens: “Dos guys can't even speak Englitsh!” he'd say. After all, he had to learn it! In those days, Foster Hewitt did Hockey Night In Canada in a play by play that glued people to their TV sets. Dad reveled in hearing “Canadian” names like Frank Mahovlich and Johnny Bauer.

Well, the Hartigs moved around a lot in those days. We were like nomads. I remember moving into a little gingerbread house on the outskirts of Kitchener with the railway tracks to the East of us and just across that the Highway Market. To the south of us was the Catholic Resurrectionist Seminary. When Marie Tante, Uncle Steve, and their kids, Theresa and John, immigrated to Canada in 1956, they stayed with us there a bit until they could find a place of their own. I always pictured immigrants doing a sort of tag team race passing on a baton to the next generation of new Canadians.

I must have carried over some of my naughtiness to Canada from Austria. We rented an old house on the corner of William and Euclid Streets in Waterloo in about 1957. My brother, George, was just a baby of 1. I was 11 and often had to get him to sleep by pushing the baby carriage down the street for about half an hour or so. One of my favourite places to do that chore was the local schoolyard which had a big asphalt parking lot. I got the notion one day to have some fun. So I pushed the buggy ahead of me at a running clip, with the challenge to see if I could catch up with it like in a race. Whooops! Baby George took off on me faster than I anticipated ...and I couldn't catch up! The baby buggy smacked into the wire fence at the end of the lot. George tumbled out and wailed. I picked him up, dusted him off, hugged him back and forth and when he quieted down, I put him back into the baby carriage. I was grateful nothing more serious had happened. After all these years, George doesn't look the worse for wear. He became a star hockey player at the age of 19 and now he's a successful electrician. Art Linkletter should also have said: “Kids do the dumbest things!”

It was strange living on William Street. A Jehovah Witness family lived right across the road from us. One day, the lady of the house dressed herself all in white, got her kids together to pray in the front lawn. She had lit a candle and arranged her kids on their knees to pray for the world. She was convinced that it was Armageddon and that the world would come to an end. Some neighbour called the police and the Mrs. ended up in the psych ward [I'm guessing] in a local hospital. I don't remember seeing her again. Well, she was probably right, the world will come to an end someday, just not that day.

My Uncle John also immigrated to Canada in the mid-50s but moved to Saskatchewan where he landed a plush job with the Bell Telephone Company in Regina. He came for a visit to Kitchener in 1957 and said that I could have anything I wanted as a gift. What was an 11 year old boy supposed to say, especially after I'd seen Gene Autry doing tricks with Champion at the Kitchener Aud? I asked for a BB gun, a Daisy air rifle! I loved the pump action it had like a real Winchester. So I practiced in the backyard against a piece of cardboard, just under the neighbour's window. I hit the window and put a little hole in it to the consternation of the lady of the house, who was maddern' all get out, if I were to describe it in cowboy terms. Dad came home from work, took the BB gun and shaped it into a large letter “L” over the curb of the road. Then, he took my hands and spanked them...HARD! My hands chaffed and little split rivulets formed over the skin. I never forgot that spanking. That was the only time my father ever hit me. He never spanked me again or needed to.

That was our stint in Waterloo for a while but we always gravitated towards Kitchener. Mom liked the downtown better and she loved the Kitchener Farmer's Market. We rented a house on the East side of Wellington St in Kitchener, not far from the B.F. Gooderich factory. Mom and dad worked there for a bit. I seem to remember a strike going on at the time. Anyway, Wellington St introduced me to new interests. There was an open field nearby at the end of the street. Hobbyists used to fly their model airplanes there with real little gas engines which I thought was amazing. I'd go out to the field on Sunday afternoons and watch these airplanes buzz around, up and down and all over the sky.

Our next move was to the apartment unit on the corner of Courtland Avenue. This was only a few blocks away from Victoria Park. The back of our apartment faced the Arrow Shirt Factory.

The pond at Victoria Park froze over during the winter time and it became a routine for me to grab my hockey stick, tie the laces of the skates together and balance the stick and skates over my shoulder and finally trundle off to the park on Saturday or Sunday afternoons. You could always get into a pick up game and when your toes froze, you could go into the hut, warm up and buy a hot chocolate at the canteen. The center pole in the pond had huge speakers on top so that all the skaters could hear Elvis Presley sing “Love Me Tender.”

