Manitoba Jews During World War II
To be sure, Jews did not passively accept this state of affairs. Following Hitler’s accession to power in 1933, Winnipeg Jews organized a massive march throughout the downtown. Whitaker’s rallies and demonstrations were met by anti-fascist forces spearheaded by Jewish community activists. Marcus Hyman, a Manitoba Jewish MLA, was the guiding light in crafting an amendment to the Libel Act which allowed for the prosecution of individuals or groups responsible for defamatory pronouncements. In 1934, Winnipeg Jewish war veterans created the General Monash Branch (Royal Canadian Legion no.115) in response to fascism and antisemitism. In 1938 The Jewish Anti-Fascist League of Winnipeg called for the boycott of German made goods.
Though impacted by the scourge of antisemitism which wove its way into Canadian intellectual, religious and political circles, Jews displayed unswerving loyalty to Canada. When World War II erupted, Canadian Jews answered the call to service with commitment and resolve. Abella noted that seventeen thousand Jews enlisted, equal to fifty percent of those eligible. Jewish enrolment was among the highest per capita of any ethnic group. Arthur Chiel notes that Manitoba Jews served in every area of the war effort. As of 1943, the YMHA Roll of Honour listed 357 service men and women. On the Shaarey Zedek Cenotaph are engraved the names of 68 Jews who died in combat. The YMHA became a focal point for the Canadian Red Cross as well as a centre of hospitality and recreation for Jewish and non-Jewish service personnel. A women’s committee was created to coordinate these activities and organize the distribution of comfort packages to service personnel stationed overseas. In addition the committee set up next-of-kin clubs to provide assistance and companionship to local family of overseas personnel.
As Chiel noted, “At the Second World War’s end the record of Manitoba Jewry’s effort indicated clearly that this people could legitimately share with their fellow Canadians a sense of pride in the sacrifice and courage demonstrated overseas and at home.”
Abella, Irving. A Coat of Many Colours: Two Centuries of Jewish Life in Canada. Toronto: Key Porter
Chiel, Arthur. The Jews in Manitoba: A Social History. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1961.