Amongst the many Canadian Jewish heroes who fought in the Second World War was Sgt. Samuel (Moe) Hurwitz, a tall, strong young man with a bushy moustache who became a legend for his bravery and daring.
Moe, as he was affectionately known, was a member of the famed Canadian Grenadier Guards of Montreal. Born in Lachine, Que., where he attended high school, he gained fame as a young athlete. Boxing and hockey were his loves.
But it was after he entered the service that his fighting spirit became evident. Enlisting in June 1940 and trained at Camp Borden, he was sent to the European theatre two years later. His fame and penchant for heroism was non-stop.
As a Canadian Jew, Sgt. Hurwitz was driven to be the best he could be and to put the lie to Hitler’s admonition that he had never seen a “fighting Jew.”
Sgt. Hurwitz’s reputation as a fighting Jew was born prior to D-Day, when one of the largest armoured advances began. Sgt. Hurwitz, a tank commander, was traversing the dangerous road between Caen and Falaise in France. There were many enemy troops along the way, more than 50 of which were dug into trenches that the tanks couldn’t reach. The Germans had a strong position and had been holding up an entire Allied squadron. A story is told that Sgt. Hurwitz took matters into his own hands, leaped from his tank, Sten gun in hand, and dashed through the trenches, rooting out Nazi soldiers.
“Suddenly there is a terrific explosion,” recounted one of his comrades. “All the troops emerging from their tanks are thrown to the ground from the force. One man is killed, five others injured. It is a tense moment. Will the rest of the ‘Jerries’ (Germans) seize this opportunity and turn the tables? … They never had a chance. Dazed by the shock, hair and moustache singed by the sheet of flame, one arm numb from the impact of a tree branch, the indomitable sergeant picked up his Sten and continues his round-up. An hour later, another unit takes over from us, the situation is under control and we give them 50 surprised looking German prisoners.”
For his actions, Sgt. Hurwitz was awarded the Military Medal on Nov. 3, 1944. Indeed, Sgt. Hurwitz became the first Canadian Jew to be awarded two decorations during the war. His final medal was his most courageous.
The fight to open the port at Antwerp in October 1944 was ferocious. Mines and incendiary devices dotted the country road, making movement near impossible. German snipers were closing in on crew commanders. The weather had also taken a turn for the worse, with three continuous days of rain.
Another regiment had already lost many men and Sgt. Hurwitz was ordered to attack in the dead of night. With German artillery relentlessly pounding the road in their largest defence effort in months, Sgt. Hurwitz took the lead. It was dark and hazardous. As the crew approached their objective, they ran into furious bazooka fire. Two tanks were lost.
Yet Sgt. Hurwitz pushed forward. He radioed headquarters and said, “I’ll bull her through and wait until you send help.” Moments later, he sent another message: “I am on the objective. I’ll hold her till you can come up.” Those were his last words.
The next day, reinforcements found his tank empty. Months later, word came that he had been taken prisoner, but died of his wounds in a German military hospital in Holland.
Sgt. Hurwitz was a true fighting soldier, in the spirit of the Maccabees. For his last act of bravery, he was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal. While his comrades regretted that their sergeant would never know about the honour, his commanding officer remarked that, “He probably would have shrugged his mighty shoulders and said, ‘What are they worried about? The medal doesn’t belong to me – it belongs to the boys in the troop and they’re still here, aren’t they?’ ”