Anti-Semitism in Manitoba in the 1930s and 40s

By Fine, Jonathan | Manitoba History, Autumn 1996 | Go to article overview

Anti-Semitism in Manitoba in the 1930s and 40s


Fine, Jonathan, Manitoba History


The following essay by Jonathan Fine of Kelvin High School won the Manitoba Historical Society's 1995 Dr. Edward C. Shaw "Young Historians" Award.

Anti-semitism, an expression of hostility towards Jews, has existed for hundreds of years. To many Gentiles, those with different customs and values posed a threat. Others hated Jews if they were successful and wealthy. Jealousy was a motive for prejudice. Anti-semitism peaked with the rise of Nazism in the 1930s and 40s. Under Hitler, Jews were chastised, restricted, beaten, tortured and killed. Anti-semitic North Americans shared Hitler's view that Jews were the enemy.

Prior to the second World War, Canada welcomed Jews. From 1850 to 1920, 190,000 Jews emigrated to Canada primarily from Eastern Europe. (1) However, between 1922 and 1948, especially when Jews were desperate for asylum, Canada found room for fewer than 5,000 Jews. (2) Many Jews were restricted from entering Canada at the same time as other smaller countries were admitting five or six times Canada's rate. The likely cause for restriction was anti-semitism, although the government gave reasons such as the depressed state of the economy. The truth was that Canada could have supported these refugees but refused. The director of Immigration for much of the 1930s and 40s, Fredrick Blair, was a vocal anti-semite who denounced Jewish "habits." (3) The country's immigration policy became clear when an anonymous senior Canadian official responded to the question, "how many Jews should be allowed into Canada after the war," declaring: "None is too many." (4)

Throughout Canada and especially Quebec there was fear of a Jewish takeover. In Quebec newspapers declared: "The Jew is a thief to be avoided" (5) and "The Jew, Disgusting Creature who dreams of dominating the World." (6) Many Quebec politicians endorsed such sentiments (7) and opposed Jewish immigration. (8) Fascist groups prospered in Quebec more than in any other Canadian province. The most popular, led by Arcand, held meetings and distributed hate literature.

What contributed to anti-semitism in Quebec? The influence of the Catholic church and the fear of Communism were factors. Quebec's anti-semitism was echoed to a lesser extent through the rest of the country. In 1939 the premier of British Columbia declared that his province would accept refugees but not Jews. (9) Some hotels posted signs with: "Jews and Dogs NOT WANTED!" Across Canada, Jewish tombstones were knocked over, Jewish shops burned, graffiti painted and Jews were even beaten. Jewish quotas existed in various professions and universities. Jews were restricted from some clubs, neighbourhoods and resorts. Fascist groups outside of French Canada echoed Arcand's anti-semitism. In a poll taken in 1948 it was revealed that more Canadians were opposed to Jewish immigration than to German immigration. (10)

The history of anti-semitism in Canada is difficult to trace. Prior to 1980 little was published on the subject. Jewish newspaper accounts of anti-semitism are not widely accessible because most were published in Yiddish. (11) Books on Jewish immigrants in Canada emphasize the social aspect of life in Canada, mentioning anti-semitism only in passing. There are but a few archival documents such as David Rome's Anti-Semitism in Canada. Canada's fascist past was exposed with the publication of The Swastika and The Maple Leaf in 1975. (12) The 1983 release of None is Too Many by University of Toronto historians Irving Abella and Harold Troper broke new ground, uncovering the deep anti-Jewish policies that led to Jewish exclusion from Canada in the 1930s and 40s.

None is Too Many deals mainly with the anti-immigration policies of the government of Canada with a general overview of anti-semitism in Eastern Canada. What was the situation in the rest of the country? Outside of Quebec and Ontario, the most populous provinces, the largest population of Jews lived in Manitoba. …

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