We will remember them
Nous nous souviendrons d’eux
Thank you Canada!
“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.”
“The soldiers had arms missing, legs missing, pipes and gadgets holding their faces together – it was the sight I was not prepared for…that’s when the movie ended, and the reality of war set in.” – Mort Lightstone, Captain (Ret’d). Korean War veteran, Royal Canadian Air Force.
TORONTO, CANADA- On the front lawn of the Ontario Legislature in Toronto, stands a 30-metre-long granite wall, etched with scenes from Canada’s military history. The Ontario Veterans’ Memorial is dedicated to every man and woman who has served with courage to protect our freedom in times of war and in peace.
On Sunday, November 11, starting at 10:45 am we will honour our veterans and all Canadians currently serving in ongoing military activities throughout the world by remembering their selfless courage and commitment during Ontario’s Ceremony of Remembrance to be held at the Front Lawn of the Legislative Building, Queen’s Park, Toronto, Canada.
In an official capacity, I have been given the honour of participating at the Ceremony, where I will be laying the wreath on behalf of the Jewish War Veterans of Canada.
For the Jewish community of all ages living in Toronto and the surrounding area, I extend an invitation to you to attend and be part of this moving ceremony. As Jews, especially at this time, irrespective of where you live, we need to proudly stand up and be counted more than ever before!
As for me, when I lay the wreath, I will not only be thinking of my family members who served their country proudly and with distinction, but I will be honouring all of our vets and civilians in gratitude for their sacrifices.
Lest We Forget.
In addition, in my thoughts, I will be quietly honouring members of the Jewish community in Pittsburgh who were massacred a few days ago in their synagogue, simply because they were Jews. And I will also be honouring the six worshippers who were killed and the nineteen others injured last year when a lone gunman opened fire after the end of evening prayers at the Islamic Cultural Centre Mosque in Quebec City, Canada, simply because they were Muslims.
I have a personal debt of gratitude in attending the Ceremony of Remembrance. During WWI, my grandfather, Louis Cohen, served in the British Army fighting 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 Wienburg, born in Merthyr Tydfil, Wales, served in the 1st Bn. Border Regiment. Uncle David died aged 23 on Thursday, April 11 1918. He is remembered with honour at the Ploesgsteert Memorial, Hainaut, Belgium.
During WWII my dad served in the Royal Air Force. His brother served in Europe and North Africa, where he was a tank driver. Both my dad and my uncle survived.
My sister’s partner flew the Hampden, known as the flying suitcase, which alongside the Whitley and the Wellington was the backbone of Bomber Command at the outbreak of war in 1939. He was shot down on three separate occasions over enemy territory and captured. As a POW he escaped three times, was sent to Peenemünde, Stalag Luft III, where he played an active part in Operation Escape 200 (The Great Escape), Oflag IV-C (Colditz) and finally he was sent to Bergen-Belsen. He survived.
Many years later he found a photo of the Hampden at an aircraft museum. My sister had it framed after her partner wrote on the back of the photo:
“The last of 20 bombing operations over Germany. Operation Wilhelmshaven. Delayed action pencil slim armour piercing bomb, a Barnes Wallis experiment. We didn’t make it. ‘Jerry’ was waiting for us with flak and a Me 109.”
He survived the crash. All his crew died.
With exception of my great uncle David, they all withstood the horrors of war, all in their own way, all with their thoughts and memories remaining shut to their family and friends for most of their lives. Our heroes. Our loved ones.
Lest We Forget.
As a young boy living in London, England, I always accompanied my dad and uncle to the Remembrance Day Service and Parade held each year in November by AJEX, The Association of Jewish Ex-Servicemen & Women. Literally, thousands attended. Proud Jews. Proud to be British. Proud of serving their country. There they were, all together, Jewish men and women of rank and file, with the VC, the GC, the DSO, the MM and DFM as well as a plethora of Croix de Guerre and Légion d’Honneur recipients.
Lest We Forget.
I will also be thinking about our grandchildren. Those far too young to have personal knowledge, thank God, of the ravages of war.
On Sunday, November 11 we will remember those who died for us. They came from every background, every religion and every culture.
“Sadly, for the vast majority of Jews living in Canada, young and old, we have failed miserably in advising them of the part Canada’s Jewish war veterans contributed to Canada. It’s not too late to show them your support.”
The history of the Jews in the Canadian military, both male and female, and of their exploits and experiences dispels the myth that Jews have not contributed their share in the Canadian Forces. This includes the Boer War (1899-1902), WWI (1914-1918), WWII (1939-1945), and the Korean War (1950-1953), as well as in Canada’s ongoing military activities throughout the world.
Lest we forget
During WWI, 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. It is my understanding 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 few years ago I received an email from Janet Chernin, of Nova Scotia who told me her aunt, Section Officer Rose Jette Goodman of New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, (r) was the first member of the Women’s Division of the Royal Canadian Air Force to lose her life on active service in World War II. She was just 23 years of age. The New Glasgow News wrote of her passing: “… She made her choice; she has given her life for her country. She served—and died—that men may fly. That we may win this war.” Janet has pictures and newspaper accounts.
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.
Elie Wiesel once said: “Mankind must remember that peace is not God’s gift to his creatures; peace is our gift to each other.” Let us reflect on Elie Wiesel’s message and recognize that all our children and grandchildren are part of our innermost self. And let us remind them that as adults we are here to safeguard their future against the antisemites, the Islamophobes and the sick and demented racists of our society.
Come and join me and your neighbours. Sunday, November 11 at 10:45 am on the Front Lawn of the Legislative Building, Queen’s Park, Toronto, Canada, or simply consider participating in the Remembrance Day service in your city.
Lest we forget.
Editorial content and photo credits: The Ontario Veterans’ War Memorial, Phillips Farevaag Smallenberg; Canadian Jewish Heritage Network; Jewish War Veterans of Canada (JWV); Veteran Affairs, Canada; The Royal Canadian Legion; National Defence-Canada; Mort Lightstone and the Jewish Canadian Military Museum. “They shall grow not old,” is attributed to the poem “For the Fallen”, by Robert Laurence Binyon (1869-1943).