Monday, May 25, 2015

How a Montreal radio show host discovered his father's rescuer in the Second World War

Leslie Lutsky is a Montreal radio show host, on Radio Centreville, and also works as a tour guide taking visitors around the historic places relevant to Montreal's Jewish heritage. He also spends time at the Canadian Jewish Congress Archives, located in the basement of a Concordia University building in Montreal. 

That's where I met him, last summer, while I was researching for my new book about Canadian Jewish servicemen and women who were killed in uniform in the Second World War.

One day, the director of the archives, Janice Rosen, introduced us, and Leslie told me that his own father had been in the war, and had been wounded. I immediately looked up his father's name in the Congress casualty lists, and there he was, Moses Lutsky, on page 104. The short entry reads:

Guardsman Moses Lutsky, of Montreal, was reported wounded in action in France on September 18, 1944. He enlisted in the army in June 1940, and went overseas in 1942. Lutsky was repatriated aboard the British hospital ship Aba in November, 1944.  Born in 1921, Gdsmn. Lutsky is the son of Mr. and Mrs. J Lutsky of 3705 Park Avenue. He is a member of the Y.M.H.A. A brother, Louis Lutsky, served with the R.C.O.C. in Italy. 

And there is a small photo of a non-wounded, smiling, 20-something Moe Lutsky, posing for the military's official photographers in a photo taken, I assume, well before he went overseas.

Last summer, Leslie told me a little about his father: Moe had lost both his feet during the war. But Leslie also told me that his father had not really talked about his war experiences.  Then Leslie invited me to do an interview for his weekly Saturday morning radio show, "Jewish Digest" on Radio Centreville, about my research.  We weren't able to schedule the interview then, and we lost touch.

A few weeks ago, I was reading Mark Zuehlke's book "Breakout from Juno", and nearly fell off my chair because on page 328, Zuehlke talks about the Grenadier Guards battles in France, and how they came under heavy German fire near Point 195 on August 10, 1944, during the Canadian Army's efforts to close the Falaise Gap and cut off the retreating Germans.  It was part of Operation Totalize, two months after the D-Day landings. 

Breakout from Juno Page 328-329
The author tells the story of what happened to Guardsman Moe Lutsky and the attack on his Sherman tank. 

According to Zuehlke's research, a "shell tore into Sgt. John Henry Andrew's Sherman and he ordered the crew out. As Andrews turned to run, he heard Guardsman M. Lutsky crying from inside the tank. Climbing back in, Andrews say his gunner had both fleet blown off. Andrews lifted Lutsky out, lowering him to the ground. Kneeling beside the flaming wreckage, Andrews wrapped a tourniquet around each stump to stem the gushing blood. Then he carried Lutsky to an improvised aid post on the hill. Andrews stayed there the rest of the day giving medical aid to the wounded. He was awarded a Military Medal."

A quick Internet search uncovered a blog post or two by the late Moses Lutsky's niece about her heroic "Uncle Moe", with her recollections of Lutsky determined to learn to walk with his two prosthetic legs, and eventually becoming  the "tallest member of Dad's family". 

I was excited and at the same time, hesitant, and wasn't sure whether I should contact Leslie after all this time, and tell him what I'd discovered: that his father had been wounded August 10, not Sept. 14, and that a heroic Canadian tank sergeant had saved his father's life and been awarded a medal for his actions. I worried that I would upset Leslie, or that perhaps it wasn't my place to stir up old wounds after so many years.

But after a few days, I did contact Leslie and asked him if he wanted to know. He said he did. And so I sent him the links. 

He told me it was very emotional for both him and his sister to read about this, but that they were also excited to try to find their long-lost cousin who had blogged about their father, and that they would also try to track down the soldier who had rescued their father to see if he was still alive.

While the Lutsky children absorbed the precious details of their father's ordeal and subsequent rescue, Leslie and I agreed to meet in Montreal for that long, postponed radio interview. We met at - where else? - the archives of the Canadian Jewish Congress, and spent a lovely half hour recording our chat.

While I didn't spill the beans on-air about Lutsky's own personal journey, what happened with his father's story is something that I am experiencing a lot as I contact and interview the surviving siblings and children and next of kin of the 430+ Canadian Jewish servicemen and women who I am writing about for my book. Often, I know more about their late uncle or aunt and what happened to them, than the families do. For one thing, there was no Facebook, or LinkedIn in the 1940s, and without the luxury of the Internet, there was no way for them to get the War Diaries, or personnel service files of their loved ones. 

