Faced with continuing COVID hardships, Holocaust survivors, including those in Canada, will see a rise in their benefits from Germany.
The increases were announced this month by the New York-based Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, or the Claims Conference.
They result from the organization’s most recent negotiations with the German government on behalf of Holocaust survivors.
A statement from the Claims Conference to the CJR notes that there are currently 1,600 survivors in Canada who receive pensions from Germany that are administered by the Claims Conference. The current benefit of €513 (CAD $800) per month will increase to €580 (CAD $900) a month as of Jan. 1, 2021.
The most recent negotiations also resulted in two supplemental payments, each of €1,200 (about CAD $1,860), for survivors eligible under the conference’s Hardship Fund. The payments will be made in each of the next two years, for a total of €2,400 (CAD $3,725).
The Claims Conference estimates that approximately 5,000 Holocaust survivors in Canada will be eligible for supplemental payments under the Hardship Fund.
Additionally, the German government will directly provide to spouses of so-called BEG payment recipients who died after Jan. 1, 2020, and do not get a BEG spouse pension, a “transitional payment” of up to nine months. Some residents of Canada qualify for this program.
As for funds the Conference allocates to Jewish social service agencies in Canada for the welfare of Holocaust survivors, “we are assessing needs now and will have a final result by year’s end,” said a spokesperson.
For 2020, the Conference allocated over CAD $37 million for homecare, food, medicine, transportation, programs to alleviate social isolation, and other services. The recent negotiations resulted in a €30.5 million increase (approximately CDN $47 million) over last year in funding for social welfare services for Holocaust survivors.
“These increased benefits achieved by the hard work of our negotiation’s delegation during these unprecedented times will help our efforts to ensure dignity and stability in survivors’ final years,” said Gideon Taylor, President of the Claims Conference.
The COVID pandemic “has adversely affected the elderly, and survivors have faced an onslaught of health, emotional, and financial hurdles,” the Conference stated in a recent news release.
The Conference estimates that approximately 240,000 survivors will be eligible for these additional payments. The largest populations reside in Israel, North America, the former Soviet Union, and Western Europe.
In the negotiations with the Claims Conference, the German government agreed to expand the categories of survivors receiving direct compensation. Specifically, Germany accepted the results of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum regarding “open ghettos” in Bulgaria and the report from Yad Vashem on “open ghettos” in Romania, which together recognized 27 specific places as ghettos, thus enabling survivors of those places to receive compensation payments.
Representatives from the Israeli consulate in Toronto and the Canadian Society for Yad Vashem travelled to northern Ontario last week to honour a Dutch family that sheltered Jews during the Holocaust.
Reinerus and Cornelia Hulsker were recognized as Righteous Among the Nations at a ceremony held in New Liskeard on Oct. 16. The couple’s daughter, Nora Visser, accepted the posthumous honour.
In 1940, when the Germans invaded the Netherlands, David (Dik) Biet, a Jew, was sheltered in the Hulsker home, while his wife and infant daughter were hidden in the home of a former work colleague, Jos Asselbergs.
Visser, who was between 10 and 13 years old during the war, transported documents between the houses, said Jonathan Allen, executive director of the Canadian Society for Yad Vashem.
“I was scared when I went to the other house,” Visser told CTV News at the ceremony. “I thought they might see me. It felt like a long walk.”
In 1945, Biet was captured while visiting his wife and daughter, who were in hiding at the Asselbergs, and the family was deported to Westerbork, a transit camp. The war ended before they could be taken to a concentration camp, Allen told the CJR.
“It is quite emotional when you hear the story of what the family did to protect Jews during the Holocaust, at the risk of their own safety and the safety of their families,” Allen said.
As a descendant of Holocaust survivors and an Israeli diplomat, Galit Baram, Israel’s Consul General of Israel in Toronto and Western Canada said she was “grateful for the opportunity to share the remarkable story of the Hulsker and Asselbergs families.” Baram said ceremonies such as this “have tremendous educational value, especially since even today, 75 years after the end of World War II, with the horrors of the Holocaust so well documented, there are still many reported cases of antisemitism even in the strongest of democracies.”
The ceremony recognizing the courage of Visser’s parents was delayed several times due to COVID, and was finally held at St. Paul’s United Church in Visser’s hometown of New Liskeard.
In attendance were Carman Kidd, the mayor of New Liskeard, and local MPP John Vanthof.
Visser was interviewed at the ceremony about her experiences during the war by her granddaughter.
“A lot of details of the story came out,” Allen said. “I’m not sure how much she had shared of this in the past” with her grandchildren.
Receiving the award was “a great honour,” Visser said.
Next month, members of the Asselbergs family, who moved to Calgary after the war, will be honoured as Righteous, Allen said.
The Righteous Among the Nations project was established by Yad Vashem in 1963 to honour non-Jews who assisted Jews during the Holocaust. To date, the award has been granted to more than 27,000 recipients.
Three-and-a-half years ago, Canadian Jewish documentary filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici set out to uncover the history of one of the world’s forgotten tragedies: The trafficking, enslavement and mass murder of African slaves.
The result is Jacobovici’s new six-part docuseries, Enslaved: The Lost History of the Transatlantic Slave Trade, which debuts on CBC-TV and CBC Gem on Oct. 18 at 9 p.m. and on the Documentary Channel 9 p.m. on Oct. 17.
Hollywood mega-star Samuel L. Jackson, the series’ on-screen lead, is a co-executive producer of the project.
While Jacobovici made aliyah with his family five years ago, his production company, Associated Producers, is still based in Toronto as are Enslaved co-producers Felix Golubev and Ric Esther Bienstock.
Speaking from his home in Ra’anana, Jacobovici recounted how he became interested in the history of the slave trade.
During the filming of an underwater documentary with Hollywood director James Cameron of Titanic fame, marine archeologists spoke of the existence of sunken wrecks of slave ships that had been used en route to the Americas.
“They said they knew of sunken slave ships, but nobody cared,” Jacobovici recalled. “That was the first time I thought about the Transatlantic slave trade. I did not know that we’re talking about 400 years… There were a lot of shocking things in this series.”
Of the 12 million slaves sent to the Americas, some two million died en route.
“Nobody has talked about the two million,” Jacobovici lamented. “There is not a single memorial to the two million who died… It’s like global amnesia.”
As a child of Holocaust survivors, Jacobovici said he takes the maxim of “never again” very seriously.
“Just as I believe in Holocaust education, we have to educate the planet about this mass murder, otherwise the bad guys win,” he said. “They can say it never happened.”
His team spent six months researching the project.
Each episode of the series examines a different facet of slavery, from economics and culture, to politics and abolition.
The series also includes an interview with the U.S. civil right leader John Lewis, who died in July.
Jacobovici said he was surprised to learn that only four per cent of African slaves ended up in the United States. The majority went to South America and the Caribbean, where they worked on sugar, coffee and chocolate plantations. He pointed out that slave labour kept the prices of these commodities low.
He said the series also examines the origins of racism in Europe, which can be traced to the 15th-century, anti-Jewish Toledo edict, the first law to legalize racial discrimination.
It defined people by blood rather than faith, and Jews were not pure blood.
As a storyteller, Jacobovici said engaging the audience is crucial.
“I thought the idea of searching and diving for sunken slave ships would create a great television odyssey. You follow the divers as they do their detective work. We used that concept as the springboard to tell the larger historical story.”
The series was filmed in 12 countries on four continents. Each episode revolves around a dive for a specific ship.
For instance, in episode three, Follow the Money, divers locate the Dutch ship Leusden off the coast of Suriname. Records show that as the ship was sinking, the crew nailed down the hatches and let the 640 slaves aboard drown. Apparently, companies could then make insurance claims for “lost cargo.”
Jacobovici said he had many important elements for success: An “amazing” diving team, unique research on the sunken ships, and a compelling, untold story.
However, he said he needed one more element to attract a global audience: Star power.
