Remembrance Day – and One Jewish Airman’s War Diary

By ELLIN BESSNER

As Canadian Jews mark Remembrance Day today, one of the names of the fallen they might see on war cenotaphs across the country is that of Flying Officer Harry Uretzky.

Harry Uretzky

Uretzky is one of nearly 450 Jewish Canadians who didn’t come home from the Second World War. He was among the 17,000 Canadian Jewish soldiers, sailors, airmen and women who helped defeat Adolf Hitler and rescue survivors of the Holocaust.

His family and friends knew what a gifted writer the young Edmonton man was. Now, for Remembrance Day, Uretzky’s niece, Karen Hering, has released her late uncle’s war diary with a collection of his poetry. Hering and her siblings decided to publicize Harry’s story as part of their journey to learn more about the uncle they never knew. 

Harry Uretzky‘s diary; page 9-10 Feb-May 1943

“It was a very sensitive, traumatic topic with my grandmother, and therefore my father (Abe, Harry’s older brother) so Harry was rarely spoken of,” Hering said in a recent email. “It was only after my grandmother passed away that we found the small box of artifacts about my uncle and we became more interested in his story. By then, my parents had long been dead and just about anyone else who might have known him.”

Harry Uretzky with his mom and dad before being sent overseas

According to military records, Uretzky was 22 years old when he interrupted his studies in agriculture at the University of Alberta in Edmonton to enlist in late 1941. 

Harry Uretzky before graduating

A fine appearing boy. Well mannered. His voice and speech are good. Keen for pilot duties. Recommended P or O. [Pilot or Observer/bomb aimer].”

After six months training at air schools in Canada, Uretzky earned his commission as a bomb aimer. By November 1942, he was en route to England to join Bomber Command.

Newspaper clipping; Harry Uretzky arrives safely overseas

Harry’s personality speaks across the years through his private diary entries. They portray a young man far from home for the first time, exploring the nightlife and sights of wartime England, but also fully aware that at this point in the war, Germany was winning. 

The diary contains three of Uretzky’s poems, printed in neat handwriting. These poems were written shortly after Uretzky arrived in England. He was still waiting around at the #3 Personnel Reception Centre in Bournemouth. 

He wrote the first poem on a train to London. Harry was with his friend Mickey Dlin, also of Edmonton. Dlin had recently survived the crash of his Sunderland patrol plane off the coast of West Africa. He was back in England on “survivor’s leave.” 

Oh you balloons up in the sky,
Protecting us from way up high,
Floating gently in the air,
To give our enemies the scare.
A pretty sight to us below,
Giving us a damn good show,
Tendrils hanging one by one,
Alert to catch the unwary Hun.
Oh pray do not lose your gas,
Or you will fall upon your ass.
And they will bomb us from up high,
These dirty Huns, there in the sky.

Ode to a Barrage Balloon, by Harry Uretzky, Nov. 23, 1942.

The remaining poems show Uretzky was still an idealistic, untested twenty-something, although eager to prove himself in battle. He was proud of his role as a bomb aimer. 

The bomber stands, all set to go,
Ready and waiting for the big show.
The crew climbs in and takes its place,
Soon to start on “The Death’s Race”.
The engines start, the motors sing,
And now the aircraft takes to wing,
It moves away into the dark,
As on they head towards their mark.
Flying high above the clouds.
Amongst imaginary gods
The bomber roars upon its way
The wary Hun to try and slay.
The crew is sure, yet tense and grim,
And now the time is growing slim,
The target gradually draws near,
And the bomber’s eyes begin to peer.
But now the searchlights swing their beam,
Probing for us, yet unseen.
Long, ghost-like fingers in the night
To trap us all within their light.
And now the ack-ack starts to chat,
Our aircraft rocks this way and that.
The air is bright with brilliant flashes
Hoping to turn us into ashes.
“Steady” cries the man in the nose.
The one who delivers the deadly blows.
Who drops his bombs, so straight & sure.
Upon those targets in the Ruhr.
The pilot holds her steady and sure,
The bomb doors open with a whir,
All bombs are fused, the settings rights,
Steady, steady, is the word this night.
“Bombs gone” he cries, – he’s dropped them right,
And they speed away into the night,
Now for that day, their job is done,
But tomorrow, again, they carry on.

Bomber Attack by Harry Uretzky, Nov.24/42

Not long after the poems were written, Uretzky arranged to spend another leave with Dlin, and a third pal from Edmonton, Alex Podolsky, who was in England with the crack RAF #83 Pathfinder Squadron. Although most air crews in Bomber Command in 1943 did not survive that long, Podolsky was well on the way to completing his required tour of 30 missions. Uretzky couldn’t know how prophetic his next diary entry would be.

