It was Bad Godesberg, a small, beautiful city near Bonn in the Rhein River Valley, Germany, where we found ourselves after the dust of the Second World War had settled. We were the Altendorfs (my husband’s family) and the Bischoffs (my own family).
Heinz Altendorf, my future husband, was still in Canada where he had spent the last four years of the war. He had been a German air force pilot who, after being shot down in Africa, was taken there as a prisoner of war. This kept him out of the fierce fighting during the last four years of the war and thus most likely saved his life.
When he finally returned to Germany, we met, fell in love, married and had two children. Heinz worked for the American High Commissions’s Personnel Department, a job which came with a new, modern and fully furnished apartment.
This could have been our happy ending but for the fact that Heinz never stopped telling us stories about Canada, a country he had learned to highly respect during the time he was there. No doubt, Heinz was the catalyst, the one who lit the flame and over time 11 family members followed his call.
Rudi, my brother and his wife, Anne, were the youngest in our group. Since the end of the war, they had not found work they really liked and listening to Heinz’s stories and Canada’s advertising words, the decision to immigrate to Canada came easy to them. And so, the day had arrived to say a final goodbye. Anne had already left to spend time with her mother in Hamburg but Rudi had promised to stop by for a last farewell on his way to the railway station. Then, after a brief moment, he shouldered his suitcase and walked away. He turned around once and waved before I lost sight of him and I think, that this was the moment when I realized the enormity of our undertaking! And, of all our departures, this is the one most vividly on my mind. I will always remember my brother Rudi as the one who “walked away” towards Canada to pave the way for us.
It was almost a year later when my mother and sister left in a different style. A friend who owned a car – still rare in those days – came early in the morning to drive them to Bordeau, France, where they would board the ship. Unintentionally, this allowed my mother to see, for the last time , the country she came from: France.
So here they were, two single ladies – 56 and 19 years of age – travelling to an unknown country. Though excited by Heinz’s great stories and trusting my brother would be there at the end of their journey to take them to his home, they must have wondered about it!
When it comes to immigration, mothers play a huge part in the story be it they come along or stay behind. Though my mother-in-law had encouraged us to the last moment, after we had left she broke down – I was told much later – believing she would never see us again. Luckily, she was wrong, in fact, she came for extended visits several times. Of course, we were eager to show her as much as we could of our new homeland and naturally her enthusiasm was contagious and helped us greatly to feel at home in record time.
But more about us in my next story!
Ruth Altendorf is an occasional columnist in The Agassiz-Harrison Observer. Here, she shares a slice of her own history instead of her usual tales of Harrison folks and happenings This is part two of a six-column series to appear in The Observer over the coming weeks.