Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany posed a double threat to Canadian Jews. The German dictatorship threatened the freedom and democracy of all Canadians. For Jews, it also threatened their very existence. Despite antisemitism in Canada, thousands of Jewish Canadians joined the armed forces. They served in a proportion comparable to that of the general Canadian population. Burdened by antisemitism in the ranks, a number rose to leadership positions and many committed acts of bravery in service to their fellow soldiers. Our guest, Ellin Bessner, joins us to share their stories. They served as liberators and witnesses to the aftermath of the Holocaust. As you will discover in the podcast, Ellin’s research tells us just as much about Jewish culture, customs, and mourning practices as it does about Jewish men and women in uniform and the military in which they fought.
2:30 How a Visit to Juno Sparked a Book
6:24 What Canada’s Jews Were Fighting For
16:05 Barriers to Enlisting
18:52 Antisemitism in Canada’s Armed Forces
23:06 Jews in the Royal Canadian Air Force
26:25 Accounting for Canadian Jewish Service in the Second World War
30:34 Jewish Women in Uniform
35:45 Off-Duty Activities
39:17 Accommodating Jewish Beliefs and Practices?
41:35 Veteran Testimony: Kosher Food with Harry Kaushansky
44:30 Veteran Testimony: Liberated Jews with Lorne Winer
52:00 Jewish Personnel Return to Canada
55:05 Grief and Memory
57:45 Keeping the Memory Alive
Ellin Bessner is a veteran journalist and professor at Centennial College Journalism School in Toronto. She has been researching and writing about Canadian Jewish servicemen and women for over seven years. Ellin’s efforts have culminated in her book, Double Threat: Canadian Jews, the Military, and World War II. She lives in Richmond Hill, Ontario.
Visit Ellin Bessner’s website, here.
The following links offer more information on the topics discussed in this episode:
Arms & Weapons
Juno Beach and Beyond is hosted and edited by Alex Fitzgerald-Black, the centre’s Digital Projects Coordinator.
Canadian Army Newsreel No. 67 of Hebrew church parade with Rabbi Samuel Cass from Library and Archives Canada
Interviews with Harry Kaushansky and Lorne Winer courtesy of Ellin Bessner
Mackenzie King’s speech to British Parliament from the British Pathé YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6SlEvclY5LE&t=48s
Artillery firing sounds from the CBC News: The National YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RsCSQ4uWR1Y
Winston Churchill’s “Finest Hour” speech from Jonathan Thomas’s YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jB5wZtV1MWM
Spitfire sound effect from Jason Kirby’s YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xgZI4tAoMN0
Dramatic Interlude by Alexander Nakarada | https://www.serpentsoundstudios.com
Music promoted by https://www.free-stock-music.com
Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)
Dispatches from Juno shares all the news, events, and stories from the Juno Beach Centre in France and Canada. Interested in contributing a story to the blog? Email the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.