Unedited audio of the interview (in English with some German)
Interviewee: Lisa S.
Interviewer: Dr. Alexander Freund
Date of interview: 28/Sep/1993
Place of interview: Vancouver, B.C.
Language: English and some German
Copyright information: Oral History Centre (UWinnipeg)
Disclaimer: This interview has mentions of sexual assault, suicide, cannibalism, and war-related violence listeners’ and readers’ discretion is advised.
The edited transcript below is sourced from the original in English and includes an excerpt translated from German.
Part 1: Reasons for Leaving and First Steps in Canada
1.1. Life in Europe and Decision to Migrate
Lisa: I came to Canada in 1951. I think one of the main reasons why I came to Canada was more adventure. We were cooped up in Germany, the war kept us down, so I thought, “Oh well, I like to see the world now.” And I had written to Turkey—of course Turkey wouldn’t take me, because I was in electronics—who would take a woman in a male profession? I had applied for Brazil and I had applied to Canada. So, Canada was the first country that came through and then—no, I had applied to Turkey and Brazil, but Canada was then the first country that opened its borders for immigration. Before you could only come here as a D.P., a displaced person. And then in ‘fifty-one they opened the borders for other Germans.
I was born in Kassel, im schönen Hessen, blender Hessen [beautiful Hesse, dazzling Hesse]! Anyway, so I put in my application to come to Canada—as a matter of fact, half of my lab I worked in in Germany applied for immigration to the chagrin of our boss [laughs]—and then everything went, at that time we went to Karlsruhe—I was working in Stuttgart, and we went to Karlsruhe, that was the immigration office and I got my immigration visa. And also, the government was giving you a loan, so they paid for the fare by boat and for the train fare and when you got established you had to pay it back. That is the only benefit we did get as immigrants from the state, from Canada. Anyway, I had my papers now to leave and my mother was very unhappy, so I was still thinking, “Should I go or should I not go?” And I will never forget it, I worked with a lady, she was quite brash and she said, “You are never going to go!” [laughs] So I thought, “Mm-mm.” That brought out my pride, you know. I thought, “Oh, well, no I’m going to go.”
Lisa S., Oral history interview by Alexander Freund, Vancouver, 28 Sept. 1993, University of Winnipeg Oral History Centre.
1.2. The Ship and Train Journey
Lisa: So, I left in one of these old Kaiser boats, the Kaiser had built for transporting troops to Europe, so these boats transported most of the immigrants over, with big -- cabins, you can’t even call them cabins. I mean, there were hundreds in one room. But women had smaller ones, women had the smaller ones with about twenty-five people in one room, you know, with double bunks and so.
So, I arrived in November 1951 in Halifax. Became a landed immigrant in Halifax and from there we went by train across Canada, in the very old trains. They were comfortable — you put the seats down and it had plush covers — and of course they were older cars, but anyway, plush covers and you could sleep at night. And they had these old pot-belly stoves to heat it and to keep things... So, we had money we could it in the dining car. But we wanted to save the money, because we had to pay it back anyhow. So, on the railroad stations they would sell you butter and bread and things so we bought things and looked after ourselves. To keep the butter cold, we put in between the windows — they had double windows, but oh, everything was so loose, the first morning when I woke up I thought, “Where is my butter?” Couldn’t see anything, it was all black from the smoke, you see.
So, anyway, we went then along through all the provinces and when we reached Alberta going through the Rockies, I woke up at night and I looked out the window and thought, “God, is it ever dark.” And then I looked up and there were the mountains, you see. The mountains were just coming down and I looked up and I thought, “My God.” And that’s when the thought came to me, “I wonder if I ever see home again.” [laughs] At that time it took you almost ten, twelve days to get across the country, the trains were very slow, you see. I mean today it takes you about five days, only half that long. And with the boat too, it took us twelve days to go by boat. Now you take the Queen Elizabeth and you are over in five days. Well, anyways, so we arrived in Vancouver — Beautiful Vancouver; we had decided to come to Vancouver, it sounded like one of the best parts of Canada. But I was alone on this tour, the people from my lab, they all came over on different days, I came alone. I arrived in Vancouver. And the old immigration building — it’s not there anymore, it’s right beside the Trade and Convention Centre, that’s where it used to be; of course in Canada you tear down all Heritage buildings, that’s a real sad thing, you know; they should have really been kept, because I mean there were thousands of people, (particularly after war) that went through it with a lot of -- memories. And sometimes I think it would be nice if I could go to this building and could have a look and say, “My God, this is where I landed.” You see, this is part of life today. Europe is much better in this. Canada it’s just so easy, “Oh, for a buck, get rid of it.” I mean, it could’ve easily been kept there, because nothing has been put there, so they could’ve easily kept it as a historical building, because, I mean, lot of people have fond memories of the time when they arrived and so.
