American Jewish History 89.1 (2001) 143-145
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Bialystok sets the stage:
I address two questions in this book: What was the impact of the Holocaust on the Canadian Jewish community? And why was this impact delayed for a generation? (p. 6)
. . . the decade of the 1950s was virtually devoid of a communal consciousness of the Holocaust . . . .By the mid-1950s almost 15 per cent of Canadian Jews were survivors and their children born in post-war Europe. [But] most Canadian Jews did not want to know what happened, and few survivors had the courage to tell them. For both groups the main obstacle to dialogue, apart from experience, was an inability to comprehend the event (p. 7).
Between 1960 and 1973 a change took place, so that collective memory of the Holocaust gradually emerged by the end of the period. The central factor was the perception that antisemitism had not ebbed; rather, it had been dormant in the immediate post-war era (p. 8).
Bialystok documents in great detail not only Canada's history of resistance to Jewish immigration, but also the Jewish community's relatively timorous stance in addressing the issue energetically. Nevertheless he sees extenuating circumstances: "Separation from their kin in Europe . . . [m]ost Canadian Jews looked to their community leaders . . . .to carry the torch . . . .The Jewish community was weak, fragmented, and outside the power structure of Canadian decision-makers . . . .Yet in the immediate aftermath of the Holocaust, the popular view propagated was that the community had rallied to support European Jews" (pp.16-17).
Delayed Impact identifies three obstacles to the Jewish leadership's effectiveness in pursuing a helping policy. First, "it was extremely difficult to supply the trapped Jews with money or materials, let alone find them refuge in North America" (p. 28). Second, "the intransigence of the Canadian government in refusing to aid captured Jews through diplomatic pressure or by modifying the restrictions against refugees" (p. 29). And third, "the community's leaders could not comprehend the scope of the event or its catastrophic consequences on Jewish civilization in Europe (p. 29).
Jewish refugees applied en masse for entry permits, but were en masse refused. In Canada, Jews tried in vain to sponsor their relatives abroad. The Canadian Jewish Congress leaders pleaded with the government, but to little avail. And the situation did not change much with the end of the [End Page 143] war, when survivors clamored for admittance. However, it was not only the government that was intransigent:
Public opinion toward Jews remained unfavourable. In a public opinion poll taken in October 1946, in response to the question "If Canada allows more immigration, are there any of these nationalities which you would want to keep out?" the least-favoured group was the Japanese at 60 per cent, followed by Jews at 49 per cent and Germans at 34 per cent (p. 39).
Thus for many non-Jewish Canadians, Jews were "undesirable," fitting halfway between the wartime enemies! In 1947, the Canadian Jewish Congress re- negotiated the admission of 1,000 Jewish orphans and hundreds of skilled workers. That meager result of years of agitation, led Congress to record "its profound appreciation of the steps already taken by the Government of Canada to modify the restrictions upon the admission of immigrants into this country," which Bialystok called a "pusillanimous resolution."
Bialystok's account suggests that, in spite of the young survivors in their midst, the established community showed little interest in their experiences. Eventually a small core of survivors in Montreal, not content with the 'tranquil' approach, set out to change things: "Congress . . . promoted a vocal public presence, within the norms of accepted civil liberties. [But] a nucleus of Holocaust survivors advocated a more aggressive attack against hate-mongers" (p. 120).
Chapter seven opens with the question, "Were things that bad?" Bialystok tells of an experience at a Toronto high school in 1978. He was teaching a history class...