JFK’s Assassination – and a Montreal Jewish Lawyer’s Good Name

Nov. 19, 2020

By FRED LITWIN

This Sunday marks the 57th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Hopefully, most people will commemorate his life and the hope his administration brought to the United States and much of the world. But I fear most tweets and articles will be about conspiracy, coverup, and wondering when more related assassination documents will be released.

I’ve been researching the JFK assassination since I was 18, in 1975. Back then, Geraldo Rivera showed the famous Zapruder film of the president’s shooting on television for the first time, and I became convinced there was a conspiracy. Over the years, my opinion has changed to believe that Lee Harvey Oswald was the sole gunman, and that was the basis for my 2018 memoir, I Was a Teenage JFK Conspiracy Freak.

The fact of the matter is that JFK conspiracy theories have ruined people’s lives and damaged reputations. And one person who was affected was a Jewish lawyer from Montreal: Louis Bloomfield.

The story begins on March 1, 1967 when a man in New Orleans, Clay Shaw, was charged with conspiracy to assassinate JFK. At the time, the only evidence against Shaw was a recovered memory from a witness who had been given sodium pentothal (so-called truth serum, and had been hypnotized three times). He remembered Shaw being at a party where the assassination was being discussed.

Three days after his arrest, a Communist Party-controlled newspaper in Rome, Paese Sera, ran a series of articles claiming that Shaw had been involved in unsavory activities while serving on the board of Centro Mondiale Commerciale (CMC) – a world trade centre that tried to make Rome an important trading hub.

Paese Sera alleged that the CMC was a “creature of the CIA … set up as a cover or transfer to Italy of CIA-FBI funds for illegal political-espionage activities.” Pravda, the official newspaper of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, then published an article on March 7 with the headline “Clay Shaw of the CIA.” It alleged that Shaw “was given the task of establishing contacts with extreme rightist groups in Rome, including the representatives of the neofascist organizations.”

The story then appeared in other European communist newspapers, and then jumped into the legitimate press with two articles in Montreal’s venerable Le Devoir on March 8 and 16. The second article emphasized a possible Montreal link to the assassination. It was alleged that a retired American major, L. M. Bloomfield, held half the shares of CMC and that “he had participated in the espionage activities of the OSS (now the CIA) during the way.” They also claimed that Bloomfield was now a Montreal banker.

Louis Bloomfield
Louis Bloomfield

It is quite possible that these articles were planted by the KGB to convince Americans that the CIA was behind the assassination. But none of the allegations were true.

Clay Shaw never attended a board meeting, and there is no evidence that the CMC was engaged in anything untoward. But now, the papers of Louis Bloomfield, housed at the Library and Archives Canada, confirm that CMC was exactly what it claimed to be – a world trade centre.

Bloomfield’s law firm was extremely busy – in 1960 alone, it sent out over 2,000 letters. He wrote the managers of CMC many times but never mentioned the name Clay Shaw once, and there was nothing political in those letters. He was concerned that the CMC was not finding enough tenants, and was interested in the running of the firm – so much so, that he sent an associate to help manage the office.

Bloomfield was deeply troubled by the Le Devoir articles. He wrote then Editor Claude Ryan demanding a retraction. I searched through several months of Le Devoir, and I could not find any correction or retraction.

Bloomfield’s letter referenced Il Messaggero, another Italian newspaper, which presented the facts. There were “stormy financial events,” it said, and in 1962, the CMC was evicted from its building. Shortly after that, the company was dissolved, and the members of the board “gave rise to other initiatives.”

The articles confirmed that Shaw had never been to Italy and further noted that “there is no trace of his name in the foreigner’s office.” Also, “the name of Clay Shaw has conjured an image of mysterious activity which appears to be involved with the CIA, that is to say, the headquarters of counterintelligence in America, but nothing in the current situation seems to infer such risky speculation.”

After the Le Devoir articles, the whole affair became more sinister. The organization around Lyndon LaRouche, an American activist who trafficked in conspiracy, published an article claiming that Bloomfield ran an assassination bureau that oversaw JFK’s murder. Bloomfield worried about his physical safety and wrote the Commissioner of the RCMP, saying that “editors obtained certain bits and pieces of my biography, which have been mixed, garbled, and woven into a fabric of lies, hallucinatory accusations and statements that have no connection with me in any shape or form whatsoever.”

The reality was that Bloomfield was quite the mensch.

During the Second World War, he was a lieutenant in the infantry but was moved because of a heart murmur. He was profiled in the Canadian Jewish News in 1978, telling the paper that he was moved into “hush-hush, secret service jobs in a less hectic activity. I realize that this line will make conspiracy theorists go crazy, but so be it.”

His activities included locating German submarines in Mexico, and he said “his biggest coup came when he was able, because of past dealings with the Polish line, to prevent the Nazis from seizing a number of Polish ships in New York harbour, preventing them from sailing into the waiting hands of the German navy.”

After the way, Bloomfield became a lawyer specializing in corporate and international law and he authored many books and articles. He was on the drafting committee for the Helsinki Rules on the uses of international rivers.

He was on the board of governors of several hospitals and raised a lot of money for the Reddy Memorial Hospital in Montreal. He cofounded the World Wildlife Fund of Canada, and was active in many charities in Israel.

He served on the boards of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the Weizmann Institute of Science, and the Technion in Haifa. He worked hard for a wide variety of Jewish causes, including as honorary counsel for the World Zionist Congress (and as a judge for its tribunal), and he was the national treasurer of the Canadian Histadrut Campaign, raising money for Israel’s main labour union. He had his brother Bernard built a 2,400-seat stadium in Tel Aviv and 17 trade and vocational schools in Israel.