Now, 70 years later, I do hope that my work not only sheds a light on an important but untold story of the contribution of Canada's Jewish community to the country's war efforts, but also brings some comfort or closure to the 400+ families whose loved ones went off to war and didn't come home. 

If you know a Canadian Jewish serviceman who was killed during the Second World War, either at home, or overseas, please get in touch with me via my email at

You can hear the podcast of our interview here, courtesy of Radio Centreville.

You can reach Leslie Lutsky for a tour, through his Facebook Page, or Radio Centreville.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Jewish Canadian Second World War hero remembered by Canadians touring Holland for the 70th anniversary of the Liberation

Thankful to Ted Barris, author of "The Great Escape" who is leading a tour group through Holland this week, and went to...
Posted by Kaddish for D-Day 2014 on Saturday, May 9, 2015

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Canadian veterans return to Italy for 70th anniversary of Second World War campaign

My story from 1994 about the 50th anniversary veterans' trip to Italy, Montreal Gazette.

News that Canada's Department of Veterans Affairs is taking 28 surviving Canadian veterans to Italy this week has brought back memories of a similar trip I covered for both the CBC and the Canadian Press as a freelance reporter when I was living and working in Italy.

The year was 1994, and I was a reporter based in Rome. Canada sent several busloads of veterans back to Italy for the 50th anniversary of the Liberation of Rome during the Italian Campaign.  I spent nearly two weeks traveling from the bottom to the top of Italy with the tour, interviewing the veterans, and the locals, (and sometimes acting as unofficial translator), while filing stories and covering the ceremonies and memorials from Pachino, to Agira, to Cassino through to Ortona.

The 1943 invasion of Italy by the Canadians -- who were often called the "D-Day Dodgers", a moniker that caused great resentment at the time -- saw nearly 6,000 Canadians lose their lives in the fighting to kick the Germans out of Sicily, and root them out of the mainland, including chasing them east into the Adriatic coastal areas of Ravenna and Ortona. It would take the Canadians nearly a year  before Rome was liberated, and until 1945 before the generals pulled the Canadians out to fight in other parts of Europe.

The 1994 trip took place in May, when the weather was a lot warmer, and might have been a bit easier for the then-younger veterans to endure. This week's trip is happening not only when they are twenty years older, but also during the late fall season of heavy rain and mudslides, which was nearly the same time of the calendar as when the Canadians became bogged down in house-to-house fighting, deadly mortar attacks, and raids across swollen rivers such as the Moro on the way to Ortona.

The two decades in between the trips also point out another difference, this time, a sad milestone: in 1994, there were nearly 60 veterans on the trip. This year, just 28.

As I was a Rome-based reporter,  veterans department officials from Ottawa weren't aware that I was going to cover their trip, which I did, for both the CBC and the Canadian Press.   In most places, I was the only reporter at all covering any of their ceremonies and remembrances.

In a thank you note, then-minister Gerald Merrithew said my presence was unexpected, but "most welcome."

"The resultant publicity that you gave our pilgrimage was invaluable," he wrote. "Until recently, few Canadians knew about this campaign and its significance to the Allied cause of the Second World War. Your presence with us on this trip helped change all that."

Twenty years later, today, I am now busy working on research for a new book, to be about the Canadian Jewish servicemen who were killed during the Second World War.  I know 43 of them are buried in Italy.

If anyone has information about, or is related to any Canadian Jewish servicemen or women who died, for any reason, in the Second World War, kindly please contact me, to help me put the information in my book.

Thank you letter from Minister of Veterans Affairs, 1994.

Here are some of my other stories published at the time of the 1994 trip.

Italians issue comic book about Canadian liberators: Winnipeg Free Press 1994

Canadian veterans meet the Pope: thank you   - this one was from the 1991 Canadian pilgrimage, on the 47th anniversary.

Anzio, ceremony May 27, 1991, Ellin with Jack Callowhill, from Stoney Creek, Ontario, with the First Special Service Force. Callowhill was 90, just last year.

Anzio centre, memorial for First Special Service Force, 1991, Ellin is 5th from left. 

Friday, June 27, 2014

Why Stephen Harper should speak louder to help free Mohamed Fahmy and other Al Jazeera journalists in an Egyptian jail

As a national director of the Canadian Association of Journalists, I was invited to speak Thursday on SUN News Network,  about our earlier news release, which condemned the conviction of Al Jazeera journalist Mohamed Fahmy and his colleagues by an Egyptian court Monday. It asked Prime Minister Stephen Harper to be more vocal in working for Fahmy's release.

I participated in a short interview on the show "The Source" with Ezra Levant.

