On April 26, 1952, the Rotterdam Lloyd ship, ms Sibajak, left Rotterdam carrying 998 Dutch emigrants to their new homeland in Canada. After a harrowing trip across the North Atlantic Ocean, the Sibajak arrived in Quebec City ten days later, where waiting trains brought the new arrivals to destinations across Canada.
Set against the background of postwar Holland, John van Immerseel, one of the passengers on the ship, tells the story of 17 families who made that trip. The stories document their lives before and during the war years, the reasons for their decision to emigrate, and their first few years in Canada as they set out to rebuild their lives. This is also the story of the postwar years, the struggle by the Dutch government to manage its perceived overpopulation problem, economic difficulties, and the lack of opportunities for the rural population.
This is also the story of the Sibajak and her courageous captain, whose underground resistance work during the war years supported the families of the merchant marine who were unable to return to the Netherlands for the duration of the war.
What makes this book stand out among emigration memoirs is that the author places in a broader context the stories of 17 families who happened to share their date of departure, but otherwise came from different walks of life, had their own reasons for making the journey and went to different destinations in Canada. It is also a beautifully produced book with hundreds of photographs, which evoke a period in time that is gradually disappearing from firsthand memory.
The book is a treasure trove of information that readers interested in the Dutch postwar emigration phenomenon will find truly fascinating.
You can read an excerpt from for For a Better Life in Issue 56 of Dutch the magazine.
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The book is available from its publisher, gbooksinternational.