Nick Tullius   Jody McKim Pharr

Home of the Danube Swabian for over 200 years.



Journey from Alexanderhausen to Ottawa
Sketch of a Memoir

by Nick Tullius
Published at 2008 by Jody McKim Pharr

Alexanderhausen is the German name of my native village in the plains of the Banat. To the Hungarians, it was Sandorhaza; to the Romanians it is Şandra.  It is situated about 35 km north-west of the regional capital Temeschburg / Temesvar / Timişoara, in the middle of the fertile Banat heath. Settled around 1833 by Banat Swabians from the surrounding villages, it provided a homeland for its settlers and their descendants, as well as for a few Hungarian, Romanian, and gipsy families, for almost a hundred and fifty years. Economic and political pressures following World War II led to a gradual abandonment of their homeland by virtually all Swabian families. Today, these emigrants and their children can be found in many countries, on several continents. What follows is the short story of one of them, whose fate led him from Alexanderhausen to Ottawa, the capital of Canada.

The author (1943); Alexanderhausen: Heroes' memorial & church (1960)

In the village of Alexanderhausen, street names were not used, but houses were numbered sequentially, from 1 to about 500. Our house initially carried the number 187, which was later changed to 255 when a new numbering system was adopted. To return home from school, I had to cross main street to the church, walk between two rows of chestnut trees, along main street to Wirtshaus Hektor (the local pub, later renamed the ‘House of Culture’ by the communists), cross over to the left, and pass another five houses.

I can still recall some enchanted summer nights in the early nineteen hundred forties. My parents and grandparents were sitting on benches placed in front of the house, while I was running around with the other children. The air was warm and fragrant and the sounds of summer were everywhere. The neighbors were passing by and stopping to talk; everybody appeared friendly, contented, in harmony with himself, with his neighbors and with the universe itself.

I would find out soon enough that such a state of perfection is not a normal condition for us ordinary humans. In 1942, my grandfather died at the age of 74. In 1943 my father was called up to the Romanian army. He packed his suitcase and took the train to Temeswar, on the way to his regiment. After several weeks, a postcard arrived – from a military training camp in Germany. I saw him one more time, on a short leave from the German army. I would only see him again in Canada, eighteen years later.

I started Kindergarten and then elementary school in our village. The language of instruction was German, as it had always been. The third school year started with new teachers, and the language of instruction had changed to Romanian. By the time our class graduated from grade eight, most of us had mastered the new language. The experience turned out to be helpful in later years, when I had to learn a few other languages

In the years after 1945 we ethnic Germans were subjected to a series of punishments: deportation to the USSR; nationalization and expropriation of the land, houses and even household articles and domestic animals; deportation of some to the steppes of the Baragan; sharing their houses with colonists from other parts of the country; and shortages of all kind. My grandmother, Katharina Lukas, née Beitz, was a talented seamstress and kept up our only home, by working day and night on her sewing machine and by selling those household articles that were not absolutely essential.

The end of the war found my father, Titus Tullius, as a prisoner to British troops. He volunteered for casual work in England, and later immigrated to Canada. From there, he sent us the occasional parcel, but the customs duty charged by the Romanian authorities made these transactions practically unaffordable.

The most cost-effective way of completing high school, was to commute between Alexanderhausen and Temeswar, six days a week. This meant getting up around 5 AM and catching a train around 5:30 AM. I returned home around 6 PM to have the only proper meal of the day, and go to bed early.

After completing high school, I was admitted to attend the Technical University Politehnica in Temeswar/Timişoara - Faculty of Electrical Engineering. During this five-year course of study, I lived in the various student residences and ate in the various cafeterias. The food was often poor, and there were bedbugs at some dormitories. The student revolt of 1956, inspired by the Hungarian revolution of the same year, will always remain an unforgettable experience.

In the fall of 1957, my grandmother departed from this world. The only home I had ever known became an empty house and had to be sold. In 1958 I graduated from the Politehnica, as its first graduate born in Alexanderhausen. I was assigned a job in the city of Arad. I rented a room in Neuarad, handed in my visa application in Großsanktnikolaus, and pursued my day-to-day engineering work in Arad.

