She Smiled Again: Ruth Lowe’s Biography Hits the Right Notes

Dec. 23, 2020

By RUTH SCHWEITZER

The long-awaited biography of Ruth Lowe, the Jewish songwriter from Toronto who helped launch Frank Sinatra’s career, has finally been published.

I’ll Never Smile Again held the No. 1 spot on Billboard for 12 weeks in 1940 and has since become a standard that’s been covered by many jazz legends, including Billie Holiday. Lowe wrote the song, recorded by Sinatra with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, in 1939, a year after her husband died.

Lowe’s biography, Until I Smile At You: How One Girl’s Heartbreak Electrified Frank Sinatra’s Fame (Castle Carrington Publishing), is by Peter Jennings, with contributions from one of Lowe’s sons, Tom Sandler. The book includes a foreword by Sinatra’s daughter, Nancy, and contains plenty of photographs and memorabilia from Lowe’s storied career.

It covers the two acts of Lowe’s life: her musical pursuits during her teens and 20s, and her semi-retirement from music, after remarrying and having a family. Jennings interviewed scores of people for the biography, some of whom knew her personally and others who knew her only for her brilliant song.

Born in 1914, Lowe grew up poor in Toronto during the Great Depression. Her father, Sam, a butcher and grocer, experienced successive business failures. Lowe’s younger sister, Muriel (Mickey) Cohen, describes their father as a man who was longer on entrepreneurial spirit than business smarts. “He and my mother, Pearl, seemed to always struggle to keep ends together,” she said.

But Sam Lowe was a charming man, and musically gifted. “He could sing and dance and loved to entertain. Ruthie caught that bug from him,” Cohen said. Despite their poverty, the Lowes always had a piano at home. Lowe took a few lessons, but as a natural talent, she was mainly self-taught.

At 16, she dropped out of school to help out at home, playing piano at a “song shop,” where customers could hear tunes before buying sheet music. When Lowe’s father died in 1935, the family’s financial situation became even more precarious. Lowe earned extra income by performing in a two-piano nightclub act with the singer Sair Lee and she became the staff pianist for a Toronto radio station. In 1935, Lowe joined an all-female touring band, The Melodears, led by the singer and dancer Ina Ray Hutton.

Lowe married Harold Cohen, a music publicist, in 1938. Hardly a year later, Cohen, 29, died of kidney failure during routine surgery. Devastated, Lowe left Chicago, where she and her husband were living, and returned to Toronto. One evening, she sat down at the piano and transformed her mood into the melody for I’ll Never Smile Again. She also wrote the lyrics, unusual at a time when most songwriters worked in pairs, one writing the music and the other the words.

Lowe returned to Toronto and got a job playing piano at the CBC, where she met the Jewish bandleader Percy Faith. He recorded I’ll Never Smile Again with his orchestra. When Dorsey came to town with his orchestra, Lowe pitched the recording to him, a year before Frank Sinatra joined the band.  Sinatra’s rendition backed up by the Pied Pipers, became, as they said, number one with a bullet.

To this day, Sinatra holds the unique distinction of singing on the first Billboard #1 single. I’ll Never Smile Again went on to sell nearly one million copies.

The song’s release during the Second World War was a factor in its early success. “Ruth’s ballad, born from her own sad loss, managed to catch the mood of Americans – and then the world – reflecting the delicate nature of all wartime romance,” Jennings writes.

The song’s popularity endured even after the war, with contemporary artists like Canadians David Clayton Thomas, Michael Bublé, Molly Johnson, and Alex Pangman recording it in recent years.

Bernie Taupin, Elton John’s lyricist, told Jennings that he considers the song to be “in the top 50 of great American songs.”

The music producer Quincy Jones first heard I’ll Never Smile Again when he was 10 years old. “Not only do I only remember the song, I remember the story behind the song. It was one of the songs that inspired my career,” Jones told Lowe’s son.

I’ll Never Smile Again was inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2003, and the Dorsey-Sinatra recording was honoured with a Grammy Hall of Fame award in 1982.

Lowe co-wrote a second hit song for Sinatra, Put Your Dreams Away (For Another Day), his signature closing number. Although Lowe is remembered for the two songs, she was a prolific songwriter in the early 1940s, often collaborating with other writers at the Brill Building in New York, an incubator of talent.

Ruth Lowe with Frank Sinatra (left) and Tommy Dorsey (Photos courtesy Tom Sandler)

Lowe’s success was her ticket to a glamorous world of the celebrities of the era – musicians, songwriters and comedians like Duke Ellington, Sammy Cahn, Henny Youngman, Milton Berle, Bob Hope, Buddy Rich, and Al Jolson. But Lowe tired of the pace of living the high life in New York. “Mom told me she’d got to the point where fun was fun, but this had become a little much,” Sandler told Jennings. “It was relentless, and maybe a little overwhelming for her. It had lost its allure.”

