By Amber-Lea Nielsen
Three-time author, survivor and overall inspiration Anita Galitzine shares her miraculous story of wartime-survival and international adventure in her latest book, ‘The Story of Phant’, all the while encouraging the world to keep dreaming and believing, no matter your circumstance.
It was on Dec. 22, 1933, when Galitzine was born in Riga, Latvia, where her great aunt would visit with a precious gift.
“She had come to visit her family from Berlin, and she had brought me Phant,” said Galitzine, who now lives in Nanoose Bay, reminiscing about the little, stuffed, grey elephant who soon became her greatest comfort and companion during the war.
“He was made out of a gentleman’s silk stocking. I was about nine or 10 months old when I got him and I wouldn’t let him go,” she explained, noting that she always had to have a pocket somewhere. When I was upset and cried, that was who I cried into.”
With the Second World War having started in 1939, it was in 1941 when the Russian Army had occupied the Baltic States.
“I remember sitting on the lap of a Russian officer and he gave me a little paper bag with candies in it, and he said, ‘you’re just as sweet as my daughter and I miss her,’” said Galitzine. “I will never ever forget that. If we had stayed, we would all have lost our lives. So, my father decided to leave, and we all got out. We were refugees.”
Bombed out of Berlin, Galitzine’s family lost everything.
“If we had waited a week later, we would have all died in the cellar of the apartment building where we were staying,” Galitzine recalled. “We went back and forth, back and forth (with Phant accompanying her everywhere she went.”
Latvia, Galitzine’s home country, became occupied by the German military, and the apartment that her grandfather had owned, and where they lived, was taken over by the German Air Force.
“My grandfather who was the owner of the building, could stay in the apartment that belonged to the concierge. His daughter, my mom and my little brother could stay there. But, my old brother, Bob, and I, we were ten and twelve, we couldn’t,” said Galitzine. “We were taken to my grandmother’s farm.”
As the war changed and the German’s started to lose power, causing withdraw, it was during that time when Galitzine and Bob, became separated from their mother, by law.
“We were not allowed to join her in Riga, Latvia,” Galitzine said.
Fortunately, a close friend of Galitzine’s mother, who was high up in the military, arranged for Galitzine, Bob, and their grandmother to be hidden in a military vehicle. Buried under army materials, the three of them were told that they would be shot if discovered during their border crossing into Latvia.
“We got to Riga,” said Galitzine. “And then we were put onto a factory boat. We were bombed at and torpedoed at, but we made it to what is now Poland.”
In the midst of the commotion and many people fleeing, Galitzine and her family were taken to a small seaside resort, off the coast.
“The war came closer and closer and once again, the same man whom my mother knew saved us. He sent a messenger to our address, and we were told to leave that night and to go to the beach; a small boat would come,” remembered Galitzine.
Holding onto nothing more than hope and a suitcase, she didn’t want Phant to fall out of her pocket, and packed him into the case.
Galitzine explained that the Russians were on land and in the sea; the British in the air. Just a mere 10 years old at that time, Galitzine and her family were shot at from all angles, the suitcase she had packed Phant into lay on the shore.
“I cried and I cried and I cried,” said Galitzine. “I never got over it, never in my life. And I am now 86.”
As life went on, Galitzine and her family eventually ended up in Copenhagen, Denmark, famously known as the land of milk and honey; the war ending the year of their arrival.
“That was where I had my first egg,” remembered Galitzine. “That hard-boiled egg was so precious, I still had it when I immigrated to Canada.”
Throughout their travels, Galitzine’s family was unaware of her father’s survival, and if so, where he was. A Latvian diplomat, turned director of Shell oil and gas – owned by the Dutch and English – Galitzine’s father knew numerous languages, which they would later find was what aided in his ultimate salvation.
As Holland and England were enemies of Germany, and Galitzine’s father worked for Shell, unbeknownst, her father was shipped off to what was then known as Yugoslavia, where he worked for the Germans as a translator, later sent by Hitler to the Northern tip of Denmark in hopes of being hidden away.
It was in Denmark where Galitzine and her family would briefly find her father, proving that miracles belong to those who believe.
Three years later, Galitzine and her family followed her father from Denmark to London, where they became British citizens, eventually immigrating to Montreal in 1954, where life became new and opportunity was replenished. It was there, in 1955, at the age of 22 when Galitzine met her late husband, Nicholas; a Russian prince, and later started a family of their own.
From Montreal to Sointula, Galitzine and Nicholas moved, relocating years later to Victoria, where together they attended a Christmas fair in Saanich. It was at that fair, 50 years after Galitzine and Phant were separated on the Polish shore, when she saw a little, stuffed, grey elephant in a basket.
“For a minute, I was speechless.”
Sewn from the exact same pattern, Galitzine learned that the woman who had made the little elephant in Saanich was originally from Berlin – where her great aunt had bought the first Phant at a Christmas bazaar in late December of 1933, and where ‘The Story of Phant’ had all began.
“It was Phant,” said Galitzine. “It was absolutely Phant!”
A story for those who hold hope, adventure, family and gratitude close to their hearts, ‘The Story of Phant’ is a touchstone tale for all generations.
It includes original illustrations by famed local artist, Nicholas Classen, and can be purchased in-store at Chapters in Nanaimo, throughout specialty book stores on Vancouver Island, and online at www.indigo.ca.