Canada’s Jewish Military Veterans Deserve Better!

by Alan Simons

“Canada has a distinguished military history of which we should all be proud. For 150 years, brave men and women have worn Canada’s uniform and proven to the world Canada’s commitment to important causes. Time and time again we have shown that despite our modest population, we have been able to field a military capable of services far greater than would be expected… To those who served in the past, are serving currently or will serve in the future whether in war or in peace, on the front lines or in important support roles, we owe our gratitude and have an obligation to stand by and support them.” – Paul, owner of Crawford Boys Clothing, Toronto.

Next month, Sunday, October 6, members of Canada’s Jewish community have been invited to a remembrance ceremony in Toronto honouring 202 Canadian Jewish WWI war heroes at a special monument dedication and unveiling by the Jewish Branch of the Royal Canadian Legion in Toronto, the General Wingate Branch # 256.

I shall be there! During WWI, my grandfather served with the Brits in the trenches in Belgium. He somehow managed to survive, never to speak of his ghastly experiences until a few hours before he died in the 1970s. My great uncle David Wienberg, born in Merthyr Tydvil, Wales, served in the 1st Bn. Border Regiment. Great uncle David died at the age of 23 on Thursday April 11 1918. He is remembered with honour at the Ploesgsteert Memorial, Hainaut, Belgium. I have a personal obligation to attend this significant and historical Toronto event honouring our Jewish military veterans.

Unfortunately, by all accounts, Canadian Jewry as a whole, are utterly apathetic in supporting these courageous Jews of yesteryear, as well as our vets who served in WWII, the Korean War and currently those who serve in the Canadian Armed Forces. 

So, for those of you not aware, here’s some background information for you to think about.

During World War I, 38% of all Jewish males 21 years and over in Canada served in the Canadian Expeditionary Forces. 4.5% won decorations for bravery and distinguished military service, in comparison with 3.4% Canadian soldiers of all origins.

For Canadian Jews, the Second World War was the Jewish community’s most sustained war effort ever. Out of a population of approximately 167,000 Jewish men, women and children, over 16,880 volunteered for active service in the army, air force, and navy. There were an additional 2,000 Jews who enlisted, but who did not declare their Jewish identity in order to avert danger if captured by the Nazi forces. All of this at a time when Canada had the shameful reputation of being the only western country to completely close its doors to Jews fleeing Nazi persecution.

Of the 16,880 who served, which constituted more than one-fifth of the entire Jewish male population in the country, 10,440 served in the army, 5,870 in the air force, and 570 in the navy. 1,971 Jewish soldiers received military awards. Over 420 were buried with the Star of David engraved on graves scattered in 125 cemeteries. Thousands returned home with serious physical and mental wounds.

Saskatchewan Jews were among the first to volunteer during both World War I and II, and many lost their lives in the European trenches. The province honoured those who sacrificed their lives, including a number of Jewish heroes, by naming several lakes and mountains of the vast northern region after them.

A website link provides the date of death and place of burial of many of Canada’s Jewish service men and women who died serving in the Canadian Forces in World War I, World War II, and the Korean War. The data was originally compiled by the Canadian Jewish Congress Charities Committee National Archives, Montréal.

92 year-old Murray Jacobs is Past President and the October 6/13 Event Chairman and Gerry Rosenberg is the current President of the Royal Canadian Legion’s General Wingate Branch # 256. The Branch name was chosen to honour Major General Orde Charles Wingate D.S.O., a non-Jew and distinguished British Army officer, who became an ardent Zionist after he arrived in Palestine in 1936.

Wingate 256 helps support the Sunnybrook Hospital Veteran’s Wing, Toronto and several years ago was instrumental in forming the hospital’s Jewish chapel. Funds raised from poppy donations help care for veterans and their families where needed. Medical equipment for community health facilities and for medical research are also Wingate beneficiaries. There are monthly Shabbat Services in cooperation with several Synagogues.

There’s an annual memorial march and service at Mt. Sinai Cemetery, Toronto, where stands a magnificent cenotaph, funded and maintained by the Branch — a place which memorializes Jewish servicemen and women who died and are buried overseas, and those who fought in Israel’s War of Independence and partisans who fought the Nazis.

Because of age our heroes, those who served in the rank and file in WWII and the Korean War, diminish by the day. Canada’s Jewish military veterans deserve better from the Diaspora!

For information about the October 6 remembrance ceremony, contact David Eisenstadt of tcgpr at deisenstadt@tcgpr.com or phone (416) 696- 9900 ext 36.

(Photo credit: dreamstime.com)

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