Bob Hope and Ruth Lowe

On her return to Toronto, Lowe went on a blind date with a Toronto stockbroker, Nat Sandler. After a whirlwind two-month romance, they married in November 1943, when Lowe was 29. They had two children, Tom, named for Tommy Dorsey, and his older brother, Stephen.

Aline Sandler, Tom’s wife, confirms that Lowe missed the New York music scene. “I do know she missed the limelight,” she told Jennings. “I mean, it’s hard for a performer not to perform. Don’t get me wrong: she loved her life, she loved Nat, and she loved her children and grandchildren. But you can’t replace the celebrity experience she’d been through, you just can’t.”

In 1951, Nat Sandler opened a posh nightclub, the Club One-Two on Adelaide Street in Toronto, and Lowe used her connections to book the talent. The story was that Sandler had bought the club during an afternoon of drinking at a pal’s house, after leaving a synagogue service.

Music was a passion for Lowe, who continued to play piano and write songs in the living room of her Toronto home. An upbeat gospel song, Take Your Sins to The River, which she wrote with her son Tom, was recorded by The Travellers in the 1960s. But songwriting didn’t come so easily for her any longer.

Sandler told Jennings he thinks his mother, who died of cancer in 1981, had more great songs in her. “But she had become tied to a new lifestyle: a family and different values to which she decided to dedicate herself,” Jennings writes.

Perhaps Lowe’s lifestyle was no longer fertile ground on which her songs could sprout. As Sandler told Jennings, “trying to write a hit song and get it out…is a huge amount of work.” He goes on to ask: “Are you going to do that? Or raise a family?”

Nonetheless, it is a shame Lowe had to make a choice.

Jennings tells Lowe’s story in a cheerleading, conversational style with quite a few digressions, some of them more relevant than others. He provides quite a bit of biographical information about Percy Faith, described as “a gentleman who would go on to fame in the U.S. and worldwide.”

In a preface to his interview with the singer Dinah Christie, who was involved in the staging of Smile Company’s 1987 show about Lowe, Ruthie, Jennings goes into detail – perhaps too much, describing the community surrounding Christie’s “100-acre spread in Grey County, Ontario.” Mentioning that the community hosts the Holstein Maplefest and the Holstein Rodeo Expo has nothing to do with Lowe.

Some of the best parts of this biography are Tom Sandler’s loving memories of his mother.

While Until I Smile At You may be a rambling account of Lowe’s life, we’re fortunate to have a biography of her. If you’re a music lover, it’s worth checking out.

The Tailor Project: Our Brothers’ Keepers

By PAULA DRAPER

In the spring of 1948, Max Enkin, a prominent Toronto Jewish community leader and clothing manufacturer, spoke to a gathering of his peers. He had recently returned from visiting Europe’s post-war displaced persons (DP) camps, where he led a small team of garment industry manufacturers and labour leaders on a mission.

Their goal was to bring as many Holocaust survivors and their families to Canada as they could squeeze through obstructive, antisemitic immigration restrictions. Enkin and his colleagues – Sam Herbst, Sam Posluns, Bernard Shane and David Solomon – had been deeply moved by the plight of the survivors they met in Germany and Austria. They were shocked by the degrading conditions they witnessed in the DP camps, many constructed on the sites of former concentration camps.

Limited by the government to a quota for Jewish tailors, the five men were forced to make heart-wrenching decisions about who could be included among the chosen. They returned determined to inspire their fellow Canadian Jews to do all they could to help the survivors when they arrived.

Through articles in the Jewish press and public speeches, the team pleaded with community members to open their hearts and homes to the survivors who were beginning to arrive as garment workers. They faced a community both exhausted by its pre-war failures at rescue and unable to comprehend the uniqueness of the survivors’ experience and their desperate need to rebuild their lives.

“I am beginning to doubt,” Enkin told them, “if many know or appreciate how these people find themselves there, who they are, and what we owe them if we are to justifiably uphold our own respect and genuinely acknowledge that we are our brothers’ keeper.”

The Tailor Project (the book, which came out in October), is a study of Canadian Jewry’s efforts to rescue Jews stranded in the killing fields of post-war Europe and find homes for them in Canada – to be their brothers’ keepers. Prof. Harold Troper’s introduction summarizes the obstinate restrictive government policies that preceded the post-war opening of Canada to immigration. The authors then examine the post-war bulk labour schemes and how these programs were devised to import skilled and unskilled single men into the growing post-war economy.