Lisa S., Oral history interview by Alexander Freund, Vancouver, 28 Sept. 1993, University of Winnipeg Oral History Centre.
1.3. The First Steps in Canada
Alexander: What do you remember most of your first day in Vancouver?
Lisa: Well, that’s where we lived, in the immigration building, you know. We had to wait until we got a job. So, we all stuck together and thought, “What are we going to do?” And some of us were very ill. So, these were times when you really stick together, you know, and fond memories. That you think, “My God, this is where I really started coming to this country.”
Well, anyway. I had decided that I would go and work with a family for a short while to learn the life in Canada, how they cook, how they do things. So after about two or three days somebody from the employment office introduced me to a lady in West Vancouver. So, I went there and I spent, I think, about five months there. Was a family with two children. And at that time, you wouldn’t lock your doors in Vancouver. So, the lady, the first time we went out shopping and I said, “Don’t you lock the doors?” — “Oh, no, we don’t lock our doors here.” And I had only a suitcase full of things and my camera and I was scared of this, you see. That’s the mentality you came with from Europe, you know. But here, it was such a lovely country. It was still like a village. Lot of people didn’t bother locking their doors. Nobody thought anything about it.
Lisa S., Oral history interview by Alexander Freund, Vancouver, 28 Sept. 1993, University of Winnipeg Oral History Centre.
Part 2: Being a German Woman in Canada After World War II
2.1. What Was It Like To Be German in Canada?
Lisa: As a matter of fact, I was so shocked when I came to this country about two things — first of all, every corner I saw a church where somebody believed in God in a different way [laughs]. I wasn’t used to this from Germany. And the second one was how many people lived in sin here, in common law marriages, because they couldn’t get a divorce in this country. That only came about twenty years ago. But people couldn’t get divorces, so a lot of them lived common law. That was... So in that respect Canada had kind of a split personality, you know being on the outside so, -- the puritan, all the puritans in the Fraser Valley that no drinking, no such and such and such and such. But then they were living in sin.
Lisa: Many times, as I was longer in the country I tried to improve things here and there where there were... I talked to people and so and they would get so irate and they would say, “Well, if you don’t like it here, why don’t you go home?” You know, something like this is very disturbing. And when I think about it now, what has become of Canada, I sometimes ask myself, “Maybe I should’ve listened to them, maybe I should’ve gone home.” Because I couldn’t do very much really. People wouldn’t listen to you anyhow. And then as a German of course after the... There was animosity here, when we came here and we hardly spoke German. Actually, in the beginning for two reasons. In the beginning we were tarnished, not everybody, but a lot of them, the Germans here, have to pay ‘em back for what? I mean, I was only a child, you know, was young person, I had nothing to do with voting it in. I mean, what Hitler was like and what happened there, that’s another thing. But I mean, there I was, I was, I had nothing to do with it, so why punish me? And the second thing was, we believed in ... To learn a language, you have to stay away from your own language for a while, so you can learn to think in a new language. So, with the other Germans I met here, we saw each other, but not as often in the beginning as we probably would have, because we wanted to learn the language.
TW: Sexual Assault, Suicide, War Crimes, Cannibalism
Lisa: I actually wanted to go in physical education. I was good in sports and physical education and then home economics. And I started it and everybody was so sad when I gave it up. Well, we were all undecided during the war. Because certain things you couldn’t do — study you couldn’t, that was out, studying, pretty well, because you were needed in war services, you know. But I think what really got me into it was that I had served in Arbeitsdienst — which everybody had to do, you know, and then I saw this ad in the paper that Siemens in Berlin was looking for young ladies with high school diplomas and training in electronics, because they needed replacement for their engineers that had gone out in the front. And I thought, “Oh, that’s exciting, going to Berlin,” I thought, “another adventure,” you know. That was actually quite enjoyable, because Berlin still... -- You had a lot of chances still to lead quite an interesting life there, you know. You could always stand in line in a restaurant for a bottle of wine and have a nice evening and so.
So, it was still nice, but the suffering after war was dreadful when the Russians came in, that was awful. That I would never want to go through again, I think I would kill myself.
Alexander: What happened exactly?
