Double Threat: Canadian Jews, the Military, and World War II
"He died so Jewry should suffer no more." These words on a Canadian Jewish soldier's tombstone in Normandy inspired the author to explore the role of Canadian Jews in the war effort. As PM Mackenzie King wrote in 1947, Jewish servicemen faced a "double threat" - they were not only fighting against Fascism but for Jewish survival. At the same time, they encountered widespread antisemitism and the danger of being identified as Jews if captured. Bessner conducted hundreds of interviews and extensive archival research to paint a complex picture of the 17,000 Canadian Jews - about 10 per cent of the Jewish population in wartime Canada - who chose to enlist, including future Cabinet minister Barney Danson, future game-show host Monty Hall, and comedians Wayne and Shuster. Added to this fascinating account are Jews who were among the so-called "Zombies" - Canadians who were drafted, but chose to serve at home - the various perspectives of the Jewish community, and the participation of Canadian Jewish women.
- Imprint: New Jewish Press
- World Rights
- Page Count: 358 pages
- Dimensions: 6.0in x 0.9in x 9.0in
"That we now have a treasure trove of information to which we have never before been privy is beyond important and will help us to fill out our understanding of Canada’s and the Jewish community’s war experience."
Canadian Jewish Studies
"One of the first books to be released by the Toronto-based New Jewish Press may turn out to be one of its most impressive. Double Threat by Ellin Bessner leaves no stones unturned in its telling of the full-blooded saga of the heroic participation of Jewish men and women in the Canadian military during the Second World War. It’s a worthy topic, and one that, surprisingly, has never been covered in such depth before. For that reason, the book has the feel of a popular Canadian Jewish classic, comparable, say, to None Is Too Many or Canada’s Jews: A People’s Journey."
Canadian Jewish News
"Bessner has written a very readable and engaging story on the challenges and obstacles (not the least of which was antisemitism) confronted by the serviceman and servicewoman at home and in the battlefields."
Sonia Smith, McGill University
AJL Reviews, May/June 2019
"This book is the first study that delves into the lives of these men and women: who they were, their hopes for the future, and why they volunteered. It’s also about the daily anti-semitism they confronted and the dangersvthey faced if they were captured by the Nazis…Thoroughly researched, the book is replete with anecdotes Bessner picked up from the more than 200 interviews she conducted…[This book is] a worthy and long awaited celebration of the bravery and sacrifice of a generation of Canadian Jewry."
Irving Abella, York University
The Canadian Historical Review, vol 100 no 3
“Double Threat is an important book. More than 17,000 Jewish Canadians fought in World War II. Many never came home and instead lie in the ground of Canadian war cemeteries across Europe with the Star of David carved into the stone above them. They fought the Nazis with a passion that allowed them to move past the antisemitism they had faced, first at home, and then, too often, right beside them on the battlefield. Bessner’s writing brings this part of our history out of the shadows. All of us owe it to those remarkable men and women to read their stories.”
Peter Mansbridge O.C.
“Like a million of their fellow citizens in World War II, they put life aspirations aside, left family, friends, and lovers behind and departed the relative safety of Canadian shores. The difference? Canadian Jews in the armed forces faced antisemitism in the ranks, politicians and commanders who doubted their effectiveness, and feared certain death if captured in Nazi-occupied Europe. In victory, they bore the sting of neglect by their nation’s historians. Until now. In Ellin Bessner, these Canadian-Jewish servicemen and women have found a documentarian who understood their faith and has dug deep, listened long, and fought hard to tell their stories.”
Ted Barris, author of The Great Escape: A Canadian Story
“This book is an important contribution for several reasons. Here at last is a single authoritative reference. Double Threat fully vindicates against any naysayers who doubt or would impugn the accomplishments of that Great Generation of Canadian Jews. Ellin gives a voice to the veterans and more particularly to those who could never return to Canada. Her technique to achieve this is reminiscent of Pierre Berton’s Vimy: lead in with some of their background, an anecdote or two, and perhaps even a quotation or words attributed to them. It is only later that we learn if they were amongst the fortunate ones who returned to Canada to complete their lives or if they perished overseas. When we meet yet another personality, the anticipation of learning whether they survived or not is almost palpable.”
Major General Ed S. Fitch, OMM, MSM, CD (Ret’d)
Author InformationEllin Bessner is a journalist and a professor of journalism at Centennial College in Toronto.
Table of contents
1. Fighting Amalek
2. Signing Up
3. Jewish Communists in Uniform
4. The Battle of Hong Kong
6. Jews in the Air Force
7. The Navy and Merchant Navy
8. Jewish Women in Uniform
9. Life in the Barracks
10. Off-Duty Activities
11. Jewish Heroes
12. Keeping the Faith
14. Coming Home
15. Kaddish for D-Day
PrizesThe C.P. Stacey Award - Short-listed in 2019
Subjects and Courses