“Through an amazing intervention I got a meeting with Samuel L Jackson,” he said, explaining that he knew that Jackson had had his DNA traced to the Benga tribe of Gabon on a PBS television show, but he had never met the descendants of his ancestral people.
“Jackson said he did not want to go [to Africa] as a Hollywood star. He wanted it to be more meaningful. He was waiting for the right moment. When we met he felt this was the right moment. This was the right project and he was in. He felt he could turn his personal journey into a platform for educating the planet about the Transatlantic slave trade.”
Jacobovici feels that after COVID, identity politics is currently “the biggest issue. It must be understood in the context of 400 years of slavery.”
In the series, Jackson talks about his great-grandfather, who had been a slave. His grandmother would tell him what her father’s life was like.
“Slavery wasn’t something that happened thousands of years ago,” Jacobovici said.
One of the joys of writing Canadian Jewish Musicians of Note is that I get many suggestions from many people from many places about many musicians.
My long-time Ottawa friend David Dunlop nominated Malka & Joso by reminding me that he was “smitten” by Malka when he was a host at Expo ’67’s Canada pavilion in Montreal. Recalled Dunlop: “I met Malka Himel (as the Canadian Encyclopedia lists her surname) when she and Joso were playing there. I invited her as my date to celebrate at the Canada Day party for the hosts and hostesses of all the national pavilions. After that, I never saw her again.”
A Holocaust survivor, Malka Marom and her Polish parents came to Palestine when she was six weeks old. As a child, she debuted in TheVillage Tale, the first Israeli-produced TV movie. And as a teenager, she loved folk dancing and singing in the Dalia Festival.
Malka moved to Toronto in the early 1960s, got married and ultimately formed half of the folk singing duo Malka & Joso with fellow singer, Croatian-born Joso Spralja. They are credited with “bringing ‘ethnic’ music to Canada for the first time and never tried passing as WASPs,” Robert Everett-Green wrote in The Globe and Mail.
Joso (who was not Jewish) arrived in Canada from Croatia in 1962 and was introduced to Malka by guitarist Eli Kassner (who later played lead guitar on all of Malka’s recordings) at an after-hours club in Toronto’s Yorkville district, called The 71. Thus began a partnership as an eclectic-world folk music duo, with their first performance at Toronto’s Lord Simcoe Hotel in 1963, followed by tours across Canada, the U.S. and UK.
Malka was the spokesperson for the twosome, since Joso knew little English. She introduced their songs and translated the lyrics, inventing storylines to augment the numbers that made up each set.
They played the Mariposa Folk Festival in 1964 with Ian & Sylvia, Jerry Gray and The Travellers, and Gordon Lightfoot.
They were signed by Capitol EMI Canada, the result of an introduction made by iconic retailer Sam (“The Record Man”) Sniderman. Their first album, IntroducingMalka & Joso, included guitarist Rafael Nunez and bassist Fred Muscat.
“They recorded each song as if it was performed live – vocals and instrumentals in one take, producing enough material for two albums,” wrote Croatia.org. They released three additional albums: Mostly Love Songs (which won an RPM Award in 1965, when the duo won the year’s Best Folk Group); Jewish Songs – Hebrew & English and Malka & Joso – FolkSongs From Around the World.
In 1966, they headlined a weekly CBC-TV series called Malka & Joso’s a World of Music TV, “which projected an image of cosmopolitanism that is perfect,” wrote Toronto Star music critic Robert Fulford.
The duo parted ways in 1967, with Joso becoming a celebrity restaurateur. Malka continued singing on her own. Between tours, she hosted, wrote and sang on the weekly CBC Radio show, Song of Our People and CITY TV’s weekly show Mosaic.
Over the years, she interviewed Pablo Casals (three months before he died at 96), Leonard Cohen, Moshe Dayan, Joni Mitchell, Nana Mouskouri and Gilles Vigneault. She was nominated five times for ACTRA Awards, winning one for her eight-hour radio documentary, TheBite of the Big Apple.