Lisa: Oh, the raping that went on. I mean, talking about Serbia, it’s terrible in Serbia, but the Russians were not better in Germany. I mean, you read some of the books that are written now coming out about Eastern Germany, what went on there with the Russians, it’s-- Och, it’s just terrible, the murdering that went on there and the raping and so. I mean, the thing is with this, there was one a lady on an open line, I haven’t forgotten this, years ago, when one of the very famous open lineup — Burns lady came on and she was talking about what the Germans had gone through in the East and so with the Russian immigration, and he said, “well, lady, I appreciate what you are saying and I’m pretty sure that’s what happened, but,” he said, “That’s the trouble when you lose the war, nobody care what happened to you. Only the ones that won the war are the ones that everybody worries about”, you know? But I still think there are quite a few books written about Germany now, you know. And I mean, it’s awful, what went on, particularly in East Prussia, Kӧnigsberg und so. They must have gone through… It’s indescribable what they have gone through there. I mean, they ate there, the bodies of the ones that died, because they had nothing to eat, you know, they had cannibalism.
So, and in Berlin it was the same thing, you know. I mean, I was-- I lived in an apartment from people that were in Danzig and I looked after the apartment and they gave me a nice place to stay, but there was a lady, a widow, living below me. And I said, “God, what am I going to do?” Because she had the Commandant there. She said, “You wouldn’t want to talk to the Commandant. The first thing he is going to do is raping you.” That’s what the situation was.
And in the next block, there was a Russian lady living, and she killed herself, she committed suicide, because they raped her to death. And she spoke fluent Russian, was born in Russia. So, when people talk about what is going on in the world — I know what is going on in the world, but I feel helpless and I cannot think about it. I cannot think about it, because it would drive me crazy, because it brings all my memories back, I want nothing to do with that anymore. It’s finished. But when you talk about, things come back like in this country when people talk about being abused by their parents, and relatives and friends and so, I can understand it. That’s a terrible burden. Terrible burden. You just don’t want to hear about this, you know? Just don’t want to hear about this. And it’s going on all the time.
Alexander: Did you have any bad experiences with the Russians?
Lisa: Oh yeah, I celebrated my twenty-first birthday with a family that was a mother and she had a daughter and then we were there, another three or four girls of us, and here came a bunch of Russians in, about twenty Russians and then each one picked one of us and wanted to go in the next room, and then I was able to… -- You were lucky when you got off the situation you were in. And we arranged with them, we would meet them in the evening and celebrate with them. So, we all got off and after we got off we got out of this apartment as soon as we did. But the poor mother with her daughter, she stayed there and they broke into the apartment and raped them. All of them. Raped them.
And then the first connection that I had was when they finally took hold of Siemensstadt, where I lived. Here they came in the basement and Ach Gott, I mean, telling you this really makes me ache inside out all shaking. Here came this Mongol guy, he said, [gestures]. You know. So, we were in the basement, you know, because of the shooting and so. So, I don’t know, he spoke, “Komm, komm!” They usually could speak a couple of words German, you know. So, I thought, “Oh, God! What am I going to do?” You know, there is no way out, you know. What do you do? Run outside where there are hundreds more. So, he took me in a corner and I-- I mean, everybody was sitting there, what were they supposed to do. They were just like statues sitting there. Everybody was helpless, you know. And then I started screaming, started screaming like crazy, so he let me go. I was lucky. He didn’t have to. But he let me go, so I was pretty close to it many times, you know.
And then I knew after these two things what this lady below me had said and after that experience I never felt safe anywhere. So, we were running always… -- I lived with an elderly lady for a while. I don’t know where I’d met here. And so, I helped her, she helped me. She gave me an old coat and a kerchief over my head, trying to be old, but, I mean, how can you fool anybody? You know, there was in front of the apartment was a big Russian tank parked. I had to go out all the time and get water. I mean she couldn’t help herself, so I got water and got food and so, you know. So, um, one day they broke into the apartment, you know. And I went for my life and I didn’t know what to do. So, everything more or less was empty. So, in the bottom I ran into an apartment and hid behind the entrance door. I mean, it was open, you know. And I thought, “Oh, God! I hope they are not coming here.” So, they left, you see.
And then, of course I had lost that protection, so I met somebody. We plundered the storage of Siemens, the food storage, so I had got a hundred pounds of flour, so we could at least bake bread. And I met somebody who was from close to Frankfurt. He said, “I’m going to leave.” I said, “Can I come with you.” He said, “Sure.” He said, “The trains are starting to leave now.” So, what I did, I took the flour and baked the bread, water and flour and baked it and toasted it and then I sewed myself a packsack, put all the bread in and then I took off with him. So, I think the S-Bahn was going then and we had to go to one station — I forgot now which it was, down in the South somewhere. Can’t remember anymore.
