Hate at the Top|
Jews face powerful prejudice in Canada as they try to escape Nazi Germany
On November 9 1938, anti-Semitism exploded in Berlin when young Nazis went on a rampage in the Jewish quarter, killing 90 people and destroying hundreds of businesses, homes and synagogues. The riot dubbed "Crystal Night" was the turning point in the fate of European Jews.
|Canada's first female senator, Cairine Wilson, fought unsuccessfully for the admittance of Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany and other part of Europe during the late 1930s.
Desperate Jews turned to Canada for help as they struggled to escape the horrors of Nazi Germany. Instead they came face-to-face with Canadas own powerful anti-Semitic forces embodied in Frederick Blair, the countrys top immigration bureaucrat. And as director of immigration, he wielded huge power in setting the policy of who got into Canada.
"I often think that instead of persecution it would be far better if we more often told them frankly why many of them are unpopular," said Blair. "If they would divest themselves of certain of their habits I am sure they could be just as popular in Canada as our Scandinavians."
Anti-Semitism was rife among Canada's ruling elite, reflecting a deep-rooted prejudice in Canadian society. Indeed, anti-Semitism was a way of life in Canada. Many industries did not hire Jews, and Jewish professionals were routinely excluded from jobs at universities, hospitals and law firms. Clubs, resorts and beaches also barred Jewish Canadians.
Canada's immigrations laws had always been ethnically selective - Jews, Orientals and blacks were on the bottom of the list. By 1938, as anti-Semitism erupted in Germany, Canada began to actively restrict Jewish immigration.
Blair raised the amount of money immigrants had to possess to come to Canada from $5,000 to $15,000. As well, immigrants had to prove they were farmers, which Blair hoped would further sift out the Jewish applicants, as most were coming from cities. Blair followed the immigration regulations - many written by himself - to the letter and then boasted about his success in keeping Jews out of the country.
"Pressure on the part of the Jewish people to get into Canada has never been greater than it is now and I am glad to be able to add, after thirty-five years experience here, that it was never so well controlled."
In desperation, Canadian Jews held large demonstrations in the late 1930s pleading with their government to help. In Ottawa, Canadas first female senator also fought for the admittance of Jewish refugees. Cairine Wilson, a former Ottawa socialite, was one of the country's leading voices against fascism and one of the few non-Jews lobbying for the refugees.
"We must be big enough and courageous enough to admit to Canada a fair share of the unfortunate persons involved," she said in a speech.
The Stein family of Vienna wrote to their cousins in Montreal that their business had been shut down and they were forbidden to earn a living. They were homeless, stateless and penniless with two young children.
"Our distress increases daily and there is nothing left for us but suicide. Our only hope for survival is admission to Canada."
Despite Wilsons efforts, the Steins were rejected along with many others. Around the world, countries like Australia had already accepted thousands of Jewish refugees.
In desperation Cairine Wilson turned to Prime Minister Mackenzie King and begged him to force Blair to let in 1,000 refugees. She has no idea that Mackenzie King had bought all the land around Kingsmere, his country house, so that no Jew could move in near him. Nor did she know his real views about refugees, a secret he shared with his diary.
"We must seek to keep this part of the continent free from unrest and from too great an intermixture of foreign strains of blood."
Receiving no help from King, Wilson tried other tactics but faced the same results. Wilson finally tried to have 100 Jewish orphans admitted to Canada, but Blair's regulations banned all but two of them. Most of the others died in the Holocaust.
The Ottawa Journal called Wilson the mother of lost causes.
Through government inaction and Blairs bureaucratic anti-Semitism, Canada emerged from the war with one of the worst records of Jewish refugee resettlement in the world. Between 1933 and 1939, Canada accepted only 4,000 of the 800,000 Jews who had escaped from Nazi-controlled Europe.
In November 2000, Rev. Doug Blair apologized for his great-uncle, Frederick Blair, at a reunion for Holocaust survivors from all over the world who had been turned away by Ottawa.
"I stand before you in great fear for I understand that my name is not one dear to your heart," the Baptist pastor from Sarnia, Ontario told 25 survivors. "That which was done to you was so wrong. To the extent that my family was party of that, Im sorry."