Unit 3 Understanding Prejudice and Discrimination

Overview How Did We Get There?

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Ask yourself:

  • Why do we have “blind spots” when it comes to judging people?
  • How do these harden into stereotypes that often turn into prejudices?
  • Why do prejudices turn into discrimination?
Black Canadian Youth Group Discussion
Choose Your Voice
Please select one of the four videos below. They were created by FAST for the first educational program, Choose Your Voice, launched in 2005.

The password for all videos is "fast".

Bursting the Voices of Stereotyping
Voices from the Past
Voices from the Present
Choose Your Voice

Action 1 


What do you see?
Do you see a vase, or two faces looking at each other, both, or neither?

Do you see a vase, or two faces looking at each other, both, or neither?

What does the following mean?

“There are none so blind as those who will not see?”

What is the lesson of this parable?
“A policeman sees a drunk man searching for something under a streetlight and asks what the drunk has lost. He says he lost his keys and they both look under the streetlight together. After a few minutes the policeman asks if he is sure he lost them here, and the drunk replies, no, that he lost them in the park. The policeman asks why he is searching here, and the drunk replies, "this is where the light is.”

Source: David H. Freedman(2010). Wrong: Why Experts Keep Failing Us. London: Little, Brown and Company.

The three tasks above illustrate some of the challenges we have when we try to make meaning of our world. Learn the negative consequences of treating people inhumanely.

For many people throughout human history the process has looked something like this:

Segregation Expulsion Extermination

In the case of antisemitism the philosopher Emil Fackenheim has outlined three stages of antisemitism: “You cannot live among us as Jews,” leading to forced conversions; “You cannot live among us,” leading to mass deportations; and “You cannot live.” How do these stages match the chart above?

Get ready to explore some of the psychological, sociological, and anthropological underpinnings of these horrendous acts. These underpinnings are actually the negative consequences of a natural process that begins with perceptions and moves from thoughts to actions.

Perception Judgment Action

Developing Perceptions about Our World

We usually make sense of things by organizing ideas and information we get through our senses into concepts: mental constructs or categories humans represent through words or phrases that give the grouped information a “label”. Concepts are abstractions and represent reality, but individual examples of concepts do exist. Organizing our experiences into concept groupings makes it easier to deal with them. Imagine the confusion if we could not make sense of our world?

For example there may be as many as 7.5 million distinguishable colours, but we can manage them when we group them into a dozen or so categories (Bruner, J.S. (1973) Going Beyond the Information Given, New York: Norton,). Thus concepts provide the intellectual categories or lenses through which we organize and make sense of the world. The processes of organizing our realities into concepts involve thinking and communicating on many levels.

The ability to organize people, ideas, objects, and events into concepts is important in learning. Memory of the meaning of an idea or event lasts longer than the memory of the specific event itself. Organizing knowledge into categories or concepts makes it easier to store such knowledge in long-term memory. More importantly for teachers and students, conceptual understanding makes it easier to retrieve knowledge we need: a mental filing system.

While concepts are a natural part of how we search for meaning and can be helpful in the case of organizing colors (or smells or sounds) they can get us into trouble when they are not based on facts or clear evidence. If our perceptions are not based on reality and if they are harmful to others or to ourselves, then we need to find ways to change them as should the drunk if he is to find his keys. But too often perceptions harden into judgments.

Making Judgments

We normally collect information and make a quick judgment and then seek information that supports this belief. It is more comforting to find ideas that support your belief than to grapple with those that do not. Judgments are more easily made than changed once our minds have been “made up”. This has been a survival tool throughout history. For example, if a child touches a flame and gets a burn, he or she will be very careful before doing it again.

But what if the information or stimulus is not so clear, as in the image that began this overview?

In these cases we usually make judgments based on prior knowledge and experience. And in our global world different people may make different judgments based on a similar initial perception. The following example (as well as the two charts above) comes from Morton and McBride (1977).

A farmer sees in the distance a large furry animal with four feet and a long tail in the early dawn light. The animal is eating something on the ground.

  • If the farmer is in Saskatchewan, he or she might think it is a cow or a horse.
  • If the farmer is in Tanzania in Eastern Africa, he or she might think it is a lion or a zebra.

How do you account for the different judgments?

When our judgments harden despite evidence to the contrary, they create “cognitive dissonance”. It is easier to ignore ideas that challenge our prior thinking than to struggle to change our beliefs. Researchers call this the “confirmation bias”.

