Jutta Poser: A Humanist Life

Jutta Poser was born in 1925 in Berlin and went to Canada in 1950, settling in Montreal and then later Vancouver where she and her husband Ernest have been active members of BC Humanists for many years. Callum Brown interviewed Jutta in her Vancouver home in October 2009.

My family was a mixed marriage.  My father was an assimilated Jew.  His parents had been baptised in Germany for reasons that there were very few openings in the profession that my grandfather was in and he was a banker.  And this was a private bank in Bonn so in order to get all the acceptance that he needed he became baptised into the German Protestant Lutheran Church along with his wife and their progeny, all three of them, were baptised too so that none of them remained in the Jewish faith.

My mother had come from a Protestant not practising religious family but one did adhere to some kind of religion mostly when you wanted to have a certificate or certification.  I had very little religious upbringing at home. I learned some religion at school which was forced in the German system when I went to school; I think that must have changed later on.  When I came to England at the age of eleven I decided this was something that I had to change because I hadn’t had any religious instruction at home, had very little at school it was not really a compulsory subject and the war was on.  Half my family, my mother’s family, remained in Germany whilst the other half that was either married to a Jew or was Jewish left and emigrated.  So we had no contact with our family in Germany throughout the war. But I felt torn between the family that I loved and had to stay and did stay in Germany and the family that left.  My father had two siblings both of them went off to live in California.  So we were sort of spread around by the events in Nazi Germany.

And by the time it got to confirmation I was living in England.  The war was on and I was inquisitive at the time and took confirmation classes and got myself confirmed.  My parents had no say in the matter, I decided on that.  I wanted to be I think in accord with my friends; I think it was the peer group in the main.  But within a year I left and had had quite enough of the religious teachings that I had taken as a result of becoming confirmed in the Church of England.  There is one particular incident that I recall: that one prayed towards the God that one believed in to smite the enemy during the war.  Now I had next of kin in Germany and I could not quite see that under one hat.  On the German side the Christians I suppose were asking for their God, so to speak, to smite the enemy, namely the Brits. Where did that leave me?  In a state of confusion.  And it was enough for me to quit and I quit for the rest of my life in terms of being a religious person.

My husband.  I got to know him when I was fourteen and he was eighteen.  I think he had a great influence on my orienting my thoughts towards Humanism, but I certainly was looking into something to replace what I had temporarily joined.  There was confusion. But the trouble is that we didn’t really have much time with each other.  He spent all his academic years of training in Canada except for his PhD.  And at that time I came over to Canada in order to continue with my field which was medicine.  I qualified in medicine in England. I came over to Montreal and took two years in the Children’s Memorial Hospital in paediatrics.  I didn’t work.  I married him. We were in the 1950s.  I wanted children and these things were not very compatible in those years.  I wanted definitely a family.  And to conduct yourself as a professional and as a mother at that time was really difficult.  Times have changed.

In Montreal we opened up in 1966-71 a school on Sundays for Humanist children.  We had thirty-five children who were registered and broke them up into ages, according to ages and got teachers for the respective age groups. They were divided up according to age group and then, according to the age, the person who was a teacher would use a Humanist theme, in one way or another, to bring that across to the child according to the age level at which they had joined.  And there were times when we organised visits to schools, to churches, temples, synagogues and they went out to learn a little bit about what was going on on the other side. Our three children were in that school so I’ve kept in touch with them and we’ve also kept in touch with some of the others.  And in terms of meaning ‘successful’ that we turned them into young Humanists, the answer is no. It was not successful, but it did open up a world to them and I think their horizon was enlarged.

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