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Alan Simons
Author | Writer | Social & Allyship Advocate

Lest we Forget: Canada’s Jewish Military Veterans

“I am tired and sick of war. Its glory is all moonshine. It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, for vengeance, for desolation. War is hell.” –  William Tecumseh Sherman, general in the Union Army during the American Civil War.

Yesterday evening I watched a TV news item featured on Toronto’s CityNews regarding a Veterans’ Week Ceremony.

The Veterans’ Week Ceremony was to remember Muslim and Indigenous soldiers who fought for our freedom during World War I and World War II.

The event’s theme and words did not bring comfort to me.

In essence, the news item’s subject matter would have possibly, in part, been acceptable in some past years, but at this time, by association, it struck me as abnormal taking into consideration the current war between Israel and Hamas terrorists and the ramifications Jews throughout the world are experiencing from the screaming hordes of antisemitic demonstrations clamoring for the destruction of the Jewish State and the annihilation of Jews everywhere.

The news item stressed, I quote, “During the First World War, 22 Muslim soldiers fought for Canada, with one losing their life… while 400,000 fought alongside British forces.”

Where was the message that “Despite decades of difficult and painful living conditions for First Nations [Canada’s Indigenous people] under the restrictive regulations of the Indian Act, many First Nations answered the call to arms during both World Wars and the Korean War? Approximately 6,000 First Nations soldiers from across Canada served in the First World War alone.”

Where was the message that, while 400,000 [Muslim soldiers] may have fought alongside British forces, thousands of Muslims fought with and assisted the Nazis including the Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, who was an ardent Nazi supporter who recruited whole divisions of fanatics to fight and kill in the name of extremism?

I believe it was Alanis Morissette, the Canadian singer and songwriter, who said, Canada has a passive-aggressive culture, with a lot of cynicism and righteousness. In a bizarre style, I viewed the underlining message the organizers of the event cunningly brought forth with contempt and sadness that was inappropriate and misguided that pounced on a political and antisemitic opportunity totally unrelated to the very core of what Remembrance Day is all about.

When I wear my poppy I’m remembering everyone affected by war, across races, genders, ideologies, and borders. I’m remembering the tragedy of war, all wars. I wear it in the hope that wars will be a thing of the past.” –Dave Stewart, Canadian writer, musician and filmmaker. 

Canada’s Jewish Military Veterans.

Unlike our family and friends in many other countries, we Jews in Canada have very little to no knowledge of the part our own Jewish military veterans contributed to our country. To my mind, as a society, we have failed miserably in this task of honoring our heroes on November 11, Remembrance Day.

In Canada, compared to the U.S. and the U.K., our diaspora’s lack of interest is an utter embarrassment. It would seem that Canadian Jews just don’t care to recognize the contribution our Jewish military veterans have made to our history.

So, let’s correct this attitude right now!

The history of the Jews in the Canadian military, both male and female and of their exploits and experiences dispels the myth that Jews have not contributed their share in the Canadian Forces. This includes the Boer War (1899-1902), WWI (1914-1918), WWII (1939-1945), and the Korean War (1950-1953), as well as Canada’s ongoing military activities throughout the world.

Lest We Forget?

During WWI, 38% of all Jewish males 21 years and over in Canada served in the Canadian Expeditionary Forces. 4.5% won decorations for bravery and distinguished military service, in comparison with 3.4% of Canadian soldiers of all origins.

For Canadian Jews, the Second World War was the Jewish community’s most sustained war effort ever. Out of a population of approximately 167,000 Jewish men, women, and children, over 16,880 volunteered for active service in the Army, Air Force, and Navy. There were an additional 2,000 Jews who enlisted, but who did not declare their Jewish identity in order to avert danger if captured by the Nazi forces. All of this was at a time when Canada had the shameful reputation of being the only Western country to completely close its doors to Jews fleeing Nazi persecution.

Of the 16,880 who served, which constituted more than one-fifth of the entire Jewish male population in the country, 10,440 served in the Army, 5,870 in the Air Force, and 570 in the Navy. 1,971 Jewish soldiers received military awards. Over 420 were buried with the Star of David engraved on graves scattered in 125 cemeteries. Thousands returned home with serious physical and mental wounds.

Saskatchewan Jews were among the first to volunteer during both World War I and II, and many lost their lives in the European trenches. It is my understanding the province honored those who sacrificed their lives, including several Jewish heroes, by naming several lakes and mountains of the vast northern region after them.

Lest we forget?

In Canada, while other cultures and religions memorialize their Remembrance Day war veteran heroes and use the event to deceitfully politicize their agenda against Jews, we stand idly and foolishly by and promote our history of Jewish war veterans by not allowing it to happen.

Editorial content and acknowledged photo credits: CityNews Toronto; Canadian Jewish Heritage Network; Jewish War Veterans of Canada (JWV); Veteran Affairs, Canada; The Royal Canadian Legion; National Defence-Canada.

About the Author
Simons is an author, writer and social & allyship advocate. He publishes an online international news service, now in its 15th year, dealing with issues relating to intolerance, hate, antisemitism, Islamophobia, conflict, and terrorism, as well as an online community news site. As a diplomat, he served as the Honorary Consul of the Republic of Rwanda to Canada, post-genocide era. He has lectured and designed courses in the areas of therapeutic management, religion in politics, and communications. He recently published his seventh book.
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