So, he got in the train and that took forever and a day. Well, finally — it was supposed to leave in the morning, but it finally left sometime during the day. And then it went to the border, to — I forgot now where it was now. Anyway, it ended there and then we were all going into… -- We were herded into the schools there, we stayed overnight there and the next day--
Alexander: That was in Frankfurt?
Lisa: No, no. That was on the Elbe. [Start of translation from German] This was the border back then before the Americans withdrew, which was right after the end of the war, about three or four months after the end of the war. I couldn't stand it. My relatives and my parents were in Kassel. They didn't even know where I was. And then they took us to the Elbe. I've forgotten what that little place was called, I'll have to look it up again. And then the next day, well, then you asked around to learn how to get to the other side. It was the enemy territory, after all, everything was enemy territory. Because I mean, the Russians marched on one side and the Americans were on the other side, the Americans didn't march, they didn't care whether we came or not. And so then we had to watch out, yes you can drive to the field and there will be hoes on the ground, and then pretend you're hoeing the field, and wait for the moment the Russians leave or have passed you. Then you go down, there are boats there and then you get on the boats and go to the other side, and then if you're lucky, they don't shoot. If you're not lucky, they shoot, you know? And then we crossed the Elbe towards the west.
Alexander: What year was that?
Lisa: That was in 1945. Right after the war—this was the end of May. And this [this experience] was I think around August or September. And then I went to my parents and-- What did we have? We didn't have anything. I had sent everything home, we lived in Gießen, everything was burned, everything was destroyed, I only had, umm, thread, fabric yarn, ridiculous things. You couldn't get them, you couldn't even sew something out of scraps. I still had all this things in Berlin, they were still intact. Then my mother and I set off again and went to Berlin. Crossed the border again. And my mother said, “Oh dear, if they, if they rape you, I'll kill them,” she said that. And then we crossed the border again -- what was that place called, a very famous place where you always cross the border, I can’t remember the name right now. This is how we went to the other side. Many went around, through the forest, God, they were raped. We didn’t go through the forest, we walked right across the city toward the train station, but they got us anyway. And then they – we had taken the food with us because you couldn't get anything on the way. And then they took the potatoes-- the Russians! Took the potatoes and the bread from us! Things were so bad for them that they took our food. Then, we arrived at the train station, it was already late, evening. The train was full, there was no room to spare. Then my mother said, “Oh God in Heaven, I'm not going to spend the night with the Russians. What are we going to do?” And then I said, “Oh well, come here, we have to squeeze in somewhere.” Then we opened doors and people fell out, eh? Just when the train was about to leave, a Russian came. He came and said, “Mother and daughter have to fit in the train” And then he pushed us in there somewhere. But let me tell you: we could hardly breathe, but we were happy! How glad were we that we were gone from there! The worst of it was now behind us.
Then we made it to Berlin, got all our stuff, and then I visited my former boss. God, he had plenty, he was good at business. He was always very good at things like that. They were doing not bad. After I visited him, well, we went back, the same way back. -- Friedland! Friedland, yes, that was the famous point [the bordercrossing referenced earlier]. Well, and then we were on the other side again and there was a line, oh god, that was a long line. Then the Russians came, there were wagons, horse-drawn wagons full of everything - cars, all cars, they all had horses and everything. And then they were robbed and oh! Then the border was open, and people rushed through it. Ugh, we crossed it quickly. Then the border was closed again. They were so unpredictable. Then it was open again, then closed. I knew a colleague from—she had been with me in the Arbeitsdienst—and thank God I had found her, she had a trolley with which she could at least help us take our things for a little while. My backpack was torn, too. So, she pulled us a bit. And then she said, “I can't go any further now.” Because that was too dangerous for her, it was too close to the border, I was grateful anyway. I've often asked myself: where might she be now? I would have liked to say thank you again, she was a great help. Well, thank God we got over to the other side.
