Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

Our Jewish Brethren: Christian Responses to Kristallnacht in Canadian Mass Media

Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

Our Jewish Brethren: Christian Responses to Kristallnacht in Canadian Mass Media

Article excerpt

The discussion of Canadian responses to the Holocaust has unfolded largely in response to the work of Irving Abella and Harold Troper. In their study, None Is Too Many." Canada and the Jews of Europe, 1933-1948, they argued that "although some organizations and high-placed members of religious groups, such as the Anglican and United Churches, actively campaigned on behalf of Jewish refugees, most Canadians seemed indifferent to the suffering of German Jews and hostile to their admission to Canada." (1) Their book takes its title from the now famous response of a leading Canadian immigration official in 1945 to the question of how many Jewish refugees Canada should take in. Despite Abella and Troper's recognition that there were "a handful of concerned, dedicated citizens scattered across Canada," they did not analyze Christian responses to the Holocaust in great detail, concluding that "the churches remained silent," allowing the Canadian federal government to dismiss the few voices of Christian protest that did exist. (2)

It was this generalization of "silence" that caused Alan Davies and Marilyn F. Nefsky to survey Canadian Protestant denominational responses to the Holocaust. They found a mixture of anti-Nazi and, to a lesser extent, pro-Jewish figures, but much ambivalence and apathy as well. "No sustained universal outcry on behalf of the beleaguered refugees ever erupted from either the Christian or the Protestant rank and file," they argued. "Neither Christian nor Protestant Canada spoke with a collective voice," (3) and few churches "understood the true dimensions of the evil." (4) Indeed, the Canadian Christian community was hindered by an inherent "negativity towards Jews and Judaism that embedded itself in classical Christian theology." (5) Other scholars of Canadian Jewish history, such as Gerald Tulchinsky, Haim Genizi, and Janine Stingel, have generally supported the findings of Davies and Nefsky. (6)

United States historians Robert Ross and William Nawyn arrived at roughly the same conclusions when they surveyed U.S. Christian responses to the Holocaust. For Ross, despite the fact that the Protestant press openly opposed Nazi Jewish policy after 1938, there "occured another kind of 'silence' that was more disturbing in its consequences, the 'silence' that followed the lack of intervention on behalf of the persecuted Jews and the almost total failure of such interventions as were attempted." (7) Similarly, Nawyn concluded that "rhetoric predominated over action" among U.S. Protestants. (8)

Despite their general pessimism, these Canadian and U.S. historians acknowledge that the brutality of the Kristallnacht pogrom of November 9-10, 1938, aroused widespread outrage against Nazism and some measure of sympathy for Jews. (9) Their brief descriptions of rallies and radio broadcasts suggested that at least some Christians had spoken out for the Jews. This sparked our interest to examine more closely the post-Kristallnacht reactions in Canada--not least because we also regard the Nazi pogrom of November, 1938, as one of the significant "milestones on the road to Auschwitz." (10) We view it as a watershed--an event after which no reasonable person in Germany or abroad could downplay the ideological importance or political radicalism of the National Socialists' Jewish policy. Indeed, the Kristallnacht pogrom marks a point of transition between the escalating Antisemitism of German politics in the 1930's and the massive violence associated with the Nazi wartime Holocaust.

In our study of the post-Kristallnacht reactions of Canadian Christians, we have sought to broaden the scope of the source material considered by Davies and Nefsky, who drew primarily upon denominational journals. To that end, we have undertaken a survey of nine leading Canadian newspapers in November and December, 1938: The Halifax Herald, The Gazette (Montreal), Ottawa Citizen, The Globe and Mail Toronto Daily Star, Winnipeg Free Press, The Leader Post (Regina), The Calgary Herald, and The Vancouver Province. …

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