Paul Heller: Preparing to Leave Europe during WWII
Date:Saturday, October 21, 1995
ID:Digital audio recording #: 19.95-08
PH: After the occupation of France by Hitler and after Petain established himself in Vichy, Hitler started preparations for invasion of Britain, massing different types of boats and vessels in Dutch and French ports and at the same time started bombing the city of…[phone rings], so my mother who was in France lived in Paris managed to escape from Paris before the Germans occupied however she got stranded in the camps in Toulouse and finally escaped from there and crossed to the French Riviera where she went into hiding from the French authorities and survived the war over there.
Meanwhile we had a certain legal problem because some of the assets that we had in London were in my mother’s name and therefore we had to straighten out certain things with our lawyers and I went to see our friend, our lawyer, whom I hadn’t seen for quite a few years because he was very active in politics and he was a member of parliament and became the minister of supplies in the Chamberlain cabinet and was kicked out of the cabinet in May 1940 when Churchill took it over. In our meeting he enquired about what happened to us in the last couple of years and in our discussion came the idea that after escaping from Poland I was thinking about emigrating to another country, I wasn’t interested in going to South Africa but I was told that Canada is closed especially for Jews and the same apparently was for Australia. United States had a quota system and the waiting period for Polish born citizens was about two to three years, so just before we left our lawyer, I don’t want to mention names, our lawyer asked me if I was really serious about going to Canada, I indicated my interest and he said he would try, he may be able to do something about it.
He did apparently, he wrote a letter to the High Commissioner of Canada in London introducing my brother and myself as young Polish Jews, Cambridge graduates, and this letter apparently was sent to Mr. Little the head of the immigration office in London who made an appointment for us one day at nine o’clock in the morning. The meeting was very interesting, very friendly in his office until the moment that in discussion he discovered that we were Jews, at that moment his face changed, he gave us forms to be filled out and to be sent to Ottawa. We did fill out those forms later and the case went to Ottawa, that was July 1940 and we haven’t heard for a couple of months. About a month later a friend of ours went to Canada on government business, he enquired in Ottawa and was told, I don’t know by who but it was indicated that the chances of us getting immigration visa were practically nil.
Meanwhile the middle of August the real Battle of Britain started, at that time I sent Edwina [Paul Heller’s wife] to Cambridge to stay with some friends of ours from Poland, he was a professor of law at Cambridge University, and I was to travel on weekends spending weekends together with her. My brother sent his wife Sella to Minehead with another group of Polish refugees and also he travelled over there on weekends. About the middle or end of September on a Monday morning when I came to the office I received a call from Canada House, immigration department, that in connection with our application they would like to see us two days later for medical examinations, both families. We arranged those things and that Wednesday we passed the medical examination and another few…about a week later we were notified formally through our lawyers that the Canadian government is willing to allow us to come to Canada as permanent immigrants on certain conditions providing that we will be able to transfer certain amount of funds and to have possibility of starting business in Canada.