[End of translation]
Lisa S., Oral history interview by Alexander Freund, Vancouver, 28 Sept. 1993, University of Winnipeg Oral History Centre. Excerpt translated by A. Gundogdu
Lisa: After I worked as a domestic servant for the family, some of the people that I had worked with in Germany had caught up with me here, so I knew a few people here. One of them I was very close with, so I helped him — his wife was still to come from Germany with a young son, so I helped him to clean up — he had found an apartment not too far from here, and we cleaned up that apartment all day long, oh. There were fleas in the chesterfield, oh, it was a mess. He worked in what was something like a little kitchen and I said, “Garry, what the heck are you doing, are you still not finished in this little kitchen?” He said, “You wouldn’t believe it,” he said, “I finally came to the bottom of this dirt. I now find the paint,” he said. That was something, I tell you, Canadians could be very dirty. Oh God in heaven. God could they be so sloppy. And many times, they didn’t have houses, but -- I mean this country had so many opportunities. All you needed is a little bit of money. They offered us an acre in Richmond for a thousand dollars.
Alexander: Who did?
Lisa: Oh, people that we met, Germans that had been here a long, they wanted to sell some land, so they offered us a thousand dollars for a lot. A thousand dollars. Imagine. 1950. I made fifty dollars a month. And then I started working, how much did I get an hour —fifty-eight cents? You know, thousand dollars. That was just like buying a house today for 200,000 dollars if you don’t have the money. Oh, there were opportunities there. Lot of people took the opportunities, particularly if they were couples, a lot of them that were good at these things. They would buy an old house, fix it up, sell it, buy another one and build themselves up and make money that way. There were opportunities at that time. It was a nice time, it was a good time, it was a good time.
Of course, we were Germans and you had to be careful with Germans, and then in 1963 when the Deutsches Wirtschaftswunder [German Economic miracle] arrived, everybody was just, you know, they couldn’t believe it. And we were even hated more after this, because we again had made it. These Germans, you can beat them in the ground and they still come up. And you see they hate Germans for it, but deep inside they admire them, they admire them. They are the same here. I mean, if there is anything, they know darn well, if there is a problem, you give it to a German, he fixes it, he knows how to fix it. That’s why I say, “You Germans, you should be proud of yourself. Don’t let the others tell you you’re coming from a Hitler country, that’s in the past, you have nothing to do with that Hitler country. You are still German, you are still eager to work, you are still eager to make a living and make it in a proper way.”
[This can be also analyzed in section 2.2. What Was It Like To Be a Woman in Canada?]
Alexander: Did you ever have any troubles with that, being a German here?
Lisa: Oh, I think part of my problem in my job also was being German. But being a woman was one of the main problems. Not behaving like a woman in Canada should, you know; that means if you want a job you go to bed with somebody. That was very prevalent in this country.
Alexander: How did you find out about that, that you would have to go to bed with somebody?
Lisa: Oh, I saw in my company. All the women that got somewhere had half the education that I had and the knowledge. They all got somewhere. Sure. Of course, they got there, because the help of the men they went to bed with to help them if they got stuck in their job. They couldn’t do the job by themselves.
Alexander: Were those all Canadian women?
Lisa: Yea. Canadian. This is why I told you the technician asked me once, “How come you’re not getting ahead in this place?” And they knew, he was just asking me in jest. And I said, “Well, it’s very simple,” I said, “I go to bed with whomever I like to and not because I need a job.” I said, “I rather not make more money.” But I said, “I want to be able to look in the mirror when I get up in the morning.”...
2.2. What Was It Like To Be a Woman in Canada?
Alexander: When you came through customs and they asked you your intended occupation to do here, did you say “domestic servant”?
Lisa: It’s funny that you bring this up. I had “technologist” on my passport, and when I arrived in Halifax the immigration officer, he looked at it and he said, “Lady, you’re going to the wrong part of the country.” And he was right, because my chances would have been better in the east.You see, this is, you have to leave it to the Quebecers, the French-Canadians, particularly in the Montreal area, is European Cosmopolitan and things are a little bit different there, but mainly there is more manufacturing over there. My chances would have been better there, you see. Here [in B.C.] it was so small, it was T.V. antennas and T.V. repairs and they thought, well that’s not suitable for a woman. They thought well, in men, in assembly line, that’s what they were thinking of. So, this is probably, he was right, I never forgot his words, when he said, “Lady, you’re going to the wrong part of the country.”
Lisa: I wasn’t used to working for somebody being tied down. You know, babysitting all the time, so after five months I then found a job and I worked in a factory. As a matter of fact, I had actually looked to find a job in my profession as a technologist. But it was just impossible. First of all, Canada was still a backward country in as far as manufacturing and so was concerned. All you had here was only sales offices and maybe small, very minor assembly, maybe a person here, two people there, or so, and then only part time; they called you when they needed you. So sometimes a woman who wanted — she was married, had children, wanted some extra money, she could work there for maybe six, eight months. But nothing steady. And I went to General Electric and asked them and they said No, but they gave me a list of companies where I could try. So, I went to — oh there were about ten or twelve on there — so I went through about half to three quarters of the list; by that time, I was fed up, because everybody said, “No! It’s not suited for a woman.” They wouldn’t hire me and blah blah blah blah blah.
