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. 

Theodor Herzl: Gentleman Leader

Oct. 8, 2020

BY DAVID MATLOW

I own the world’s largest private collection of Theodor Herzl memorabilia. It reflects my fascination with the birth of the State of Israel. On May 13, 1948, Israel did not exist. On May 14, 1948, it did. How did this happen?

Ad for a penknife and the knife

It is an amazing story. Although the Jewish people have prayed to return to our ancestral homeland since we were expelled from it 2,000 years ago (thus the holiday-time plea of “Next Year in Jerusalem”), it was only in the 1800s that tangible steps were taken to make this happen. Herzl did not come up with the idea of Zionism, although he thought he did. However, unlike his predecessors who had a similar idea, he set out to actually make it happen.

In 1896, he wrote Der Judenstaat (The Jewish State). The next year, he convened the First Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland, at which the World Zionist Organization was created. In 1899, he formed the Jewish Colonial Trust. In 1901, he inspired the creation of the Jewish National Fund. In 1902, he wrote Altneuland (Old New Land). In 1903, he received an offer from the British government for a Jewish territory in Africa. And in 1904, he died at age 44, having dedicated the last eight years of his life to the cause of the Jewish people.

Herzl understood that he had to rally the Jewish people around a new idea: that we could live in our own country, make decisions for ourselves, and keep each other safe. He needed a symbol to represent that dream. He became that symbol, and after he died, his successors maintained him as that symbol to keep his dream alive.

Cufflink celebrating the 1917 Balfour Declaration

This is why there are so many Herzl related items to collect. I own more than 5,000 of them, items ranging from ice tongs to medals, pen knives to portraits, postcards, pencils, busts, handkerchiefs, and much more.

It’s all been assembled piece by piece through auctions, hunting at flea markets, and the purchase of entire collections from veteran collectors who wanted to entrust their life’s passion to someone who would cherish it.  As well, at least once a month, I receive in the mail a Herzl item that someone found and for which they want a good home.

My collection is a national treasure of the Jewish people, and in case anyone wonders what it might be worth, I believe it’s priceless.

Portrait of Herzl for the 19th Zionist Congress in Prague, 1933

I have chosen to use my collection as a tool to help people learn about Herzl and be inspired by his work. I am hopeful that by learning about Herzl, people will know a little more about where Israel came from, why it was needed as a safeguard against antisemitism, and why it continues to be needed.

Herzl’s motto was, “if you will it, it is no dream,” and I believe that by learning how Herzl pursued his impossible dream (which, as we all know, came true), we can be inspired to make our own dreams come true.

“The Herzl Project” is my initiative to achieve these goals. To that end, I have created a website with resources about Herzl and my collection (www.herzlcollection.com) and published a book, Collecting the Dream, available free of charge as a PDF on the website, or as an ebook on Amazon.

During the pandemic, I have done over 25 videos, webinars and other online presentations on the subject of Herzl. This is not only because for many months I was sheltering at home with my entire collection. It is also because Herzl provides us with an important lesson for this time. He teaches us that the situation in which we find ourselves today can change and improve, and that tomorrow will be better.

Herzl also taught us by example how to be a leader in difficult times. He used his skills and talents as a lawyer, playwright and journalist to create something that would benefit others. Knowing that he was very sick, he focused on the future of the Jewish people, understanding that he was not likely to live to witness the birth of the state he envisioned.

Herzl pencil and pencil stand

Herzl also believed that we cannot do things that benefit only ourselves, and that because of our history, Jews are uniquely able to have a broader perspective. He understood that as citizens of this planet we all share, we must also act to help others. This is best illustrated in this reference from his book Altneuland, in which one of his characters expresses the following:

“There is still one other question arising out of the disaster of nations which remains unsolved to this day, and whose profound tragedy, only a Jew can comprehend. This is the African question. Just call to mind all those terrible episodes of the slave trade, of human beings who, merely because they were black, were stolen like cattle, taken prisoner, captured and sold. Their children grew up in strange lands, the objects of contempt and hostility because their complexions were different. I am not ashamed to say, though I may expose myself to ridicule for saying so, that once I have witnessed the redemption of the Jews, my people, I wish also to assist in the redemption of the Africans.” 

This is remarkable. While dedicating his life to the Jewish people, Herzl also had the goal to help end Black suffering. He understood that issues of prejudice and discrimination are related, and that we are free only if we are all free. He knew that we cannot only look after ourselves; that we must care for the plight of others.

Bulletin announcing Herzl’s death

We have all seen pictures of Herzl in his top hat and tuxedo. He also often wore white gloves to formal events. He was a gentleman.

But being a gentleman is not limited to how you dress. It is how you behave, what you say, what you think, and what you do. It is also about the care you show for others.

I have come to know Herzl through my collection. He was a gentleman leader. We all benefit from his work, and we should all be proud of the way he did it.


David Matlow
David Matlow

David Matlow is a lawyer and partner at Goodmans LLP in Toronto. He is a member of the board of directors of the iCenter for Israel Education and the Ontario Jewish Archives. He is featured on a six-part series about Herzl called “Herzl Explained,” produced by the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs.