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.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

How Canadian Synagogues said Kaddish for D-Day 2014

Adath Israel logo, Montreal

Montreal Rabbi Michael Whitman paid tribute Saturday June 7, 2014 to the three RCMP officers killed in Moncton, as part of a wider memorial service at Adath Israel synagogue for all Canadians who risked their lives to serve others, including those killed on the 70th anniversary of D-Day in the Second World War.

As world leaders including Prime Minister Stephen Harper and U.S. President Barrack attended the official 70th anniversary events in France, synagogues from Manitoba to Montreal took part in the Kaddish for D-Day initiative. They paid tribute to the seventy Jewish soldiers and airmen from Canada who were killed in France and are buried in cemeteries across Normandy.

“By 1944, the Jewish soldiers understood they were not only fighting for Canada, but also for the remnant of the Jewish people in Europe,” Whitman said, explaining why he added their sacrifices, and the murders of the three Mounties, to the Adath’s regular prayer for the Canadian Armed Forces.
Rabbi Alan Green, Shaarey Zedek (courtesy of synagogue website)
Some congregations, like in Winnipeg, did it as part of the Yizkor prayers recited on the holiday of Shavuot.

Calling the D-Day invasion a “mega-historical event”, on par with the founding of the State of Israel, the moonwalk, and the Holocaust, Rabbi Alan Green of Winnipeg’s Shaarey Zedek called on his worshippers Thursday June 5, to remember the sacrifices of local Jewish men who went overseas.

Among the casualties on D-Day and in ensuing battles, were fourteen Jewish rifleman, troopers, captains, doctors, pilots, and lawyers--from Winnipeg,” Green told the congregation. “They're now buried in cemeteries in Northern France, and, as we're are about to perform the special Yizkor service for Shavuot--along with all those we're remembering today--on this day before the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion, I would ask you to add, the following fourteen names.”

He then read out the names, including Harry Segal, a rifleman with the Royal Winnipeg Rifles. The Rifles landed on Juno Beach at 7:49 a.m. on the morning of the invasion, and sustained heavy casualties, according to military records. Segal died June 8, 1944. He was married, and the son of Charles and Sarah Segal.

In Toronto, several synagogues participated in Kaddish for D-Day, including Beit Rayim, in Vaughan, led by Rabbi Chezi Zionce, who read out all 70 names Thursday, also during Yizkor.

For Beit Rayim worshipper Nellie Miller, who knew one of the men on the list, Private Joe Gertel of Montreal, hearing the names “just sent a chill up my spine.”

“I recall those days,” Miller said in an interview, recalling growing up in Montreal when Gertel went off to enlist. He is buried in the Beny-sur-Mer Military Cemetery near Juno Beach, in France. He was killed in July 1944, while attached to the North Nova Scotia Highlanders. He was 22.
Joe Gertel's tombstone in Beny-sur-Mer, France (John Friedlan photo)

Prayers were also said at Conservative synagogue, Beth Tzedek in Toronto, led by Rabbi Baruch Frydman-Kohl.

“I think it was exceptionally important and encouraged the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs to circulate the information, “ Frydman-Kohl wrote in an email. “The yahrzeit [anniversary] on the Jewish calendar will be 25 Sivan.”

And at the City Shul, Rabbi Elyse Goldstein read the names of five Canadian servicemen from Toronto and gave a little bit of information about each one, whether they went to the University of Toronto, or whose family were members of Holy Blossom Synagogue.

“It was beautiful. People were very moved,” she wrote, in an email.

In Montreal, services for the Canadian war dead were also held at Congregation Shaare Zion and at Congregation Dorshei Emet.

According to Dorshei Emet member Lois Lieff, “it was indeed a very moving and emotional Kaddish.”

In Kitchener, where Beth Jacob Congregation lost three members of the shul during the Second World War, Kaddish was recited on the Friday evening June 6.  

