Friday 17 February 2012

The Jonasson's

My father-in-law, Albert Jonasson, was born in Wunstorf, a small village of 7,000 inhabitants near Hannover, Germany.  His grandfather emigrated from Sweden just before German unification in 1870.  His grandmother worked as a domestic in Hanover where they met.  They married, settled in Loccum, and had five children including Karl, Albert's father.  Karl was drafted into the Army in 1914, photographed with the trademark pickelhaube on his head.  Although he served as a runner on the frontlines in France, he never was injured.  He was, however, taken prisoner of war by the British at the tail end of the war in September of 1918 and held for a year. 

Upon returning to Germany in 1919, he proposed to his girlfriend, Wilhelmina.  They married on April 5, 1920.  The following year, they had their first son, Karl-Heinz.  The early period of their marriage was tough:  the first year, they didn't even have an apartment and lived in two separate residences; later, they found an available apartment, but with limited furnishings.  Germany was financially strained, paying reparations to the other European countries, and its money was hugely devalued.  Karl found steady work on the railroad, first as fireman, later as a locomotive engineer. 

In time, their brood grew:  Robert arrived in 1923, Werner in 1926, Albert in 1932 and Horst in 1936.  They were largely self-sufficient, growing vegetables in their backyard garden, raising animals in an annex attached to the house.  At the end of the 1930's war came to Wunstorf.  Every family in every house on every street lost someone and the Jonasson's were no different.  Karl-Heinz was drafted and sent to the Russian Front.  Robert also fought on the Eastern Front, and went missing in action in Hungary in 1944.  Werner trained as a soldier in Denmark, but never saw action.  Fortunately, Albert and Horst were too young to be drafted.  In the waning days of the war, in May of 1945, Karl-Heinz walked, biked and begged a ride home from the Eastern Front to Wunstorf, a distance of 1000 kilometres. 

Postwar Germany found itself again in a recession.  Thankfully, Wunstorf missed the bombing that large cities like Berlin, Cologne and Dresden experienced.  However, jobs were scarce and the deutschmark was devalued.  With the currency reform in 1948, the economy slowly improved in Germany.  However, recovery wasn't fast enough for the Jonasson brothers.  While Horst chose to stay with their parents to help care for them in their old age, Werner immigrated to Canada in 1953. 

The following year, Karl Heinz and Albert boarded the Seven Seas in Bremerhaven, after buying tickets at $145 each, and headed across the Atlantic as well.  On the one-class ship, the Jonasson brothers watched the World Cup of Soccer on TV, celebrating Germany's victory over Hungary.  Off the coast of Newfoundland, they saw huge icebergs.  In Quebec City, an official asked Albert "Got a passport?", confusing the German who didn't recognize the slang.  They boarded a steam locomotive, headed through Quebec and Ontario, disembarking at Hamilton.  The new Canadians stayed on Ford Street for a short time, later moving to a house on Liberty Street on the day Hurricane Hazel hit.  What an introduction to their new country!

Photo of Wunstorf, Germany courtesy

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