- Holocaust Survivors in Canada: Exclusion, Inclusion, Transformation, 1947–1955 by Adara Goldberg
Nothing provides more of a contrast to the reception of Jewish survivors of World War II between 1947 and 1955 than Canadians' recent welcome of Syrian refugees. These victims of Nazi atrocities had spent years in displaced persons camps, and when they arrived, they received an indifferent reception, if not a total rejection, minimal support from Canadians and their government, and barely more from the ill-equipped and perplexed Canadian Jewish community. In Holocaust Survivors in Canada, Adara Goldberg delves into these survivors' difficult integration, underlining [End Page 215] the challenges of their often isolated fight to find their way in that unknown world: learning its languages, finding a home, a job, a school for their children, among countless other hurdles. They endeavoured to rebuild their lives, all while coping with the traumatic memory without significant professional support. Despite their goodwill, the utterly unprepared Jewish relief agencies and charitable individuals could not overcome their lack of means and expertize to provide support for these new immigrants' social, practical, and psychological needs.
To this end, Goldberg demonstrates the lack of preparedness of Jewish Immigrant Aid Services (JIAS), the Jewish community's main welfare agency, in its attempts to deal with the unprecedented refugee flow. Goldberg pays particular attention to JIAS' inability to attend to the psychological traumas of the many who survived the Nazi camps. For the approximately 16,000 cases, JIAS' Montreal office had only one professional social worker, in addition to its other staff who had to learn on the job. Similarly, although JIAS did provide limited financial support to many, the need greatly outweighed its coffers, leaving many without the assistance they so badly needed. Housing presented another crisis. Some shelters were created to house migrants accepted under the family reunification category but housed also those sponsored by industries – chiefly the garment industry. Consequently, most others were left to their own devices to find housing. The housing crisis was just one in a myriad of other issues. But in the face of all this hardship, survivors built their own communities and shared ways to overcome it. While slowly integrating into the Canadian community, they existed in a separate sphere where only survivors participated.
While some broad research has previously been done on the fate of these migrants, the quality of Goldberg's in-depth research shines new light on a number of neglected subgroups, undermining the usual presentation of the migrants as a monolithic group. It exposes these groups' complexity and diversity. Among these groups, Goldberg reveals the experiences of 1,123 orphans, women, young adults, converts, former believers, and urban dwellers versus rural laborers. Further, the book analyses with great insight the complex role various religious groups played in integration, as the faith of so many had been shaken or lost. Despite all its strengths, perhaps the book could have offered more on those unaffiliated Jews who searched for a discreet assimilation by remaining inconspicuously Jewish.
Much praise is due for Goldberg's judicious balancing of a traditional and rigorous historiographical analysis of documents with the sensible and thoughtful inclusion of interviews and written testimonies from both sides – migrants and those who helped them. This text, as such, contributes an invaluable tool in understanding the dramatic time that, [End Page 216] although until now little studied, marked the survivors and subsequent generations with indelible scars.