Processing at Canadian Customs

In this video, Aba Beer describes the process of going through customs when he and his wife arrived at the Port of Quebec City. Aba remembers the exact moment he felt welcome in Canada. Source: Alex Dworkin Canadian Jewish Archives, 1981



Video begins with inter-title in white text on black screen while instrumental music plays and fades into the next frame: Aba Beer and his wife immigrated to Canada in 1953 by the Port of Quebec City.



Cut to Holocaust survivor Aba Beer, sitting in front of grey curtains, and looking to the right of the camera. The camera shows his face and shoulders as he speaks during an interview conducted in Montreal in 1981.

>> Aba Beer: We're landing in Quebec City at night and in the morning we get out and we register. I hate registrations.



The name “Aba Beer” and the location of the filmed interview, “Montreal”, appear in white text above Aba's right shoulder.

>> But we register of course, and they're distributing all kinds of documents. They're customs, Canadian custom officers. We have passports they are stamping, they are registering. You have packages, suitcases, people from Italy, from Germany, from Holland, from all over the world, arrived on this boat. As if there was a quite a lot of immigrants at that time, I suppose, who are coming into Canada. And we are a little bit confused, I don't know the language well. I know a couple of broken words in English. And I'm uncomfortable to register, you know, I have about 100 dollars hidden in my pocket. Am I supposed to declare it? Am I not supposed to declare it? You are still a refugee, you are still out there! Even if it's 1953. Authority, you still don't trust authority. But among the people are going around are some people. One a minister with a collar, you know with a white collar – What do you call it, dock? – Whatever, a minister; a woman from the Salvation Army, I don't remember, a Jewish woman from the JIAS. And this minister, a Protestant minister – after I found out a Protestant – approaches me. He sees that I am a little bit confused, that I am going here and looking there, and my wife is here, and I tell her to watch the suitcases. I start figuring, should I stand in this line-up? Shouldn't I stand maybe the other line-up is better? You know, and he comes over and he tells me, “Can I help you? Maybe you need some help?” He speaks German. “What language do you speak? Do you speak German?” He asks me. And I say, “No, no.” “I say maybe you need some help,” he asks me, “with the documents?” And again, I say no. And I am nervous, a little bit, you know, with my first steps in Canada. And I wasn't 100% kosher, with 100 dollars hidden in my pocket, and I had claimed that I had a cousin here who wasn't exactly a cousin. So in dishonour, I tell him, “Why would you help me? You are a Christian, why would you help me?” And I tell him –no no, I didn't tell him I say, “Why would you help me? I'm a Jew, why should you help me?” And he tells me, “Well it makes no difference,” he tells me in German, “we are here, we are volunteers to help the new immigrants. If you're a Jew or you're English, it makes no difference.” And he points up and says, “You see this woman? She's Jewish. She's from the Jewish organization.” Now he mentioned JIAS but it didn't register with me at that time. Well he says, “She is helping somebody that probably is not Jewish. It makes no difference.” This, this made the whole difference. You know, I was shocked! I was shocked. There is no difference between Jew and non-Jew. It penetrated right away. And I said to my wife, “You know what? This is a country where I want to spend the rest of my life.”


Music plays for the remainder of the video. Three credit pages appear in white text on black screen: Interview conducted by Josh Freed, Holocaust Documentation Project, Montreal, 1981, Alex Dworkin Canadian Jewish Archives

Directing: Helgi Piccinin; Editing and Colorization: Michaël Gravel, Helgi Piccinin; Audio Mix and Original Music: Pierre-Luc Lecours. [Logo for Chaire de recherche du Canada en patrimoine ethnologique]

Montreal Holocaust Memorial Centre, copyright 2017.



End of transcript.

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