Malka wrote her first novel, Sulha during tour of the Sinai. It was lauded by Canadian critics. The Jerusalem Post reported, “Rare in the avalanche of books on the Arab-Israeli conflict, most of which take a stand. Sulha gives every side its say in the infinitely complex situation.” She told the Post, “I refused to make it simple. Life is not simple, nor is forgiveness, reconciliation and peace, especially in the Middle East.”
Her second book, Joni Mitchell: In Her Own Words, was published in 2014, and Conversation with Leonard Cohen in 2015.
A CD retrospective of their music was released in 2001. Famed tenorAndrea Bocelli “could learn a lot from Joso,” pronounced the Globe and Mail. “But Joso probably would not have been as effective without Malka’s alto sung in such an intimate way as to make it seem like the sound of drying salt water tears or full-throated, like a field worker with both feet in the soil.”
Married and living in Toronto, Malka is the proud mother of two sons: TV and film documentary producer Martin Himel, who lives in Tel Aviv, and Daniel Marom, an educator living in Jerusalem.
She’s currently writing a book about Malka & Joso. The focus, she told me, “is about our contribution to creating a better understanding of the challenges facing immigrants coming to Canada.”
David Eisenstadt is Founding Partner of tcgpr.com and a graduate of Carleton University’s School of Journalism and the University of Calgary
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.”
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.
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.
When Erin Sade was in Grade 6 she was given the opportunity to learn about any charitable organization that interested her. She chose the Canadian Society for Yad Vashem (CSYV) and in subsequent years she dedicated much of her spare time to helping other young people learn about the Holocaust.
Fast forward seven years and Sade, now 18, was one of seven Canadian recipients of the 2020 Diana Award. Named for the late Princess of Wales, the accolade honours young people for their humanitarian efforts and social action. Sade was nominated for her commitment to Holocaust education.
The virtual 2020 ceremony held last month was hosted by the Vamps’ James McVey and included celebrities like the Duke of Sussex (Prince Harry) and actor, Dame Emma Thompson. About 180 people worldwide received the award this year.
Sade, a recent graduate of Havergal College – she will be on her way to medical school in England later this month – said she was thrilled to win the Diana Award.
She was nominated by Ellen Schwartz, creator and executive director of Project Give Back (PGB), the organization that ran the education program that spurred Sade’s involvement with CSYV, when she was in Grade 6.
“I owe her [Schwartz] so much,” Sade said in a telephone interview from her home in Toronto. “She did everything to nominate me…She has so much kindness. She is so dedicated to the [PGB] program and the students she brings it to.”
Through her connection with CSYV Sade participated in the Twinning Program, which encourages youngsters to dedicate their bar or bat mitzvahs to a specific young Holocaust victim. Sade’s “twin” was Lily Friedman, who died in Auschwitz just shy of her 12th birthday.
“Yad Vashem pairs you with a child who died before their bar or bat mitzvah,” Sade explained, noting that she was able to discover information on Friedman because her sister had survived the war.
The twinning was “a beautiful experience,” Sade said, noting that her own middle name is Lilly. “Having that little connection made it feel more real. That was an empowering experience.”
She said after her bat mitzvah, she was motivated to learn more about the Holocaust and to increase awareness of Nazi atrocities by helping to educate other students, particularly non-Jews.
She encouraged students to participate in the Ambassadors of Change Program, also run by the CSYV, in which high schoolers get the opportunity to connect with Holocaust survivors in small groups.
She would also represent the CSYV through class presentations at various schools in the GTA. She would create and distribute booklets with the personal histories of individual Jewish youngsters from the Holocaust era.
The students would each receive a booklet and then they would find out about the fate of the individual child they had learned about. Each booklet had a QR code that the students could scan with their phones to see if the child had survived or perished during the Second World War.
“That part of the presentation always got through [to the students] the most,” Sade said, pointing out that most of the children they learned about did not survive.
She said she also arranged for Holocaust survivors to speak at Havergale, something that had never been done before.
For Sade, the Diana Award brought to mind another prize she received from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau four years ago.