Young, unmarried Jewish survivors were more than willing find a way out of the camps by applying for Canadian labour schemes; their applications, which noted their “Hebrew” religion, were invariably rejected. Realizing the potential these programs offered for opening the doors to Jewish DPs, the Jewish Labour Committee, Jewish clothing manufacturers and the Canadian Jewish Congress banded together to create the Tailor Project.

In our book of the same name, we explore the personalities and community politics that coloured the attempts to bring survivors to Canada after the Second World War. This is also a study of the Jewish-dominated garment industry and the Tailor Project’s unprecedented collaboration between garment manufacturers and unions.

Funded by the Canadian Jewish Congress in conjunction with the Jewish Immigrant Aid Society and other agencies, they succeeded in settling some 2,500 European Jews in cities across Canada in 1948 and 1949.

The history of the Tailor Project is complemented by the reminiscences of the survivors and their families who established new lives in Canada. Some were trained as tailors before the war and continued working in the garment industry. Others were barely able to sew a buttonhole and forged other careers after their arrival. All understood that the program was their chance at rebirth.

Survivors and their children describe their journeys to Canada, the challenges of their early years of settlement, and the extended survivor families they created in their new homes. The Jewish garment workers and their families were the first large group of Holocaust survivors to gain entry to Canada. They were soon followed by DPs who joined other labour programs initiated by the Jewish community – notably by the furrier and hat-making industries.

Mendel Good was one survivor who came to Canada with the Tailor Project. He was 23 and an experienced tailor when he arrived in Ottawa in 1948, sponsored by the garment workers program. After suffering over six years in ghettos and camps, the only survivor of his extended family, Mendel spent three years recovering his health. He met and married Valerie Blau, another survivor who had come to Canada under the domestic bulk labour program.

Mendel established the M. Good Tailor shop in the Byward Market, a business still open today. His positive spirit and gregarious nature left a lasting impression on both his clients, and the thousands of Ontario students he educated about the Holocaust.

Mendel died last month at the age of 95. Rabbi Reuven Bulka eulogized that Mendel “became a tailor because he wanted to stitch together a better world.”

The Tailor Project is the story of how Canadian Jewry came together to rescue the remnants of European Jewry, and how Holocaust survivors like Mendel reshaped Canadian life.


Paula Draper

Paula Draper is co-author of The Tailor Project. How 2,500 Holocaust Survivors Found a New Life in Canada (Second Story Press) with Andrea Knight and Nicole Bryck, introduction by Harold Troper

Meet the Authors: The Tailor Project

Japan Diplomat Sugihara Honoured for Wartime Heroism

Dec. 11, 2020

By LILA SARICK

George Bluman doesn’t hesitate when he considers the legacy of Chiune (Sempo) Sugihara, a Japanese diplomat who provided Jews with life-saving travel visas during the Second World War.

“In my own family, there are 21 people living…. We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for him,” Bluman, a retired math professor who lives in Vancouver, said in an interview with the CJR.

In the summer of 1940, Sugihara served as Japan’s vice-consul in Kaunas (Kovno), Lithuania, and issued thousands of transit visas to Jewish refugees, permitting them transit through Japan. Some were issued to Jews who had managed to secure visas allowing them to enter Dutch-controlled Curacao, but Sugihara also issued them to other refugees who did not have proper documentation.

Chiune (Sempo) Sugihara
Chiune (Sempo) Sugihara

Bluman’s parents were Polish Jews who had fled to Lithuania at the outbreak of the war. In 1940, they received visas from Sugihara, even though their paperwork was incomplete. They travelled through Russia, boarding a ship in Vladivostok, and sailed to Japan.

After spending six months there, Bluman’s father, who had a degree in bio-engineering, received one of 25 Canadian visas available to immigrants with specialized skills. The couple arrived in Vancouver in 1941.

Bluman, who was born not long after his parents arrived in Canada, has done extensive research into Sugihara’s life and what happened to those who received those precious visas. One of Bluman’s grandchildren carries Sugihara’s name, and the family is in frequent contact with the diplomat’s descendants.

“From my perspective, he (Sugihara) wasn’t just a passerby. He cared and put his family at some risk,” Bluman said. “He wrote to his superiors three times and they certainly didn’t encourage these visas.”

While there is some dispute about the number of visas Sugihara issued to Jewish refugees in that summer of 1940 in Kaunas – Yad Vashem in Israel says it was between 2,100 and 3,500, while other sources say it was as many as 6,000 – Bluman says the number is not important. “What was amazing is what he did over a short period of time.”

After arriving in Japan, many refugees then travelled to Shanghai, China, where there was an established Jewish community. After the war, about half of those left for the United States and about 15 percent came to Canada, Bluman said. About one-quarter of those who received visas were yeshiva students, he said.