Arrived in London and met Mick & Alex – Boy what a reunion. It was sure swell to see that little bugger Podolsky again. Mick managed to get another extension, but will probably be going back to Africa next week. Don’t know when I’ll see Alex again, either. I’m hoping we all last through this mess, God willing & can start all over again.”

Dec 4/42 

Admitting he was homesick, Uretzky told his diary how much he appreciated his family: His parents Alex and Sara, and brother Abe, an engineer.

Just finished writing a letter home – my 11th home. I’m kind of homesick, you know. Funny but I didn’t think I would be… I know I’ll see them again, but not so soon. I’m kind of worried about them because they’re so sensitive. They’re parents like nobody ever had, & I pray to God, that they won’t worry too much & will keep them well. If I can finish my tour of ops [30 missions] ok I’m heading for home just as fast as I can get there. And boy what a homecoming that’ll be.

December 15/42 

A week later, Uretzky officially “crewed up” at an RAF base in Pershore, with a pilot, four other Canadian airmen and one Brit. They would train together for the next four months, flying over the British countryside, practising bombing manoeuvres. These flights were often deadly in their own right. Uretzky sounded shocked by news of his friends’ crash due to engine failure.

Most of the crew of M for Mother got it. That was George’s kite. [ed note: Bomb Aimer George Weston of Vancouver. “Kite” is air force slang for plane.]…I hope to God he’s OK but won’t know for sure until tomorrow. About three weeks ago, I had a thought. That Davie & I would get through this mess & Georgie wouldn’t. If Georgie’s had it, I hope the rest of this thought is true, for Mother’s, Dad’s & Abe’s sake.

January 29/43

Davie could have been RCAF Sgt. David Slabotsky, of Montreal, also Jewish, and in training as an air gunner at Harry’s current base. Several diary references refer to Davie, including one when the two were drunk.

Uretzky attended his friend George’s funeral at the base cemetery in early February. But there was no time to deal with his sorrow. Harry experienced some close calls himself during stepped-up training before going “operational” against targets in German-occupied Europe. 

In the night flight our starboard engine coughed, sputtered but finally came back. Later on when climbing, revs dropped down & we nearly had it, but Ken threw her in automatic, dived her & we were OK. On return, the nav. lights wouldn’t work & we circled for ½ an hr, before we could finally get in. 

Feb.3/43

Fear wasn’t something the airmen talked about, at least not publicly. Few fliers wanted to face the shame of being sent to special psychiatric hospitals for displaying what the air force deemed “Lack of Moral Fibre.” In April 1943, Uretzky’s training ended. He was sent to RAF Leeming to the RCAF #408 “Goose” Squadron. However, during one quick leave to London, Harry received terrible news.

Went to London for leave for Pesach. There, I received a cable from Mr. Podolsky that Alex went missing. God help him. I love the kid. 

April 23/43

Podolsky, who was a manager of his family’s well known Edmonton dry cleaning business, Dollar Cleaner, was killed during a raid on then-Czechoslovakia on April 17, 1943.

Harry entered the rotation with #408 Squadron a few days later. He did not sound like someone who expected to be killed, at least not yet. His first flight – mine laying – was successful. The second mission, a month later, was a night operation to bomb Dortmund, Germany.

It’s just about a month since my first op. & here comes the second tonight. It’s a good one – right in Happy Valley, Dortmund. The way the Lanc. boys flooded the place you wouldn’t think there’d be much left, but I guess there is, some left. But anyway by this morning, the place should be as flat as a pancake. See you tomorrow, fellow—fingers crossed.

May 23/43

Uretzky’s plane was shot down during the raid. His family was told only that he was missing. Later, forensic investigators learned there were four crashes that night in the same area. The German army buried all the 25 Allied casualties in 10 collective graves near the crash site in Dortmund.

Two of Uretzky’s crewmates, the pilot and the rear gunner, were positively identified. But for the others, including Harry Uretzky and air gunner David Slabotsky, the Air Force could not be certain. They put down “no known grave.” The Edmonton student was just 25 years old. Slabotsky, the Montrealer, was 22.

“I realize that this is an extremely distressing letter and that there is no manner of conveying such information to you that would not add to your heartaches,” RCAF Wing Commander W.R. Gunn wrote to Harry’s brother Abe, explaining the results of the investigation.

