Centennial College remembers Canada’s forgotten Jewish fighters
While Remembrance Day ceremonies were held across all of our campuses November 10th, a special observance was held near the Story Arts Centre at the Royal Canadian Legion Tormorden Branch 10, to remember and to highlight, a particular group of forgotten people: Jewish-Canadian war veterans.
Author and Journalism faculty member Ellin Bessner, who had nine members of her own family serve in the war, was inspired to explore the role of Canadian Jews in the war effort, and so, after the Marching in of Colours, and the singing of the national anthem by Jesse Feyen, the highlight of the ceremony commenced.
Remembrance Day happens to fall on Holocaust Memorial week, when Jewish people worldwide remember the most well-known aspect of the Second World War: The Holocaust.
"What’s less well-known is the 17,000 Canadian Jewish servicemen and women who put on a uniform, and went over as liberators, to stop the holocaust," Ellin said to the assembled crowd. "That story has never been told." That’s why she’s written a book, about it, too, entitled Double Threat: Canadian Jews in the Military in World War Two.
"Not only were they going to save the world for democracy, freedom and social justice, but they were also going to save their own people from annihilation," she continued. "And, there was the danger that if they were shot down or captured, their fate would be very dark indeed, as Jews. But they went anyway."
At the centre of the event was Ellin’s interview with 96-year-old Jewish-Canadian war veteran Morris Polansky, and Cantor Gordon Lindsay, nephew of a fallen WW2 pilot.
Morris talked about experiencing anti-semitism in Saskatchewan ("It was not easy growing up in the bible belt") but enlisting anyway.
"It was not easy to stay back when all your friends had joined up, and some of them had already gone overseas," he said.
He told a harrowing story about being was on a ship that was torpedoed, and of being left floating in the water. "My concern was, were there sharks in here?" He said. He ended it by recounting how sad he was to see the ship towed into a harbor the next day, and promptly sinking. "And there went all my cigarettes and chocolate bars," he said, glumly.
Gordon Lindsay, meanwhile, was named after his uncle, who served as a pilot during the war.
"He fell in love with cars, trucks and airplanes," he said. "One thing he never stopped loving was airplanes and flying. He grew up in a family where this was frowned upon, though. When the war started, he was very keen to enlist."
"He put a Jewish star on his fuselage, when other people would put up Mae West," he added. Unfortunately, he’d sacrifice his life for his country, being shot down over the Mediterranean.
The interviews were followed by the Last Post, and two minutes of silence, after which Cantor Lindsay sang a traditional Jewish prayer, "El Maleh Rachamin."
This was followed by the Act of Remembrance, the Rouse, the poem "In Flanders Fields," and Cantor Lindsay leading the crowd in "God save the Queen," before the Seargeant-at-arms marched the colours out, along with the veterans.