by Dorothy A. Phillips
In 1938 a mother and her boy of nine fled their home in the German section of Czechoslovakia, just ahead of Hitler’s “annexation” of Sudetenland. The United Kingdom, France and Italy signed the Munich Agreement with Germany in late September that year, allowing Hitler’s army to take over the homeland of this family. Neville Chamberlain returned to London to announce “Peace in Our Time.”
When the German army arrived, many residents cheered. The father, known to be a socialist and anti-fascist, learned that he was to be arrested and also fled to Prague. How this family managed to evade the Germans in Czechoslovakia and make the journey to Britain through German territory is a hair-raising tale. Hanns Skoutajan was that nine-year-old boy. His family’s adventures and frustrations did not stop even when they reached Britain. Although the people were friendly, the government did not allow them to stay.
Although Canada had reduced immigration to zero because of the depression, there was one possibility. This family and a few others, a group of about 2000, were allowed to come to Canada as settlers on new or abandoned farmland in northern Saskatchewan and British Columbia. The railways, CNR and CP lines, owned land that they had abandoned because of the depression and drought. Although not farmers, the Sudetans could come to Canada to settle this land and did so through Pier 21 in Halifax, thereafter journeying by train across the country to Saskatoon and north to an abandoned and dilapidated farm.
Young Hanns and his family survived in their harsh environment, moved east, and made a home for themselves in Canada, a heart-warming story of a hard work, community and invention. Hanns studied at Queen’s University and Theological College, where he was awarded a BA and Mdiv. After postgraduate studies took him to Germany to study Christian Social Ethics, he was ordained in the United Church of Canada and began his ministry as chaplain at Dalhousie University. He served several parishes in Ontario and in 1986 Queen’s University honoured him with a Doctor of Divinity degree. He is now retired and a member of Glebe St. James United Church.
Hanns returned to his native land in 1968. He tells the vivid tale of his family’s adventures in 1938 and beyond in his book Uprooted and Transplanted published by Ginger Press in 2000. A film, Hitler’s German Foes based on his book, was prepared in 2007 by Norflicks Productions Ltd. of Toronto. Glebe St. James United Church is pleased to sponsor an evening, Friday, April 11 to show the film and to have a discussion with Hanns about his story, a lesser known part of Canada’s refugee history. The film and discussion will be followed by a reception.
The book will be available for those who wish to purchase it. Proceeds will be shared by Glebe St. James fund to improve the sound system and the United Church Healing Fund, dedicated to aboriginal communities. Tickets: $10 available at the church office and at Compact Music/ Bank St. Entrance at the door $15. Information: 613- 236- 0617. Please join us.
Friday, April 11 at 7:30 p.m.
Glebe St. James United Church,
650 Lyon Street South