Jewish Canadians in the Canadian armed forces

Project Description


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A.J. and Lillian Freiman with Lucy and Eva Bilsky, ca. 1903

Ottawa Jewish Archives. I0021. Archibald and Lillian Freiman Family fonds. (1-925)

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Ottawa Jewish Archives. 10193. Rabbi Isaac B. Rose fonds (OJA 1-589-02)

The Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah) celebrated by Jewish Canadian soldiers in Italy.
Captain and Rabbi Isaac B. Rose of Ottawa blows the shofar during the Second World War, ca. 1944.

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Alex Dworkin Canadian Jewish Archives | Archives juives canadiennes Alex Dworkin

Jewish War Heroes, number 3: Special Canadian edition. Pages 2 and 3 tell the David Arnold Croll story.
Canadian Jewish Congress published three issues of the comic book Jewish War Heroes in 1944
as a project to boost morale and as a marketing and recruitment tool.

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Barney J. Danson, Honourary Lieutenant
Colonel of the Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada,

Photo courtesy of Barney J. Danson.
The Memory Project. Historica Canada.

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Photographer: John Friedlan

Gravestone of George Meltz, bombardier
with the Royal Canadian Artillery.
Killed July 8, 1944 in Normandy.
Beny-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery,

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[Public domain],
Wikimedia Commons

First World War Recruitment Poster,
By Montreal Litho. Co.

Jewish Canadians in the Canadian armed forces

Jews have served in Canada’s armed forces even before Confederation, fighting in all our nation’s wars, and continuing today in international counter-terrorism and peacekeeping operations. Jewish men were volunteers in the contingents sent to the Boer War and were significant participants in the Canadian Expeditionary Force during the First World War. The eminent social researcher Louis Rosenberg, stated that approximately 4,695 Jewish men or over one-third of all Jewish Canadian males aged 21 and over, served in the Canadian Expeditionary during the Great War.

Over 5,000 Jewish women likewise served in the combined World Wars. Lillian Freiman of Ottawa, former Dominion President of Hadassah-WIZO, was instrumental in both helping Jewish Canadian War Veterans readjust to life, and in spearheading the campaign to bring 150 Jewish war orphans from the Ukraine to settle in Canada after the First World War. She was a leading figure in popularizing the wearing of the poppy on Remembrance Day.

The finest hour was during the Second World War when 38 per cent of the male Jewish Canadian population volunteered for active service (16,880 men), while almost 2,000 won military awards. An additional 2,000 Jewish males enlisted, but did not declare their Jewish identity in order to avert danger if captured by the Nazis. All of this occurred at a time when their Jewish brethren were perishing in the Holocaust, and Canada had almost completely closed its doors to Jews fleeing Nazi Persecution.

Over 420 Jewish soldiers died and were buried with the Maple Leaf and Star of David on their graves.

Noteworthy among the valiant volunteers was Sydney Shulemson of the Royal Canadian Air Force, who showed extreme bravery saving the life of a colleague and playing an important role in attacking enemy forces in Europe. He was the most highly decorated Jewish Canadian soldier of the Second World War.

Also noteworthy are Lieutenant Barney Danson (later Canada’s Minister of Defence) who lost an eye during D-Day, and Sergeant (later Honourary Colonel) David Hart, who was decorated by King George VI with the Military Medal for gallantry at Dieppe. Barney Danson remained active in defence and veterans’ issues and was key to obtaining government support for a new Canadian War Museum.

Several provinces have memorialized their Jewish war heroes by naming lakes, mountains and streets in their honour. For example, Faibish Bay in Saskatchewan is named after Lance Sergeant Jack Faibish, Royal Canadian Artillery, who died on July 28, 1944. Similarly, in 2013, the City of Toronto named a back lane “Boys of Major Lane” in honour of six young Jewish teenagers, aged 17-18, who grew up on Major Street and went off together to fight in the Second World War in 1940. Only two returned.

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