Eugenics

Some might consider eugenics an invasive practice belonging to the evil politics of the dictatorships in the first half of the twentieth century. However, forced sterilization was not banned in Canada until 1972. 

Bundesarchiv_Bild_102-167
The Nazis enacted eugenics by introducing the Law for the Prevention of Hereditary Diseases in Nuremberg in 1935. A disturbing 12 minute video, Das Erbe, was often presented before main features at German cinemas promoting forced sterilization. Other countries, including Norway, Sweden, Iceland, Japan and more, including the USA, introduced similar laws, as far back as 1907. The people targeted were diagnosed with conditions like epilepsy, bipolar, schizophrenia and some forms of deafness. Addiction to alcohol was also included under the Nazi laws. The poster tries to show that without sterilization of undesirable elements in the Aryan race, the strong and healthy would soon fall into the minority.

In the 21st century we take a less political or institutionalized approach to eugenics. Our contemporary society offers “genetic counselling” or “family planning” and gives the individual or couple an educated choice. 

In Tainted Amber, I explore the consequences of losing that freedom to choose whether or not to have children. What is a perfect human anyway? Is perfection even a worthwhile goal? As Leonard Cohen so poetically chanted, “There is a crack in everything . . . that’s how the light gets in.” We don’t want any government to impose discriminatory laws about what makes a perfect citizen.  Canada is now dealing with the consequences of its own disturbing attempts to create perfect Canadians through residential schools.

Hitler had it all wrong when he tried to create a perfect race. It’s our imperfections that define our humanity and make us perfect.  A paradox to ponder. 


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Ethnic Germans

After having read Magdelene Redekop’s book, Making Believe, which describes the differences amongst the Mennonites of Manitoba (mostly centered on the Kanadier and Russländer distinction), I reflected on differences amongst other Germans in this province. Germans are the second largest immigrant group in Manitoba, second only to the English and ahead of the Scots. Here’s an interesting fact: according to Alexander Freund, in a 2012 Winnipeg Free Press article, he wrote: “most German-Manitobans were born outside of Germany.”  

Assembly of Volksdeutsche in Lodz
Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-J09396 / CC-BY-SA 3.0

These are what is known as “ethnic” Germans or Volksdeutsche. These are people who were born outside of Germany, but continued to identify with the German culture. For example, my mom’s family immigrated from West Prussia (Gdansk area) to Volhynia in Ukraine, in the 1860s. Those Germans built schools, churches, established newspapers and communities in a Russian and/or Ukrainian dominated country. When Ukraine became part of the USSR, my mom ended up going to a Soviet school where she learned Russian, beside her Ukrainian classmates. So, until the age of twelve, Mom could speak in any of three languages without too much trouble. German at home, Russian at school, and Ukrainian amongst schoolmates. After the war, Mom’s language skills helped her survive in the forced labour camps. 

My Volksdeutsche mom
and Reichsdeutscher dad
Later, Mom was proud and relieved to marry a “real” German. Maybe he didn’t have quite the right Christian faith, but as a Reichsdeutscher, he helped her establish a citizenship that had eluded her most of her life. Having gone through the purges of the Second World War, establishing citizenship outside of the Soviet grasp would have been so important to her.

One of Hitler’s goals was to repatriate all the ethnic Germans, or Volksdeutsche, into German-occupied lands. This was done, under the slogan, “Heim ins Reich.” For the Nazis, it was all about race. To be able to establish that you were a proper Aryan, meant that you were one of the them. (Unless of course, like my character, David, in Tainted Amber, you have an inherited disease. Then you were not such a perfect Aryan, after all.) 

It goes without saying that the Nazi policies regarding race were flawed and it’s incredible that they could flout such an idea in a place like Europe which had such fluid borders. After all, even Nazis saw Aryan features in some Polish children and deemed them as trainable subjects for the Third Reich. 

The Heim ins Reich motto allowed one of my older friends here in Winnipeg to leave the Soviet Union before Operation Barbarossa—the June, 1941 invasion of the Soviet Union. As a young girl, she lived in what the Nazis called Litzmannstadt . . . Lodz in Polish, west of Warsaw. Lodz was part of the Nazi’s Warthegau region (an occupied part of Poland).  As a Volksdeutsche, my friend’s mother received a house that had been forcibly taken from its Polish owners. 

