One Couple’s Journey to Flee East Germany
On Good Friday in 1959 my fiancé Helmut and I left our village in East Germany on the bus going to Leipzig, hoping to escape to West Germany via West Berlin. Since it was Easter weekend, we would not be missed at work until Tuesday. We were 24 and 26 years old at the time and Helmut resented the lack of personal freedom in communist East Germany.
From Leipzig, we travelled by rain to East Berlin. There we took the subway, which at that time still served the whole city, and got off at the Berlin Marienfelde station in West Berlin, where one of the refugee camps was situated. Here, thousands of refugees from East Berlin were screened for their acceptability to West Germany.
Our screening process took 12 days, after which we were flown to Frankfurt, Germany. At the next refugee camp in Worms, a city in the Germany state of Rhineland-Palatinate, we were assisted in finding employment. We found work, two rooms to live in and got married that fall. The following spring, Helmut became restless once again. He resented being a refugee in his own country and began thinking of emigrating. Where to? Canada. Why? It looked and sounded as if there were lots of space to live, opportunities to work, and many other immigrants to feel equal with.
In May 1960, we had an interview at the Canadian Consulate in Cologne. By July, we were granted immigration visas into Canada. Helmut, a tailor by trade, chose to go to Toronto because of its textile industry. I was a certified midwife and could work anywhere. Then, we starved and saved for the passage to Montreal before winter, and learned English by correspondence course.
On October 17, we stood in Bremerhaven, looking up at this huge white ship—the Arkadia—which was going to take us to Canada on what we called our belated honeymoon trip.