In 2016, the Yad Vashem society created the Cantor Kraus Catalyst for Change Award in honour of Cantor Moshe Kraus, a Holocaust survivor. The award was to recognize individuals showing dedication to Holocaust education. Sade was one of three recipients.
“It was insane,” she recounted. “They didn’t tell me that Prime Minister Trudeau was going to present the award. I was starstruck the entire time. “You realized that the work that you’re doing actually matters. It was an amazing feeling.”
MONTREAL—Born in a Carpathian mountain village to a peddler of animal hides, Marcel Adams became a billionaire through shrewd investment in the burgeoning postwar real estate boom in Canada and an extraordinary single-minded determination.
That iron will no doubt contributed to his longevity. Adams died on Aug. 11, nine days after his 100th birthday.
For years, Adams was listed among the richest Canadians by Canadian Business magazine and, in 2017, his wealth was calculated at US $1.5 billion, with assets in mostly commercial properties across the country and in the United States.
Adams immigrated to Canada in 1951 from Israel with virtually nothing and, following in his father’s trade, worked in a tannery in Quebec City. While still an employee, he took the advice of a lawyer he met at his synagogue and invested in the development of a modest residential building. Soon he had several apartments and, fortuitously, switched to commercial real estate, most profitably, shopping centres – a new phenomenon. He completed the first mall in the provincial capital in 1959.
Despite his success, Adams never fit the image of the moneyed class. Physically unprepossessing and a man of few words outside his intimates, Adams preferred to blend into the crowd and avoided honours. His philanthropy grew with the years, but he remained low-key personally, while still seen frequently at Jewish community events well into his 90s.
Writing in the Jerusalem Post, his son-in-law, McGill University history professor Gil Troy, observed: “’With his thick peasant hands…and thicker accent, Marcel loved being underestimated by elegant Canadians.” He remained famously frugal, always pleased at finding a way to save money even on the most mundane of daily expenditures, and planned each day’s agenda with a pencil and paper.
Adams knew the importance of paying attention to details and the small gains that led to broader outcomes.
Born Meir Abramovici in Piatra Neamt, Romania, the young Adams toiled in Nazi slave labour camps between 1941 and 1944, when he escaped and fled to Palestine via Turkey. There, he raised cattle and joined the army, fighting in the 1948 War of Independence.
Thanks to his proficiency in French, Adams was tapped by the Jewish Agency to serve in Algiers and Marseilles, helping to get North African Jewish refugees to Israel.
Adams founded Iberville Developments Ltd. In 1958, moving the business to Montreal in the mid-1960s. The privately-held company became one of the largest commercial real estate enterprises in Canada.
After his father left its day-to-day operations, Sylvan Adams ran Iberville. Since he made aliyah five years ago, Iberville has been headed by Sylvan’s son, Josh.
“He was a great man, a Holocaust survivor, who never complained, never looked back, only forward, as he worked hard to build a better life for himself and his family,” stated Sylvan upon his father’s passing.
Adams and his late wife Annie, also a Romanian immigrant, were particularly supportive of Tel Aviv University. Among the projects they initiated there are the Adams Institute for Business Management Information Systems and the Adams Centre for Brain Research. Annie Adams died in 1997.
In 2005, Adams established, with the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities a fellowship program providing US $1 million annually to promising PhD students. To date, 142 students have benefited, many going on to promising careers in Israel.
Although his formal education was curtailed, Adams had a keen intellect and a lifelong hunger for learning. He had a genius for mathematics and read widely, at least, anything he felt would further his practical knowledge.
“As the historian son-in-law, my ‘job’ was to feed him serious works of history, biography, current events,” Troy related. “Whenever I threw in a novel, he scoffed, meiselach (trivialities).”
Those who knew Adams remember a warm, engaging and eternally optimistic man, a great storyteller who drew on his own incredible life.
In a condolence on the Paperman funeral home website, Rabbi Allan Nadler, formerly of Congregation Shaar Hashomayim, said the Adams he knew was “’down to earth, warm and a haymisher Rumaynisher Yid who was often the anonymous donor when an urgent situation arose that required discreet charity.”