According to the synagogue bulletin, the three casualties were Sidney Acker, Lorie Reider and Samuel Harry Roseman. Reider and Roseman are buried in France.  Acker, of Guelph, was killed when his Anson bomber crashed during training in Ontario, in 1942.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

50 Canadians went and said Kaddish for Bomb. George Meltz of Toronto, 25, at his grave in Normandy

Three years ago, my family walked by the tombstone of Jewish Canadian serviceman George Meltz, of Toronto, standing out among the thousands of white headstones at the Second World War Beny-sur-Mer cemetery, near Juno Beach, in France.

Now, my dear friend Ted Barris, a Canadian military historian, author and broadcaster, is back in Normandy, and has lit a memorial Yarhzeit candle at Meltz's grave, seventy years after Meltz made the ultimate sacrifice as part of Canada's D-Day invasion in 1944.

The group of 50 Canadians who are travelling with Barris on this international anniversary saw the Meltz tombstone, and read the powerful epitaph "He died so Jewry shall suffer no more." Thank you Ted, and all Canadians who remembered Meltz, as well as the 70+ Jewish servicemen buried in France, and said Kaddish for them.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Twin Jewish brothers from Toronto served in the Canadian Forces during the Second World War: One went to France after D-Day. And didn't come back.

(photo courtesy of
Steve Rogers)
So thrilled to hear from the family of Bombardier Albert Tweyman, of Toronto, killed Aug. 8, 1944 near Caen, France, on D-Day + 63 of the Normandy invasion. Bombardier Albert Tweyman, of the Essex Scottish Regiment, was one of eight children, and a twin to brother Jack, who also served in the Second World War, and is still living in Toronto, at age 94.

Albert was also born in 1919. He lived with his parents Rose and Harry Tweyman and some of his seven brothers and sisters In Toronto, on Dundas Street West. He loved sports, and could drive. He finished Grade 9 at Central Tech high school, but told the militia he’d had to leave school at 14, according to his official service records, to help out at home. He worked for several years before being called up, including as an editorial assistant and composer for the Daily Hebrew Journal (Yiddisher Zhurnal), and later, for Columbia Pictures, as an office clerk.
In March 1941, he was called up and assigned to the militia. On his interview form, he said he preferred to be in the Air Force, but his application was rejected because he couldn’t provide the RCAF with his parents’ naturalization papers, as they were married in Poland. He was a small man, at just 5'3 and 129 pounds. He was assigned to an Anti Aircraft Battery and spent over a year in Kitchener, Borden, and Halifax before transferring to active service in Saint John, New Brunswick in May 1942.
Tweyman would spent another two years training in Canada, mainly in Sydney and Windsor, Nova Scotia, but also in southwestern Ontario. A Captain A.C. O’Grady who interviewed him in July 1943, suggested to his superiors that Tweyman would be better suited for the navy, but that never happened. He was trained as an army driver and then worked as a Bombardier instructor.
He embarked for England, from Halifax, on June 3, 1944. At the time, he was earning $1.50 a day.
The crossing took a week. He disembarked in England on June 10, 1944, a few days after D-Day. He was sent to France a month later, on July 22, 1944 and was likely part of the Canadian Army’s campaign to push the Germans back past Caen, and then southeast towards Falaise.
According to historians, the Essex Scottish Regiment was involved in two major battles in July. They were also involved in Operation Totalize, which began at 11:00 p.m. on Aug. 7, 1944, south of Caen.
It started with a massive Royal Air Force bombing raid to soften up entrenched German positions including near Cormelles, a factory town on the outskirts of Caen. At 9:00 the next morning, the Germans counterattacked. The Canadians, British, and Polish artillery were working from one direction while the Americans were working on the other side, trying to trap the elite German troops stationed in the area.
But the fighting was heavy, and the Canadians decided to call for air support. At noon on August 8, over 600 USAF bombers pounded the area with high explosive bombs and fragmentation bombs. According to Ken Ford in "Falaise 1944: Death of An Army", some of the American bombers dropped their loads on top of the Canadians, Poles and Brits, by mistake. When the smoke had cleared, there were over 300 men dead, killed in friendly fire.
While we don't know where exactly Tweyman was when he was wounded that day, a medical report says Private Tweyman suffered “traumatic” shrapnel wounds to his leg, that left him with “gross damage.” He received morphine, and Anti Tetanus serum at about 10 p.m. that night in a British field hospital, and died shortly afterwords, at 22:10.
The army buried him “with religious rites” in a temporary cemetery in a factory near Cormelles.
His family was officially notified two weeks later, and at first, they were told only that he’d been wounded. When they replied by telegram asking about Tweyman’s condition and what hospital he was in, in England, the officials apologized for confusing them, and said that he had, in fact, never made it to a hospital, but had died of his wounds on Aug. 8, 1944.
Courtesy Veterans Affairs Canada, Virtual War Memorial
They sent Tweyman’s gold ring, and his wristwatch back to Canada. After the war was over, officials reburied Tweyman in the large Canadian war cemetery in nearby Bretteville-sur-Laize, in 1946.

