Commemoration Marks Jewish War Service

Sept. 4, 2020 – By JANICE ARNOLD

MONTREAL – At 19, William Guy Rosenthal of Montreal was already a promising journalist, working for Canadian Press and contributing to the YMHA Beacon.

But with the fate of European Jewry ever more perilous, he set aside his career ambitions and enlisted in the army in February 1942. On July 25, 1943, Gunner Rosenthal of the anti-tank regiment of the Royal Canadian Artillery was killed in action during the Sicily campaign of 1943.

Brothers Cpl. Brahm Duchoeny, left, and Cpl. (ret.) Sam Duchoeny lay a wreath at the monument to the fallen Jewish members of the Canadian Armed Forces in the Baron de Hirsch Cemetery. (Screenshot)

Rosenthal, known as Velvel in his family, lies in the Canadian war cemetery in Agira, Italy, near where he fell.

His younger brother, Larry Rosenthal, has never forgotten how William’s death irreparably broke the hearts of the family. Many decades on, Rosenthal continues to ensure that William and the 577 other Jewish servicemen in the Canadian Armed Forces who made the supreme sacrifice are not forgotten.

About 10 years ago, Rosenthal was instrumental in having a monument erected in the Baron de Hirsch Cemetery’s field of honour engraved with the names of all 578 Canadian Jewish servicemen killed in both world wars and the Korean conflict, and in organizing an annual commemoration before the High Holidays at the site.

This year’s memorial, on the 75th anniversary of the Second World War’s end, held extra meaning and saw the participation – virtually – of community leaders, rabbis, Canadian Armed Forces members, and politicians. Federation CJA partnered with Rosenthal to enable the event via videoconference.

Rosenthal said his brother believed going to war, and even giving his life, was necessary to defend the principles of freedom and justice and to not allow antisemitism and racism to prevail.

As the elder Rosenthal wrote in one of his last dispatches to the Beacon: “No price is too great to pay, no life too precious, to enforce our beliefs and ideals.”

For the first time, a veterans affairs minister took part in the Aug. 30 memorial and acknowledged that Jews served during the Second World War and other conflicts out of proportion to their numbers, for which Rosenthal gave his sincere appreciation.

Lawrence MacAulay, Veterans Affairs minister and Associate Minister of Defence, called the legacy of Jewish Canadians in the armed forces “a long and proud one. Over 17,000 volunteered between 1939 and 1945, coming from all walks of life and serving in all branches of the military.”

The Jewish population of Canada was only about 168,000 during the war.

Fighting was “intensely personal” for Jews in the Armed Forces, MacAuley said, and they played “a vital role in defeating an enemy that murdered over six million of their people. We honour their memory and all those who wore the uniform and those who continue to serve today.”

One of those serving today participated in the ceremony: Col. (res.) Alain Cohen, deputy chief of staff of the 2nd Canadian Armed Division.

Federation CEO Yair Szlak said those who fought enabled Jews to have the community they have today and “to live as citizens of the world.”

Rabbi Reuben Poupko, Quebec co-chair of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, regretted that too many today take this for granted.

Michael Mostyn, CEO of B’nai Brith Canada, held a small book in his hands: Readings from the Holy Scriptures for Jewish Servicemen, given to him as a child by his grandfather, a veteran.

Published by B’nai Brith in 1939, the book provided comfort to Jewish soldiers, sailors and airmen, and reminded them that they were fighting for values that are rooted in Judaism, Mostyn said.

Not only did Jews serve in disproportionate numbers, but with distinction, he noted. Almost 200 received decorations.

Dorothy Zalcman Howard, president of the Montreal Holocaust Museum, said the museum remains committed to remembering and honouring the rescuers even generations later.

Other participants included: Allan Levine, president of the Brig. Frederick Kisch Branch of the Royal Canadian Legion; Rabbi Moishe New of the Montreal Torah Centre; Rabbi Zushe Silberstein of Chabad Chabanel; Rabbi Saul Emanuel, executive director of the Jewish Community Council of Montreal; Israeli Consul General David Levy; Elyse Rosen, CEO of the Sylvan Adams YM-YWHA; and Mayors Mitchell Brownstein of Cote Saint-Luc and William Steinberg of Hampstead.

The video of a wreath-laying ceremony at the monument, held in advance to conform to public health protocols, was shown, while the names of the dead scrolled in silence on the screen. The Last Post was played by Sgt. William Maher, and Ya’acov Bauer recited the memorial prayer.

Rosenthal later said the participation of the federal minister was significant.

“This is finally a statement from a high level of the Canadian government recognizing the sacrifice of Jews in the Canadian forces.”

Genealogy Buff Cited for Indexing Montreal Jewish Graves

Aug 20, 2020 – By JANICE ARNOLD

MONTREAL—Those given to black humour may joke that Gary Perlman has spent more time in cemeteries than some of their denizens.

But the retired software developer is deadly serious in his quest to photograph as many gravestones in Montreal-area Jewish burial grounds as he possibly can, and to research each person who lies beneath.