After a long wait, I finally received my travel documents in 1961 and left for Montreal. I was very impressed when I found out that personal identity cards were not used in Canada, and people’s places of residence were not registered with the police or any other authority.

I remember an early car trip to a wedding in southern Ontario with Joseph Bitto (originally from Alexanderhausen) driving. Highway 401 was still under construction; traveling the country roads made it appear to be a very long trip. We visited my uncle Nikolaus Lukas on his farm near Kitchener. My aunt Katharina (née Tilger) and my cousin Heidrun had arrived in Canada from Lowrin a couple of years before me. We also visited the other people from Alexanderhausen, now living in this part of Ontario, such as the Kilcher and Koreck families, and the beautiful homes of the Packi, Beisser und Lammert families in and around Kitchener. The trip gave me an initial feeling for the immensity of this country, later confirmed by a train trip from Montreal to Vancouver. It took me one week to get there, and another week to return, crossing the immense Canadian Prairie Provinces and the incredibly beautiful Rocky Mountains.

Besides us and the already-mentioned family of Joseph Bitto, there were several other families from Alexanderhausen living in Montreal. There was Mathias Sauer, the caretaker of our church in Alexanderhausen, with his wife. Their son, Peter Sauer, also lived there with his wife and three children. There was Anton Sauer, stepfather of Joseph Bitto, and his wife Juliana. Then there was Dr. Kutschera with his wife, sons Tristan and Erhardt, and daughter Isolde. They all lived scattered over several parts of the city and its suburbs, and often met only on occasions such as the yearly picnic of the German Catholic church. Even with everybody having a car, visits and social interactions were rare.

In August 1961 I found my first job, with a small company designing and building small emergency power generators. Most of my coworkers were immigrants. My starting salary was 200 dollars a month, out of which I paid 100 dollars for room and board. Three months later I was offered a job by a branch of an American company building industrial installations in Labrador. The fact that the salary was over 600 dollars a month certainly helped me with the decision. Our offices were in Montreal, but I had the chance to spend a few weeks in the far north, in the middle of winter. After taking the bus to work for almost a year, I bought my first car: a brand new 1963 Chevrolet Impala. As I was not familiar with buying on credit, I paid the price of around 3000 dollars in cash.

In 1964 I accepted an offer from Nortel Networks (then called Northern Electric; later Northern Telecom) and continued to work there for some 36 years, until my retirement in 2000. In the summer of 1964 I booked a trip to Germany, Italy, Switzerland and England. The freedom to travel was truly exhilarating, after being caged in Romania for the first 25 years of my life. The circumstances were favorable all around, as the Canadian dollar was worth four Deutschmarks.

In the early- and mid-nineteen sixties, Montreal was a very lively and cosmopolitan city. The attempts to make it a more French city came later. I remember a number of parties that took place in the downtown apartments of friends and acquaintances. As the evening went on, and the drinking continued, the noise level got louder and louder. Invariably, some neighbor called the police. They showed up, asked us very politely to reduce the noise, and left after being reassured that we would oblige. Some time after midnight, we broke it up into small groups and headed for the discos that remained open until 3 AM.

Over time, initially strong relationships and connection with friends and relatives in the old homeland became weaker and weaker. Whenever a letter went missing, the flow of exchange was interrupted. Clearly, some visits would have been required to maintain and strengthen these relationships. I often contemplated to extend my trips to Germany and Austria, and visit the Banat, but I never did. The reason was a dream, a nightmare, that kept coming back over many years. I dreamed that I was "back home", I wanted to leave, and was held back by force. The question that woke me up from the dream was always the same: You had decided that you would never take such a risk; why did you do it? In retrospect, the risk does not look as bad, but it would lead nowhere to speculate about what could have been or what could not have been.

The year 1967 brought the world exhibition Expo67 to Montreal and I met my future wife. Life in the late sixties and early seventies was easy and threatening at the same time. Science had given us trains and boats, cars and airplanes, electricity and electronics, but also weapons that enabled mankind to self-destruct. Was it responsible to establish a family under these conditions? Maybe not, but it became clear to me eventually that in the course of its history, the world had come close to disaster many times, and had always managed to survive. To continue living on this earth, we humans need to have the confidence that life on earth will go on, that mankind has a future.