Lisa: Oh yeah. Sure, I mean at that time anything went. “It’s not suitable for a woman so we can’t hire you,” you know. Well, there was no Human Rights, there was no protection for equal opportunity or so, you know. That was a chauvinistic attitude that existed here. I mean in Germany the thinking was already different. There you were recognized in your profession and were hired and so, but here, as a woman.
So, I gave up then and I worked for a company assembling suitcases. You know, the strange thing was, which I could not understand and I always argued about this, and that was — I said, “I don’t understand your logic. You say this is not suitable for me as a woman. “But,” I say, “by the same token, do you think it’s suitable for a woman to work in a wood factory and lift these big plywood sheets around? Or lift these big boxes with toilet paper and so.” I said, “That you find suitable?” I say, “But here is somebody who has a little brain so I say I don’t think it’s suitable, because of what I would call physical expectation.” I said, “It’s not suitable, because somebody has a little bit more brains than maybe you do,” I say. “That’s probably what it boils down to. This is more insecurity on your part, why you don’t want to hire me,” you know. Because I worked for five or six months for this company that made the suitcases, I think it was that long, and then I found another job which paid more in a paper company, [unclear company name] was one of the big ones. And there I saw the women doing really hard work. Lifting these boxes and so. So, I made more money there and I think part of it was probably because they had a union.
And I met my husband and then I got married, in ‘fifty-two. And then I had a son. He was born in ‘fifty-four. And then I stayed home for - ‘fifty-four, ‘fifty-five, ‘fifty-six, ‘fifty-seven. My father had died in 1955 so I said to my mother and my sister they should come over, but they should immigrate, because it would be easier for them to stay, but they could always go back again. So, they came over in ‘fifty-five, no in ‘fifty-six, in November, was actually five years after I had come here. And then my husband got sick and in ‘fifty-seven in May my husband passed away.
In the meantime, I had gone to work, because we had not been established very well. I wanted to have enough money so we could buy a house. But then of course my husband passed away and so I was forced to work. Of course, they only hire me as an assembly worker, even so some German ladies that worked there, they were absolutely flabbergasted, because they knew what my background was and they were shocked that they were not hiring me in my qualification as a technologist. So, after my husband passed away, the manager asked me to bring in — he was quite German-friendly — but he asked me if I would bring in my certificate, which I did. I translated it, you know. And I think, you said this already before, and this is the suspicion I have, that he probably wanted to help me, because I had lost my husband. So, they looked it on and then they said, “We give you a chance to work as a technician as a while to see how things are.” They had two categories — Technician One and Technician Two, so they took me on as a Technician Two. After a little while I was demoted again, because apparently, they didn’t have enough work and then they had some more work and they said, “Oh yea, we will take you on again, but we won’t pay you more.” So, these are the intimidations that I had to put up with. They had an in-between classification. Oh, yeah, that’s right, they didn’t even hire me right away as a technician. They hired me as an electronic production specialist, that’s what they hired me as. But I did technician work.
Lisa: Before my husband died I already worked for them, but I did only assembly work. But then after he had passed away, they had asked me to bring my certificates in and then they said, “Well, we give you a chance to do technical work.” But they didn’t pay me according to what they should’ve paid, they paid me only as a production specialist instead of technician’s position. But then they demoted me again, when they took me back. They said they wouldn’t pay me as a production specialist, but leave me as an assembly worker, but make me do technician’s work. So, then I went to the Union and said, you know, blah blah blah, and the Union said, well ... because I told them, I said, “You won’t’ get away with this.” So, the Union said, “Wait until you get your first paycheck and see what’s happening.” So, after I got my first pay cheque, when I checked it out, they had increased me to that old position again, so they paid me.... But then I wanted to be classified as a technician. I mean I did the work, I wanted to be paid accordingly. I felt this discriminated against.
So, there was an opening for — this is rather interesting — there was an opening for technician (and in the meantime the manager had changed too, another man actually was there, but he was quite a nice gentleman too), so there was an opening, so I applied for it. And my supervisor said, “Oh, you’re not qualified for it, you know, you won’t get that position.” And I was so angry by that time, so I went into the office of the manager and confronted him, and he phoned the personnel manager and asked him, he said, “Bill, is the promotion gone through for Lisa Schwabe?” So, he had instituted the promotion. So, you can see all kinds of politics are taking place.
