Today more than ever, the media have an important place in spreading awareness on important issues and upholding the memory of the past. In a recently published academic paper I authored, titled Kanada: The Effect of The Canadian Jewish News and Survivors on the Memory of the Holocaust, I explored the influence that this newspaper had on helping to foster Holocaust memory, commemoration and education when few outlets would.
Historians Harold Troper and Irving Abella exposed the unreceptive attitude toward Jews, and particularly Holocaust survivors, held by gentiles, nativists and government officials, in None is too Many: Canada and the Jews of Europe: 1933-1948, but what is less known and more unexpected is the unreceptive attitude of the established Jewish community toward survivors.
The established Jewish community in Canada were not strangers to latent and overt anti-Semitism, and were focusing on becoming fully assimilated into mainstream society. Few in the established community were interested in assisting new Jewish immigrants who stood out as more religious, based on dress and practice, and who were unfamiliar with Canadian language culture. The eventual integration of survivors into society, supported and facilitated by The CJN, resulted in their participation in defining what the Holocaust meant to the Jewish and wider community.
The CJN was founded in 1960 by M.J. Nurenberger and his wife, Dorothy. It quickly became the leading newspaper of Canadian Jewry and was able to bridge the gap between the established community and survivors by covering and connecting issues both parties felt were important. An objective of The CJN was to show the inter-connectedness of the Canadian Jewish community (such as the maintenance of synagogues), and wider global issues, such as the protection of Israel and the memory of the Holocaust.
Articles such as Duty And Recognition reinforced the responsibility of Toronto synagogues to “keep alive… the spirit of Israel and at the same time to provide strength and sustenance to the people of Israel.” The CJN published articles from all over the world, including New York, Israel and Argentina, on issues concerning international Jewry – the rise of neo-Nazism and the protection of Israel.
In response to these issues, Nurenberger wrote in a commentary that the swastika epidemic was not only a Jewish issue but “constitutes a threat to freedom and human dignity the world over… The incidents are minor, but the significance is of major importance.” Nurenberger and the position of The CJN understood and used the connection between the Jewish Holocaust and hatemongering.
The tactic of connecting the Holocaust to hatemongering and other genocides, to stress its relevance to a wider audience, was not common until the 1ate 1970s; Nurenberger, as the leader and voice of The CJN, was well ahead of the times in this respect. It is this crucial connection made early on, that the Holocaust, anti-Semitism and hatemongering, became not only a Jewish issue, but an issue that had implications for everyone that set The CJN apart – apart from other newspapers, media outlets, or awareness-raising events.
The CJN was also aware of the plight of survivors (Nurenberger had interviewed Warsaw Ghetto veterans) and aimed to counter the “greenie” stereotype and the suspicion that so many new Jewish immigrants encountered in the established community upon arriving in Canada.
One survivor of the Warsaw uprising told Nurenberger he fought against “the indifference of our fellow men. The western governments knew what transpired in Auschwitz.” The CJN sought to counter indifference with articles intended to educate Canadian Jewry on the plight of the Jews and articulate the horrors and bravery they witnessed, so that the survivors, to an extent, would not have to.
It is worth reiterating that initially the survivors who did want to speak out about their experience lacked a receptive audience in the 1950s. By 1960, the attitude of The CJN was clearly one of dialogue on the issue of the Holocaust. Although the term Holocaust was used infrequently until 1963, the topic was widely covered.
Besides bringing the Holocaust back into mainstream consciousness and helping to close the rift between the established Jewish community and survivors by presenting a situation that was relevant and significant, The CJN stressed that the rise of neo-Nazism, commemoration and the Adolf Eichmann trial (of 1961) had long-term implications. The events of the early 1960s inspired long-term ambitions in the Canadian Jewish community: the continued commemoration of the Holocaust and empowerment of survivors by focusing on the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, exposure of hidden Nazi criminals and the lobbying for new legislation against the spread of hate propaganda.
If not for the pioneering achievement of The CJN and the Holocaust survivors who politicized important issues and made them resonate with the wider public, Canada’s memory and recognition of the Holocaust, legislation on hate crime and school curriculum would be greatly lacking.
Magdalena Kubow is a PhD candidate in the history department of the University of Western Ontario. The Effect of the Canadian Jewish News and Surivors on the Memory of the Holocaust was printed in Holocaust Studies: A Journal of Culture and History. You can read it at: http://vallentinemitchell.metapress.com/content/tx51r00v8364/