In 1971 the company offered me a transfer to its brand new subsidiary, Bell-Northern Research, located in Ottawa. In 1973 Donna and I married and had two sons, Raimond in 1973 and Conrad in 1976. In 1976 I accepted another company transfer back to Montreal, as manager of a local design group. After completing the agreed-upon two years in that position, we returned to Ottawa. We bought a house in Kanata, a western suburb of Ottawa, with about 17 000 inhabitants, later amalgamated with the city of Ottawa. It took me only ten minutes to drive to my office, taking only a country road. The winters here are long and cold, with lots of snow and the occasional ice storm. Summer and fall are beautiful, and we do not get earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, and other natural catastrophes.

We liked it here from the beginning, and decided to stay. I turned down further company transfers, including at least one to the USA. We think we made the right decisions.

Conrad, Donna, Raimond (the graduate) and Nick Tullius (Harvard Yard 1996

During my working years I made many trips to the USA on behalf of my company. I got to see many US cities and made many friends. The company also paid other travel, taking me from Australia to Austria, from Kyoto in Japan to Sao Paulo in Brazil, from Europe to Hawaii. In the last few years, Donna came along, and we often added some days or weeks of vacation. We have traveled more after my retirement and are hoping to continue to do so.

Perhaps a few words about Germans in Canada are of interest to the reader. Until fairly recently, every census indicated that people of German ethnic origin represented the third largest group within the population of Canada, placing them right behind those of English and French origins. In recent years, with the increase of immigration from Asia, it is possible that some Asian group may have taken that position. Ethnic Germans comprise people from Germany, Austria, Switzerland, the Banat, Transylvania, Russia, etc. Each group tends to have its own organizations. There are local clubs of Danube Swabians, Transylvanian Saxons, Lieblinger (from the village of Liebling in the Banat), and many others. The German-Canadian Congress is the umbrella organization for all these groups. German language schools exist in many cities and are usually open Saturday morning. Our sons attended the one in Ottawa for seven or eight years. As far as the day-to-day life of German Canadians is concerned, the situation is a lot more complex. They are scattered throughout the cities, often reducing their social contacts down to little more than meeting once a year at a new year’s eve celebration. The language of communication, at least in public, is mostly English. The contribution of German Canadians to the economic, political and cultural development of Canada is often underrated, if not suppressed, and their image has suffered because of the two World Wars. For those readers interested in this topic, I would recommend the book "The German Canadians 1750 – 1937" by Lehmann and Bassler (Jesperson Press, 1986).

The arrival of the twenty-first century also brought my retirement from full-time work. Our older son graduated from law school and lives in the United States. Our younger son obtained his bachelor of computer science degree, joined a high-technology company, and was ‘downsized’ when the steam went out of hi-tech. We continue to live in our house in suburban Ottawa. Finally I have time to read, write, and translate, often material related to the history and culture of the Danube-Swabians. And we continue to travel the world.

Looking back at it all, I must conclude that my generation has lived through interesting times. It survived a destructive war and witnessed the rise and demise of more than one totalitarian system. Thanks to new means of communication such as e-mail, I remain in touch with friends and classmates from Alexanderhausen and from Temeswar. All of them have left our once beautiful village; most have returned to their roots in Germany, thus closing the circle opened by their ancestors when they left Germany for the Banat, some two hundred and fifty years ago. Others ended up in other countries, sometimes on other continents. Our new countries deserve our undying gratitude for giving of us the chance for a new beginning.

Deep down in our consciousness, we will always retain a spot of tenderness, like a wound that never heals: the memory of the Banat, the memory of our forefathers who lived there, who did so much to made it a fertile and beautiful land, and who will rest forever in its soil.

Those who built our splendid homeland,
How they suffered, how they died,
Will live on in our hearts!

Updated 2009.01.04


Canadian Parliament in Ottawa                                N. Tullius (2008)


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