The Effects of Antisemitism in Canada Surrounding World War II

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  It is common knowledge that the Holocaust was likely one of the most horrific and violent events in world history. We all understand that millions of Jewish people grotesquely died in Europe, but do we know about how this has affected Canada? The effects of global antisemitism in Canada surrounding wartime were, and will always remain, astronomical and irreversible. Although the closest death camp may have been thousands of kilometres away, the effects of antisemitism have become indelible on Canadians across the country. Manifestly, the cold-blooded murder of 6 million Jewish people caused irreparable damages to the lifestyle of Jews globally. Antisemitism was around before World War II, created oppressive immigration policies and still affects all Jewish-Canadian communities today. The hatred and oppression of Jews in Canada was practised before, during and after the war and it is something that will be a part of Judaism forever.

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To understand how the Holocaust and antisemitism affected Canadian Jews, one must understand how discrimination was viewed. Before World War II began in 1939, antisemitism was “ingrained in the fabric of Canadian society” (Maron, 2019). Although it may be believed that the Holocaust was responsible for sparking antisemitism in Canada, it was an element of society for many years before. Racism was expressed publicly and was nothing to be ashamed of. Some interactions with Jewish people were acceptable such as shopping at a Jewish store, but most were considered absurd and disgusting such as living close to a Jewish family. This was especially true in Quebec where a lot of Catholics spoke openly about their antisemitism. Antisemitism dominated every field in Canada including housing, education, employment, sports, and even literacy. Once the war began, the European views of Jews acted as the catalyst that jumpstarted hate crimes across the country. One especially notable one was the Christie Pits Riot of August 1933. A Jewish-Canadian named Joe Black explained his experience with this riot, where a group of white-supremacists displayed a large swastika at a Jewish sporting event in Toronto. He said, “To be a Jew in Toronto in 1933 was to be a second-class citizen...Anti-semitism was acceptable...You’d hear ‘dirty Jew’ all the time.” Black explained how he would get beat up on his way home from school just because of his race . No one died in this riot, however, it seemed to be a warning sign for Jewish-Canadians as if to say: Do not get too comfortable just because you are not in Germany. You are hated worldwide, even here. This riot happened less than a year after Hitler’s ideology began gaining popularity. The swastika, a classic symbol of Nazism, began to appear all over Canada as Jews began to not only worry about their family members in Europe, but themselves. This surely served as a constant reminder about loved ones still in Germany and with no simple forms of communication, it was almost impossible to ensure the safety of those across the ocean. All of these instances of antisemitism were acceptable and practically encouraged in Canada even before World War II. It would not be fair to say that Hitler and Nazism were the causes of blunt racism in the 30s because it had been happening for years before. Imagine leaving Germany to start a new life in Canada, only to read in the paper that all of your family members were being brutally murdered, and then having ‘warning riots’ in your new hometown giving off the same message. This must have been horrifying for every Canadian Jew. Antisemitism took Canada by storm, and for what? To establish dominance over other races? History always seems to repeat itself and had they not learned what extreme racism can lead to? The need to abolish Jewish dignity existed for years before World War II, and the events of the Holocaust only catalyzed the dated ideology that so many Canadians believed in.