Hering, Abe’s daughter, revealed how Harry’s death affected the family. 

“My grandmother never got over Harry’s death,” she said. “Until she died at 96 years of age, I believe she hoped for many years that he would turn up somewhere after the war.”

Harry’s name is engraved on the Runnymede Memorial in England, which lists 20,000 Allied air personnel lost in the Second World War with no known grave. Alex Podolsky is buried in Prague, Czech Republic. The third member of the trio, Mickey Dlin, survived the war and returned home to Edmonton to marry Podolsky’s sister, Sybil. 

This Remembrance Day will be even more poignant for Hering and the extended family. Her brother, Dr. Rick Uretsky of Edmonton, who had also wanted Harry’s diary and poetry to be made public, died Monday, before this story could be published.


Ellin Bessner is a Toronto journalist and the author of “Double Threat: Canadian Jews, the Military and WWII (2019)”, published by the University of Toronto Press. Her book is available at all major booksellers. 

To watch the 2020 Canadian National Jewish Remembrance Day ceremony online on Wednesday Nov. 11, 2020, please click here beginning at 10:50 a.m. Toronto time. The ceremony is produced by the Jewish War Veterans of Canada and B’nai Brith Canada, with the participation of the Minister of Veterans Affairs, Conservative Party leader Erin O’Toole, and others, including Bessner. 

Great Nixon’s Ghost! Donald Trump and the Jews

Oct. 26, 2020 

By ANDREW COHEN

In the last days of his embattled presidency, facing impeachment and removal from office, Richard Milhous Nixon was alone. He had been undone by Watergate, a byword for a regime of skullduggery, deception and criminality.

As he prepared to resign on Aug. 9, 1974, Nixon could rely on one unflagging loyalist. His name was Rabbi Baruch Korff, an émigré from Ukraine who had seen his mother murdered in a pogrom and had a history of incendiary behaviour.

Korff defended Nixon fiercely that summer. Claiming Nixon was a victim of a “carefully staged circus of hate,” Korff founded the National Citizens Committee for Fairness to the Presidency. Nixon called Korff “my rabbi.”

Oh, the cynicism. Audio recordings from the Oval Office released in 1999 and 2013 reveal the depth of Nixon’s antisemitism. His conversations illustrate a vulgar disdain for Jews, soaked in resentment and a sense of betrayal.

I recall the rabbi’s veneration of Nixon when I hear American Jews, a generation later, rush to the defence of Donald Trump. Like Korff, they rationalize the re-election of another corrupt Republican guilty of “high crimes and misdemeanors” – and a country club bigot, too.

One of Trump’s fervent apologists is Lauri B. Regan, who served on the Board of the National Women’s Committee of the Republican Jewish Coalition. In Hadassah Magazine, she calls Trump “the most pro-Israel president America has ever had.” She cheers the United States moving its embassy to Jerusalem, recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, and withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal – all dear to conservative Jewry.

For American Jews who put Israel first, her argument is predictable. If you’re a one-issue voter, Trump is your man, particularly if you think he’s more Zionist than David Ben-Gurion.

Trump’s policies won’t advance Israel’s peace or security, but that’s not the point. For blinkered Jews who also lionize Benjamin Netanyahu, Trump is the man on horseback, much as Stephen Harper was for Canadian Jews.

Had Regan declared herself a one-issue voter and left the rest of her valentine undrawn, she would be more credible. Or, if she’d admitted that she’s really voting for Trump, as many Jews are, because he’s made them richer.

But Regan goes further: She hails Trump as “one of the most patriotic presidents in recent memory.” It isn’t enough that Trump is the savior of Israel – let’s all chant Dayenu – now, he’s the saviour of the United States, too!

Regan fears rising anti-Jewish sentiment on campuses, in the Black Lives Matter movement, and in the Democratic Party. This threat should make Jews “prioritize protecting themselves, not the social issues that traditionally sway their votes,” she warns.

Doesn’t Trump stand up for the military and the police to protect us “in their synagogues” from the mob? Isn’t keeping America great keeping Jews “safe”?

Curiously, Regan sees antisemitism everywhere but in the presidency. She finds a bipartisan soul mate in Andrew Stein, former president of the New York City Council and founder of Democrats for Trump. Donald Trump an anti-Semite? No, says Stein. Didn’t Trump “welcome Judaism into his family” when Ivanka married Jared Kushner? Didn’t he combat hate crimes against Jews with an executive order?