Today, an estimated 40,000 people are descendants of those who received the visas.

Sugihara’s legacy will be commemorated by the Japanese Embassy in Canada this week to mark the 120th anniversary of his birth, the 80th anniversary of his issuing the visas, and the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. It all makes for an auspicious time to remember the diplomat’s achievements, said Atsushi Murata, director of information and culture for the Embassy of Japan in Ottawa.

The online memorial was recorded Dec. 8 and was organized by the Embassy of Japan in cooperation with the embassies of Israel and Lithuania, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, and the Canadian Society for Yad Vashem. Among the speakers were a Holocaust survivor who received a visa, and two descendants of those who were saved by Sugihara, including Bluman.

Sugihara was recognized by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations in 1984, the only Japanese national to be honoured. He died in 1986.

Bluman credits the Japanese ambassador to Canada for initiating the event. While based in New York, Ambassador Yasuhisa Kawamura became friends with a number of Jews and began to hear about Sugihara and the people he had helped. “He is passionate about the story,” Bluman said.

In Japan, Sugihara’s story is well known, and he is considered one of the country’s 100 most important people, Bluman said. Last year, Lithuania announced that 2020 would be dedicated to the memory of Sugihara, and conferences, museum exhibits, and a commemorative stamp were planned for the year.

Sugihara’s deeds are comparable to those of Oskar Schindler, the German industrialist who sheltered Jews during the war, but his story is much less well known in North America simply because there hasn’t been a popular Hollywood film about his life, Bluman said.

“The most important thing is to make people in Canada aware of Sugihara.”

To watch the ceremony honouring Sugihara, as well as documentaries about his life and the survivors, visit www.visasforlife.info.

Addendum: In 1993, Canadian Jewish Congress and the National Association of Japanese Canadians were one of the first organizations to honour Sugihara. Present for that dinner were members of the Sugihara family and numerous elected officials, including then Ontario Premier Bob Rae.

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. 

‘Nazi’ Street Name to Change; Debate Spills Over to Israel

Nov. 18, 2020

By STEVE ARNOLD

A Toronto suburb will strip the name of a Second World War Nazi from one of its streets.

Ajax town council voted narrowly Monday night to remove the name Langsdorff Drive from a residential street and, instead, honour an Allied serviceman.

It took a petition campaign by a local resident, the intervention of B’nai Brith Canada, and an emotional appeal from a Holocaust survivor, among others, to convince four of the seven council members that honouring a Nazi in Canada was wrong.

But the lengthy debate was marred by comments from one councillor who opposed the name change because Palestinians are “currently being oppressed by the Jewish State of Israel.”

From the start, the debate was sharply divided. Supporters of German navy Captain Hans Langsdorff claimed he was an honourable man who was respected by his enemies. Those demanding the name change, however, argued Langsdorff’s personal qualities didn’t outweigh the fact he fought for the regime responsible for one of history’s greatest crimes against humanity. 

Max Eisen, one of only three from an extended family of 70 to survive the Holocaust, told the councillors that experience leaves “no room for our enemies to be honoured in Canada. For me, it would represent a terrible thing if this motion fails.”

Rabbi Tzali Borenstein of the Chabad Centre of Durham Region argued the Holocaust is a wound that has never healed for the Jewish community and is torn open repeatedly in an age of growing antisemitism. That, he said, makes it wrong to honour anyone who played even a small role in the Nazi regime.

“Being a Nazi is never right,” he said. “To honour someone with a street name is to be on the wrong side of history.”

Coun. Ashmeed Khan (Ward 2) noted repeated references to the need for reconciliation between former enemies and said the lack of reconciliation for “oppressed” Palestinians is why he supports keeping the Nazi street name.

“One word I have heard repeated consistently today is reconciliation, reconciliation, reconciliation,” he said. “I’ve been having calls from people in (his ward) who are Palestinian and have no hope of reconciliation as they are currently being oppressed by the Jewish State of Israel and they are concerned about how we will address this today.

“I cannot support changing this street name and changing history,” he added. “I say the same thing I said about [the street] Graf Spee Lane: Mr. Mayor, when does this stop? When do we stop pandering to a handful of people?”

On Tuesday, Adam Wiseman, the Jewish Ajax resident whose petition campaign started the renaming effort, bristled at Khan’s remarks and fired off an email inviting the councilor to clarify his comments or apologize to Durham’s Jews.

“I understood your comment about the ‘Jewish state of Israel currently oppressing Palestinians’ as justification for not changing the street name as though you are implying that you and the Palestinian community believe Jews deserve this sort of affront,” Wiseman wrote. “(I)f that was your intention, then I am requesting an on-the-record apology to the Jewish community in Ajax.

