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History Jewish

Double Threat

Canadian Jews, the Military, and World War II

by (author) Ellin Bessner

University of Toronto Press
Initial publish date
Apr 2019
Jewish, World War II, Canada
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Apr 2019
    List Price
  • eBook

    Publish Date
    Jan 2019
    List Price

Classroom Resources

Where to buy it


"He died so Jewry should suffer no more." These words on a Canadian Jewish soldier's tombstone in Normandy inspired the author to explore the role of Canadian Jews in the war effort. As PM Mackenzie King wrote in 1947, Jewish servicemen faced a "double threat" - they were not only fighting against Fascism but for Jewish survival. At the same time, they encountered widespread antisemitism and the danger of being identified as Jews if captured. Bessner conducted hundreds of interviews and extensive archival research to paint a complex picture of the 17,000 Canadian Jews - about 10 per cent of the Jewish population in wartime Canada - who chose to enlist, including future Cabinet minister Barney Danson, future game-show host Monty Hall, and comedians Wayne and Shuster. Added to this fascinating account are Jews who were among the so-called "Zombies" - Canadians who were drafted, but chose to serve at home - the various perspectives of the Jewish community, and the participation of Canadian Jewish women.

About the author

Ellin Bessner is a journalist and a professor of journalism at Centennial College in Toronto.

Ellin Bessner's profile page


  • Short-listed, The C.P. Stacey Award

Editorial Reviews

"Ellin Bessner’s Double Threat: Canadian Jews, the Military, and World War II makes a compelling contribution to our understanding of how this country’s diverse Jewish population responded to the cataclysms of the Second World War and the genocide of European Jewry."

<em>Canadian Military History</em>

"One of the first books to be released by the Toronto-based New Jewish Press may turn out to be one of its most impressive. Double Threat by Ellin Bessner leaves no stones unturned in its telling of the full-blooded saga of the heroic participation of Jewish men and women in the Canadian military during the Second World War. It’s a worthy topic, and one that, surprisingly, has never been covered in such depth before. For that reason, the book has the feel of a popular Canadian Jewish classic, comparable, say, to None Is Too Many or Canada’s Jews: A People’s Journey."

<em>Canadian Jewish News</em>

"That we now have a treasure trove of information to which we have never before been privy is beyond important and will help us to fill out our understanding of Canada’s and the Jewish community’s war experience."



<em>Canadian Jewish Studies</em>

"This book is the first study that delves into the lives of these men and women: who they were, their hopes for the future, and why they volunteered. It’s also about the daily anti-semitism they confronted and the dangersvthey faced if they were captured by the Nazis…Thoroughly researched, the book is replete with anecdotes Bessner picked up from the more than 200 interviews she conducted…[This book is] a worthy and long awaited celebration of the bravery and sacrifice of a generation of Canadian Jewry."

<em>The Canadian Historical Review</em>

"Bessner has written a very readable and engaging story on the challenges and obstacles (not the least of which was antisemitism) confronted by the serviceman and servicewoman at home and in the battlefields."

<em>AJL Reviews</em>