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May, 2006 - Nr. 5


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Berlin Academy of the Arts
A Bitter Heritage

Composition remembers war's displaced persons

 This articles was published by Kitchener's The Record and is republished here with its permission. The author is


(May 10, 2006)

A choral composition, In Memoriam: Anna Tuerr, commissioned by the Paul Tuerr family, will be featured in Canadian Rhapsody, A Tribute to Canada, at the Centre in the Square on May 25.

As a basis for his composition, artistic director/conductor Alfred Kunz used historical consultant Ulrich Frisse's printed pamphlet, which was distributed at the dedication of the Anna Tuerr memorial monument in Mannheim last July.

It is a musical story of displaced persons following the Second World War and will be sung by the Concordia Choirs of Kitchener.

Anna died in 2002. She was born in 1927 in the Banat region of Yugoslavia, the area the Donau Schwaben settled some 200 years earlier.

In the winter of 1944, when she was only 17, Anna was taken from her home and herded, along with many others, into cattle cars that were locked from the outside. They travelled for three weeks in deplorable conditions to Kriwoj Rog in Ukraine, where they were forced into slave labour for three years in the post-war reconstruction of Russia.

The women shared small quarters, surrounded by barbed wire, without heat or running water, and with only primitive toilet facilities. Lack of warm clothing during severely cold winters and a diet of thin cabbage soup also contributed to a decline in their health, both physically and mentally. Typhus fever epidemics added to the high death toll.

In 1947, Russian doctors examined the camp inmates, and Anna was placed on the transport list of those to be released for medical reasons and malnourishment.

Others were not so fortunate. About 2,000 Danube Swabians who had been deported to Russia, among them 900 women, lost their lives.

Anna's youth and an exceptionally strong will to see her family again kept her alive. She was reunited with her mother and grandmother in Vienna and stayed there for a year before emigrating to Kitchener, where her aunt and uncle had been living for over 20 years.

She found employment in a shirt factory and met her husband, Paul Tuerr, at the Schwaben Club which, Paul said, was the centre of the local German-speaking community at that time and a meeting place for new immigrants. He had come here only two months earlier.

"Between us, we had lost several family members to Tito's attempted genocide of Yugoslavia's Germans," Paul recalled. "I proposed in November 1950, but Anna said she still had a few debts and wouldn't accept until they were paid off."

They were married in 1951 at St. Mary's Church and raised three daughters. Paul, 84, has recounted his experiences during the war and his successful rise in the construction business locally in a biography, The Path to Success, written with Ulrich Frisse. It has been published in German and an English translation will soon be released.

He has these words of advice to new immigrants: "In order to be happy in their new home, immigrants must accept (its) peculiarities without constantly comparing them to conditions in their country of origin.

''You cannot have one thing and yet constantly long for the other. The key to personal happiness, satisfaction and economic success is to assimilate into the new surroundings."

In the 1950s, more than 250,000 German-speaking immigrants came to Canada -- the greatest influx Canada had ever experienced at that time.

Anna's philosophy was: "We should never forget our dead, but for the sake of our children, we must be willing to forgive and get on with our lives and build a better world, a world with peace, a world without hate."

This is imprinted on the plaque in front of the almost three-metre-high Mother of the Universe statue in the Mannheim memorial park, a peaceful oasis in the surrounding 40-hectare subdivision built by Paul. During the past 57 years, Paul has developed thousands of acres of land in this area.

"The Mother of the Universe protects children all over the world. May we all work together in the creation of a world in which humiliation, torture and war exploitation no longer exist," Anna once said.

"The Memorial Park in Mannheim was not built just to glorify my wife but to honour so many people who survived what I call 'the Red holocaust,' " Paul said. ''Their grandmothers who died in these camps didn't even know what 'politics' meant.''

Paul Tuerr is a staunch community supporter, particularly of the symphony orchestra and both hospitals. He has been honoured also for his contribution to the University of Waterloo Centre for German Studies and to the local German community. Paul was the first recipient of the Region of Waterloo's award for protection of the environment and received the Queen's Golden Jubilee Medal in 2002.

Jackie Hayes is a Kitchener writer who looks at personalities, events and seniors' issues each Wednesday. Contact her at


In Memoriam: Anna Tuerr, written by Alfred Kunz, is a dramatic choral work, scored for narrator and mixed and male choirs (in German and English), accompanied by an instrumental ensemble.

It will be performed at the Centre in the Square on May 25.

The program, which starts at 7:30 p.m. with Michael Higgins as announcer, will also include Canadian Portraits commissioned by St. Jerome's University, solos by tenor Peter McCutcheon, a Ukrainian dance ensemble, and other instrumental and vocal entertainment.

Cost is $25 for adults and $13 for children. Tickets are available at the Centre in the Square and at All Flowers & Charm, New Hamburg.

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