Double Threat: Canadian Jews, the Military, and World War II.

For her new book, Ellin spent six years researching, and travelling, and interviewing over 300 veterans and their families, to tell the untold stories of how and why Canada’s Jewish community sent 17,000 men and women in uniform to defeat Hitler and the Axis in the Second World War. It is a story that has never been comprehensively told before and fills an important gap in the publicly known accounts of how a country of volunteers helped win the war.

In 1945, the Second World War came to an end. For the Jews of Canada, this war was what the Prime Minister of the day, Mackenzie King, called a “Double Threat”: he said Hitler was not only dangerous to freedom and democracy, but was a threat to the very survival of the Jewish people as a race. In spite of this backdrop, or maybe because of it, more nearly 17,000 Jewish Canadians enlisted in every branch of the service, and in the merchant marine. They fought and died in every major battle including Hong Kong, Dieppe, the Battle of Britain, the Battle of the Atlantic, North Africa, Ortona, D-Day, Falaise, the Scheldt, and throughout Northwest Europe, and in the Pacific.

Over 190 received military honours for bravery. Nearly 450 did not come home. You can find Canadian Jewish military graves from WWll, in all corners of the world, including the large cemeteries of Normandy, as well as in Germany, England, and Holland…plus in far-flung places such as Iceland, Ghana, Libya, and Crete.

Ellin will introduce you to some of the more famous Canadian Jews in uniform: comedian David Steinberg’s oldest brother Hymie, “Let’s Make a Deal” host Monty Hall, CBC comedians Wayne and Shuster, clothing magnate Ben Dunkleman, and former defence minister Barney Danson. Meet the Jewish Communists who were arrested as traitors, but then set free to go overseas to fight.  Double Threat unravels a decades-old mystery behind the death of Rose Goodman, the only Canadian Jewish woman in uniform to be killed in the war.  You’ll discover hockey stars, poets, actors, sewing machine operators, lawyers, dentists, and engineers, as well as the sixteen Canadian rabbis who served with them at home, and overseas.

Ellin Bessner tells us who these Jewish Canadian fighters were, why they went, and what their lives were like as Jews in Canada, and in the barracks, and on the battlefield.

Double Threat is an important book. More than 17,000 Jewish Canadians fought in World War II. Many never came home and instead lie in the ground of Canadian war cemeteries across Europe with the Star of David carved into the stone above them. They fought the Nazis with a passion that allowed them to move past the antisemitism they had faced, first at home, and then, too often, right beside them on the battlefield. Bessner’s writing brings this part of our history out of the shadows. All of us owe it to those remarkable men and women to read their stories.

Peter Mansbridge O.C.

Like a million of their fellow citizens in World War II, they put life aspirations aside, left … family, friends and lovers behind and departed the relative safety of Canadian shores. The difference? Canadian Jews in the armed forces faced antisemitism in the ranks, politicians and commanders who doubted their effectiveness, and feared certain death if captured in Nazi-occupied Europe. In victory, they bore the sting of neglect by their nation’s historians. Until now. In Ellin Bessner, these Canadian-Jewish servicemen and women have found a … documentarian who understood their faith … and has dug deep, listened long and fought hard to tell their stories.

Ted Barris, author of The Great Escape: A Canadian Story

“I am so impressed with the massive research and beautiful, concise writing. I’ve already shed some tears and am learning…

Joyce Kaplan, Toronto business and career coach
Jewish RCAF airmen pose in front of plane in Second World War
Nova Scotia airman Davy Conter (centre) poses with his crew, in WWll. (courtesy Dr. Howard Conter)

It is published by New Jewish Press, out of the the University of Toronto’s Anne Tanenbaum Centre for Jewish Studies, in March 2018, and is on sale at fine booksellers across Canada and the US, including Indigo/Chapters, Amazon and Target. Libraries and institutions wishing to purchase copies should contact NJP’s distributor, Ampersand.