There were 160,000 Jews living in Canada before the war, according to the census. It was a very small population, yet 10,000 went in the army, author Ellin Bessner told an audience at the Todmorden branch of the Royal Canadian Legion.
“Another 6,000 served in the air force, and 500 or so went into the navy,” Bessner said in a discussion about her new book Double Threat on Apr. 21.
“There were another 2,000 who served who didn’t put down — or lied — on their application forms about their religion because they were afraid,” she said. “So they said they were Protestant or Presbyterian, or they said nothing.”
Bessner commemorated the veterans by sharing their contributions, their sacrifices, their stories, their deaths — and the dangers they faced of being identified as Jews.
The name of her book, Double Threat, came from a letter from Mackenzie King to the Jewish people, which she read aloud:
“Thank you very much for helping the Allies win the war because, for you, this war was a double threat, not only to freedom and democracy but the annihilation of your people.”
King thanked the Canadian Jews for going to the war despite these dangers “and that’s why I called my book Double Threat,” Bessner said.
Bessner also passed around a book titled Canadian Jews in World War II, Part II: Casualties.
“The Canadian Jewish community published a book of all the biographies of all the casualties [during the war] and the 200 who were awarded bravery medals,” Bessner said.
She shared the stories of Ben Dunkelmen, Hymie Steinberg, Monty Hall, Johnny Wayne and Frank Shuster, Arthur Hiller, David Croll, Barney Danson, Rose Goodman and many more Jewish Canadian men and women who enlisted in the war.
“Rose Goodman was from Nova Scotia,” Bessner said. “She graduated from Dalhousie University. She played violin. Her father owned the largest Eatons type stores in the Maritimes. They had four daughters, all graduated from university. That didn’t happen so often in those days. When women were allowed to enlist in September of 1941, she went down and had an interview in Halifax.
“The very first thing they did — and in the MeToo and TimesUp worlds it’s so wrong — they wrote on her identification card ‘attractive.’ That’s completely illegal. They said ‘Hebrew.’ That’s two strikes. Then her age. Then they said ‘intelligent.’ As a woman, this drives me crazy but that’s how it was in those days.”
Double Threat explores the untold stories of our country’s history, the 17,000 Jewish Canadian men and women who helped defeat Hitler and the Axis in WWII. It’s an Amazon.ca bestseller and she hopes it will be made into a documentary using cartoons to help illustrate the war.
For more information about the book and for an event calendar, visit https://ellinbessner.com/about-the-book/.