Personal history — Inge Anhorn: Journeys over seas and land

Inge Anhorn survived WW2 as a child growing up in Germany, then immigrated to Canada and finally Revelstoke.

Inge Anhorn at home with her loom.

Inge Anhorn at home with her loom.

It was not the thousands of bodies that traumatized Inge Anhorn the most. It was the horses.

Anhorn, who has called Revelstoke home for most of the past 40 years, was born in Darmstadt, a city in western Germany in 1935.

I met her at her apartment inside Selkirk Gardens, where she was going through a collection of postcards and letters written in German that she found at the Thrift Store. A petite woman, she speaks English with a German accent.

Anhorn spoke of a mostly-normal childhood growing up during the Second World War. The non-industrial city was the target of a few bombing raids and alarms would go off, but mostly it was quiet.

Tha was until September 11, 1944, when Darmstadt was the victim of a massive British bombing raid. The firestorm that resulted left more than 10,000 people dead and up to 70,000 homeless.

“Dead bodies were all laid along the street. They had tags on their toes so people could identify them,” she told me. “I remember this vividly.”

But what scarred her the most was at the stables.

“The pavement was so hot that the horses got stuck in the molten pavement and died there,” she said. “This was horrible. It affected me more than the dead people.”

Anhorn, 79, is a familiar face in Revelstoke, manning her table at Saturday’s farmers market where sells her woven goods she makes on her loom at home.

Her life began on Dec. 22, 1935, when she born alongside her twin brother Karl Wilhelm Emmerich. She remembers walking to kindergarten and hating to have to hold hands with other kids, but loving all the toys. The war mostly passed her by. Darmstadt wasn’t a major target, until the destructive 1944 raid.

“I can’t remember being scared,” she said. “It was part of our lives.”

Anhorn’s father fought in the Nazi army and managed to survive the conflict. She wonders about her family and tries to figure out what their life was like.

“I do not know whether my family were Nazis or not. I imagine they were not,” she told me. “When I think back to what happened in my home, it wasn’t like they were going crazy about going to parades. In fact, they stayed away from parades.”

She also got in trouble at school for delivering the Nazi salute with her left hand, and not her right one.

Her family raised chickens and had a pig that someone stole. She would go door-to-door collecting food scraps to feed to the animals and would go into the fields to pick potato beetles.

Anhorn went to school up until grade nine and afterwords trained to be a rural homemaker. Her job was to help out at homes when the wife was sick or having a child.

“In 1954 my mother decided Germany had no future and I should to Canada, so I did,” she said. “This job that I learned was totally useless in this country. Nobody knew what it was.”

Anhorn found herself on a boat, travelling across the Atlantic Ocean with other emigrants. They landed first in Halifax, then sailed into the St. Lawrence River to Montreal. She remembers being in awe at the emptiness of the countryside.

Her ultimate destination was Ottawa, where she was employed as a domestic helper. She spoke no English and the food was “strange,” she said.

Anhorn moved on to other jobs. She worked as a nurses helper, then got a job doing map work for the Distant Early Warning line that was set up to warn of Soviet attacks via northern Canada. When that job finished, she worked for the Bank of Canada making graphs and charts.

In January 1967, she packed her bags and bought a train ticket to Vancouver. “I don’t know why,” she said. “That’s as far as the train took me.”

She spent three days on a bumpy train, arriving in Vancouver to green grass — another novelty for her.

She worked as a bookkeeper and, on a ski trip to Whistler, met her future husband Paul Anhorn, an avalanche researcher in Rogers Pass.

In 1971, she moved to the Pass. “It was horrible. It was lonely. I felt trapped,” she said. “You couldn’t go anywhere without a car. In the winter it was precarious.”

She and Paul adopted two children — Daniel, in 1972, and Tanya in 1974. That year, they moved to Revelstoke, where they raised their two children in Arrow Heights.

Paul died in 1990, so Inge took a job with the Canadian Avalanche Organization as the office manager. She also worked as a caregiver and at the visitor centre.

She also took up pottery, taking lessons from Trudy Golley, a famous potter who grew up in Revelstoke.

Anhorn stayed in Revelstoke until the mid-2000s, when she decided to move to Vancouver to take in the arts and culture of the big city. After a few years, she moved back to Revelstoke, but brought with her a new skill — weaving.

“I like fibre. I like textiles,” she said. “It’s a complicated concept.”

Today, Anhorn weaves at home and sells her work at the farmers market on weekends. She also makes it a priority to live as green a life as possible. She donated her car to the kidney foundation and gets around by bike. She re-uses what she can and recycles what she can’t use.

“One drop may not amount to much, but a million drops are a lot,” she said. “I decided to do what I can on my part. What other people do is their decision.”