Living History: The 1938 flight from Nazi Czechoslovakia

I just listened to the podcast about the Loewith family and their Summit Station Dairy, and am very much impressed. I wanted to share with you some of the story of how they came to Canada. 

I am the daughter of Karl Abeles, who organized the exodus of 39 people from Czechoslovakia, the first group arriving in November 1938 at a farm in the Hamilton area, and a second group in 1939. 

At 102, I am the only one of the original 39 left. 

The first group included my parents Elsa and Karl Abeles, my sister Marianne and myself, Wilma, as well as Ida and Leo Abeles, their daughters Minna and Hanna, Hugo and Martha Popper and their children Hanna and Karl, Alois and Hedda Popper and their sons Richard and Joe, Hugo and Jara Abeles (they later changed the spelling to Abeles) and their children Ruth and Petr, Karl and Anna Schleissner, Ludwig and Annie Ekstein and their daughter Anni, Frank Ekstein and Willy Ekstein, Alex and Marianne Lustig with little Eva, Otto and Gretl Hoenig with niece Liesl Zentner, and of course Joe Loewith.    

Emil Lederer, an artist by inclination, his wife Edith Lederer and their daughter Doris, left the group in Montreal and initially tried to farm in Nova Scotia before coming to Ontario.  A second group arrived in 1939.

Our group included at least two non-Jews: Arnold Schmoker, a Swiss cattle expert who worked for the Abeles and Popper farming “Kompanie”, and Jara Abeles, the gentile wife of cousin Hugo Abeles. 

The first morning at the Wren Farm in Caledonia, we found apples and potatoes, and our first meal consisted of apple-sauce and  potatoes. Everyone loved the meal, but eating apples and potatoes that had been on the ground and must have been frozen had digestive consequences that night for all five families.  

In 1938, Canada would only grudgingly admit Jewish farmers as immigrants. 

Every family had to bring to Canada a minimum of $1,000 in hard currency. My father recruited some non-farmers who were able  to cover those who did not have the money.  

Our group included Abeleses and Poppers who were farmers in Czechoslovakia, and some who were close to agriculture, such as the Ecksteins who were cattle dealers, and others who did not actually have any farming experience. Joe Loewith was one of those who did not have farming experience, but became a successful dairy farmer in Canada. Rabbi Zwetschkenbaum also had no farming background. My father convinced the Canadian authorities that those with limited or no farming background would be an asset to Canadian agriculture.

My father had made an exploratory trip to Canada, negotiated with the Canadian immigration authorities and the representatives of the Canadian Pacific Railway. 

Deputy Minister of Immigration, Frederick Charles Blair, with whom he met, who was notorious for saying about Jewish immigrants that “none is too many,” was impressed by my father and did not think that he seemed like a farmer.

Most of our group were not very observant; most celebrated the High Holy Days, weddings and funerals, but were relaxed about keeping kosher. The Sabbath was not kept strictly or at all, and pork was a regular part of their diet. However, they were Jewish enough for the antisemites, and Jewish enough for Hitler.

Joe Loewith married my cousin Minna Abeles in Canada. Minna was the matriarch of the Loewith family. Their children and their grandson Ben work the dairy farm and are now building the Summit Station Dairy.

Wilma Iggers
Williamsville, NY

CAPTION: Wilma Iggers (far left) her father Karl, her sister Marianne, cousin Hannah Popper and her father Hugo Popper, in Antwerp, November 1938 on their way to Canada