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.

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.