Hidden heroes: Canada’s Jewish men in uniform in WWII. Ellin speaks to the Applewood Probus Club for Remembrance Day 2020

As we mark Remembrance Day and 75 years since the end of the Second World War, Toronto author and journalist Ellin Bessner brings us the story of some Canada’s hidden war heroes. 

Bessner’s book “Double Threat: Canadian Jews, the Military and WWII” published by the University of Toronto Press — paints a nuanced picture of how and why Canada’s tiny wartime Jewish community overcame widespread antisemitism at home and on the battlefield, to help defeat Hitler and rescue the survivors of the Holocaust. It is an important Canadian story that has not been comprehensively told before.  

Nearly 17, 000 signed up, or approximately 40 per cent of all eligible Jewish Canadian men served in uniform in the Second World War. They fought in all the major battles, from Dunkirk to D-Day, and beyond. Yet unlike their comrades, Jewish personnel faced a double threat: they served at great personal risk, should they be captured by the enemy, and their religion be uncovered.  

In Ellin’s lively interactive presentation, she’ll introduce you to some of the most high profile Canadian Jewish men and women who enlisted, including federal politicians like Barney Danson, Senators David Croll and Jack Marshall, entertainers Monty Hall, and Wayne and Shuster, and CFL football stars like Eddie Kushner of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

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Remembrance Day event at the Probus Club of Milton, Ontario with Ellin Bessner Nov. 4, 2020

As the world commemorates the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War, and Holocaust Education Week, Canadian author and journalist Ellin Bessner comes to the Probus Club of Milton to say we still have work to do to fight the rise of antisemitism in our time.

Bessner is the author of “Double Threat”, published by the University of Toronto Press, about the contribution of Canada’s tiny wartime Jewish community to defeating the Nazis. When the prime minister of the day, Mackenzie King, called the Second World War a “double threat” for Canadian Jews,  he meant that not only was freedom and democracy at risk but, so was the survival of the Jewish race from Hitler’s Final Solution. Canada’s wartime Jewish community sent over 17, 000 men and women to defeat Hitler and rescue survivors of the Holocaust.

Bessner has spent nine years researching and interviewing the veterans and their families, to piece the untold stories together.  Her message to audiences is that “Remembrance is an active verb” and we must carry the torch of those who fought for our freedom.

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Ellin speaks about the 75th anniversary of the end of WWII at ‘Spotlight on Speakers’ Series Oct. 20 in Toronto

As the world prepares to mark the 75th anniversary of the end of WWII, Toronto author and journalist Ellin Bessner takes us back in time to the days when Canadian troops began cleaning out the remnants of Nazi Germany’s occupation forces across Europe. During the spring of 1945, the troops were met with a joyous welcome by the Dutch people, who had endured starvation and brutality under Hitler’s forces. But the Canadians also came face to face with the truth about the fate of Europe’s Jewish community, as they liberated Nazi concentration camps like Vught and Westerbork, and also, the notorious Bergen-Belsen.

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The RCAF’s secret weapon in WWII: 6,000 Jewish personnel. Ellin @ the Air Crew Association July 18, 2020

As the world marks the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Britain in WWII, author and journalist Ellin Bessner visits the Air Crew Association of Ontario meeting in Toronto, via ZOOM, to share a little known story about how the Allies won the air war.Among the Canadians who volunteered, were 6,000 Jewish personnel who served in the RCAF and RAF. They served at great personal risk, should they be captured, and their faith be discovered by the Nazis. Yet they volunteered, for King and Country, and to save their own people from Hitler’s Final Solution. They served despite facing widespread antisemitism at home, from the government of Mackenzie King, and in the very military they signed up to serve.

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Toronto WWII veteran, 95, gets police parade

Canadian WWII veteran Max Dankner spent many nights riding his Norton army motorcycle to carry out reconnaissance through German-occupied Europe. The Montreal-born soldier served in the Italian campaign with the 4th Princess Louise Dragoon Guards, and then in Holland delivering vital messages as a dispatch motorcycle rider.

That is why motorcycles played a starring role in an unforgettable surprise which Dankner’s family arranged for his 95th birthday on May 30.

About a dozen Peel Regional Police vehicles, including two motorcycles from the Road Safety unit, and some Peel Regional Paramedic Services trucks assembled Saturday outside the Mississauga home of Dankner’s son. On the driveway, Max and his wife Natalie, had prime seats for the parade.

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How to Find Your Family’s Military Records

You don’t have to be a licensed private investigator to find the military records of your ancestors. If you’ve always wanted to learn more about their service during the Second World War, or the First, it’s never been easier to find their official government service records, at least if your relative served in a Canadian military uniform.

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Ellin awarded Flames of Memory Medal from the Jewish War Veterans of Canada

Harry Colt, Secretary of the Jewish War Veterans of Canada, Toronto Post, awards Ellin a “Flames of Memory” Medal, for her work documenting and publicizing and honouring the 17,000 Canadians of Jewish faith who served in WWII, defeated Hitler, and rescued the survivors of the Holocaust. Her book, “Double Threat”, received constant support from the veterans in this organization, right from beginning of her research back in 2014. The medal and plaque were issued during an event at the Lodzer Congregation in Toronto, March 4, 2020.

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