Collecting stories of Canada’s Jewish WWII Women in Uniform
For International Women’s Day 2021, I want to bring some well-deserved attention to a valuable project about women in Canadian military history. It is also a project that has a very personal connection to my family’s service in the Second World War.
The new “She Also Serves” website at the University of Calgary went live in November. It showcases the lives and stories of the 260 + Canadian Jewish women who volunteered to serve during the war in a Canadian military uniform. There are women who served in the army, navy, air force and also as nurses.
One of the women being profiled is my great aunt Daisy (Lazare) Friedberg, who served as a corporal with the Canadian Women’s Army Corps, specifically in the Military Police.
“She Also Serves” is the result of years of work by Calgary historian Saundra Lipton, a librarian emerita at the University of Calgary. She has collaborated on this site with Dr. Jennifer Eiserman, an associate professor in the art faculty.
“She Also Serves is an opportunity to introduce some exceptional women to our community, to our country, and beyond our borders,” Lipton said.
The website’s aim is to bring to light the names and details of the Canadian Jewish women (our grandmothers, mothers, wives, aunts and sisters) whose contribution to the country’s military during the war has been overlooked by Canadian history. These women are among the 17,000 Canadians of Jewish faith who served in the war and some are profiled in my own book “Double Threat: Canadian Jews, the Military and WWII”.
After Canada permitted women to enlist, in the fall of 1941, eventually some 50,000 would serve. As to why so few Jewish Canadian women joined the ranks, perhaps Daisy Lazare explained it best.
“It was a queer job, for a girl,” she told a local newspaper during the war, alluding to the existing negative societal attitudes about equality for women which she experienced during the 1940s.
So far, Lipton has three dozen completed profiles, including one of Daisy. Daisy (Sarah Celia Lazarovitz) was born in Quebec City. She moved to Ottawa before the war, and lived with my grandparents Abraham and Sadie Lieff, a magistrate and a lawyer, respectively. Daisy enlisted in 1942, and was in the first class of Canadian women sent to train in Winnipeg as Military Police.
Although civilian women had to wait until 1941 to enlist, Jewish nurses were permitted to join from the outset in 1939. The new website has the stories of this trio of Jewish Canadian nursing officers in the photo below, who served overseas treating wounded men from the battlefront: Montrealers Lt. Rose Novick and Lt. Estelle Tritt, and Lt. Bessie Fagin of Ottawa.
For these Jewish Canadian women, joining the war effort was sometimes in keeping with what the men in their families had already done. For others, such as Section Officer Rose Goodman, of New Glasgow, N.S., they were the only member of their family to serve.
The “She Also Served” website has already inspired Canadian artists who have created works based on the lives of the women listed. Officials have selected nine pieces of art which they hope to launch in May, during Jewish Heritage Month, at The Military Museums in Calgary.
If you know of a Canadian Jewish woman in the military during the Second World War whose story and photos should be included in this database and website, please contact Ellin. I will connect you to Saundra Lipton. Happy International Women’s Day 2021.