A tribute to our Jewish War Veterans of Canada and to all Canadians serving in ongoing military activities throughout the world.
We salute all of you.
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.
Fourth stanza of ‘For the Fallen’ by Laurence Binyon (1869-1943)
Chanukah party in Antwerp, Belgium, 1944
This Wednesday, November 11, is Remembrance Day in Canada and in many other Commonwealth countries. 2015 marks the 101st anniversary of World War I and the 76th anniversary of World War II.
The history of the Jews in the Canadian military 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.
In addition, let us not forget that over 50,000 women served with the Canadian Armed Forces during WWI and WWII. Some time ago I received an email from Janet Chernin, of Nova Scotia who told me her aunt, Rose Jette Goodman, was the first woman to die in active service in WWII – she was a section officer with the RCAF. Janet has pictures and newspaper accounts.
Once again, in an official capacity, I have been given the honour of participating at the Remembrance Day service at Toronto’s Old City Hall where I will be laying wreaths on behalf of the Jewish War Veterans of Canada and CIJA, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs.
I have a personal obligation to attend this significant event honouring our military war veterans. During WWI, my grandfather, Louis Cohen, served with the British 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. David died aged 23 on Thursday, April 11 1918. He is remembered with honour at the Ploesgsteert Memorial, Hainaut, Belgium. During WWII my father served in the Royal Air Force. His brother served in Europe and North Africa where he was a tank driver. Both survived.
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. 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.
And then there’s the story of Kitty Wintrob. Kitty was born in London’s East End and was one of a multitude of London school-children evacuated to foster parents in the countryside at the start of World War Two. Her memoir, I’m Not Going Back: Wartime Memoir of a Child Evacuee, is a fascinating recollection of her experience. She and her husband Ralph live in Toronto, where they give talks to schools, churches, synagogues, book clubs and library groups about that time in her life.
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.
Editorial content and photo credits: Canadian Jewish Heritage Network; Jewish War Veterans of Canada (JWV); Veteran Affairs, Canada; The Royal Canadian Legion; National Defence-Canada and the Jewish Canadian Military Museum.
* * *
SEVENTY YEARS LATER – “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose” | “The more things change, the more they stay the same”