Margaret Libbert: Escaping Europe in 1939
Date:Thursday, May 17, 2001
ID:Digital audio recording #: 20.01-34
In 1938 Margaret Libbert and her family left Czechoslovakia for England due to increasing German aggression in that area.
ML: And then of course the Germans marched into the whole of Czechoslovakia in March, ‘39. We finished our year at school and in April of ‘39, my grandmother on my father’s side, she was, she got out and somehow her chauffeur was driving and German tanks were coming in the opposite direction and she managed to get out and join us in London. And then came the big effort to get her husband, my grandfather, who was the head of the German department Chamber of Commerce, member of the Rotary Club, and all these things and he somehow thought nothing could possibly happen to him because of his position.
Yet, I should explain that in Czechoslovakia the German minority—because it had been part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire—had retained very generous language rights, they had their own schools, and as I said they had their own department of commerce. And there was a large German minority which of course, after the war, was thrown out by the Czechs. But the Germans said, ‘Oh, this minority’s badly treated and so we have to come and help rescue them.’ That was one of the excuses they gave for invading Czechoslovakia.
But as I said, my grandfather just couldn’t believe that anything would happen. And so we had our family and made arrangements and sent over an Englishman, because England was still, you know, not at war with Germany, to try and find my grandfather. And he has written a book, it’s called Epic of the Gestapo, it is out of print but we have copies, our family has copies of this.
AG: Who wrote the book, this Englishman?
ML: The Englishman called Sir Paul Dukes. And he eventually found a man that had died in mysterious circumstances on the border of Czechoslovakia and Germany and we think that that was probably my grandfather, with a different name. So all this was going on and at the same time we were contacting various embassies of countries to see where we could go because we only had a limited visa to stay in England. So I’m finally getting to your question…
AG: It’s very interesting.
ML: …of how we got to Canada.
AG: Of course. It’s a significant part, this background.
ML: And we were very, very, very fortunate to be one of the thousand people, that I believe there were only a thousand people that were let in by Order in Council, that is cabinet making special, for each family a special order during these times. And I must admit that it was probably because we had some funds and probably because my father said he would try and set up a business. A bit like letting the Chinese in, you know, having to have a minimum amount of money now. But that’s how it was, because in those days the only immigration quota was for British or French speaking people. I don’t think anybody else was allowed in until the late ‘40s, ‘50s. I know this because later on in my life I worked for the Department of Citizenship and Immigration.
AG: I thought you did. And no one of course, there’s lot of books written now about who was not allowed in…the “none is too many.”
ML: Yes, that’s right. So we were, I think we were the first ones to arrive of our family. But in a few weeks, because it was a week before the war started, that we came.
AG: So precisely, what week was that?
ML: It was August, ‘39.
AG: August, ‘39, you arrived where? In Canada?
ML: In Quebec.