It’s been established that Canadians had strong antisemitic values before the beginning of World War II but the global antisemitism, originating in Nazi Germany, only made this problem worse. This is especially evident when discussing the MS St. Louis affair of 1939. A boat full of 907 Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Germany was searching for asylum in a safer country. On their journey, they were denied entry to Cuba, America, and several other Latin American countries. With nowhere else to turn, they headed north to seek safety in Canada (Yahri, 2015). Unfortunately, discriminatory immigration policies had taken the world by storm, including Canada, and this had been going on for a while. There was a government policy that deemed Jews unlikeable foreigners and threats to national health and security. Some Canadians believed that the Jews had every right to enter the country and that Canada should save them. It was a government official named Frederick Blair who turned the boat away. He was quoted to have said, “No country could open its doors wide enough to take in the hundreds of thousands of Jewish people who want to leave Europe: the line must be drawn somewhere” (Smith, 2018). After being turned away by several countries, the boat made its way back to Europe where it docked in Belgium. Its passengers were then dispersed throughout Belgium, France, the Netherlands, and the UK. Since many of these countries fell under Nazism, most of the passengers were killed in the Holocaust (“937 Refugees, 2019”). The immigration policies during World War II made it impossible for Jews to immigrate. With no money or personal belongings, they had nothing to offer the Canadian economy and were therefore denied. These beliefs came from government leaders, which then lead citizens to believe this as well. If they had a government leader that advocated against antisemitism, perhaps many of those passengers could still be alive. They turned away this boat simply because they thought that this endangered race would ruin the country. These people were fleeing from mass murders and ‘extermination’ of their religion and they gave them the cold shoulder without a second thought. Not a single country in the world would let go of these antisemitic values to save some lives and Canada fell into this mob mentality. It honestly began to look like peer pressure. Well, these other countries hate the Jews, I guess we do too! This ridiculousness is what has caused so many historical tragedies that still affect races, religions, sexualities, and genders today. This global mob mentality made Canada look like Pontius Pilate and ironically, the Jews were like Jesus; suffering for no reason other than the fact that people did not understand a certain perspective and decided to simply get rid of it. The absurd antisemitism that existed in Canada during World War II not only affected Canadians but Jewish people from across the world. The denial of Jews into Canada and the immigration policies that caused it was one of the largest issues caused by antisemitism in Canada and was one of the most disgusting acts by the government in history.

The Jewish people have been oppressed, targeted, stereotyped and attacked for millenniums. They are one of the most repressed races in history, being persecuted since the Old Testament, having been expelled from 109 nations since 250 AD (Lapedus, 2017). Among these, Jews have also made one of the biggest comebacks in history. Presently in Canada, Jewish people are proving every day how they will not let the Holocaust prevent them from success. Antisemitism is not stopping them from being religiously engaged in their faith, well-educated, connected to Israel, urban, successful, and refined. Although religion is becoming less and less important to Jews in Canada, the events of World War II still remain a huge part of their identities. In a 2018 study, only a third of Jews interviewed said that religion was an important part of their lives, two-thirds reported that ‘being Jewish’ was a huge part of their lives (Csillag, 2019). What this is showing is that being Jewish does not technically mean practising Judaism. It could be related to family, race, culture and many other things. Since being Jewish was such a huge deal during World War II, it has become a part of people’s identities simply because it is allowed to be. For so many years, Jewish people were not allowed to live their lives freely and now in Canada, they can. Perhaps this is a contributing factor to why eight in ten Jewish adults have a bachelor’s degree, compared to the three in ten of the general Canadian population. Canada has one of the highest immigrant Jewish populations in the world, third to only America and France (Csillag, 2019). The Canadian-Jewish community, along with countless others around the world, is the definition of coming out stronger on the other side. Many living Holocaust survivors are Canadian residents and many people’s parents and grandparents have experienced the Holocaust and the effects of Nazi Germany. Every Jewish person alive today has some connection to the mass genocide of their people a short 80-odd years ago. The Holocaust is to blame for the mentality of resilience that is now a part of Jewish culture and has become a way for them to prove themselves and fight back. The antisemitism of Canadians in the 1930s affected the Jews in so many ways yet they did not let it stop them from being the brave, successful and dynamic community that they have always been.

While it is globally recognized that racism and oppression have caused horrible events throughout history, this does not change what has happened. No matter how many people apologize or how many ceremonies are held in remembrance, nothing can change the past. It is historical, factual evidence that antisemitism has been evident in Canada for centuries preceding World War II. It was an ideology that was “ingrained in the fabric of Canadian society” (Maron, 2019) and was socially accepted across the country. The global spread of Nazism only highlighted the morals that Canadians already harboured. Immigration policies were highly effected during the war while Jews were trying to escape Nazi Germany. Canada caused the hardships and deaths of many in the Holocaust because of their antisemitic policies, with the MS St. Louis being a quintessential example. Through all these hardships, Jewish people have persisted and managed to build themselves back up from nothing. They struggled for years to become the refined, successful, proud, and free people that they are today. The antisemitism in World War II changed millions of families, individuals, and communities forever. The 14, 500, 000 Jewish people alive today (DellaPergola, 2018), no matter their willingness, will never forget.   

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