- Nazi Germany, Canadian Responses: Confronting Antisemitism in the Shadow of War, ed. by L. Ruth Klein
In Toronto in June 2009 the Government of Canada and the League for Human Rights of B’nai Brith Canada co-hosted a conference entitled, “The St. Louis Era: Looking Back, Moving Forward,” which was also part of Canada’s successful bid for membership in the Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research, now the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA). Though the ill-fated voyage of the MS St. Louis served as the focal point for the conference, participants were encouraged to “look more widely at this era of prejudice and restrictive immigration policies” (p. xiii). The conference resulted in two things in addition to IHRA membership: establishment of the National Task Force on Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research (NTF); and publication of the volume under review.
The purpose of Klein’s compilation is to gain “a better sense of how much Canadians knew, and when, about the mounting persecution of the Jews.” To achieve this, Klein asserts, it is necessary to enter the “atmosphere” of Canada in this period (p. xix). In this pursuit, seven scholars from various disciplines, including history, media studies, and Jewish studies, examine various aspects of Canadian society from 1933 to 1945, concluding that most non-Jewish Canadians were apathetic in the face of Nazi persecution of Jews. It is unfortunate that the analysis focuses almost exclusively on the cities of Toronto and Montreal, and that French Canada is virtually ignored, yet no single volume can cover all aspects of a subject. In this case it seems that geographic and ethnic breadth was sacrificed in favor of multi-disciplinary inclusion.
Each of the seven chapters addresses a distinct topic, yet the volume as a whole provides a relatively unified interpretation. The overall impression is one of a Canada struggling initially with the devastating effects of the Great Depression and then increasingly with the pressure of a looming war, circumstances leaving little room for the plight of Europe’s Jews. The peak of Gentile Canadians’ protest at the gathering anti-Jewish persecutions occurred in the six-month period bookended by Kristallnacht and the journey of the MS St. Louis, after which they seemed to return to their generally antisemitic, or at least apathetic, attitudes. In contrast, Canadian Jewish communities remained attuned to developments in Europe, and energetically continued to publicize the Jewish emergency and to pursue rescue efforts.
The book challenges a perceived Canadian tradition of inclusion and multiculturalism, much in the same way that Irving Abella and Harold Troper’s None Is Too Many did in 1982. Indeed, Klein suggests that Nazi Germany, Canadian Responses might begin to fill a gap left by Abella and Troper’s volume. While None is Too Many outlined in great detail the callous and often antisemitic attitudes of the majority of [End Page 525] Canada’s politicians, it did not address why most Canadians tolerated this indifference. By investigating Canadians’ “ideas, attitudes, words and actions,” Klein asserts, “the answer to this question ‘why?’ begins right here” (p. xix).
Doris L. Bergen’s “Social Death and International Isolation: Jews in Nazi Germany, 1933–1939” introduces Nazi anti-Jewish policy. Though for the specialist much of its content will be familiar, she intertwines the narrative with the reflections of Jewish refugees who actually did find refuge in Canada during this period. Although those refugees found safety from Nazi persecution, many encountered difficulty making a life in Canada, where they often faced discrimination. A key insight in Bergen’s contribution is that, for a Jew, life in 1930s Canada might compare unfavorably to life in pre-Nazi Germany; Bergen thereby provides important historical context. She sets the tone for the entire anthology when she observes that “Canada was a minor yet typical part of the hostile world that surrounded Jews in the prewar Nazi years. . . . Though far from the sites of the Holocaust, [Canada...