In 1965, Bloomfield was named the first Jewish Knight of Grace of the Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem, an organization dedicated to teaching first aid.

Shaw was acquitted of conspiracy, but District Attorney Jim Garrison then charged him with perjury, and it took another two years for that charge to be quashed. Shortly afterward, Shaw died of cancer, ruthlessly deprived of not only the best years of retirement, but most of his savings too.

I don’t think any of this held Bloomfield back professionally. But his online biographies are littered with accusations of involvement in the JFK assassination. Many conspiracy books mention his name. For instance, Michael Benson’s Who’s Who in the JFK Assassination has a two-page entry on Bloomfield.

His ties to JFK’s killing were also raised in 1967 in Canadian Dimension magazine. Bloomfield demanded a retraction of that article, and got one.

Conspiracy theories can be fun, but they can ruin lives – like Clay Shaw’s – and they can sully reputations, like Louis Bloomfield’s. So, let’s toast the memory of JFK this week, but please, don’t pick up that conspiracy book.


Fred Litwin
Fred Litwin

Fred Litwin is the author of On The Trail of Delusion, Jim Garrison: The Great Accuser. He has written for the National Post, the Ottawa Citizen, the Toronto Sun, C2C Journal, iPolitics and The Dorchester Review. 

French-language Quebec Novel Wins Top J.I. Segal Award

Nov. 9, 2020

By JANICE ARNOLD

MONTREAL—A French-language historical novel by a well-known Quebec author that captures the political ferment during the Depression in Montreal’s working-class Mile End district is the winner of the top prize of the Jacob Isaac Segal Awards, sponsored by the Jewish Public Library (JPL).

Le Mammouth by Pierre Samson, published by Héliotrope last year, is based on a forgotten actual event: The fatal police shooting in the back of Nikita Zynchuck, a Ukrainian immigrant labourer, in March 1933.

PIerre Samson

The police officer who delivered the fatal bullets – himself the son of Italian immigrants – is never brought to justice, a scandal that rallied trade unionists and civil rights defenders across ethnic, linguistic and religious lines.

The incident was illustrative of the authorities’ fear of growing communist sentiment, especially in immigrant communities, a movement in which Jews were predominant, while less attention was paid to fascist sympathies.

Samson weaves into the fictional narrative such real-life Jewish figures as labour organizer Fred Rose, the first Communist Party candidate elected to Parliament, and lawyer Michael Garber, later president of Canadian Jewish Congress, who led the outcry against the killing of Zynchuck, nicknamed le mammouth because of his size.

Le Mammouth was chosen the inaugural Best Quebec Book on a Jewish Theme, which carries a $5,000 prize, by an independent jury. The four members hailed Samson for “portray(ing) the Jewish community, which occupies a prominent place in this world of immigrants in the first decades of 20th century, with admirable topographical and psychological precision, while being sensitive to the internal tensions that divide it and the relationships it maintains with the francophone community and the other groups of recently arrived immigrants.”

The jurors, all writers, were literary critic Alberto Manguel, former director of the National Library of Argentina; University of Montreal French literature professor Catherine Mavrikakis; philosopher and Columbia University professor Emmanuel Kattan; and Adam Gollner Leith, former editor of Vice magazine.

Le Mammouth was a finalist for this year’s Grand Prix du Livre de Montréal.

The other 2020 Segal Award winners are Boris Sandler, former editor-in-chief of the Yiddish edition of the Forward, for Antiques from My Travel Bag (published by Yiddish Branzhe), selected for the $1,000 Dr. Hirsh and Dvorah Rosenfeld Award for Yiddish Literature; and, sharing the Rosa and David Finestone z”l Award for Best Translation of a Book on a Jewish Theme, also worth $1,000, are Goldie Morgentaler, and, jointly, Lori Saint-Martin and Paul Gagné.

Morgentaler, a University of Lethbridge English professor, translated from the Yiddish her late mother Chava Rosenfarb’s Confessions of a Yiddish Writer and Other Essays.

This collection of non-fiction by Polish-born Rosenfarb (1923-2011) covers a variety of subjects, including her experiences during the Holocaust, reminiscences about Yiddish writers she knew in postwar Montreal, where she lived for many years, and travel writings, especially on Australia, a part-time home. Rosenfarb is best-known for her trilogy novel set in the Lodz ghetto, The Tree of Life.

Saint-Martin and Gagné are cited for their translation into French of Canadian author Gary Barwin’s novel Yiddish for Pirates. The translation was published as Le Yiddish à l’usage des pirates by Éditions du Boréal.

The Segal Awards will be presented at a virtual ceremony on Nov. 12 at 7:30 p.m., when Samson, two of whose earlier novels were nominated for Governor General’s Awards, will be interviewed.

Reservations may be made at https://bit.ly/37pnEjS.

JPL executive director Michael Crelinsten said the introduction of the Quebec book category by the Segal Awards, now in their 52nd year, reflects the JPL’s “double, but intertwined, mission of being both Jewish and public. With the new format, the JPL also highlights the contribution of Jewish culture to a richly diverse contemporary Quebec.”

On Nov. 19 at 7:30 p.m. as part of Jewish Book Month, the JPL presents an online lecture by Chilean-born writer Isabel Allende on “Write What Shall Not Be Forgotten: A Journey into Memory and Soul.”