“You also mentioned that the city should not ‘pander’ to a small number of people,” Wiseman wrote. “Do I really need to point out why there are so few Jews in Canada?  Are you familiar with the quote ‘None is too many’ in reference to Canada sending ships full of Jewish refugees back to Nazi Germany to be slaughtered?” 

At the heart of the debate is a residential street named in 2004, and dedicated in 2007, for Langsdorff, a career officer of the German navy. In 1939, in command of the warship Admiral Graf Spee, he was ordered into the South Atlantic Ocean where he sank nine Allied merchant ships carrying desperately needed supplies to Britain.

In December, however, he was trapped off South America by three British ships, including HMS Ajax, for which the town is named. In a brawl known as the Battle of the River Plate, the Graf Spee was damaged and limped into Uruguay’s Montevideo harbour for repairs.

Ordered out of the neutral country after three days, and knowing that a superior British force was waiting for him, Langsdorff ordered his 1,000-member crew off the vessel and blew it up. Three days later, in a Buenos Aires hotel, he wrapped himself in the ship’s battle flag and shot himself in the head.

The Town of Ajax, in Durham Region, east of Toronto, was founded in 1941 and has a policy of naming its streets after the ships and sailors of the River Plate battle. An attempt to name one street for Langsdorff’s ship was reversed earlier this year. It currently has a list of 160 names that could be used. The decision to name a street for Langsdorff required making a specific exception to that rule.

Langsdorff’s supporters have noted that he saved the lives of his crew, of hundreds of Allied sailors, and the crews of merchant vessels he allowed to escape before sinking their ships. Those actions, say his supporters, show Langsdorff was never an ardent Nazi and, in a spirit of reconciliation, should be honoured by his former enemies.

Jim Devlin, a member of the Ajax branch of the Royal Canadian Legion, argued that point, saying Langsdorff’s membership in the Nazi Party shouldn’t be held against him.

“I am in no way standing up for Nazis,” said Devlin, a Canadian army veteran. “I believe Hans Langsdorff was a navy man first and foremost and if he was a Nazi, it was just a formality. His treatment of prisoners was that of an officer with honour.”

Supporters also argued that since Langsdorff died in 1939, he could not have known about Nazi plans to exterminate Jews.

Local amateur historian Kevin Nesbitt argued, for example, that since the real atrocities of the Holocaust didn’t start until 1941 or 1942, “it’s highly unlikely Langsdorff knew or ought to have known about them.”

Wiseman, the Ajax resident whose petition campaign started the renaming effort, rejected those arguments.

“I understand the desire to find something good here, but it isn’t there in Hans Langsdorff,” he said. “Right up to the end he fought for the Nazis and their cause.”

Where others point to Langsdorff’s personal conduct, Wiseman points to the sailor’s suicide note, in which he remarked: “I shall face my fate with firm faith in the cause and the future of the nation and of my Fuehrer.” Langsdorff also lauded Adolf Hitler as “a prophet, not a politician.”

B’nai Brith, which supported the renaming motion, praised the town’s decision.

“Today is a proud day for Ajax, for Ontario’s Jewish community, and for Canada as a whole,” CEO Michael Mostyn said in a news release. “Taking action against the glorification of Canada’s enemies and a man who fought for the most evil regime in history sends the right signal to those concerned about the rise of hate in our time.”

Monday’s motion by councillors Lisa Bowers and Sterling Lee directs town staff to hold an open house for residents of Langsdorff Drive and to report back to council with a recommended course of action to rename the street.

The Ajax controversy is the latest development in a series of debates over Nazi symbols in Canada. B’nai Brith has been working with the town of Lachute, Que. to prevent a local ceremony honouring a Nazi pilot; has been helping residents in Puslinch, Ont. opposed to a roadway named Swastika Trail; and is partnering with the Canadian Polish Congress to remove monuments honouring Nazi collaborators in Edmonton and Oakville, Ont.

Cattle Car Replica Helps Students Stand Against Hate

Nov. 11, 2020

By SUSAN MINUK

When it comes to hate crimes, no group in Canada is more heavily targeted than Jews. In an innovative and strategic push for change, 25-year old Jordana Lebowitz has founded ShadowLight, a not-for-profit Holocaust education centre set within…a cattle car.

“We want to help people connect to the survivor stories while being immersed in this historical space,” explains Lebowitz of the unique setting for her effort.

“The Cattle Car: Stepping in and Out of Darkness” was launched Oct. 18 at the Toronto Railway Museum. It is an interactive, multimedia installation within an exact replica of a Second World War-era cattle car that was used to transport Jews and other targeted groups to concentration and extermination camps.