I took a boy's interest in model airplanes with little gas engines and in plastic model cars with little electric motors. I spent my paper route money on buying a little Thimble Drome engine with the propeller but I didn't have the money for the actual airplane kit. So I screwed my Thimble Drome and a tiny gas tank onto a foot long piece of 2x4 in our apartment basement, attached my 12 volt battery to the glow-plug, flipped the propeller to start the engine and then I just let 'er fly. The thing flopped around in mid air for a minute or so, flipping this way and that, with me dodging this way and that, to keep out of its intimidating way. It sounded very loud, like a miniature dive bomber until it crashed into the wall. I don't think mom and dad were home. I don't remember any “talk”. But it was a wise decision on my part not to try this idea again. I never did get a model airplane kit though, so I sold my little Thimble Drome to a friend...but boy, that was fun...a real little gas engine that actually worked!

I'm a case in point that TV does influence young minds. Gunsmoke came on Friday nights and by 1959, Bonanza was the big Sunday evening entertainment with that famous introductory music, like you were riding right into the Ponderosa. I was 13 years old and Lorne Greene came to town, to the Kitchener Auditorium. I was there! Right at the foot of the stage! He up there above me in his big cowboy hat and his cowboy leathers, doing some really fancy tricks with his gun and shooting it in the air. I yelled up at him: “Hey, are those bullets real?” He glared down at me, probably thinking: “I could shoot you right now!” I wonder sometimes, if I was his last thought when he died in 1987? Kids seem to be the center of their own universe [and in the case of Sheldon Cooper from the Big Bang Theory, the center of many universes!]

We rented a house on Pandora Avenue [c1962] and later bought one just a few blocks down on the same street. While living in the rented house, I was about 13 or 14 years old, and was now determined to be an Indian. I built a spear out of a tree branch with a knife point fastened into the front with wire, tied feathers on the back of the spear and threw it into telephone poles It sailed quite nicely and stuck real well. Worked great. Then I built a bow and arrow out of branches and fashioned my arrow heads with mom's sowing needles, bound fast with thin copper wire. That worked really well too, so that when I shot at my sister, the arrow lodged in her heel. Reni ran home yelling, “Mom, Mom, Johnny shot me!”...with the arrow still lodged in her heel, flopping up and down the whole time as she ran.

I didn't get spanked then, though I should have...but shortly after that, I grew up and graduated to other things, eventually to books because by grade 8 and 9, I'd turned into a scholar and got good marks in school. I loved Latin and Literature. In grade 8, I read Sir Walter Scott and Mark Twain and just loved this whole new world of reading. I left childish things behind in the summer of 1962, going into grade 9.

Dad pointed out that St Jerome's High School [a private Catholic school] would cost money, so he wanted me to work at George and Asmussen Construction with him where he was a forklift driver. My first paycheck was $61 that week, with the special student's rate of $1.25 per hour. I was pretty proud of my earnings and by the end of that first week I had the start of my first set of callouses.

I was a skinny runt in grade 9. I recall the first day on the job, where I was shown how to mix mortar and then to fill up the wheelbarrow by leaning it against the mixer a certain way. I filled the wheelbarrow too full and got no further than a step or two when it keeled over spilling its entire contents of sloppy mortar onto the pavement in the company yard. Opa Hartig was there to help me shovel the mess back into the barrow. He didn't say anything. I inherited his green hardhat for all subsequent summers thereafter and always had a summer job waiting for me with that construction company. That's how I earned my way through high-school and university.

And before I forget, in high-school, in 1963, I became a life-long Trekkie...but that's another story.

I guess I cited some pretty dumb things I did as a kid but those are the ones that kind of stick in my mind and surface once in a while with the question of how I ever survived life this long? I like to think I learned some lessons.

"I remember my youth and the feeling that will never come back any more-the feeling that I could last forever, outlast the sea, the earth, and all men." - Joseph Conrad

[Note: I've always admired Joseph Conrad because he was a Displaced Person, a DP in a large sense, of Polish descent. He was born in the Ukraine in 1857 and died in England in 1924 and is buried in the Canterbury Cemetery. He didn't speak a word of English until he was in his 20s and became one of the greatest English novelists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He was a seaman and earned his Master Mariner's Certificate in 1886.]

Rosa Michael Hartig Photo Gallery