Besides Sylvan, who devotes himself to promoting Israel to the world through such spectacular events as bringing the Giro Italia cycling race to Israel for the first time, Adams is survived by his son Julian, a biochemist known for his key role in developing the drug Velcade for the treatment of myeloma; Troy’s wife Linda, a lawyer; Leora, a nurse; and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
A new online petition wants an Ontario town council to change a street name honouring a Second World War sailor who sank his own warship to save more than 1,000 lives.
The problem, for Ajax, Ont. resident Adam Wiseman is that “Langsdorff Drive” is named for the commander of a Nazi battleship.
Wiseman argues that even if Capt. Hans Langsdorff, commander of the German pocket battleship Admiral Graf Spee, deserves his reputation as a “good Nazi,” it’s still wrong for Canada to honour someone who fought for the Third Reich.
“Hans Langsdorff was definitely a Nazi,” Wiseman said in an interview. “As far as Nazis go, he was probably more moral than the SS people working in the camps, but he was still absolutely a Nazi fighting for Hitler.”
Langsdorff was a career naval officer. In 1939, in command of the Admiral Graf Spee, he was sent to the South Atlantic Ocean, where his crew sank nine Allied ships carrying desperately-needed supplies to Britain. In those attacks, Langsdorff allowed merchant seamen to abandon their ships before turning his guns on them.
In December 1939, Graf Spee was trapped off South America by three British warships, including HMS Ajax. Following the Battle of the River Plate, Graf Spee limped into Uruguay’s Montevideo harbour for repairs.
Ordered to leave Uruguay within 72 hours or face imprisonment, and knowing a superior British force was waiting for him, Langsdorff blew his ship up rather than risk the loss of his almost 1,100 crew members.
Three days later, in a hotel in Buenos Aires, Langsdorff wrapped himself in Graf Spee’s battle flag and shot himself in the head.
In 1941, far away from the battles in the Atlantic, a new town was founded in Ontario, east of Oshawa. It was the site of the largest munitions plant in the British Commonwealth and named for HMS Ajax. As the town grew, many of its streets were named for the ships and sailors of River Plate battle in South America.
In 2007, one of those streets was named for Langsdorff in honour of his efforts to spare Allied merchant seamen and his own crew. Another street was named for the Graf Spee in 2017.
There’s been some progress: Meeting late last month, council voted 6-1 to change the name of Graf Spee Lane, a street in a new subdivision construction. The city is planning an open house to hear from the street’s “affected residents.”
The lane has further meaning for the region’s Jews because of its close proximity to St. Paul’s United Church, where Ajax’s only synagogue, B’nai Shalom v’Tikvah, has been holding its services for the last 20 years.
“I can’t think of a poorer location,” Ajax Mayor Shaun Collier told DurhamRegion.com.
As for Langsdorff, his reputation isn’t enough to justify even a small Canadian monument to a Nazi, Wiseman argued.
“It’s not black and white. Was he an evil person? I don’t know, but he was certainly loyal to the Nazi cause,” Wiseman said. “You can name a street after the Battle of the River Plate, you can name it after sailors who fought in it on the Allied side, but certainly you don’t celebrate the Nazi captain of the Nazi warship.”
Aside from the six million Jewish victims of the Holocaust, Wiseman said his effort is driven by the memory of his grandparents, Charles Wittenberg and Eve Wittenberg, who fought with the French Resistance and lost most of their families in Nazi death camps.
“I’ve always felt a little obligation around that,” Wiseman added. “I carry around a Sharpie and if I find someone has drawn a swastika someplace I turn it into a little house with a window. It’s a little homage to my heritage and something that comes up every couple of months out here.”
Wiseman said the campaign grew out of some passionate social media arguments.
“I realized when you argue on Facebook, nothing happens. It’s kind of like screaming at the wind,” he said. “I thought I should do something. I’m not an activist by any means…but I thought I should at least give the opportunity if enough people think the way I do make some real change.”
In addition to gathering petition signatures, Wiseman has also reached out to local Jewish organizations for support, including to B’nai Shalom v’Tikvah.
