Ellin brings ‘Double Threat’ to Halifax for Holocaust Remembrance Day 2019 at Pier 21
May 1 @ 7:30 pm - 9:30 pm ADT
“A score to settle with Hitler”
For her new book, Canadian professor and journalist Ellin Bessner spent six years researching and travelling, and interviewing over 300 Canadian Jewish 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 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.
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, 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. The Naval Memorial in Halifax’s Point Pleasant Park lists at least half a dozen names of Jewish men who served and have no known grave. 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.
“Double Threat”, published by the University of Toronto Press in 2018, introduces the reader to some of the more famous Canadian Jews who served: “Let’s Make a Deal” host Monty Hall, CBC comedians Wayne and Shuster, Toronto clothing magnate Ben Dunkelman, defence minister Barney Danson, comedian David Steinberg’s oldest brother Hymie, and Senator David Croll.
According to wartime estimates, “every able bodied Jewish man of military age in the Maritimes served, including from larger communities such as Saint John and Sydney-Glace Bay, as well as smaller locations such as Inverness and Yarmouth.
“Some of these families, just about all the boys left town,” says Stephen Nathanson, of Sydney. He believes the tremendous participation rate was because the young Jewish men, particularly from Glace Bay–especially those who didn’t leave to go to university–thought joining up would let them escape for a while from the small town milieu and their predetermined futures, and see a bit of the world.
Nathanson’s father Nate was a rear gunner in the RCAF and spent 18 months as a POW in Stalag Luft 6 and was one of the more prominent Atlantic Jewish personnel who served. Others included Senator Jack Marshall, and his brother, a pilot, Tommy Marshall, who was killed in action with the RCAF; Dr. Frank Boyaner of Saint John, who served as a dentist in the Italian Campaign, and Lieutenant-Colonel Joseph Tanzman, a doctor who went overseas in 1942 and would become the Assistant Director of Medical Services for the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division. Percy “Pinky” Gaum, a long time Cape Breton politician, served with the RCAF in Europe until he was captured and taken prisoner by the Germans. Both Davy Conter, of New Waterford, N.S. and Morton Heinish, the son of Halifax community leader Noa Heinish, were lost while on active duty missions with the RCAF.
Dr. Isadore Roy Gold of Glace Bay served with the U.S. Army in Japan, and is credited with saving the life of the Japanese warlord Tojo after Tojo’s attempted suicide in September 1945. Maurice Lipton of Sydney, who rose to the rank of Major General with NORAD after the war, was in charge of all RCAF training.
“Double Threat” also unravels a decades-old mystery behind the death of RCAF Women’s Division officer Rose Goodman, of New Glasgow, the only Canadian Jewish woman in uniform to be killed in the war.
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. And what they did when they liberated Europe and encountered the survivors of the Holocaust.