Reviewed by Deborah Shatz
(EJNews) – The timing for the latest release from University of Manitoba Press entitled Holocaust Survivors in Canada; Exclusion, Inclusion, Transformation, 1947 – 1955 could not have been better. With the world attention focused on the horrible plight of the Syrian refugees, one can’t help but wonder about Canada’s track record when it comes to refugees. Dr. Adara Goldberg, Education Director at the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre answers those questions as she shines a spotlight on the Jewish experience with immigration as refugees that no one wanted in the post war era.
In the decade after the Second World War, 35,000 Jewish survivors of Nazi persecution and their dependants arrived in Canada. This was a watershed moment in Canadian Jewish history. The unprecedented scale of the relief effort required for the survivors, compounded by their unique social, psychological, and emotional needs challenged both the established Jewish community and resettlement agents alike.
Adara Goldberg’s Holocaust Survivors in Canada highlights the immigration, resettlement, and integration experience from the perspective of Holocaust survivors and those charged with helping them. The book explores the relationships between the survivors, Jewish social service organizations, and local Jewish communities; it considers how those relationships – strained by disparities in experience, language, culture, and worldview – both facilitated and impeded the ability of survivors to adapt to a new country.
Researched in basement archives and as well as at Holocaust survivors’ kitchen tables, Holocaust Survivors in Canada represents the first comprehensive analysis of the resettlement, integration, and acculturation experience of survivors in early postwar Canada. Goldberg reveals the challenges in responding to, and recovering from, genocide – not through the lens of lawmakers, but from the perspective of “new Canadians” themselves.
While reading Goldberg’s book, it became abundantly clear that the settling and integration of refugees was and still is a complicated matter and each individual person and family needs to be considered with every decision that is made. Even in the best of situations, there are difficulties that ensue and refugees who have been traumatized are never facing the best of situations. Regardless there are successes and there are failures and there are many more individuals who fall somewhere in between. Goldberg succeeded in putting faces and personalities to the forefront of refugee acculturation. She took a large subject and made it about individual people and their individual experiences.
Goldberg’s research illustrates that Holocaust survivors are not a monolithic group and can’t be discussed or summarized as such. But just as discussions on the world arena today are focussed on getting the formula right to accept 25,000 Syrian refugees into Canada, there are key strategies that helped ease the transition for the Holocaust survivors. These pathways to success are detailed in her book on a person to person basis.
During the Nazi era, Canada exhibited the poorest humanitarian record in the Western world with regard to the granting of asylum of European Jews who were fleeing persecution. At that time, humanitarianism occupied no place in Canadian immigration law. The liberalization of Canada’s position on immigration began in 1946 and a more gradual humanitarian approach has followed, right up to present times.
Still there are those who question whether or not Canada should accept refugees. They should definitely read Holocaust Survivors in Canada. The Jewish experience is a stellar example that refugee resettlement is indeed a nation-building process and that it is the story of Canada.
Holocaust Survivors in Canada (ISBN 978-0-88755) describes an important piece of the puzzle that is the history of Jewish communities in Canada. On a broader scale it could be used as a text book for what works and what doesn’t work in the resettlement of a war torn people. It is an important read in today’s climate of refugee acculturation, available in paperback from your favorite bookstore, online book site or direct from University of Manitoba Press at uofmpress.ca.
Click here for more information and a blog by Adara Goldberg.