At 80, Al Rubin was one of the younger Canadian Armed Forces veterans who attended a Remembrance Day ceremony at the Lipa Green building in Toronto on Nov. 11.
The event was attended by a number of men – wearing their traditional dark blue blazers with legion crests, medals and other decorations – who are over 100.
Not many of the 17,000 Jewish men and women who served Canada during Second World War are still alive. Wartime attrition – 450 lost their lives while on duty – and the passage of time has reduced their numbers to only a handful.
But they and their fallen comrades were thanked and remembered for risking, or giving, their lives for our freedom.
The Remembrance Day service included speeches from a number of dignitaries. The event was attended by political leaders, representatives of the governments of Israel and Russia, and others who came to show their respect. Journalist Ellin Bessner – the author of Double Threat: Canadian Jews, the Military and World War II – was also present.
Norm Gardner, who organized the event and served as MC, presented awards to a number of veterans.
Norman Appell joined the Air Force in 1940 and was so good at his job as a physiotherapist that he was made an instructor and was kept on for one year after the war ended, Gardner said.
Rubin, as the youngster of the group, served from 1957 to 1962, during the Cold War. An avid photographer, he was involved in various surveillance operations conducted by the A-12, the CIA variant of the Blackbird high altitude spy plane. “I was the only Canadian member of the intelligence gathering payloads,” he told The CJN.
David Dunn was a member of a secret unit in the British army known as 10 British Commando, which was made up of young Jewish refugees, primarily from Germany and Austria. His particular unit was designated 3 Troop, also known as X Troop. Its members experienced very rigorous training in weapons, assault landing and intelligence gathering.
“It’s a miracle they survived the training,” Gardner said.
Dunn said he saw little combat, but because of his language skills, he was involved in interrogating captured Germans, ferreting out Gestapo, SS and other bad players.
Mo Polansky was a “farm boy from Saskatchewan” who served in Italy, Holland and Belgium.
Martin Maxwell, who was on the Kindertransport that brought 10,000 Jewish children out of Nazi-occupied Europe, started his service in the armoured corps, but later volunteered to be a glider pilot.
He flew over Normandy and was wounded over Arnhem. Later, he went to work for the war crimes commission that investigated Nazi atrocities. Maxwell recounted the story of a young man, Moishele, who was the sole survivor of his entire family, all of whom were killed at Auschwitz. After finding that “all doors were closed to him” in Europe and Canada, Moishele found his way to pre-independence Israel, where he joined the armed forces and was killed in the country’s War of Independence.
“It is good that he died for his country, rather than to be ashes,” Maxwell said.
The themes of sacrifice and of gratitude for the veterans’ service was central to the Remembrance Day event.
Michael Mostyn, the CEO of B’nai Brith Canada, delivered the keynote address. For Canadian Jews, many of whom have personally dealt with anti-Semitism and had relatives in Europe, the fight against the Nazis was personal, he said, but they also fought for the values of freedom and democracy.