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January 27 is International Holocaust Remembrance Day

This year, it is also Tu B'Shvat, the New Year for the Trees, which I strongly relate to because my Hebrew name, Ilana, means tree. According to Jewish custom, when a young person dies suddenly, the family sometimes chooses to put up a gravestone in the shape of a cut tree trunk.

You can see one such marker below, erected over the grave of Lance Corporal Norman Middleton, a Jewish Canadian soldier from Thunder Bay, Ont. who died in Scotland in 1942 during the Second World War. As I've reported, his comrades in the Canadian Forestry Corps had this evocative tombstone erected for him.
Even though he is buried in a Scottish parish church graveyard in Urray, Middleton was born Leon Mendelson

The graveyard is where his Scottish fiance´ attended church. Leon/Norman was 33. It isn't clear whether his comrades knew about the Jewish burial custom, or if his family did it. Either way, it makes me think of young lives cut down too soon.  

After the world remembers the six million Jewish victims of the Shoah on the International Day for Holocaust Remembrance and the Liberation of Auschwitz, I want to also remember the nearly 450 Canadian troops of Jewish faith who perished too young in the Second World War. In all, 17,000 Canadian Jewish fighters helped defeat Hitler and stopped the Holocaust. You can join me for a special event on Friday Jan. 29 for a Virtual Tour, live on YouTube. Please keep reading to see details below.

Unlike the victims of the Shoah, these personnel do (mostly) have graves to visit. The war graves are usually located in large cemeteries maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Most of the million plus gravestones are carved in the standard shape, size and colour that you can see in the photo below.

This photo was taken in June 2019, when I had the privilege of travelling to war cemeteries in Normandy, as part of a #DDay75 trip with my friend and historian Ted Barris. It shows us reciting Jewish memorial prayers at as many graves as we could. I wrote about many of these men in my books "Double Threat: Canadian Jews, the Military and WWII" (2018), and "Northern Lights: A Canadian Jewish History" (2020). 



Through the magic of Zoom, you can come with me to visit these graves yourself on Friday Jan. 29 at 9:00 a.m. Toronto time LIVE. (The recording will be posted online at a later date, if you can't make it.)

I am to be the special guest of WW2TV on YouTube, with host Paul Woodage.  HERE IS THE LINK TO THE YOUTUBE LIVE STREAM.

Weather permitting, his camera crews will be at the Jewish Canadian graves in Beny-sur-Mer and also at Bretteville-sur-Laize. I will comment live and share the stories of the Canadian Jews who are commemorated there.

We will also recite a special memorial prayer.

For a complete list of all the Jewish Canadian casualties in Normandy from WWII, click here.

Copyright © 2021 Ellin Bessner, All rights reserved.

Ellin Bessner · 951 Carlaw Avenue · Suite 149b · Toronto, Ontario, Ontario M4K3M2 · Canada

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