Forget the torch-bearing brownshirts of Charlottesville; Trump’s indifference to those white supremacists was a “media distortion,” claims Regan. On Trump’s embrace of the Proud Boys and QAnon while he attacks the judiciary, the military, the media and other institutions, Regan and Stein are silent. While Republicans of conscience abandon Trump – see The Lincoln Project – and Americans prepare to repudiate Trump, this pair peddles a fantasy.

They would find their reflection in Rabbi Lionel Bengelsdorf of Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America. Smarter than everyone else, the wooly-minded Bengelsdorf fell so heavily for Charles Lindbergh that he missed the danger of Lindbergh’s antipathy toward Jews until it was too late. My late father called Bengelsdorf’s ilk “educated fools.”

Regan and Stein think nothing else matters to Jews but themselves, as if they are distinct or detached from society. To them, Jews ought not care – need not care – about the existential threat Trump poses to democracy, social justice, civil rights, and the rule of law.

Ironically, when he loses, Trump won’t appreciate the affections of Stein and Regan any more than he does the Vichy Republicans in Congress. Having privately ridiculed the evangelical Christians, he’ll reserve a scorn for Jews harsher than Nixon’s Jewish “bastards.” Eventually, we’ll know what he thought.

In the meantime, the charade unfolds. Rabbi Korff, meet Rabbi Regan and Rabbi Stein. They are your spiritual descendants and happy collaborators – as naive and embarrassing to their co-religionists today as you were then.


Andrew Cohen
Andrew Cohen

Andrew Cohen is a columnist for Postmedia News, professor at Carleton University’s School of Journalism, and author of Two Days in June: John F. Kennedy and the 48 Hours That Made History.

Editorial: Jewish Jurists Serve to Remind Us of Justice

Sept. 23, 2020 – As Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement approaches, we turn our minds to justice – appropriate, given the recent death of the legendary Jewish American Supreme Court Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Justice Ginsburg was a wisp of a woman but whose heart was Olympian and whose soul burned fiercely on behalf of those less fortunate, especially women who have, for much of the past century, been treated like second class citizens in the United States. Her decisions were wise, pointed, and filled with the juice of needed change and progress.

Justice has always played a central role in Judaism. Great Jewish biblical heroes, prophets, and philosophers have pointed to the key Jewish precept, “Tzedek, tzedek tirdof” (“Justice, justice shall you pursue.” It appears initially in the Book of Deuteronomy and is part of a set of regulations that bestow on the Jewish people a code of moral behaviour.

Why is the word “justice” repeated twice? The Torah is a very precise book. Each word has been measured for meaning and argued over by great rabbis over many centuries. Perhaps the most widely accepted explanation comes from the most broadly respected rabbi of the 11th century, Rashi, who explains that not only must judges make wise decisions, which accounts for the first “tzedek,” but, as importantly, those in a position of choosing judges must also choose wisely, referring to the second “tzedek.” This gives the people comfort knowing that the courts of justice are populated by good and decent people making judicious decisions.

There is another, more modern interpretation. Some believe the second cry of “justice-tzedek” emphasizes the Jewish values of treating the stranger fairly, feeding the poor, and extending love to our neighbours despite our differences.

In North America, Jewish men and women have figured prominently in the choice of judges. To our great fortune and that of society in general, these Jews have embraced their Jewish values of pursuing justice.

Undoubtedly, “Notorious RBG,” as Ginsburg came to be known, was one of many such Jewish jurists who graced courtrooms in the United States and Canada and did so with a Jewish heart. They were perhaps not as well-known, but certainly as deserving.

From Tillie Taylor, Saskatchewan’s first female Jewish magistrate; to Nathaniel Nemetz, former Chief Justice of British Columbia; to Samuel Freedman, Chief Justice of Manitoba. All three played a key role in the jurisprudence of western Canada.

On the east coast, Constance Glube was the first Jewish woman appointed Chief Justice of Nova Scotia.

In Quebec, where antisemitism was more prevalent than elsewhere in Canada, Jews nonetheless held senior judicial positions: Alan Gold was Chief Justice of Quebec’s Superior Court, and Harry Batshaw and Herbert Marx held sway as a Quebec Superior Court justices (Marx had also been Quebec’s justice minister.)

Ontario also saw the appointment of many Jews to the bench, including Charles Dubin as Chief Justice of Ontario; John I. Laskin, a justice of the Court of Appeal for Ontario and a former legal counsel to Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC); and Sydney Harris, a judge of the Ontario Provincial Court and former national president of CJC.