And at that time, it was a lot of — it’s still today, but at that time it was just worse than ever. It wasn’t what you knew, it was whom you knew. I once... a few years later one of my colleagues made the remark and they said, “How come you’re not... “what did they say again? — Now, this is a very crass statement, but that is the truth, and this is the way that it happened a lot of the time.. They said, “Oh, Lisa, how come you’re not getting all these promotions that so and so gets?” And I said, “Well, it’s very simple,” I said, “I like to go to bed with whomever I like to and not people that are giving me a job that I want.” So, this is what happened a lot here.
Anyway. I finally got this technician position, and of course I was always under scrutiny. I once found out that they had made a mistake and that was a really major mistake and boy did they ever put me down for that. There was something that had been done wrong and they had to call in units from the field and redo them. But it was their own fault, because they didn’t know what they were doing.
Part 3: Gender Dynamics in Marriage and Family
3.1. Family Dynamics: Parents, Sibling, and Extended Family
Lisa: The position as a technician went ok for a while. Luckily my mother had come and because I lost my husband, so she liked Canada, of course we were all together now, the family — my sister, myself and my mother.
Alexander: What year did they come?
Lisa: In ‘fifty-six, in ‘fifty-seven my hus… They stayed then, yeah. My mother stayed and my sister married then within two years, she married. I would’ve had to go on welfare, because my son was very ill, he’s suffered, he was very ill, he had very bad asthma and it took him almost ten, twelve years to grow out of it, so it was thanks to my mother that I could keep a job and contribute to Canada instead of taking away. Well, the struggle went on of course in my profession. Then I wanted to be promoted to technician number one, and that didn’t go very well over with them. Oh, yea, I have to say something else. After they made me Tech 1, then the mostly -- the human resources manager and he showed guests around and, he always pointed out, “And here we have our first female technician.” Patting themselves on the shoulder what they had accomplished.
Alexander: Maybe we can just go back to the beginnings. You said that you sort of felt bad about leaving your mother. Why exactly was that, or how was your family situation back then?
Lisa: Is that what I said, leaving my mother? ... Oh, I think my mother probably, well, like a mother is, she was more concerned than a father is. Father was concerned, too, but mother, you know. She didn’t like the idea. But then I thought, “Well, if I don’t go now, then I’m never going to go. So, I can always come back.”
Alexander: Did you talk to her a lot about that?
Lisa: No, I didn’t live with my parents. I lived in Stuttgart and they lived in Kassel. So, we didn’t have much chance to talk about this. No, I guess it was just the relationship with a mother — I was pretty close to my mother. So, I didn’t want to hurt her.
Alexander: What about your father?
Lisa: Oh, I think he was that too, but what was he supposed to do? Hold me back? He probably in a way was quite happy, because he was a war veteran, was very heavily injured in the war, and that shortened his prospects of being adventurous. So, he probably was happy for me, that he thought, “Well, if she wants to go and find her way in the world, that’s fine.” Because he had lost a lot of security, because of his injuries, he was blind on one side of his eye and was heavily injured with shrapnels in his body, so he was quite insecure in himself. That he, not in his job, but that he probably would have liked to go to a foreign country, but he didn’t feel safe enough health wise, that he would take ... You know, when you go to a foreign country — and don’t forget we’re talking forty years ago, everything was still very primitive — you want to go as a healthy person and he was a very health-conscious person. And like I said already, in ‘fifty-five he was barely fifty-nine when he died, and he died of a ... so-called stroke. But we think ... the doctors said at the time to my mother, “It’s very difficult ... it would cost you a lot of money to prove that it came from one of the shrapnels that hit the brain,” you see. That would’ve been very difficult. And you know how it is with the State — to prove something to the State, you are just that small against the machine, you see.
And even so, I think my father could have been a full invalid, but that wasn’t his, his way of life. He just got a small pension for it, but he still worked and he was in electronics, too.
3.2. Marriage Dynamics and Family Structure: Husband, Children, In-Laws
Alexander: When did you answer the ad of your husband, after how many months in the country?
Lisa: Well, that was about six months.
Alexander: Was there a certain incident that made you decide to answer that?
Lisa : Oh, I can’t remember anymore. I can’t remember anymore. I can’t remember if it said something about European, maybe it had something to do with European born, or something like this, that may have been it. I can’t remember anymore. It sounded the most attractive, but I don’t know why it did sound the most attractive, can’t tell anymore.
Alexander: Did you just look through the ads coincidentally, or?