(photos courtesy of
Steve Rogers, and Veterans Affairs Canada Virtual War Memorial)

Thursday, June 5, 2014

How an Edmonton man from a prominent Jewish family came to be buried on a hilltop in Normandy, France after D-Day.

Berou-la-Mulotiere, Cemetery, France. (Photo courtesy of Alain Octavie)

Alan Rodd (Abram Rodnunsky) photo courtesy Veterans Affairs Canada, Virtual War Memorial.

Flight Sergeant Alan Rodd, 25, (born Abram Rodnunsky), was the son of Sam and Annie Rodnunsky, of Edmonton. He initially enlisted in Winnipeg with the Canadian army, but switched to the air force. He took flight training in Canada, then went overseas and was posted to the RAF base in Tuddenham, Suffolk, with the 90 Squadron RAF.

Just after D-Day, Rodd and his crew were among 432 Allied aircraft involved in a massive overnight bombing raid with Bomber Command, on June 10, 1944 from England. Rodd’s plane was relatively new: the British airforce took delivery of the Lancaster in May, 1944, and it had only 31 hours of flying time logged. The pilot, Lt. George Atherton Thatcher, was British, and there were two other Canadians on board: John Alfred Anderton, and John Carr Francis. The Lancaster Mark III was number NE149. The pilot took off at 11:13 p.m. on a mission to bomb the railway station and installations at Dreux, west of Paris, to prevent German reinforcements from reaching the D-Day beaches in Normandy.

According to records, Rodd and his crew flew across the English Channel towards France in good weather, with clear skies, and good visibility. The three-hour flight was uneventful, but the Germans were waiting for them. They had radar, and had seen the hundreds of Allied bombers approaching targets near Paris. It’s not known whether the Lancaster managed to drop any of its bombs, nor whether a German fighter plane hit them, or they were hit by ground Flak, but the Lancaster crashed in the village of Berou-la-Moulotiere. All seven crewmen were killed. A total of six Lancasters were lost that night over Dreux.

Rodd and his crewmen were buried together in the village cemetery. Rodd’s grave is the first one from the left. 

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Kaddish for D-Day is front page news in the Canadian Jewish News today.

Since we started the campaign to get Canadian Jews to say Kaddish for D-Day's 70th anniversary, the editor of the Canadian Jewish News, Yoni Goldstein, has been on board as a supporter, lending the CJN's credibility to this effort. Today, the story was front page news in the Toronto and Montreal CJN editions, as well as on Page 8, and I can't thank him enough.

As you and your families read about the sacrifices made by our Canadian Jewish servicemen during the Second World War to help liberate Europe from the Nazis, please say Kaddish for them, too. There are 71 Canadian servicemen from this war buried in graves in Normandy and Northern France. The full list of their names and hometowns is here.

The Facebook page Kaddish For DDay, has bios and stories of individual casualties.

The Twitter account is Kaddish for DDay.