At the Oct. 18 launch of the cattle car exhibit: Jordana Lebowitz, founder of ShadowLight, and Michael Levitt president and CEO, Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center. (Photo by ShadowLight)

As the installation’s name suggests, the windowless wooden freight cars were originally intended to transport cattle. At least 150 unfortunates were crammed into each car, without food, water, washroom facilities, or the ability to sit down. Many perished en route to death mills. Historians have suggested that without the mass transportation carried out on Europe’s railways in these box cars, the scale of the Final Solution would have been much different.

As Holocaust survivors diminish in number, ShadowLight’s installation inspires future generations to take action against injustices around them, say Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center (FSWC), which has partnered with ShadowLight to advance Holocaust education in Canada.

“Holocaust education is the key tool in the fight against and prevention of antisemitism and hate that we are sadly seeing rear its ugly head all too often around the world,” said Michael Levitt, FSWC president and CEO. “Our goal is to work together with Jordana and ShadowLight to create course material for students and make this an even fuller experience on campuses.”

The cattle car museum on wheels will visit school campuses throughout Canada.

Lebowitz’s passion project was born when she was a 16-year old CHAT student taking part in the March of the Living.

She was in the one-time Nazi death camp of Majdanek when she saw a megillah scroll in a glass box, “and that made me sad, yet I realized the story doesn’t end here in a massive pile of ashes,” Lebowitz recalled.

That wisdom planted the seed. She searched for months for a cattle car. Finally, in 2015 as a second-year student at University of Guelph, and with help from Hillel, she brought the cattle car to campus. It has since been displayed every year at the University of Guelph for Holocaust Education Week.

“Jordana drove the whole concept with her student leaders. It was the first incarnation of her program ShadowLight,” said Marc Newburgh, CEO of Hillel Ontario. “FSWC has the ability to take this out in the community and amplify it.”

As a co-op student, Lebowitz worked at the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, the Jewish Holocaust Center in Melbourne, Australia, and the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights.

Lebowitz revisited the cattle car initiative with a renewed determination to bring the powerful educational tool to other school campuses. ShadowLight was incorporated in 2018, with a team of 20 young volunteers and 20 advisors.

“We brought Holocaust survivors Hedy Bohm and Nate Leipciger into a green screen studio and filmed their stories,” said Lebowitz.

Actors then brought their stories to life. “The walls fill up with people to visualize how many would have been squished in this space,” Leibowitz explained. “There are 100 hand-painted footprints on the ground to show how closely family groupings were.”

Lebowitz, who’s pursuing her masters in education remotely from the University of Southern California, marvels about her creation. “I never thought that ShadowLight would come to life,” she said.

The cattle car exhibit runs about 30 minutes and is recommended for students Grade 8 and above. The second public showing will take place on Nov. 15 and 16 at Wychwood Barns Park in Toronto’s St. Clair Ave. W. and Christie Street area. Strict COVID safety measures are in effect.

To book tickets, click here.

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. 

Ontario Honours Holocaust Survivors

Nov. 10, 2020 

By LILA SARICK

Ten Holocaust survivors who have made it their mission to educate younger generations about the dangers of antisemitism and racism were honoured by the Ontario government in a virtual ceremony on Nov. 5.

The annual ceremony, usually held at Queen’s Park, was scheduled for last spring but postponed due to COVID. This year’s virtual event was held during Holocaust Education Week, Nov. 2-9.

The theme of this year’s event was “passing the torch” – fitting, given that the honourees were all speakers at the Neuberger Holocaust Education Centre and had dedicated hours to talking to students about their experiences, said Fran Sonshine national chair of the Canadian Society for Yad Vashem, in remarks that were recorded earlier at the Holocaust memorial in Toronto’s Earl Bales Park.

This year’s honorees were Hedy Bohm, Esther Fairbloom, Pola Goldhar, Denise (Fikman) Hans, Mark Lane, Faigie (Schmidt) Libman, Rose Lipszyc (née Handelsman), Captain Martin Maxwell, Andy Réti and Gershon Israel Willinger.

Each honoree had received a certificate, often surrounded by their children and grandchildren, in outdoor ceremonies recorded earlier.

The survivors spoke briefly, often thanking Canada for taking them in after the Second World War, and giving them a second chance to build a life – and about the importance of teaching young people about the Holocaust.

“I hope in the future to continue Holocaust education,” said Bohm. “My goal has been and always was to make young people feel empowered to stand up and speak against any type of prejudice.”

Debbie Estrin of the Canadian Society for Yad Vashem presents a tribute from the government of Ontario to Capt. Martin Maxwell. Looking on is Maxwell’s wife, Eleanor. (Photo courtesy Canadian Society for Yad Vashem)

MPPs Roman Baber, Will Bouma, Rima Berns-McGown, Gila Martow, and Steven Del Duca, leader of the Liberal Party of Ontario, introduced each honoree.