Here is the clip.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Watch French Jews say the memorial Kaddish for Canadian and U.S. D-Day soldiers in Normandy, June 8, 2014

(video courtesy Jean-Claude Prot, Mediaglobalcom)

While a giant grey Hercules C-130 military aircraft carried out a solo fly past overhead, more than 200 French Jews gathered Sunday June 8, 2014 at the Normandy American Cemetery for what organizers called  “a very emotional service” – the very first communal Kaddish recited in memory of the fallen Canadian and American Jewish servicemen from the Second World War who are buried nearby.

The ceremony took place in the same spot where two days earlier, world leaders including U.S. President Barrack Obama and French President Francois Hollande paid tribute to the 70th anniversary of the historic military sacrifices of June 6, 1944, which led to the liberation of Europe.

“When the Jewish Choir of France began singing, led by Cantor Raphael Cohen with that tenor voice…it was just something unbelievable,” said organizer Jean-Max Skenadji, who became inspired to arrange Sunday’s landmark Kaddish while on a private trip to Normandy last winter.

“I discovered Stars of David at the [Colleville-sur-Mer] cemetery and I was just taken by such a big emotion and felt very sorry because, since I was alone, I wasn’t able to say Kaddish for them [the soldiers], ” Skenadji recalled Tuesday, in a telephone interview from his office in Paris.  After checking the religious legality of staging such an event, Skenadji, a long-time promoter in France, launched the D-Day trip.

“What would have become of us without the disembarkation of the Allies in France in June 1944?” he told the crowd.

One by one, the visitors read out the names of the 149 Jewish American soldiers whose tombstones are shaped like Stars of David at the cemetery, just inland from the famous Omaha Beach. The crowd also read out the names of nearly 60 Jewish Canadian airmen and soldiers. Their graves lie further east along the Normandy coastline, in cemeteries including Beny-sur-Mer, and Bretteville-sur-Laize.

The ceremony was “impressive, very solemn, and moving,” said Cantor Rabbi Raphael Cohen, a Paris-based clergyman, in an email after the ceremony.

During the 90-minute memorial, Cohen led the singing of the El Maale Rahamim prayer, plus Esa Einay, a funeral hymn, and the blessing for the State of Israel.

Cantor Rabbi Raphael Cohen and the Jewish Choir of France, courtesy Jean-Max Skenadji)

The crowd then recited the Kaddish aloud, led by Rabbi Moshe Lewin, the chief Jewish chaplain to France’s armed forces.

Rabbi Moshe Lewin
Isabelle Allard, local MLA, and Caen Mayor Joel Bruneau

Jean-Max Skenadji (right) with flag bearers (all photos courtesy Jean-Max Skenadji)
Among the other dignitaries on hand to pay respects were the mayor of Caen, Joel Bruneau, Isabelle Attard, a member of the French National Assembly from the Calvados region, Col. Yehudi Lahav, the military attaché at the Israeli embassy in Paris, and nine French war veterans who acted as flag bearers.

Local rabbis from the Deauville Chabad community inscribed the first few Hebrew letters in a fresh new Torah scroll they are dedicating to the memory of the Jewish servicemen and their wartime sacrifices.

(courtesy Jean-Max Skenadji)

While organizers were pleased that so many people turned out for the event, including many non-Jewish visitors to the American cemetery who stopped to watch, Skenadji remains disappointed that neither the U.S. nor Canadian embassies in France sent representatives, despite repeated invitations.

“They just couldn’t come back to Normandy in order to be present at another ceremony,” said Skenajdi, acknowledging how diplomatic staff may have been too busy from the official state ceremonies on Friday.  “But from my point of view, that’s no excuse.”

A spokesperson for the Canadian Embassy in Paris, Colonel Guy Maillet, did send his regrets, saying there was just no time left for either himself or the Canadian ambassador, Lawrence Cannon, to fit this Sunday commemoration into the busy D-Day calendar.

And in Ottawa, the Department of Foreign Affairs issued a brief statement, saying Canada was represented in Normandy “at the highest level” during the D-Day ceremonies, and repeated Canada’s position on the State of Israel.

“Canada has a strong and close relationship with Israel based on shared values, common interests, and strong political and social ties between our two countries,” said Beatrice Fenelon, a spokesperson for the department.

For his part, Skenadji is hoping for a different answer next year, when he plans to stage the  Kaddish service again in Normandy.

And for next time, Skenadji is planning to invite the families of the American and Canadian soldiers killed here, to make the trip to France.

Next May, 2015 will see the world mark another milestone: the 70th anniversary of the end of the war in Europe, or VE-Day.