So far, synagogues (the ones we know about) who are commemorating the Kaddish for D-Day include:

  • Congregation Beit Rayim in Toronto, 
  • Congregation Dorshei Emet in Montreal, 
  • Congregation Machzekei Hadas in Ottawa, 
  • Congregation Adath Shalom in Ottawa, 
  • Congregation Shaarey Zedek in Winnipeg, 
  • Congregation B'nai Torah in Boca Raton, Florida,  
  • Beth Jacob Congregation of Kitchener-Waterloo, 
  • Shaarei Emeth in St. Louis, Missouri.
If you know of a synagogue or kehila that also participated in Kaddish for D-Day, please let us know. or Post it on Facebook or Tweet us.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Kaddish for D-Day in Canada to mark the 70th anniversary of the D-Day Landings in Normandy

The Jewish Community of France will say Kaddish on Sunday, June 8, for the Allied Jewish servicemen --- including 70 Canadians -- who were killed in France during the Second World War and are buried in the Normandy area.

We should do this, too. I'm calling it #KaddishforDDay.

Let's remember the names and sacrifice of each of these Canadian soldiers and airmen who went overseas and didn't come home, in the name of freedom. There’s the lawyer,  the Yiddish poet, the farmer, the optician, the father of three, the son of Russian immigrants, the insurance salesman. Some come from big cities including Toronto, Montreal, and Ottawa. Others come from small communities including Inverness, Cape Breton, and Edson, Alberta. They were as young as 20, and as old as 45. Privates, Lieutenants. Gunners, Troopers.

These Jewish men who enlisted to fight for Canada and for freedom, lie in French cemeteries, their graves mostly unvisited. Yet their tombstones stand out among the rows of crosses, for aside from the Maple Leaf symbol, they also often have Stars of David on them. 
Courtesy Veterans Affairs Canada

France is honouring these men because I sent the organizer and note and asked them to, as part of that country's wider commemoration, one that originally wasn't going to include Canada's Jewish casualties.

And now I’m asking all Canadian Jews to remember these liberators, by participating in a national #KaddishForDDay. 

Let’s make it a Canadian national prayer. You can choose when to do it to coincide with the 70th anniversary of D-Day next week. How about on Yikzor for Shavuot? Or on the next Shabbat? Or sometime this summer? You can find a list and hometowns and bios/stories about the 70 Jewish casualties here on my blog. Feel free to print the information out, and share it.

I just learned that the Reform Jewish movement in the United States is doing a similar campaign called Normandy Kaddish.

This is an important opportunity to honour the sacrifices of men from our own communities. 

Jean-Max Skenadji, the organizer of the French D-Day 2014 Kaddish, and the CRIF, the main Jewish federation in France, were planning to honour only the 150 American Jewish servicemen buried at Colleville-sur-Mer, near Omaha Beach, the site of the U.S. D-Day landings June 6, 1944.

When I heard about this, I emailed Skenadji at his office outside Paris, and asked him to consider including our Canadians. He replied yes immediately.  He’s already invited Canada’s Ambassador to France, Lawrence Cannon, to be there.

“What would have become of us without the landing of the Allies on June 6?” the CRIF statement asks.

Already, several synagogues in Canada have taken up the challenge of # KaddishforDDay, including Toronto’s Beit Rayim Synagogue, where I am a member.

According to the rabbi, Chezi Zionce, Jews have an obligation to say Yizkor for every individual soul, which is why he will read the soldiers’ names out at Yizkor services on Shavuot, Thursday June 5.

“It’s about time, “ Zionce said of the long overdue D-Day prayers, noting that Israel marks Yom Hazikaron every year for her fallen soldiers and victims of terror. “It’s a wonderful thing and it’s also a great reminder for our new generation."  

In Montreal, Congregation Dorshei Emet will mark #KaddishforDDay on June 7.

“The command to remember, zakhor, is central to Jewish tradition, as is the value of gratitude, hakarat ha-tov,” wrote Rabbi Ron Aigen in an email. 

Let's remember and give thanks, as the French and Americans are doing, for the Canadians like Bombardier George Meltz. I first came across his grave on a trip to France in July,  2011. His tombstone in the Beny-sur-Mer military cemetery, near Juno Beach, has a Star of David on it, and the powerful epitaph, put there by his British war bride, Trudy:  “He died so Jewry shall suffer no more.” Before the war, he sold wallpaper in Toronto, and died  of his wounds after D-Day, in July, 1944, at age 25. 

