- Holocaust Survivors in Canada: Exclusion, Inclusion, Transformation, 1947–1955 by Adara Goldberg
Adara Goldberg, the Education Director at the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre, tells the story of Canada’s settlement of 35,000 Jews (disclosure: I am the son of two of them) in the decade following the Holocaust. The product of a Ph.D. dissertation at Clark University, Goldberg’s book is structured thematically and chronologically. Meticulously researched and documented, it draws on over 100 oral histories, newspapers and magazines, many archival and library collections, as well as secondary sources.
Canada’s Jewish social agencies were overwhelmed and poorly equipped to handle the post-war newcomers, many of whom were traumatized and in need of psychological and emotional support, but the survivors adapted and integrated successfully into the established Jewish communities and Canadian society more broadly. However, the survivors were not cut from a single cloth nor was there uniformity in their settlement experiences; they included refugees, orphans, sponsored immigrants, and transmigrants. The latter, like me, came primarily from Israel in the early 1950s.
Survivors settling in western Canada found a warmer reception among the smaller Jewish communities than those who settled in Montreal and Toronto, the largest Jewish centres. The diversity of the activities of survivors matched the diversity of their backgrounds. Some contributed to rejuvenating Yiddish education, literature, and culture, some were religiously ultra-orthodox, others practised a more liberal form of Judaism, and still others forsook their ethno-religious origins, turning away from God. Some even converted to Christianity.
Before, during, and immediately after the war, Canada was the most ungenerous Western state in admitting Jews fleeing the Nazi extermination machine, as Irving Abella and Harold Troper’s None is Too Many: Canada and the Jews of Europe 1933–1948 has documented. Many Canadians, some of whom harboured virulent anti-Semitic feelings, looked down upon the Jewish survivors. Goldberg digs into Mackenzie King’s diary for this telling entry: “we must nevertheless seek to keep this part of the Continent free from unrest and from too great an intermixture of foreign strains of blood,” he wrote in 1938. “I fear we would have riots if we agreed to a policy [End Page 179] that admitted numbers of Jews.” Goldberg reminds us as well of Alberta Social Credit premier William Aberhart’s propagation of the idea of an international Jewish financial conspiracy and of the anti-Jewish prejudice of Quebec’s Roman Catholic clergy during the pre-war period. One of the book’s two dozen illustrations is a photograph of a 1940 sign for an Ontario lodge stipulating “Gentiles Only.”
Although Goldberg’s focus is on the late 1940s and early 1950s, she also offers some details about Jews who came before and after that period. The few Jews who managed to enter the country in the late 1930s often arrived under false pretenses, like the two Jewish Czechs who posed as Roman Catholic farmers headed to Saskatchewan. In Toronto during the war, these two newcomers organized a liberal Habonim congregation, whose ideological roots are socialist and Zionist, for refugees and survivors. Goldberg estimates that of the 39,000 Hungarians who arrived in the aftermath of Hungary’s Revolution in the latter half of the 1950s, a disproportionate 7,000 to 8,000 were Jews, many of whom were Holocaust survivors.
The survivors were commonly known as “greeners,” signifying their lack of knowledge and sophistication. In counterpoint, my parents and their peers described the established Jews as “gaeller” (yellowed), that is, more experienced and more economically and culturally secure as Canadians. Neighbourhoods such as The Main in Montreal, Winnipeg’s North End, and the Spadina/College district of Toronto served as venues for the formation of survivor “clubs” whose members shared the trials they had endured and the new challenges they faced in Canada.
In her last chapter, “Mothers and Misters: Parenting, Work, and Gender,” Goldberg mines the reports of Montreal social workers affiliated with Jewish social agencies to shine light on the challenges faced by young...