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Dr. Catherine Chatterley


New book examines the reasons behind the Canadian government's abysmal record in responding to the Jewish refugee crisis created by Nazi Germany

by Dr. Catherine Chatterley, January 30, 2013

Review of Nazi Germany, Canadian Responses: Confronting Antisemitism in the Shadow of War, edited by L. Ruth Klein (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2012). 301 pp. Reprinted from the Journal for the Study of Antisemitism vol. 4 no. 2 (December 2012).


In 1982, historians Irving Abella and Harold Troper published an important study of Canadian immigration policy as it applied to Jews during the war years. None is Too Many documented the abysmal record of the Canadian government in responding to the Jewish refugee crisis created by Nazi Germany. One of the questions that resulted from the study was why Canada acted in this manner during the 1930s and 1940s. That is the question this new collection of seven essays, edited by Ruth Klein, attempts to answer.


To provide some indication of the Canadian mindset as it existed during the years of the Nazi regime this collection investigates attitudes in the public sphere through an analysis of an assortment of phenomena: press coverage in a number of contexts, two university administrations, literary works, Jewish advocacy movements, and Canada’s participation in the 1936 Olympics.


The collection begins with a contextual essay by Doris Bergen on the conditions faced by Germany’s Jews between 1933 and 1939, a period during which only 2000 European Jews were allowed into Canada. Following the example of Marion Kaplan’s excellent study, Between Dignity and Despair: Jewish Life in Nazi Germany, Bergen uses the personal testimonies of German Jews (housed at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum) to illustrate the complex realities facing these refugees as they struggled to survive in Nazi Germany and as they fled the regime, a few of them for Canada.


The debate over Canadian participation in the Olympic Games of 1936, hosted by Nazi Germany, is the subject tackled by Richard Menkis and Harold Troper. Despite a boycott campaign led by Canadian Jewish Congress, and a public debate in the national newspapers, the Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) decided to follow the British decision to accept Germany’s invitation to the Games and passed the motion unanimously. The question investigated by Menkis and Troper is to what degree the Canadian public, and the COC, was aware of Nazi Germany’s racist and antisemitic policies at the time. Their examination of the Canadian press from 1933 to 1935 demonstrates substantial coverage of the new leadership in Germany; however, the editorial views of that leadership ranged widely between condemnation and optimistic respect. The press reported on the Nuremberg Laws of 1935 and the resulting discrimination against Germany’s Jews, as well as the antisemitic speeches given by Nazi leaders. The somber conclusion drawn by this chapter is that Nazi antisemitism was not considered by the COC to be an issue of significance in their decision to participate in the Games of 1936. Of higher regard was the desire to follow Great Britain, to support Canadian athletes and their nationalist hunger for medals, as well as diplomatic and economic considerations.


Amanda Grzyb’s analysis of the mainstream Canadian press from 1938 to 1939 is one of the most important contributions to this volume. What exactly did the average Canadian know about the Nazi assault on the Jewish people across the Atlantic? Research into American press coverage of the Nazi period, particularly that of the Jewish-owned New York Times, stresses the lack of detail given to the Jewish identity of refugees and to the antisemitism of the Nazis. Not so in Canada: readers may be shocked to discover the wide and detailed coverage of the plight of Jews in Germany provided by the Canadian press. Focusing on increased coverage during three major events (Kristallnacht, the MS St. Louis, and antisemitic agitation in Quebec), Grzyb analyses the content of articles, editorials and letters published in The Globe and Mail and six other English dailies. Not only was Nazi antisemitism a subject of discussion in these papers, but the genocidal intent of the Nazi regime was also made clear in articles and editorials that quoted Hitlerian rhetoric (extermination, extinction, and liquidation) accurately. Nazism was clearly depicted as both a barbarous threat to civilization and a specific threat to Jews. Editors criticized the failure of Prime Minister Mackenzie King to publicly condemn Kristallnacht, as Roosevelt and Chamberlain did, and the papers covered protests by the Canadian public after November 9/10, 1938. One of the most fascinating discoveries shared by Grzyb is the Nazi response to this Canadian press coverage. In an attempt to minimize and relativize their own criminal behavior, the Nazis used their party paper Völkischer Beobachter to accuse Canada of what they termed similar crimes in its treatment of Aboriginal people. By the summer of 1939, however, press coverage declined to a trickle. Grzyb concludes that the press and public had grown complacent and perhaps, given the indifference of the Canadian government, become “overwhelmed by a sense that Jewish suffering was somehow unsolvable, inevitable, eternal.” (106)


Another innovative chapter covers the Jewish immigrant reaction to the Holocaust by examining the Yiddish media (

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