Please follow @KaddishforDDay on Twitter, and use the #KaddishforDDay hashtag yourselves, and spread the word. And please let us know if your organization or synagogue will join the movement.

Hometowns of Canadian Jewish Military Graves in Normandy, France from the Second World War


Death /burial


George Meltz
Son of Nathan and Rachel Meltz. His tombstone reads “ He died so world Jewry should suffer no more.”
Bombardier, Royal Canadian Artillery
July 8, 1944, Beny-sur-Mer
Abraham B. Cohen
Son of Jack and Betsy Cohen; husband of Bessie Cohen, of Toronto,

Private, Royal Canadian Ordinance Corps
Aug 20, 1944, Beny-sur-Mer
David D. Goldsmith
Son of Reuben and Rose Goldsmith
Private, North Nova Scotia Highlanders
July 8, 1944, Beny-sur-Mer
Fred B. Harris
(Holy Blossom Synagogue)
Sgt Fred B. Harris- was one of the closest friends of the late Canadian federal politician Barney Danson. In an interview with CBC, Danson says Harris "was killed right on the beach. He hardly got out of the landing craft."(

Sergeant, Queen’s Own Rifles
June 6, 1944, Beny-sur-Mer
Frank Silverberg
Son of Abraham and Ida Silverberg
Trooper, First Hussars, Canadian Armoured Corps
June 11, 1944, Beny-sur-Mer

Biographies by Cemetery of Canadian Jewish casualties in northern France during the Second World W

There are some larger, more well-known Canadian War Cemeteries like Beny-sur-Mer, and Bretteville-sur-Laize, and also, farther east, such as the larger Hautot-sur-Mer cemetery, where the dead from the Dieppe raid of 1942 were buried.

Most of the casualties at Beny and Bretteville happened after the June 6, 1944 Normandy D-Day invasion at Juno Beach, and in the subsequent fighting, south and east closer to Caen and Falaise later on that summer and fall, as well as RCAF crews who were killed flying air raids from bases in England.

                                    In Beny-sur-Mer.

                        There are 19 Jewish Canadian servicemen buried in this cemetery.

1.    Bombardier George Meltz, 25, Toronto, Canada. Royal Canadian Artillery,

Son of Nathan and Rachel Meltz; husband of Gertrude Meltz, of Neasden, Middlesex, England. He enlisted in 1941, and trained in England. He participated in the D-Day landings. His family says he was killed by a sniper. He died July 8, 1944. He was married to Trudy, an English war bride. They think it was she who had the epitaph placed on his tombstone, with the words “He died so Jewry should suffer no more.”

2.     Private   Joseph E.  Gertel, Gunner, North Nova Scotia Highlanders, age 22, 8 July 1944, from Montreal. Born in Poland.
Gunner Joseph Gertel of Montreal, Quebec, died of wounds on July 8, 1944. He was buried in the Beny-sur-Mer Canadian Military Cemetery, France. Gunner Gertel enlisted in the Royal Canadian Artillery in 1943 and was attached to the North Nova Scotia Highlanders when he fell in the battle for Normandy early in July. Gunner Gertel was born in Wodiwetz, Poland, in 1921.
Photo by John Friedlan. July 2011.

 3. Corporal Myer Mike Litwack, Royal Canadian Army Service Corps, age 22, 25 July 1944.  He was from Ottawa, Ont. Son of Mr. and Mrs Jack and Dora Litwack, of 409 Bronson Avenue, Ottawa, Ontario.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Normandy D-Day 70th anniversary: French Jewish community to say Kaddish for the 42 Canadian Jewish servicemen who gave their lives for freedom

George Meltz, in uniform, with a brother, (courtesy Isabella Meltz)
Seventy years ago, a 25 year old Toronto wallpaper salesman, George Meltz, came ashore at Juno Beach in France at the beginning of the D-Day landings, as part of Operation Overlord. He was one of 14,000 Canadian troops who pushed past the entrenched Germans along France's northern coast, despite horrendous casualties. Meltz was a bombardier, with the Royal Canadian Artillery.