Premier Doug Ford praised the honourees’ “unbelievable bravery,” saying their “resilience and strength continue to inspire me.”

Galit Baram, consul general of Israel in Toronto and Western Canada, and a descendant of Holocaust survivors, spoke about the “alarming rise” of antisemitism, assaults and Holocaust denial, even in democratic, western societies.

“What I have to come to realize is that the Sisyphean task of combating antisemitism necessitates continuous activity on three levels: legislation, prosecution and education,” Baram said in her remarks.

“Every time elected officials speak up against antisemitism and draw the line between what is acceptable and what is not, every time a Holocaust survivor provides testimony, every time a story of the Righteous Among the Nations is told in public, every step brings us closer to developing an antidote to hatred and racism,” Baram said.

To watch the ceremony, visit yadvashem.ca

Holocaust Education Week 2020: Hindsight 2020

Oct. 27, 2020

By CARSON PHILLIPS

In a year characterized by increased antisemitism frequently linked to COVID conspiracy theories and social unrest caused by the lingering effects of systemic racism, it seemed only natural that Holocaust Education Week 2020 would tackle some of the the underlying conditions that contribute to such activities. In a quickly changing world, it is more relevant than ever that we understand the role Holocaust education can and does play in fostering an inclusive society that respects all Canadians.

Holocaust Education Week (HEW) runs Nov. 2-9 with programs continuing throughout the month. This year’s theme, Hindsight 2020, developed by UJA’s Neuberger Holocaust Education Centre, the organizer of the event, aims to do just that. By reflecting on the role that Holocaust education has played in our community, and promoting best practices in education that encourages deep learning, a solid foundation is laid for dealing present day challenges.

Now more than ever, nurturing Canadian civil society through the lessons of the Holocaust is a vital goal of HEW.

In response to the pandemic, the Neuberger has transformed Holocaust Education Week into a digital experience continuing throughout the year. By partnering with the Virtual J, programs will be presented live, free of charge and available for viewing on-demand long after the conclusion of each presentation.

Dara Solomon, the Neuberger’s executive director, commented on the new format: “Partnering with the Virtual J extends the reach of our programming to diverse audiences everywhere. Now, anyone with internet access can learn about the Holocaust wherever they live, at any time of day assured that the programming is built on the best and highest pedagogical standards,” she said.

HEW’s opening night unpacks the theme with American journalist Yair Rosenberg addressing the role Holocaust education and memory play in combatting the threats of contemporary antisemitism, prejudice, and fascism. He and Canadian journalist Sarah Fulford, editor-in-chief of Toronto Life magazine, will respond to some of today’s most pressing questions, including how and where does Holocaust education fit in to our current situation, and what have we learned from the Holocaust as a society that can better inform our future and point us towards a more just, equitable, and peaceful world?

A carefully curated film series that delves deeply into this year’s theme runs from November until next April. Each screening features special guest speakers, such as actor George Takei of Star Trek fame. As a child, Takei, along with other North Americans of Japanese heritage, was subject to forced relocation to internment camps during the Second World War. He has written a graphic memoir about his childhood experiences, titled They Called Us Enemy, which is an important entry point into learning about how our countries responded domestically while fighting fascism in Europe.

Takei’s personal insights provide yet another aspect of how the Second World War affected Canadians and Americans.

“For Canadians grappling with what our nation’s wartime conduct means, it helps provide a more complete picture and encourages dialogue on the significance of human rights in today’s civil society,” said Solomon.

Another not-to-be-missed program features philosopher and cultural commentator Susan Neiman, who will share her insights into grappling with the past and its significance with respect to contemporary memorial culture. A three-part Neuberger book talk series is devoted to her recent publication Learning from the Germans. Guest presenters are featured weekly and the series culminates with a discussion with Neiman.

HEW’s closing program will feature Holocaust survivor Pinchas Gutter’s personal reflections on the impact of Holocaust education and remembrance. Gutter, has spoken internationally about his Holocaust experiences, published his memoirs Memories in Focus with the Azrieli Foundation, and was one of the first to be interviewed for the USC Shoah Foundation’s Dimensions in Testimony program.

In conversation with the Neuberger’s Education Coordinator, Michelle Fishman, herself the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, Gutter will expand on the role and power of education in combatting inequality, racism, fascism, and antisemitism.

A special tribute marking the 82nd anniversary of Kristallnacht, when a wave of violent anti-Jewish pogroms rampaged across Nazi Germany on Nov. 9 and 10, 1938, is also part of this program.

Visit the Neuberger’s website www.holocausteducationweek.com for a complete listing of all programs. 


