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Ellin speaks at B’nai Torah Congregation in Boca Raton, Florida: Tuesday Feb. 25, 2020
February 25, 2020 @ 11:00 am - 12:30 pm EST
As Canada, and indeed the world, marked the Liberation of Holland and V-E Day in the spring of 1945, thousands of Canadian military personnel were still hard at work overseas, but some, in particular those of Jewish faith, had a new, humanitarian mission: rescuing the survivors of the Hitler’s Final Solution.
From helping to restore Jewish places of worship in freed Dutch cities such as Tilburg, to tracking down relatives of prisoners at the newly liberated Bergen-Belsen Nazi death camp in Germany, Canadian Jewish military personnel acted with great compassion to help the remnants of Europe’s Jews. Ellin Bessner, author of “Double Threat: Canadian Jews, the Military, and WWII” (University of Toronto Press 2018), will share her new research into how Canada’s fighting Jews encountered the Holocaust: the exhilaration, the despair, and the responsibility of liberation, and how their experiences marked them for the rest of their lives.
Some of the liberators responded though individual acts of compassion. For example, Moe Resin, an RCAF reconnaissance photographer from Montreal, wanted to hand out chocolates and other food rations to some of the surviving women at Belsen, where Anne Frank had died, but he was careful to not to give them “substantial” food, for fear it could kill them. Others took part in more formal organized relief work, including measures spearheaded by the Canadian Jewish chaplains on the ground in Europe. This included H/Capt. (Rabbi) Samuel Cass’s Sabbath prayer service at Westerbork transit camp. Hundreds threw holiday parties for Jewish war orphans in Belgium, and helped to trace relatives in what has been called “The Great Hunt”.
Bessner’s new research is a product of: her interviews with Canadian veterans and their next of kin, unpublished memoirs of Canadian veterans, interviews with Dutch survivors, archival video and photographs, Library and Archives Canada military records, and more.
The research is especially relevant in the wake of heightened media attention for the recent 75th anniversary commemorations of the liberation of Auschwitz on Jan. 7, 2020. Public interest will be equally high for the coming 75th anniversary of the end of the war ceremonies this spring. It is extremely valuable to bring a Canadian perspective to the overall liberation story.
Books will be available for sale and signing at the event.