None Is Too Many: Canada and the Jews of Europe 1933-1948
Contains Illustrations, Bibliography, Index
Adam G. Fuerstenberg was Professor of English at Ryerson Polytechnical Institute, Toronto.
The commonly held belief that Canada’s immigration policy is one of the most tolerant in the world — fuelled partly by the recent humanitarian admission of over 60,000 “boat people” — has received a rude, historically revisionist shock with the publication of this damning indictment of Canada’s record vis-a-vis the Jews during the Hitler years.
In a meticulously researched volume of 336 pages (30 devoted to footnoting official, once-confidential sources) historians Irving Abella of York University and Harold Troper of the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education demonstrate that, as far as the Jews were concerned during the Nazi era, Canada’s political establishment was unwilling to rescue any. Asked at a post-war conference how many of the survivors of the Holocaust Canada was willing to accept, a senior immigration official summarized this country’s attitude during those tragic years very succinctly: “None is too many,” he replied. Hence the bitingly appropriate title of the book.
A trickle nevertheless managed to enter, usually as a result of influence-peddling and/or favouritism to influential Jewish businessmen or politicians. The dismal record becomes all the more damning when one considers that the United States, in spite of great opposition at home, accepted 200,000; fascist Argentina and totalitarian Brazil, 50,000 and 27,000 respectively; little bolivia and Chile 14,000 each; and even beleaguered Britain, 70,000. Canada’s grand total during the same period was 5,000!
As the authors clearly show, this heartlessness was not accidental oversight but the result of deliberate government policy produced by economic considerations, political expediency and most of all by a climate of fashionable anti-semitism, which could allow Canada’s first native-born Governor General, Vincent Massey (at the time ambassador in Great Britain), to urge Canada’s government to admit Sudeten-Germans (in the aftermath of Hitler’s seizure of Czechoslovakia in 1939) as more desirable immigrants than Jews because “it would be much ‘easier’ to refuse to make a substantial increase in ... admissions of Jewish immigrants.”
Nor do most of the other important political figures of the time (with the exception of a few CCF leaders like Coldwell and Knowles) emerge unscathed. Prime Minister King — although he wanted us to respond at least minimally to individual pleas for refuge — was not willing to jeopardize his political base in Lapointe’s anti-semitic Quebec by admitting Jews. At the same time he hypocritically dangled false hopes before official Jewish organizations so as not to lose the Jewish vote in Liberal ridings. Ottawa mandarins like the legendary Norman Robertson at External Affairs and the future Nobel Peace Prize winner Lester Pearson were too protective of their careers to risk opposition. But the faceless bureaucrat who made it possible for King to carry on his tragic charade was a virulently anti-semitic racist, F.C. Blair, who occupied the position of deputy minister of immigration during these crucial years. So well did this zealous civil servant and church elder understand the real feelings of his nominal bosses that he thought nothing of sprinkling his memos to them with vicious anti-semitic remarks and was rewarded by having his position extended to 1943, four years beyond his normal retirement.
In cool, dispassionate prose the two Jewish historians document his, and Canada’s, cruel refusal to rescue even the remnants of European Jewry as clear evidence of the Holocaust was arriving on this side of the Atlantic.