Hitler’s insistence on racial segregation and his perceived threat of all things non-Aryan, had a huge impact on my parents’ generation. In my growing-up years, my dad—once a Luftwaffe pilot—expressed only shame about how he let himself get manipulated by the Nazi vision of world domination. 

Volksdeutsche in Lodz, Public Domain

So when is a German, not a German? I have a reichsdeutscher father, a volksdeutsche mother, a husband with a Scottish-born mother and a Canadian-born father and 3 Canadian-born children. I live in a country where Indigenous People were pushed onto reserves, not unlike what Hitler did to the Poles. Maybe I’m just another European colonist looking for Lebensraum (living space) and maybe we have something to learn from the Indigenous People:  we don’t own the land, we share the land. That could prevent wars. 

This blogpost was written here in Winnipeg which is located within Treaty No. 1 Territory, the traditional lands of the Anishinabe (Ojibway), Ininew (Cree), Oji-Cree, Dene, and Dakota, and is the Birthplace of the Métis Nation and the Heart of the Métis Nation Homeland.


Learning about Manitoba Mennonites

I’ve just finished reading Making Believe, by Magdalene Redekop, a book about Mennonites and their relationship to art. It was nominated during the recent Manitoba Book Awards and received the Mary Scorer Best Book Award by a Manitoba Publisher Award. (University of Manitoba Press). 


I picked up this book because I’ve always been aware of, and curious about, the Mennonites in Manitoba. This book, along with a few friendships along the way, has given me some insight into this sizeable population of our province.

I was not raised as a Mennonite, but I lived in a parallel universe being raised as a German Baptist. There are differences and similarities between the two faiths. While I no longer consider myself a German Baptist, I get the sense that someone born a Mennonite is always a Mennonite.  Mennonites often marry other Mennonites, go to Mennonite schools, live in Mennonite-centric communities and keep in close contact with their extended family and fellow churchgoers. 

Redekop’s memories reminded me of the many similarities between her Mennonite upbringing and my own German Baptist one. Dancing, make-up, movies, rock music etc. was taboo. Baptism was not to be done at birth, but as a conscious decision when one grew older. I appreciated her musings on the evangelization of the young. Those big meetings were carefully choreographed scripts and German Baptists are much like the Mennonites when it comes to manipulating the young through music and guilt. 

Redekop’s book also showed the complicated (to me) differences within the Mennonite culture. Types of Mennonites depend on the times of immigration. For example, there are the Kanadier and the Russländer Mennonites. Then there are the Mennonite Brethren (more like the German Baptists) and the other Mennonites, like the Swiss. All new to me and a bit confusing.

What I found most interesting is how the Mennonites have continued to be an insular group, easily identified by their names.  My own maiden name, Schroeder, could be seen as Mennonite, although my father was Lutheran and from the Hamburg area. As a young woman, I was eager to remove any connection to Germans or Mennonites and ended up with a married surname that has sometimes been mistaken as the Jewish Goldstein.  Goldstone might have South African or British connections. A student once called me Mrs. Goldrock and I liked the non-ethnic sound of that.

A huge difference that I noted between the Mennonites of small-town Manitoba and my German Baptist upbringing in the big city, is that our congregation was quite diverse. My church was a ragtag of displaced war survivors from different parts of eastern Europe.  Men were at a premium and my mom married a Lutheran. That guaranteed that I’d never be a genuine German Baptist and I grew as an outsider. 

Redekop writes about the noticeable ‘renaissance’ of Mennonite writers, specifically from Manitoba. There’s Toews, Bergen, Klassen, Friesen, Wiebe, Brandt and many more. Now there’s a newly minted children's novelist from my writing group with the last name of Driedger.  Why are so many Mennonites writing? I’d like to think it’s for the same reason I like to write. Every church service I attended when young was focused on studying the word of God or singing. Since my singing or piano playing was not encouraged, I found power in the written word.

I recommend Magdalene Redekop’s book, Making Believe, to anyone curious about the Manitoba history of Mennonites and art. You need a bit of tolerance for her academic approach and there were some parts I struggled to digest. Mostly, I appreciated the snippets where the author revealed herself. She didn’t hold back and I connected with that authenticity. For the most part, a non-Mennonite like me found it to be a compelling read.


Wayne Arthur Gallery

First off, HAPPY BIRTHDAY, BEV!

Bev Morton, a friend of mine, owns and operates one of Winnipeg’s little treasure chests and like all good treasure chests, it’s stuffed with precious gems. The Wayne Arthur Gallery—at 186 Provencher Boulevard in old St. Boniface—overflows with Made in Manitoba creativity. 

