Saturday, October 15, 2016

"Canadian Jews, the Military, and World War ll: Double Threat". My new book about the 17,000 Jewish Canadians who defeated the Nazis

The cover /New Jewish Press

Just in time for the 71st anniversary of the end of the Second World War, I am thrilled to announce my new non-fiction book. Double Threat: Canadian Jews, The Military, and World War ll is a journalistic look at the untold stories of the Jewish Canadian men and women who served in uniform during the dark years of the last great war.  At least 10 per cent of the Canadian Jewish population answered the call, whether as volunteers or as conscripts. About 450 didn't come back: some lie buried in graveyards in Normandy, while others have no known final resting place. 

Double Threat: Canadian Jews, The Military, and World War ll is the untold story of why so many Jewish Canadians served, what life was like for them as Jews in uniform, and how they confronted antisemitism both at home and abroad while fighting to win the war and liberate their brethren from the horrors of Nazi work camps and death camps. 

Here is the description by NJP.

“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.

The cover was adapted from a 1943 propaganda poster issued by the Canadian Wartime Information board.

Double Threat is due out in April 2017.  
Hard copies will be available for consumers to buy at Indigo, and also through Amazon, and also as an ebook.  
For booksellers/retailers/librarians who want to order copies, the purchasing information is below.
Ellin Bessner is a journalist and a professor of journalism at Centennial College in Toronto.

APRIL 2017
320 pages • 6 X 9 with photographs
Paper • $269781988326047
epub • $109781988326054
HISTORY/ Jewish / Canada / Military
The sell sheet by New Jewish Press
General inquiries
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Friday, July 22, 2016

Enlisted because his friends had died in Dieppe: Toronto veteran Larry Levy dies

Larry Levy, April 2016 (Photo by Ellin Bessner)
I had the pleasure of meeting and interviewing Larry twice this spring at his Toronto home, where he gave me some amazing stories about his World War ll service, being Jewish in the military, even about a brothel, and the first open-air Jewish service held inside Germany in March 1945. He was a sweet, and energetic Jewish war veteran. I was writing about him on Friday morning and holding his file in my hand when the Legion emailed me to let me know he had passed away. Beshert. I am only sorry he didn't live to see his stories in my forthcoming book.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Canadian Dieppe Raid Veteran says it was supposed to be just another drill.

Miriam and Hon. Col. David Lloyd Hart, MM with Ellin Bessner
(Ellin Bessner photo)

I just interviewed a 98-year-old Canadian Jewish veteran of the 1942 Dieppe Raid from World War ll, Hon. Col. David Hart. He was on a landing craft just off the beach from Dieppe operating a radio wireless set. The then-Sergeant with the Royal Canadian Corps of Signals was credited with saving 100 Canadian commandos, who hadn't received the signal to retreat. It had been sent from the raid headquarters ship offshore but they were too far away from the action. So he relayed the message again, and got through, amidst the murderous German gunfire on that terrible August 19 day. Hart and his wife Miriam still live in Montreal, in their own home, and were gracious to give up part of their Saturday to meet with me. His eye- witness recollections will be in Chapter 7 of my book "Double Threat" about Canada's Jews in Uniform in World War ll. They are about to celebrate their 72nd wedding anniversary. Note the wartime photo of then Sergeant Hart in the background. It shows his citation for winning the Military Medal, which he picked up from the King at a ceremony at Buckingham Palace in late 1942. Watch this wartime newsreel of the event. You can see Hart and his two brothers at about 8 minutes into the video.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Decorated Jewish Canadian World War ll doctor dies in Toronto: the pathologist who was also a hero of Sogel

Dr. Nathan Kaufman, MBE and MiD, (courtesy Benjamin's Park Memorial Chapel)
One of the most highly decorated Canadian Jewish medical officers during the Second World War has died. Captain Nathan Kaufman, a Montreal native, was named a Member of the Order of the British Empire and was mentioned in despatches for his actions in Germany in April 1945. He went on to become a famous pathologist and was professor emeritus at Queen's University. He died Wednesday in Toronto, in his 100th year. Captain Kaufman and a Toronto dentist , Captain Harry Jolley, were tending to wounded men in an Canadian army medical field dressing station when it came under attack. Both unarmed Jewish officers put down their stethoscopes and picked up discarded weapons to fight off the German paratroopers and civilian snipers in Sogel. Funeral/internment is Sunday in Kingston. (Photo courtesy Benjamin's Park Memorial Chapel)

Sunday, April 17, 2016

A lost Winnipeg airman's WWll logbook is now back with his family, seventy three years after his death. I helped.

It was sent back to the grieving father in Winnipeg in 1948. To the wrong address. That's why Samuel Jacob Donen's RCAF log book went back to Ottawa, and was placed in the Jewish airman's military files, where it sat for nearly seven decades. The family never knew it existed. I found it. On the eve of Remembrance Day, 2015. Here is the story. 
Thanks to Bernie Bellan at the Jewish Post and News in Winnipeg for publishing it this week.

Larry Donen, holding his uncle's Log Book.

Samuel Jacob Donen, in uniform. (Ellin Bessner photo)

Donen grave in Accra, Ghana.

Last page of log book. (Ellin Bessner photo)