Jewish Canadian women in uniform in WWII deserve a nod on International Women’s Day

They earned only 70 cents a day (while their male counterparts earned $1.30). They weren’t allowed to wear nail polish or dangly earrings. They had to wear skirts, even during the winter. Their enlisting usually raised eyebrows, prompting comments about their supposedly loose morals and impropriety.

But the nearly 280 Canadian Jewish women who volunteered, put on a uniform, and served in WWII lived their own important wartime experiences, and contributed to help Canada and the Allies win the war.

Most of the women also had their own #Time’sUp moments.

Many were treated poorly by the men they worked with, or not given the credit that they deserved.

Montreal-born Staff Sergeant Miriam “Mimi” Freedman was the only Canadian Jewish woman in uniform to win a Mention in Dispatches from the King during the war. She served for six years overseas, first with the London Ambulance Service, then as a driver for Canadian Army staff at headquarters there, and eventually, was among the first group of Canadian Women’s Army Corps personnel sent to Normandy after D-Day. The editors of the Montreal Gazette published a story about her in 1946, but ran it on the women’s page. We don’t know how Freedman felt about her war service: her family says she didn’t talk about it after she came home. She did speak about her encounters with German civilians when the war ended.

“Naturally we felt that we were not wanted,” she told the Gazette. “They were aggressive toward us but not given the opportunity of harming us.”

At least one Canadian Jewish woman in uniform decided to take a #Time’sUp stand.

When Sergant Esther Rabinovitch of Medicine Hat, Alberta was serving with the RCAF Women’s Division in Ottawa, she had to take dictation about top secret radar and other important air force messages. Her chain smoking boss, an officer, used to stand over her chair and tell her to add commas.  It drove her nuts.  After a few months, she had had enough.

“I had been very good in English in high school,” she told an interviewer, many years after the war.  “I swung around in my little chair and I said, ‘Sir? I can punctuate, you know!’ And he says, ‘Oh to be sure, to be sure.’ So that took care of that problem.”

Woman in uniform
Section Officer Rose J. Goodman, of New Glasgow, Nova Scotia. (Courtesy Claresholm Museum)

When Rose Goodman of New Glasgow, Nova Scotia went to the RCAF’s recruiting office for women, in Halifax, in the fall of 1941, she had graduated from Dalhousie University, was a Girl Guide leader, and played violin.  The officer who interviewed her noted the following points, in this order: Attractive. Hebrew. 22. Intelligent. A very capable girl full of ideas and initiative. Father is “worth about $100,000 with an annual income of $10,000”. They also said she wore glasses. She got in, anyway.

Goodman eventually impressed everyone with her talent and brains and was promoted to Section Officer. She was posted to the RCAF Claresholm air base, near Calgary. It housed a busy wartime training school for air crews.  She is the only Canadian Jewish woman in uniform to die in service during WWII.

Claresholm newspaper
Front page of the local newspaper describing the crash that killed Rose Goodman.

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