Lisa: No, I looked through the ads.
Alexander: Was it important to you to marry a German?
Lisa: No, it just happened. I met some Canadians, but [pause] I couldn’t identify with Canadians.
Alexander: Why not?
Lisa: Tsss, ah. I don’t know, it’s ah .... You see, Canada was when the war broke out still an agrarian country, they were still — I’m not talking about education, I’m talking generally — still backwards sports, was only you go to a hockey game, or you watch wrestling. I mean, I grew up already sports clubs everywhere in Germany. I mean I had been to championships and all this stuff. For a woman here, they couldn’t comprehend this. I had nothing in common with these people, you see. And they hadn’t travelled yet, they hadn’t travelled yet. They hadn’t seen the world, they didn’t know what it was all about. So, for me that was too narrow for me. I needed somebody who had the cultural background of Europe.
Alexander: How did you find the attitude towards women of those Canadian men that you met?
Lisa: Uhmm. Well, the attitude was that you stayed in the home, and you cleaned the house and you cooked and you had children and looked after the children and that was it.
Alexander: So, was that about the same as in Germany or German men?
Lisa: Uhmm. Well, that is something that maybe remains to be debated. All the German women say, “Oh, God, these Germans are so chauvinistic, I don’t want a German man.” Now, that may be, but I would say the German comes across maybe more brusque, more forthright. While the Canadian, you know, he made it difficult for you.
Alexander: In what ways?
Lisa: Well, there were lots of ways that they can make it difficult for you. The other thing was also, I don’t know, the Canadian is heavy drinker. They used to sit around in the beer parlour. You went with him to the beer parlor. You couldn’t do anything on your own. But I think in general there were a lot of good men. I’m not saying that these men were not good. It was only their cultural level did not meet my requirements, because they didn’t know any better. They didn’t know any better. So, the field was very narrow. And that hampered me. I’m by nature a very independent person.
Alexander: So, how exactly did you meet your husband through that paper, how did that work?
Lisa: Oh, well, he had an ad in the paper, so I answered the ad and then we met and then we spent time together and I had that very close friend, so we spent some time at weekends together. And then he was all by himself and asked me if I was going to marry him. Well, you are there, you’re all by yourself, so you think, “Well, why not?” Build up a future. He had dreamt about, he wanted to do up north and build up a resort, maybe a wilderness resort or so, which sounded to me very attractive. I thought, “Well, that sounds like a good idea.” Now, that he died that young, that threw everything into turmoil.
Alexander: Did that feel weird for you to meet him through an advertisement in the paper?
Lisa: No. No. Oh, there were lots of ads in the paper, oh yea. No, it didn’t feel weird to me. But then I’m maybe weird myself. Well, I have no inhibitions. Like for instance, Nowadays, the way people look at sex, you know, I find it so shameful, it takes the romance out of what it really is. There is no more romance in love today. There’s no more love! I say, “I have no hang-up with sex, but I don’t have to hang it on the bell all the time and say Oh here, sex, sex, sex.” That is something that two people...
Alexander: That was different in the ‘50s?
Lisa: Oh, yea. There was still romance there. Flirting, well North Americans can’t flirt, only Europeans can flirt. So, we had a lot of fun in Europe with flirting. They didn’t know that here, flirting. You see, the problem I probably had was, when I think about it talking to you, some things come through to me right now. And that is, especially in British Columbia, I found the people so actually cold here. And not very friendly. And later on, I found out, I was talking to people and they said, “Boy, if you’re over the mountains on the other side, people are much friendlier there.” And it’s really true. The British Columbian is a very cold person. It may have changed a little bit, because of the other mix now. But at that time, it was BRITISH Columbia. It was so British, it was just horrible. And I think that also had an effect on me, that I had to fight this off all the time. I thought, “God, what kind of a world am I living in here?” And I can really see now, to a certain degree — people say: “Why didn’t you get married?” — well, I said, “I couldn’t find anybody that I wanted to marry.” …
Alexander: Had you ever thought about marrying before you left for Canada?
Lisa: Oh yea. I mean, I didn’t shy away from marriage. My fiancée was killed in ‘thirty-nine in Poland and because of that experience I said I don’t want to get married, because I don’t want to be a widow. But you see, fate, I became a widow anyhow. So, you cannot come out of it. I met another man who wanted to absolutely marry me, but I said, “No, I’m not going to get married.”
Lisa: In Germany. And then afterwards, I wanted to go on an adventure, I always wanted to get out. So, I had my chance now to go, so I left.