Ron King, president of the 26-year-old, 40-family Reform congregation, said the board has written to Collier and the town council asking for the name change.
King welcomed last month’s council decision to rename Graf Spee Lane.
“We’re hopeful that given that action by council that a precedent has been set,” he said.
While waiting for a reply from the town, King said his congregation is reaching out to Jewish organizations, hoping for support.
One group opposing the name change is the HMS Ajax & River Plate Veterans Association in Britain.
In an e-mail exchange, association president Malcolm Collis said members of his group, along with the mayor of Ajax, Langsdorff’s daughter, and the president of the Graf Spee Association, met in Uruguay and Argentina last December to pay respects at the graves of the battle’s victims.
“The theme was very much one of reconciliation,” he wrote. “While the Association has not been formally approached by the Town, we are aware that there may be plans to rename Langsdorff Drive; the street naming policy is purely a matter for the Town. Should we be invited to express a view then we shall consider our response which will no doubt follow the theme of our trip to South America.”
Ajax’s communication department added in an e-mail that while there is no current movement to change the street name, officials are always open to input.
“At the time that Ajax Council was considering this dedication, consultation took place that included the River Plate Veterans Association – the group representing veterans that fought in the battle – who gave their endorsement for the naming to proceed,” the email said.
“At this time, we are not undergoing any review of the Langsdorff Drive street name. However, we continue to receive and consider feedback from residents. The immediate focus and attention to renaming Graf Spee Lane is an example of this commitment.”
The Ajax controversy mirrors another 100 kilometres west on Highway 401.
In Puslinch Township, south of Guelph, some residents are still waging a lonely effort to convince councillors to change the name of Swastika Trail.
The most recent effort to get the road’s name changed started in April 2017 and ended in June 2018, when an Ontario court refused to review a council decision to keep the name.
Randy Guzar, the resident leading the fight, wrote in an opinion piece for Huffington Post last week he is “tired of the dirty looks I receive when I show the pharmacist my ID. I hate hearing the awkward jokes when I give the bank teller my address. Some companies refuse to deliver packages to my house. When I tell strangers where I live, I am asked if I am a white supremacist.”
Maintaining the name, he adds, is “an insult to all Canadian Armed Forces members who fought against the hatred and genocide of Nazi Germany. I should know – my father was one of them. To our family, the name is a distressing reminder of what he endured. It hits even closer to home for my neighbour, who sees it as a daily reminder of his father’s death during the Holocaust.”
In a statement on Aug. 17, B’nai Brith Canada CEO Michael Mostyn said, “There is no place for streets honouring Nazi combatants in Canada. While Hans Langsdorff was attacking Allied shipping in the South Atlantic, his comrades were murdering Jews and Poles en masse in occupied Poland. These were inseparable components of the overall Nazi war effort.”
B’nai Brith, citing a history of the Battle of the Atlantic, recalled Langsdoff’s suicide note: “I shall face my fate with firm faith in the cause and the future of the nation and of my Führer.”
Montreal filmmakers Max Beer and Deena Dlusy-Apel have noticed that as the years pass, fewer and fewer Holocaust survivors attend Yom HaShoah commemorations.
When the children of survivors are asked to rise at commemorations, their numbers are far greater than those of their parents.
At one commemoration, Paul Herczeg, who survived Auschwitz, asked the second generation to help keep the memory of the Holocaust alive.
Beer and Dlusy-Apel responded to Herczeg’s appeal by interviewing children of survivors, the subject of their latest documentary, Will the Second Generation Please Rise: Children of Holocaust Survivors.
The filmmakers interviewed 32 children of survivors, in small groups, during six sessions. Several participants are artists or writers, and one is a filmmaker. The documentary includes visits to their studios, prose and poetry readings, and a film clip.
Members of the second generation are shown remembering their psychologically scarred parents: A father who wakes the household screaming; having nightmares about being back in the camps; and families at emotional holiday gatherings, wailing because their murdered sisters and brothers are absent.
