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Nathan Dlusy wanted to stop Hitler

How a Canadian airman was buried in the Scottish Jewish cemetery 74 years ago
The 1951 consecration ceremony by the Jewish Community of Glasgow for the official gravestones belonging to Nathan Dlusy, and a half dozen other Allied Jewish military men who were killed while serving in Scotland during the Second World War. (Courtesy Jon Dlusy)
The 1951 consecration ceremony by the Jewish Community of Glasgow for the official gravestones belonging to Nathan Dlusy, and a half dozen other Allied Jewish military men who were killed while serving in Scotland during the Second World War. (Courtesy Jon Dlusy)

The grave of Flight Sergeant Nathan Dlusy in Glasgow’s Glenduffhill Cemetery probably doesn’t get many visitors.  There are no flowers, or pebbles, or any sign that someone has been to pay their respects to the Montreal airman who was killed in Scotland 74 years ago this summer, while serving in the Second World War.

When I was at there on Monday, July 9, the only other people in the cemetery were half a dozen landscapers hired by the Jewish community in an ongoing restoration of the crumbling paths and walkways of the historic burial grounds.

Ellin Bessner, saying memorial prayers at the graves of Flight Sergeant Nathan Dlusy, and Flying Officer Robert Seigler, Glenduffhill cemetery, Glasgow, July 9, 2018. (Courtesy John Friedlan)

But on August 20, 1944 “at 14:00 hours,” as his family would later be told, Dlusy’s remains were given a proper Jewish funeral here on the eastern outskirts of Glasgow.  A larger crowd gathered after the war, in 1951, when the Jewish community of Glasgow led by Rabbi (Rev.) I. Kenneth Cosgrove of the Garnethill Synagogue, turned out en masse to consecrate the grave of the foreign airman, and those of six other Allied personnel buried here under the auspices of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. (photo courtesy Jon Dlusy)

Dlusy, 23, was a wireless operator and air gunner in a crew of mainly Canadian airmen manning an RAF Sunderland flying patrol boat, in a squadron based at RAF Alness, on the northeast coast of Scotland. They were on an exercise over the North Sea on August 15, when bad weather forced them to turn back. The iconic anti-submarine coastal patrol seaplane crashed into the hills in the Scottish Highlands above Lothbeg, killing all 15 men on board.  The rest of the airmen were buried in a mass funeral at Rosskeen Parish Churchyard Extensions.

Nathan Dlusy in uniform. (Ellin Bessner, courtesy, Jon Dlusy)

Dlusy’s immigrant parents back in Canada had originally opposed their son wanting to enlist in the Royal Canadian Air Force. Nathan grew up in Berlin, where the family had lived before escaping to North America in May 1938 only months prior to Kristallnacht: the November terror attacks on German and Austrian Jews which heralded the coming Holocaust.

The RCAF originally didn’t want to take Nathan when he applied in 1942, and not only because he came from Germany, but because the family didn’t have their British naturalization papers yet, which was a requirement of air force service until much later in the war. But Dlusy’s desire to go back to Europe to stop Hitler, and his command of German, plus a letter of reference from one of Montreal’s most prominent accountants, Cecil Usher, did the trick. The RCAF attestation document in Dlusy’s official military files show his signature saying he’d sworn an oath of allegiance to the King (George Vl) on July 22, 1942 at a recruiting centre in Montreal.

After training in Canada and England, Nathan was posted to Scotland and the RAF Coastal Command Operational Training Unit 4 at Alness. While there, Nathan’s naturalization application to be considered a British subject, was approved, in June 1944.  Had he lived, soon after the war Nathan would have been eligible to be a Canadian citizen once the Canadian Citizenship Act came into force in 1947.

For years, Jon Dlusy, now 91, has been unsuccessfully lobbying the Canadian government to grant his brother posthumous Canadian citizenship, something he says Nathan had also written to his superiors about while still serving in Scotland.

Ellin and Jon Dlusy at the launch of her book “Double Threat,” in Montreal, May 14, 2018. (courtesy, Ellin Bessner).

“He applied and they gave him the run around claiming that ‘Canada is only a Dominion and it’s a part of the British Empire and it takes a lot of consideration and so forth and it’s not usually the custom to do this’ and whatever it was,” recalled Dlusy in an interview he did with me for my new book “Double Threat” (New Jewish Press 2018) about the 17,000 Canadians of Jewish faith who faced widespread anti-Semitism to serve in the Second World War, help defeat Hitler, and rescue the survivors of the Holocaust.

Canada has granted posthumous honourary citizenship to Raoul Wallenberg in 1985, and also to five living public figures including Nelson Mandela and Malala Yousafzai. The previous Canadian government, under Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper, turned down the request, according to a Montreal lawyer Allison Turner, who is helping the Dlusy family. The family is now bringing it forward, again, to the Trudeau government.

On the eve of the anniversary of Nathan Dlusy’s death, it would be a fitting tribute to the sacrifice and service of this young man, who lies buried so far from home, to grant him posthumous or honourary Canadian citizenship. Dlusy could have remained safely in Montreal during the Second World War, working as a shipper in his family’s clothing business, and finishing his studies at Sir George Williams College (now Concordia University). Instead, fighting for a cause that directly threatened his aunts and uncles stuck in Europe, the Jewish people, and both his old and his new country, Nathan Dlusy chose to go back into the face of danger, against his mother’s wishes.

Here at his graveside, I lit a memorial candle. I chanted the memorial prayers on behalf of Nathan’s surviving family. Although I never knew him, of course, I shed a few tears because I have been researching about him while writing my book. My head was covered with a blue Kipah we had had printed for my son’s bar mitzvah. I thought about how my sons gets to live a privileged life in Toronto, and go to university, because of the sacrifice of young men their age, so many years ago.

I told Nathan that his brother and family have not forgotten him and all he did for Canada and the Jewish people. I said the same thing to the other Canadian airman who lies buried next to him, Flying Officer Robert Seigler. Seigler, born in Montreal in 1913, was killed three days after Dlusy in the same area, when his Lancaster bomber ran out of fuel and crashed into the hills. Although Seigler was born in Montreal, he spent seven years working and living in California before coming back and enlisting, and Canada considers him a citizen.

Dlusy’s tombstone reads “The Memory of Him, Who Did His Full Duty, Shall Be For Ever a Blessing.”

About the Author
Ellin Bessner is a journalist and professor at Centennial College in Toronto, Canada. Her new book, "Double Threat: Canadian Jews, the Military, and WWII" tells the story of how Canada's tiny wartime Jewish community mobilized manpower, money, and even matzah to help the Allies win WWII.
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