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"Front" Runner
A Story of Intolerance at School

Ever had the feeling that the whole world is after you? I’m sure we have all experienced moments like that -- when nothing seems to go right, we try to shrug it off with a "Just one of those days". Going back to around 1955 when I was a grade school student at H.A. Halbert in Scarborough, I clearly recall when the "whole world" was indeed after me. In this particular incident, the "world" consisted of what seemed to me at the time to be the entire school population chasing me while I, for my part, was running out front as fast as my little legs could carry me.

Looking back at that time, I must admit that, had my shoes been on another foot, I most likely would have joined in and run after myself as well. That is to say, I cannot totally blame what seemed to be the entire School population for what happened that day.

Allow me to explain. This was in the mid ‘50’s just a decade after World War II ended. Some of the student population had no doubt heard first-hand stories from fathers, uncles, Grandfathers or other family members of the grief the Germans had caused the world.

Well as fate would have it, my ethnic heritage was German. I was born in West Germany just a year after the end of WW II. The negative aspect of the war played out in people’s minds, putting a negative spin on my personal situation. For my part, I did not help matters in that I did not "fit in". By standing out like a sore thumb in my native costume, I automatically became the "ethnic minority" of the day.

Ironically, on one hand as a new student, your main goal or desire is to blend in with your peers. However at the same time I chose to be "different" by sporting my lederhosen costume at school. Today everyone is familiar with the German "Oktoberfest" which translates to the music of a brass om-pah-pah band and men dressed in the traditional Bavarian Lederhosen. One participates, preferably in the company of a pretty fraulein and some liquid refreshment, a frothy beer or two.

My Grandparents had sent my sister and me native Bavarian costumes, (a part of Germany my family was not native to incidentally). As far as I was concerned I just loved my "leather pants". In the hot Canadian summer they were cool and practical. Sure they may have looked a bit strange but I didn’t care. I literally lived in them all summer, including of course wearing them to school.

Unfortunately this turned me into a moving target ... when one opts to wear clothing which differs from the acceptable norm of denims and plaid shirts, one must suffer the "consequences".

Shouts of "LOOK" gradually escalated to cries of "GET THE GERMAN" or the even more nasty "LET’S GO AFTER THE NaaaZI -- CHARGE!". Before I knew it, one heck of a large group came literally stampeding after me. Forget the fact that my own family had suffered under the Nazi regime -- my grandmother for instance was incarcerated in a sort of detention / concentration camp for supposedly saying something negative about the"Fuherer" Adolf Hitler.

After the destruction of WW II experienced first hand, and motivated by a desire to start a new life with a young family in a new country with a promising future, my parents emigrated to Canada. As new emigrants we initially lived on Toronto’s Center Island where I spent my first school years, Kindergarten and Grade I. When my parents purchased a home in Scarborough, I relocated to H.A. Halbert Public School.

I can relate to the problem new Canadians of various cultures and backgrounds experience in "fitting in" to local society. Back in the ‘50’s quite a number of Europeans immigrated to Canada: Germans, Dutch, Polish, Italians and of course the British. Later we were probably all guilty of focusing on the ethnic minority of the month -- Germans were referred to as Krauts or Square Heads, the British as Limeys, Italians as . . . you get the picture. Even fellow Canadians had to put up with this -- Newfoundlanders were commonly referred to as "Newfies". So everyone gets targeted at one time or another and gets his or her hide on the line.

Getting back to the situation where I had what seemed like the entire school racing after me during recess. What happened? Did they catch me and beat the living daylights out of me or worse yet, try to lynch me on the nearest old apple tree that bordered on school property? No, fortunately none of the above. A senior student, perhaps grade 7 or 8, interjected on my behalf and positioned himself between me and "them" thereby saving my hide, leather pants and all. His stern warning -- "gang up on this Kid again and you’ll have to deal with me personally" -- certainly worked. Ah , I was beholden to my savior bodyguard... thank you whoever you are.

Fast forward to Paris, France... on January 18, 2000 I proudly accepted an award for excellence in International Diamond Jewellery Design (DIA -- Diamond International Awards, the "Oscars" of the Jewellery industry). Not to be smug about it, but the cliché phrase "He who laughs last..." comes to mind. The fact of the matter was, with my Germanic name and heritage, I was the only winner representing Canada. Thus this immigrant appeared as a Canadian, waving the flag for Canada so to speak -- a proud moment for me and proving once again, albeit in a different context, that an immigrant can indeed be a "Front Runner".

June, 2001: Dieter Huebner, Graduate Jeweller, Canadian Jewellers’ Institute 1967; De Beers’ Diamond International Award Winner 2000

From The Scarboro Heights Record V9 #9


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