On Nov. 11, millions of people around the world will pause to remember the men and women who served their countries and gave their lives. This week and next, I devote my column to our Jewish veterans and to the Jewish soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice.
The history of Jews in the Canadian military dates back to the the Boer War (1899-1902) as well as the world wars, the Korean War and involvement in Canada’s other military activities. Almost 17,000 Canadian Jews volunteered for service in World War II, with 420 killed, died, or missing and presumed dead. “An additional 2,000 Jews enlisted, but did not declare their Jewish identity in order to avert danger if captured by the Nazi forces.”
The Canadian Jewish Congress has created an important database, Canadian Casualties in the Armed Forces, which includes the names of 577 Jewish men and women who gave their lives, including:
• Lieut. Myer Cohen, of Toronto was awarded the Military Cross. Lieut. Cohen stormed a strong enemy position at Passchendaele in November 1917. At the head of his men he reached the objective. No reinforcements were available, and with his few men he held the position until all were killed.
• Lance Sgt. Jack Faibish of Markinch, Sask., enlisted in the army on Sept. 11, 1939, and went overseas shortly afterwards. He was officially reported killed in action in the invasion of Normandy, France, on July 28, 1944. In 1951, the Saskatchewan government named Faibish Bay in his honour.
• Lieut. Joseph Levison of Halifax was a Canadian Army public relations officer attached to the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry. He was killed when a jeep in which he was a passenger drove over a Communist road mine. It is believed that Lieut. Levison was the only Jewish Canadian casualty of the Korean War.
In 1948, Canadian Jewish Congress published the book, Canadian Jews in World War II – Casualties. Bill Gladstone, well known to readers of The Canadian Jewish News, has done a marvelous service by scanning the pages of that book and preserving the memory of “those reported killed, dead, missing, presumed dead, wounded, injured, ill and prisoners of war.” Being able to see these original pages brings home the sacrifice these soldiers made and void they left behind.
One of the most striking artifacts that I came across was “Jewish War Heroes.” Created by Canadian Jewish Congress, it depicts in comic book form the efforts of several Jewish servicemen, including Col. David Croll (later Senator Croll), First Officers Lou Warren Somers of Toronto and Max Shvemar of Montreal and Maj. Benjamin Dunkelman (who later served in the Israel Defence Forces during that country’s War of Independence.)
Again, to put a human face on war, don’t miss a lovely feature from 2009 in the Toronto Star titled, Remembrance Day: The boys of Major Street. Dr. Joe Greenberg remembers Chucky and Porky, Solly and Harold, and the other Jewish immigrant kids from his neighbourhood who died in World War II. Dr. Joe was one of only two “boys” who survived the war. In 2013, the City of Toronto honoured them with the naming of the Boys of Major Lane. “I love it, but all I can think of are these kids,” Greenberg told the Toronto Star before breaking down in tears. “We’re talking about 17- and 18-year-old kids that never came home.”
I was heartened to come across a website for the Jewish Canadian Military Museum. “Established in 2000, the Jewish Canadian Military Museum houses a large variety of war memorabilia that has been donated throughout the years.” Unfortunately, seeing those artifacts will prove difficult. “The Jewish Canadian Military Museum now resides in a small office… where all records are stored. Artifacts are all in storage and now need a permanent facility to preserve and display these valued Military Treasures and a place for the Public to visit.”
If you would like to pay your respects to the fallen this Remembrance Day, you can visit the Toronto monument to their memory unveiled in 2011 on the grounds of the UJA’s Sherman Campus just north of Bathurst Street and Sheppard Avenue. In Montreal, a monument to Jewish war veterans can be found in the city’s Jewish Community Campus. It reads in French, Hebrew and English, “In tribute to the thousands of Jewish War Veterans who fought in Canada’s wars and in memory of the hundreds who lost their lives in service to their country.”
The monument quotes Psalm 23:4, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for Thou are with me.”