Carson Phillips, PhD, is Managing Director of the Neuberger Holocaust Education Centre of UJA Federation of Greater Toronto

Dutch Couple Honoured as Righteous Among the Nations

Oct. 21, 2020

By LILA SARICK

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.

Background: Jordan Falkenstein, Director of Government Relations at the Consulate General of Israel in Toronto and Western Canada. Foreground (l-r): Jonathan Allen, executive director, Canadian Society of Yad Vashem; Nora Visser; Israeli Consul General Galit Baram; Carman Kidd, Mayor of New Liskeard; and John Vanthof, MPP for Timiskaming—Cochrane. (photo courtesy Israel Consulate)

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.

Police Backtrack on ‘Hate Crime’ Against Ukrainian Monument

Halton Regional Police, west of Toronto, no longer consider the defacing of a memorial dubbed a “Nazi monument” to be a hate crime and regret any “hurt” arising from the incident.

The event provoked a firestorm on social media, with many questioning why a monument to a World War II-era pro-Nazi unit exists in Canada at all.

The episode began on June 22 when Halton police were called to St. Volodymyr Ukrainian Cemetery in Oakville to examine graffiti on a monument in the graveyard.

Someone had painted “Nazi war monument” on a stone cenotaph commemorating those who served with the 14th SS Division in the Second World War.

Also known as the 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS, the paramilitary unit was comprised predominantly of Ukrainians and ethnic Ukrainians from the region of Galicia, according to historian Gordon Williamson.

Formed in 1943, it was part of the Waffen SS, the military branch of the SS. Members of the unit have been accused of killing Polish civilians and Jews during the war.

According to a Halton Regional Police statement, the initial information collected by investigators indicated that the graffiti “may have been hate-motivated, targeting the identifiable group of Ukrainians in general, or Ukrainian members of this cultural centre.”

After reporting and social media posts revealed that the monument pays tribute to a pro-Nazi unit, police changed course.

“At no time did the Halton Regional Police Service consider that the identifiable group targeted by the graffiti was Nazis,” said a July 17 statement from police.

“We regret any hurt caused by misinformation that suggests that the [police] service in any way supports Nazism,” it added.

Police are now treating the incident as a case of vandalism, said Det. Sgt. Barrett Gabriel. The investigation continues, police said.

Halton Regional Police Chief Stephen Tanner went further on Twitter, questioning the reason for the monument.

“The most unfortunate part of all this is that any such monument would exist in the first place,” he tweeted, as reported by the Ottawa Citizen.

“To those who died for the freedom of Ukraine,” states the cenotaph’s inscription. But it also displays the crest of the 14th Waffen SS division, whose members are alleged to have taken part in killing hundreds of Polish civilians in 1944 in the village of Huta Pieniacka, the Citizen added.

The memorial has been in the privately-owned cemetery for years.

Oakville Mayor Rob Burton issued a statement saying the city has little influence in this matter.

“Unfortunately, municipalities have no role in regulating the contents of private cemeteries. [The memorial is] personally repugnant to me. I have family who died fighting Nazis.

“If Ontario laws permitted me to have it removed, it would have been gone 14 years ago,” Burton said, according to insidehalton.com.

On July 18, the Ukrainian Canadian Congress sent a letter to the Ottawa Citizen about the paper’s coverage of the incident.

The Citizen article “propagates the narrative originating from the Russian Embassy in Canada that Ukrainians in general, and particularly all Ukrainians who took up arms against the Soviet Union during the Second World War, are ‘fascists’ and ‘Nazis,’” the letter stated.

Labeling Ukrainians as Nazis is “part of Russia’s ongoing effort to sow division in Canada and other Western democracies,” said the letter. The Russian campaign is “disinformation.”

The letter said veterans of the Galicia Division “never fought against Allied forces,” and were screened by the Allies before being allowed to immigrate to Canada.

The 1986 Deschenes Inquiry into Nazi-era war criminals in Canada “cleared these veterans of any involvement in war crimes…” said the letter, signed by Ihor Michalchyshyn, CEO of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress.

The memorial in question is not the only problematic one in Canada.

As the CJR reported recently, another is a bust of Roman Shukhevych, located at the entrance of the Ukrainian Youth Unity Complex in Edmonton’s north end.

Shukhevych was supreme commander of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) during World War II and held leadership positions in the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists, correspondent Paula Kirman wrote.

“While viewed as a hero by Ukrainian nationalists for his anti-Soviet posture, Shukhevych shared the Nazi ideology and was responsible for commanding troops that committed massacres with the goal of creating an ethnically ‘pure’ Ukraine free of Poles, Jews, and many others during the Holocaust,” Kirman wrote.

CJR Staff