“DEEPLY MOURNED BY HIS WIFE AND FAMILY
HE DIED SO JEWRY
SHALL SUFFER NO MORE”
This was the epitaph that started Ellin Bessner down the path that led to her book, Double Threat: Canadian Jews, The Military, and World War II.
She and her family had been exploring the Bénysur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery in Reviers, France. As they wandered the lines of tombstones, they had noticed many with the Star of David on them, but it was this one that took Bessner’s breath away.
Ellin Bessner, a journalist, as well as, a faculty member for the journalism program at Centennial College in Toronto. She has worked with CBC, CTV, the Canadian New Agency, the Globe and Mail, and more.
As a journalist, she has covered topics from the Italian Mafia, the Vatican, and different civil wars in Africa. She has also interviewed such people as the Dalai Lama and Prince Phillip. In her new book, she explores the role of the Canadian Jewish community in the Second World War.
In the introduction of her book, Bessner stated, “Canada’s Jewish soldiers faced something unique: they were not only standing beside Britain against the dark forces of Nazism and dictatorship but also fighting to save their own people from destruction. They did so while encountering widespread antisemitism at home, in the barracks, and even on the battlefield” (P. XV)
In the book, Bessner deals with a little discussed or studied area of Canadian history: the contribution of Canadian Jews to the Second World War.
According to Bessner, the title of the book comes from a letter by Prime Minister William Lyon MacKenzie King thanking the Jewish community for their efforts during the War, and how they faced a “double threat” of both Nazi aggression and the survival of the Jewish Nation (P. XVI).
This impressive book details the amazing contribution of the Canadian Jewish community throughout the war, drawing on interviews, intensive research, using old family letters, diaries, and photos. Bessner scoured government records, archives, and libraries for information.
Bessner provides a thorough look at these contributions in all aspects of the war, from when Canadian Jews first attempted to sign up to fight in the war, Jewish Communists in uniform, the contribution of Jewish women, life in the barracks, the many battles fought, and finally, victory.
I was particularly interested in the chapter devoted to Jewish women in uniform, and some of the extra challenges faced – not only did they face discrimination for being Jewish but also because they were female. Some of the accounts and quotes Bessner included really brought to light the commitment these women had, as well as the challenges they faced.
It is an engaging and well-written book that really brings to light the experience of the Canadian Jewish community during the Second World War.
Bessner has a wonderful gift of drawing her reader in – of taking names and dates and giving them life. This book is an excellent choice for anyone wanting to learn more about the Second World War and Canadian History.
Really, it’s a great choice for anyone.