He lived for another month, and his family says he was hit by a sniper. He died of his wounds on July 8, 1944.

His tombstone in the Canadian War Cemetery at Reviers, Beny Sur Mer, is one of 20 belonging to Jewish servicemen buried in this cemetery. There are another 22 Jewish Canadian troops buried farther east in the Cintheaux cemetery, near Bretteville-Sur-Laize.  

But Meltz's gravestone, with the inscription "He died so Jewry should suffer no more" has become a symbol, in Toronto, of the motivation that caused many Jewish men to enlist in the Second World War: to fight the Nazis and stop the annihilation of their Jewish brethren in the Holocaust.

Meltz tombstone with inscription, Normandy, John Friedlan photo

Now, Meltz's name and the names of the other 41 Jewish Canadian soldiers in the two locations will be read out during a solemn Jewish memorial anniversary ceremony on Sunday June 8, being organized in Normandy by the CRFI, the main French Jewish federation. 

Organizer Jean-Max Skenadji is holding the Kaddish services at the much larger U.S. Cemetery at Colleville Sur Mer, to honour the 150 American Jewish men who lie buried there.  But now, after I emailed him to ask him to add the Canadian names, Skenadji quickly agreed to read the 42 Canadian names aloud and say Kaddish for them, too.

"NOUS CITERONS LEURS NOMS ET FERONS KADICH A LEUR MEMOIRE," wrote Skenadji in an email on Sunday. 

Just last month, in April, Bombardier Meltz's niece Isabella Meltz, of Toronto, was one of the honoured guests at the Jewish community's official Holocaust Remembrance Ceremony held at the Schwartz Reisman Centre, on Sunday April  27, 2014. She and her cousins, and her daughter, lit one of the six large white memorial candles, representing the liberators.

Ellin Bessner, in Normandy, 2011, John Friedlan photo

I stumbled upon her late uncle's grave in 2011, on a family visit to Normandy, after the urging of colleague Ted Barris, the Canadian military historian and journalist, who has written 17 books on Canada's contribution to the First and Second and Korean and Afghanistan wars. While Barris didn't know about the Meltz story, he had urged me to take my family to see Normandy. The powerful inscription about "So Jewry should suffer no more" was stunning to me, and I wanted to learn more about who this young Toronto man was.

When I returned to Canada, I discovered that his namesake, nephew George Meltz, a real estate agent, lived just a couple of blocks from me in Richmond Hill, Ontario, and was a former president of my synagogue, Beit Rayim Synagogue, also in Richmond Hill. I also discovered his niece, Isabella, is a close friend of my cousin Judy Guttman, and also lives in Toronto. 

I met Isabelle on Remembrance Day in 2011, when Ted Barris invited her to speak about her late uncle, at Centennial College, where Barris and I both teach journalism. Isabelle has a few souvenirs from him, and photos of him in uniform. She also has begun to light a Yahrzeit candle for him every year on the anniversary of his death. But she has not been able to travel to Normandy to visit his grave. 

Isabella Meltz with Ellin Bessner at Centennial College, 2011 (courtesy Toronto Observer)
Toronto lawyer David Matlow also was moved by Meltz's tombstone when he and his wife toured the cemetery last summer. Matlow contacted me when he read my story about Meltz, and Matlow was responsible for having Meltz's relatives participate in the Holocaust Remembrance ceremony. Matlow still talks about Meltz's example when he speaks to donors about making contributions to United Jewish Appeal. Matlow is the producer of a recent documentary about Theodore Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism. Matlow has the world's largest personal connection of 2,500 Herzl artifacts and memorabilia.

The story I wrote for the Canadian Jewish News about Meltz has been shared with  the young participants in Canada's March of the Living, who visit Nazi death camps in Poland before heading for Israel. 

Now, Meltz's story will keep on being told by the French Jewish community, when they say his name, and recite the Kaddish for him on June 8, seventy years after the youngest child of the Meltz family came ashore at Juno Beach and would never come home.

I'll tell you some of the stories of the other 41 Canadian Jews buried in the Beny Sur Mer and Cintheaux cemeteries, in my next post.