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Irving Abella and Harold Troper.

Toronto, Lester & Orpen Dennys, c1982.
335pp, cloth, $19.95.
ISBN 0-919630-31-6.

Grades 12 and up.
Reviewed by Paul E. Blower.

Volume 11 Number 2.
1983 March.

One of the least known stories of the Second World War is how little the Canadian government did to remedy the plight of the millions of Jews caught up in the grotesque horror of the Holocaust.

While from 1933 to 1945 the United States admitted 200,000 Jewish refugees and tiny Chile 14,000, fewer than 5,000 Jews were permitted to enter Canada. Irving Abella and Harold Troper, a labour and an immigration historian respectively, do not discount the effects of the Depression or the disunity of Canadian Jewish pro-refugee organizations in keeping this number low but lay greater stress on the unresponsiveness of the many Canadian government officials, elected and unelected, who were infected by the same anti-Semitism that pervaded Canadian society as a whole, particularly in Quebec.

Chief among the culprits were F.C. Blair, for many years director of the Immigration Branch, a brazen anti-Semite, and Prime Minister Mackenzie King who was reluctant to take any action which would lose himself or the Quebec Liberal party any votes. By 1948, the creation of the state of Israel and Canada's drive to increase its labour supply and local markets put an end to the crisis as far as this country was concerned (though even here discrimination did not completely disappear).

In general, the authors make a most compelling case. Their argument is buttressed by an impressive array of primary source material, particularly interviews and evidence from government and organization archives.

While they make some attempt to provide balance in their analysis, it would have been interesting to have had more on the background of Jewish immigration to Canada, especially how it shaped the attitudes of Immigration Branch staff who are portrayed as the villains of the piece. Why were veterans of this branch of the civil service not interviewed?

Other Canadian officials (e.g., Hume Wrong) were sympathetic to the condition of European Jewry but feared being overwhelmed by more refugees than the country could absorb. Furthermore, though no country did enough, it is surely excessive to say, a propos of the failure of the 1938 Evian conference on refugees, that the world "had given. . . [Nazi Germany] carte blanche to solve their Jewish problem their way."

Finally, it must be stated that the authors' painstaking, step-by-step account involves a certain amount of repetition that occasionally translates into tedium.

These few concerns, however, do not impair a work of forceful and convincing scholarship, which can be read with profit by senior history students and their teachers, not to mention the Canadian public at large.

Paul E. Blower, Sault Ste. Marie P. L., Sault Ste. Marie, ON.
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