Jewish Canadian women in uniform in WWII deserve a nod on International Women’s Day

Canadian woman soldier
Staff Sergeant Miriam “Mimi” Freedman, born in Montreal, served overseas in London, France, Belgium and Germany during WWII. (Courtesy Ruth Elias)

The nearly 280 Canadian Jewish women who volunteered, put on a uniform, and served in WWII lived their own important wartime experiences, and contributed to help Canada and the Allies win the war.

However, they earned only 70 cents a day (while their male counterparts earned $1.30). They weren’t allowed to wear nail polish or dangly earrings. They had to wear skirts, even during the winter. Their enlisting usually raised eyebrows, prompting comments about their supposedly “loose morals” and impropriety.

Most of the women also had their own #Time’sUp moments. Some were treated poorly by the servicemen they worked with, or not given the credit that they deserved.

Mention in Dispatches

Montreal-born Staff Sergeant Miriam “Mimi” Freedman was the only Canadian Jewish woman in uniform to win a Mention in Dispatches from the King during the war. She served for nearly seven years overseas, first with the London Ambulance Service, then as a driver for Canadian Army staff at headquarters there.

Eventually, Freedman was among the first group of Canadian Women’s Army Corps personnel sent to Normandy in 1944 after D-Day. The editors of the Montreal Gazette published a story about her in 1946, but ran it on the women’s page.

We don’t know how Freedman felt about her war service: her family says she didn’t talk about it after she came home. She did speak about her encounters with German civilians when the war ended.

“Naturally we felt that we were not wanted,” she told the Gazette. “They were aggressive toward us but not given the opportunity of harming us.”

“I can punctuate, you know!”

At least one Canadian Jewish woman in uniform decided to take a #Time’sUp stand.

When Sergeant Esther Rabinovitch (Nobleman) of Medicine Hat, Alberta was serving with the RCAF Women’s Division in Ottawa, she had to take dictation about top secret radar and other important air force messages. Her chain-smoking boss, an officer, used to stand over her chair and tell her to add commas.  It drove her nuts.  After a few months, she had had enough.

“I had been very good in English in high school,” Nobleman told an interviewer, many years after the war.  “I swung around in my little chair and I said, ‘Sir? I can punctuate, you know!’ And he says, ‘Oh to be sure, to be sure.’ So that took care of that problem.”

Only Jewish Woman Casualty of WWII

Woman in uniform
Section Officer Rose J. Goodman, of New Glasgow, Nova Scotia. (Courtesy Claresholm Museum)

When Rose Goodman of New Glasgow, Nova Scotia went to the RCAF’s recruiting office for women in Halifax, in the fall of 1941, she had graduated from Dalhousie University, was a Girl Guide leader, and played violin.  The officer who interviewed her noted the following points, in this order: Attractive. Hebrew. 22. Intelligent. A very capable girl full of ideas and initiative. Father is “worth about $100,000 with an annual income of $10,000”. They also said she wore glasses. She got in, anyway.

Goodman eventually impressed everyone with her talent and brains and was promoted to Section Officer. She was posted to the RCAF Claresholm air base, near Calgary. It housed a busy wartime training school for air crews.  She is the only Canadian Jewish woman in uniform to die in service during WWII.

Claresholm newspaper
Front page of the local newspaper describing the crash that killed Rose Goodman.

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