Participants spoke about their lack of extended family – grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins – or even photographs of family members who perished.
Ruth Dunsky said she was the envy of her friends – mostly other children of Holocaust survivors – because one of her grandmothers had survived. She remembers a lot of tension at home, and attributes some of it to the pain adults in her household were dealing with.
Some of the documentary’s participants said their parents never or rarely talked about the Holocaust, but Dunsky’s father was voluble. “My father spoke a lot about the past. He basically lived in the past,” she says in the documentary.
Zosia Romisher Rosenberg, who was born in Germany and lived there for 23 years, says her friends were other children of Holocaust survivors. Her parents forbade her from bringing home children with German surnames.
Asked to comment on their feelings about modern-day Germany, the consensus among participants seems to be that although they’re satisfied with how it has tried to come to terms with its past, they have a visceral response to the country.
Traumatized survivors sometimes asked their young children to be intermediaries to the outside world for them. Some parents dreaded answering the phone and asked their children to do it for them.
Michael Rosenberg remembers his father once wanted him to phone someone for him to relay his condolences on a death. After much persuasion, his Dad made the call, but with great reluctance, Rosenberg says in the documentary.
Will the Second Generation Please Rise includes a segment about the work of Rachel Yehuda, a professor of psychiatry and neuroscience who has studied children of Holocaust survivors. Yehuda is director of the traumatic stress studies division at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine.
The Guardian described her work as the “clearest example in humans of the transmission to a child via what is called epi-genetic inheritance – the idea that environmental influences such as stress can affect the genes of your children and possibly even your grandchildren.”
In the documentary, Sophia Wolkowicz says she believes the experiences of our parents are carried in some parts of our bodies, and we remember them in ways we’re not aware.
One of Wolkowicz’s paintings, based on her first memory, depicts a night-time forest scene. A man hides behind a tree and in the foreground there’s another man with a rifle. His stance is casual, which Wolkowicz says is a comment on the casual stance taken by people who were murdering civilians during the Holocaust.
Dlusy-Apel said that after the interviews for the film were done, it became apparent that many of the participants had addressed what had happened to their parents through their literature, artwork and filmmaking. And it seemed to be an obvious focus for the film, she added.
A sculpture in Mark Prent’s studio, “Sleep of the Phoenix,” of a decayed figure that’s half-human, half-bird, is a reference to a mythological bird that can regenerate itself, as Jews did after the Holocaust, through their children and grandchildren, Prent says in the documentary.
In her studio, Cynthia van Frank shows a mixed media creation depicting herself and family members standing, while underneath them are the bodies of Jews who perished in the Holocaust.
Will the Second Generation Please Rise includes footage from Gina Roitman’s documentary My Mother, the Nazi Midwife and Me, in which she returns to her birthplace, Pocking, Germany, the site of a displaced persons camp after the Second World War.
Roitman set out to investigate her mother’s claim that after the war, a midwife from the Pocking hospital murdered Jewish babies. She discovered her mother had told her the truth and, chillingly, was led to the graves of 52 Jewish babies.
Will the Second Generation Please Rise is a follow-up to Beer’s and Dlusy-Apel’s 2015 documentary, Nobody Was Interested, Nobody Asked, about the lack of interest in Montreal in Europe during the war years and in the Holocaust in the immediate years after.
Beer, a Montrealer who was born to Holocaust survivors in the Pocking displaced persons camp, devotes a segment in the documentary to how unwelcome survivors felt in Montreal.
“There was no talk about what was going on in Europe during the war, and I realized there was no talk after the war, when the immigrants started to come in. Nobody talked to them about what they had been through,” he said in an interview.
Dlusy-Apel’s father, who immigrated to the city in 1930, never spoke to her about the Holocaust. “They left behind brothers and sisters and didn’t talk about it,” she said.
Some 10 years after the war ended, survivors began holding Holocaust commemorations in Montreal in Yiddish, but no English speakers were involved, Beer said.
As one participant in the film put it, “No one asked us why we were mourning.”
You can watch Will the Second Generation Please Risehere. The password is Deena2.