Born into a liberal, middle-class Jewish family in Vienna after World War I, Peter Oberlander had his life torn apart when Nazi Germany annexed Austria in March 1938. After his father suffered incarceration and physical and mental abuse at the hands of the Nazis, Peter’s family escaped to England with the clothes on their backs. The British, facing the imminent threat of a German invasion, interned Peter and other refugees of military age from Austria and Germany as “enemy aliens.” Without his prior knowledge or consent, Peter and others were transported to Canada across the U-boat infested Atlantic to Canada in the hostile company of German prisoners of war, to a hostile reception by Canadian authorities who reflected the government’s philosophy that any Jewish refugee to Canada was one too many. Throughout this experience, Oberlander never lost his passion for architecture and city planning or his sense of his responsibility to contribute as a professional to a better world.
Through a combination of dogged commitment, fortunate happenstances and the support of people who believed in him, Peter made a distinguished contribution as a Canadian planner and educator with a global vision of a better future for humanity as citizens of better cities. He established the first graduate program in community planning in Canada and practically invented the planning profession in British Columbia. He was the first deputy-minister level official in urban affairs in Canadian history and for the last decade of his life was a Citizenship Court Judge. Throughout his life he was a vibrant participant in his society, insisting that ideas were of little value unless translated into concrete action.
Showing the Way demonstrates, in previously-unpublished detail, how Peter Oberlander’s life epitomized the concept of citizenship as it has evolved over the past 100 years and how important this concept is to our global future.