Over the past five years, Perlman has photographed more than 40,000 stones, some dating back to the early 19th century, finding ingenious ways to make legible often worn or damaged inscriptions, or to illuminate those in obscurity.

Gary Perlman
Gary Perlman

He has submitted these high-quality images, along with records about the deceased he has organized, had translated from Hebrew, and frequently added to or corrected – a total of over 100,000 items – to JOWBR, the JewishGen Online Worldwide Burial Registry.

JOWBR catalogues data on Jewish cemeteries around the world and makes it available in searchable format to genealogists and other researchers everywhere, free of charge.

Perlman, who has done all this without remuneration, was already a hero to his fellow members of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Montreal (JGS-M). Now, he’s being recognized around the globe. This month, the modest Perlman received the 2020 Volunteer of the Year award from the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies (IAJGS), an umbrella organization of over 50 groups. Due to the pandemic, its 40th annual conference was held virtually.

“It’s meaningful that people appreciate what I am doing,” said Perlman, who carries on his sleuthing and hopes the honour will convince reluctant Montreal Jewish cemeteries to give him permission to shoot there as well and add to JOWBR’s Montreal holdings.

A glaring omission is two of the city’s oldest and largest synagogues: Congregation Shaar Hashomayim and Temple Emanu-El-Beth Sholom. Perlman has worked in Canada’s oldest Jewish congregation’s cemetery, the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue, founded more than 250 years ago.

He has completed documentation of two other historic sites: the Baron de Hirsch Cemetery, Montreal’s largest Jewish cemetery, opened in 1905, and its affiliated Back River Memorial Gardens, dating to the late 1800s. The latter, located in the Ahuntsic-Cartierville borough far from today’s Jewish population, was especially challenging due to its having been left to deteriorate for a long time before a restoration.

Many of its nearly 7,000 stones were crumbling but Perlman managed to capture high-resolution pictures of all of them. Through countless hours of trial and error, he has discovered just the right angle or time of day to coax out eroded epitaphs that were thought to have been lost forever.

He has done all the city’s Holocaust memorials (1,900-plus names) and war casualty monuments (some 600 names), including from the Jewish section of the National Field of Honour in Pointe-Claire, which are posted on JewishGen’s memorial plaque page.

Balancing respect for privacy with the imperative to preserve and share the unique and rich source of Jewish history the burial data represent is a guiding principle for Perlman.

JOWBR, which logs 3.7 million photos and records from 8,666 cemeteries in 130 countries, considers the work Perlman does a mitzvah.

This treasure trove, however, is of little use and can be downright misleading when there are errors, and Perlman found an astonishing number of those even in such basic information as names and dates on both the stones and in the cemeteries’ archives.

A 63-year-old Montreal native, Perlman spent his 30-year career in the United States after receiving a PhD at the University of California at San Diego. He is a late-blooming amateur genealogist, not having done much snooping into his own ancestors until he attended one of the JGS-M’s free workshops for beginners.

He found in its enthusiastic president, Stanley Diamond – also co-founder and executive director of Jewish Records Indexing-Poland, a pioneering digitizer and democratizer of genealogical data – a kindred spirit who recognized modern technology’s power to unlock the past.

Perlman became JGS-M’s webmaster and set about to update the society’s existing cemetery indexing project, which since 2007, had collected a few thousand photos, many of which weren’t good enough for optimal reproduction online.

Perlman does not find spending so much time among the dead morbid. “Not at all!” he replied when asked if it has made him reflect on his own mortality. But on his early expeditions, he did find heartbreaking the tragic tales some stones told, such as the mother and her two children killed in a plane crash who rest together, or the mass unmarked grave of children who died in epidemics.

He couldn’t fail to notice the increased number of burials since the COVID pandemic, which has touched him personally. Another of his volunteer endeavours has been helping elderly residents of the Maimonides Geriatric Centre put together their family trees. He lost three of his “clients” to COVID.

Intriguing and sometimes humorous epitaphs have lightened his days in the field. He has numerous examples, such as the double monument of a couple. On her side it reads: “Saul would rather be golfing.”

Then there was “Don’t forget the Bubba” or “Resting in peace, no conversation please” that made him chuckle.

The IAJGS also cited Perlman for directly linking JOWBR search results to the JGS-M website (jgs-montreal.org) where supplemental information, like parents’ names (including the Hebrew ones) can be found, as well as the location and condition of the grave. He is lauded for creating the JewishGen Dashboard, where users can search some 50 databases from a single web page on the JGS-M site.

Perlman was nominated for Volunteer of the Year by Diamond, and “strongly endorsed” by JOWBR coordinator Nolan Altman who praised Perlman’s “unending attention to detail. His submissions to JOWBR are always clear, complete and precise…When Gary submits data/photos I know it will be correct.”

Wrote Diamond to the IAJGS, “I treasure volunteers who, not only step forward when asked, but who carry out their task with passion and devotion…Gary is most certainly one of the best in this regard.”