When the Soviet Union invaded Germany in January 1945, the German government ordered families to evacuate their homes in the Province of Silesia. Brigitte Roick, her stepmother, two sisters and baby brother joined thousands of other families on the road. They travelled in an open farm trailer pulled by a tractor. Among the scanty essentials, they were allowed to take a burlap bag of newly slaughtered chickens, so there would be something to eat along the way. It was -20 degrees Celsius and so the chickens were guaranteed to keep fresh. Brigitte could never have imagined this flight would inspire her to write the book Moonchild years later, the story of a young girl growing up amid the horrors of Nazi rule.
Brigitte's family survived, despite bombs, starvation, and being separated in the midst of the western front. Her father's job was deemed essential and therefore he hadn't been allowed to flee with them, but they were eventually reunited. After the surrender, he started up a new company in Western Germany. Silesia was ceded to Poland in 1945, and their lovely and spacious country home was lost to them forever.
Brigitte was not one to sit and brood. After high school graduation, she studied drama and yoga in West Berlin, followed by seven years of acting in professional theatre. She fondly remembers her performances of Anne Frank in several cities, including Holland in 1957. The subject of this play was popular in Germany because "people needed to do something to help ease the tremendous, overwhelming feeling of guilt they shared." It was this period of her life that inspired her second book, Annabel: or The (Sexual) Adventures of a Good Girl. Brigitte laughs and says "I don't emphasize the fact that it's somewhat autobiographical: people here are fairly conservative."
Brigitte's sister immigrated to Vancouver, and Brigitte followed in 1963. She wanted to improve her high school English so she could become a translator of plays. On the application form for her immigrant visa, she wrote German Actress as her occupation. "Can you imagine?" she says, "They let me stay after that!"
Within two weeks, she was working at Vancouver General Hospital in the kitchen, and within another year, she was married. She had two daughters, but the marriage didn't last. "Don't marry someone whose past you know nothing about," she warns.
Her English perfected, she conducted yoga classes at the Jewish Community Centre and YMCA in Vancouver, but moved with her daughters to Hamilton, Ontario, to escape painful memories after her divorce. A busy and creative time began.
Brigitte completed a yoga teacher-training course under Swami Vishnudevenanda, and taught classes at Mohawk College, the YMCA and community centres.
After establishing an accredited yoga course at McMaster University, she became a registered foot reflexologist. She taught reflexology as well as weekend workshops in relaxation and meditation. Having been vegetarian for 40 years, she showed others how to eat and cook a healthy way. "My way of life was unpopular in those days," she says, "and the term 'holistic' was brand new. I knew the goodness of it, and I wanted to give back to the country that had welcomed me."
Brigitte laughs when she recalls a yoga class she taught to recovering alcoholics in a rehab centre. "They had stopped drinking, but they were still smoking their heads off, and when I said breathe deeply, they almost passed out."
While teaching, Brigitte had a hunch that she might try writing one day and thought it would help to have some initials behind her name, so she took night classes and got her BA in Sociology. During this time, her daughters left the nest, and in 1989 she "retired," but continued learning by taking accredited creative writing courses.
Always longing for the country, she bought five acres of forested land in southern Ontario and hired contractors to build a little bungalow. She worked alongside them, roofed her carport and built her own fireplace, brick by brick - no small feat for a petite woman. Her love of learning found her signing up for a Children's Literature course, which led to a diploma in Early Childhood Education. However, life in the country proved a bit quiet, and when her first-born daughter was about to give birth, she picked up sticks and moved to Vancouver to take care of her grandchild. But she knew that big city life would not be in her future. "I need to feel soil under my feet," she says.
The beauty of Vancouver Island captured her and she settled in Parksville. She began writing her memoirs about the extraordinary events that had coloured her life in Germany, something she had been thinking about for a long time. She was encouraged by friends, and then by an interested publisher from Greystone Books whom she met at a Writers' Conference. After many months of editing and emails, she made the decision to self publish. "At my age, I can't wait a long time to get my stories into print!"
Brigitte is looking forward to going to Germany for a high school reunion soon. She'll also present her book *Moonchild* to an English class there. She hopes she won't "stutter or look for words when meeting old friends." She still practises yoga, dances to ABBA every morning and loves The Beatles. And she's busy writing a third book about her early days in Canada and her "eventful first marriage."
Brigitte Roick's books are available at Mulberry Bush Bookstore in Parksville and Qualicum Beach and on the Internet.
NOVEMBER 2010 SENIOR LIVING MAGAZINE VANCOUVER ISLAND
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