Speaker Details

Speaker:Ellin Bessner
Topic:Double Threat: Canadian Jews, the Military, and WWII

As Canada, and indeed the world, marks the 76th anniversary of the Liberation of Holland and V-E Day, one group of Canadian Second World War veterans has long been overlooked: those of Jewish faith. Journalist Ellin Bessner, the author of “Double Threat: Canadian Jews, the Military, and WWII (University of Toronto Press), will share her new research into how Canada’s tiny Jewish community sent 17,000 men and women to fight Hitler, and also rescue 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.

Orillia and the Barrie area played an important role, being home to Camp Borden, where tens of thousands of troops trained before being posted overseas. Among the stories you will hear will be that of Capt. David Monson, known as '"the people's rabbi", Trooper Michael de Vries and his mysterious ties to a local family, and F/O Gordon Schachter of Orillia, an RCAF Lancaster navigator who spent 14 months as a Prisoner of War in the German Stalag Luft 1 before liberation in May 1945.

Bessner’s new research is a product of her interviews with Canadian veterans and their next of kin, unpublished memoirs of Canadian veterans, interviews with Dutch survivors, archival video and photographs, Library and Archives Canada military records, and more.

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