Today’s Ontario bench features another past president and legal counsel of CJC, Edward Morgan; Justice Katherine Feldman; Justice Paul Perell; and recently appointed Justice Edward Prutschi.

And of course, Canada’s Supreme Court has been positively influenced by some of Canada’s most eminent jurists. Bora Laskin also a former chair of CJC’s legal committee was, famously, the first Jewish Canadian to be Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada. Others on the land’s highest court were Rosalie Abella, the first Jewish woman to reach Canada’s high court, as well as Morris Fish, Michael Moldaver, and Marshall Rothstein.

Each of these jurists not only upheld the highest legal ethics, but did so as proud Jews who were raised with the understanding that in the Jewish tradition, justice and atonement are the highest ideals.

We at the Canadian Jewish Record are proud of those in our community who are lights unto the nation. As we encounter a very special, socially-distant Yom Kippur, may we all be judged for our good deeds. And may those we hurt either by deed or word forgive us.

Editorial: Findlay Apology Not Good Enough

Sept. 2, 2020 – Who is Kerry Lynne Findlay and what did she do to anger so many Canadian Jews (and others)?

Findlay is the Conservative member of Parliament representing South Surrey—White Rock in the Greater Vancouver area. She’s a one-time parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Justice and served for two years in the Stephen Harper government as Minister of National Revenue.

Today, she is the Conservative environment critic who should have known better.

Last week, Findlay re-tweeted a short video of a 2009 interview then journalist Chrystia Freeland, now the finance minister, conducted with philanthropist and investor George Soros for the Financial Times. That in itself would not have raised many eyebrows, except that Findlay did a deep dive into the wild world of antisemitic conspiracy theories that place Soros at their centre.

About Freedland and Soros, Findlay had this warning: “The closeness of these two should alarm every Canadian.” Fellow Conservative MP and finance critic Pierre Poilievre duly re-tweeted Findlay’s post.

Soros is seen by the underbelly of conspiracists – QAnon currently leading that pack – as nothing short of attempting to control the world, and as the embodiment of evil for donating to progressive causes.

According to the largest organization focused on fighting antisemitism, the Anti-Defamation League, Soros “has become a lightning rod for conservative and right-wing groups who object to his funding of liberal causes.” In far right circles worldwide, the ADL continues, Soros’ philanthropy is “often recast as fodder for outsized conspiracy theories, including claims that he masterminds specific global plots or manipulates particular events to further his goals.”

Many of those conspiracy theories employ longstanding antisemitic tropes, particularly that rich and powerful Jews lurk behind the scenes, plotting to control countries and manipulate global events, the ADL explains.

Soros is Jewish and a child survivor of the Holocaust. It was his survival that drove him to succeed, and he has become one of the wealthiest people in the world. He has also devoted his life and, it’s been estimated, more than $30 billion to following the Jewish dictum to make the world a better place.

Today, at age 90, Soros has become a hero to racial and ethnic minorities and those demanding necessary changes to the human condition.

The good news is that there was strong pushback from all sectors of Canadian society against Findlay’s tweet. Jewish organizations, the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, and many on Twitter criticized Findlay loudly and passionately. To her credit, she did offer an apology – of sorts.

Again using Twitter, Findlay wrote:

“Earlier today, I thoughtlessly shared content from what I am now learning is a source that promotes hateful conspiracy theories. I have removed the tweets and apologize to anyone who thinks I would want to endorse hateful rhetoric.”

Kerry-Anne Findlay

This is a good start, but not nearly enough. Anytime Jews are connected to mindless conspiracy theories emanating from the far right, they are placed at risk. Findlay needs to go further and explain the context, reference the Jewish community, and let Canadians know the danger faced by Jews daily. A good word about the work of Soros helping countless individuals and causes would go a long way.

We must also add that Poilievre, as of this writing, has remained silent, as has newly-minted Conservative leader Erin O’Toole. Both could use this opportunity to speak out forcefully against Jew-hatred, but to date, have not.

Hate crime statistics consistently show that Canadian Jews remain the number one victim of haters and bigots. Surely Findlay’s response should reflect this reality, and both Poilievre and O’Toole would be wise to join the chorus against hate.

There’s always the tired old charge that Jews over-react to every little thing, and maybe this is one of them. Trust us: It’s better than the opposite.

Addendum:

According to a report in the Globe and Mail on Sept. 3, O’Toole said he learned of the issue after Findlay’s tweet had been deleted, adding that he spoke with some Jewish leaders to say that the Conservatives are a strong voice against antisemitism.