Bev’s passion for art is matched only by her tenacity. She’s had some extreme health challenges over the

Robert and Bev

past few years and then she suddenly lost her longtime partner, Robert, (a longtime friend of mine, too) right at Christmas this past year. Without the comfort of friends or the closure (and hugs) that a memorial service can provide, Bev is back at the gallery promoting the art of fellow Manitobans with her intrepid spirit to carry on. 

Bev at the Petersfield Mallard site 
Curious about her passion, tenacity and vision, I asked her some questions during a recent visit and she’s let me share her answers here on my blog. 

How long has the Wayne Arthur Gallery been operating at 186 Provencher?

The gallery opened on Provencher on November 30, 2002, after first opening in St. Andrews in 1995 when I opened it with my late first husband, Wayne Arthur, and then on St. Mary’s Road in 2000.


Tell me about the name. Who is Wayne Arthur?

Bev with Wayne Arthur

Wayne Arthur was my first husband who passed away on November 30, 1999. He was a well-known sculptor, who sculpted three town monuments in the Interlake using fiberglass: the King Buck in Poplarfield, the mushrooms in Meleb, and the mallard in Petersfield. He also sculpted the Caring Hands at Deer Lodge Centre and two pieces at The Forks, (a family of bison being hunted by indigenous hunters wearing wolf hides. These two sculptures were in Tyndall stone.

What are the challenges of operating a gallery in Winnipeg

Enticing people to come to the gallery. 

How are these challenges exasperated by the pandemic and restrictions?

With the restrictions it is now impossible to have artist receptions. I look forward to the day that changes. Also the gallery has at times been totally locked down. In one case I attempted to have my group show in December online. It wasn’t very successful, although I was able to display it on gallery walls near the end of January and into February.


What are the rewards of operating a gallery in Winnipeg? 

It is a joy to exhibit Manitoba artists to both local people and tourists when the pandemic doesn’t prevent travel. I also enjoy meeting many artists and introducing them to each other and the public.

How do you promote the shows? 

I have a website waynearthurgallery.com and also a gallery Facebook page. Most advertising is too expensive although some organizations have electronic newsletters that list member showings.

How many artists have been on display in the Gallery?

Since opening in 1995, I have had 574 Manitoba artists. In some cases they have had shows and in other cases they have participated in group shows or just have placed work in the gallery.

How does an artist approach you for a showing?

An artist would have to show me their work and when I am booking shows I consider who is available. I also display work on the walls that aren’t on the featured show wall. These pieces don’t change as frequently, but I usually limit them to one painting per artist.

What keeps you returning to the gallery day after day, even during hard times?

It is a joy to sit in the gallery and look at the beautiful art. However it is more fun when customers or friends come in. 

Why do you think art is important? 

It is important to surround oneself with beauty. Art is one of the beautiful things in this world.

You’re an artist yourself, not just an art proprietor. Tell me about your own work. 

In 1978, I had intended to make my first fabric piece. However, it wasn’t until 2009 that I learned how to do it without sewing and I have subsequently been working completely in fabric.

Many of my fabric pieces started as paintings and I have recreated them in fabric. Others are from my photos of vacations, family photos and photos taken in the gallery and at home. 

I am focusing on where I live, work and dream: interiors in my home and in the gallery and places I have been to or dreamed of.

I use distinct lines to define form and colour, and include a lot of detail and pattern. I want to enable the viewer to see all that I see. I believe the simplicity of my pieces allows the viewer to complete the experience. 

Imagine you’re a magician and you could wave a magic wand, what would you create?

A gallery big enough to showcase the work of more artists.

                                                                  *******

Thanks Bev. Thanks for letting me meet so many wonderful Manitoba creators over the years. Thanks for showcasing their work and being a conduit to appreciative buyers of art. And thank you to the artists who dare to wave their magic wands and create. Being an artist is a gift but the rewards are often not measured in dollars. 

Support local. 

Support art. 

Support local art!  Manitoba Proud! 

The Wayne Arthur Gallery, located at 186 Provencher Boulevard in old St. Boniface, is just a ten minute walk from The Forks. Make it an outing! We have a beautiful city, vibrant with art, and Bev's gallery truly is a treasure chest.

Open Tuesdays to Saturdays from 11 AM to 5 PM.



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