Imagine if in fact a lion was in the Saskatchewan field.
How might the confirmation bias result in something bad happening if the farmer went out to milk the “cow”?

From Judgment to Stereotype


  • A widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing.
  • A person or thing that conforms to a widely held but oversimplified image of the class or type to which they belong: don’t treat anyone as a stereotype.

    Source: Oxford Dictionary

When judgments are based on misinformation, stereotypes can develop. When we unfairly apply our stereotypes to ACTIONS against groups regardless of individual differences in every group, we are “discriminating”.

Brad Galloway, former White Supremacist

From Judgment to Action

Three of the cases in this unit show how this process happens to groups of people. The cyber bullying case shows how it plays out with individuals.

Action 2 


What Have You Learned?

As you study the cases, record “blind spots”.


  • Who committed them?
  • What stereotypes are revealed?
  • What actions are taken that represent discrimination?
  • Which actions move from discrimination to segregation and beyond?

Be honest with yourself and record your own blind spots and unfair biases that you hold towards various groups—we ALL have them.

Action 3 


In a group develop a thesis (arguable statement) on current issues relating to prejudice and/or discrimination as reported in the media, focusing on Canada, the United States, or globally.

Unit 3 Understanding Prejudice and Discrimination

Chapter 1 The Righteous Among Nations: The Actions of Heroes

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Ask yourself:

  • What factors motivate some people to perform heroic acts to save lives while the majority of people choose to remain bystanders?
  • Why is it important that the actions of Rescuers are both studied and publicly honoured?

This really happened

More than any other event of modern times, the Holocaust has fundamentally changed our view of human nature. The Nazi plan of purposeful extermination of about 1,000,000 Roma, 6,000,000 Jews, thousands of disabled children and adults and thousands Gays and political dissenters in the years 1933 to 1945, demonstrates the evil of which so called 'civilized' persons are capable. At the same time, it is important to consider that during this same period in history, an estimated 50,000 ordinary people from across many countries risked their own lives to save those who were being persecuted under Nazi rule.

Source: The Righteous: Unsung Heroes of the Holocaust. (Gilbert, Sir Martin, Holt Paperbacks: 2004)

Stories of Rescuers

To date about 24,000 people have been honoured as Holocaust Rescuers. In most cases the Rescuers began as bystanders and then for some reason felt compelled to help. The following stories describe three heroes of the Holocaust – Miep Gies, Raoul Wallenberg and Oskar Schindler. Each acted in a different way to save the persecuted Jews.

Generally, Rescuers' actions fall into one of the following categories:

  • Hiding victims so they could not be found and sent to concentrations camps
  • Providing false identities so victims could flee to a safe country
  • Smuggling victims out of the country
Survivor rescued by Raoul Wallenberg


Artifact One › Miep Gies
An elderly woman, Miep looks down at the paper she is writing on. enlarge image
Miep Gies

1909 - 2010

Credit: Yad Vashem

Although born in Austria, Miep was raised as a foster child by a large and generous family in Amsterdam, Holland. When the Nazis invaded Holland in 1940, Miep was employed in a company owned by a Jew, Otto Frank. The Frank Family soon received deportation orders and knew they would be sent to concentration camps, so Otto Frank asked Miep if she would be willing to keep his family hidden from the Nazis in the attic of their company building. The family consisted of Otto Frank, his wife, and two daughters: Margot, 16 and Anne, 13. Miep agreed.

For two years she provided the Frank Family and another family who had joined them, with food clothing and books. She also provided news from the outside and emotional comfort.

After two years of hiding there, the building was raided by the Nazis and the members of the two families were sent to a concentration camp. With the exception of Otto Frank, the entire family perished in the concentration camp.

In the attic there remained the diary, which young Anne Frank kept for the two years of hiding.  When the Franks were taken, Miep rescued the diary and when Otto Frank returned at the end of the war, she presented it to him. After the war, this diary was published as a book called, The Diary of a Young Girl. Anne’s diary has been translated into many languages and has since been read by millions of people.

Artifact Two › Raoul Wallenberg
An old black and white photo a young Raoul Wallenberg, staring off into the distance. enlarge image
Raoul Wallenberg

1912 - 1947

Credit: Yad Vashem

Raoul Wallenberg was born into a wealthy Swedish banking family. Sweden remained a neutral country during the war but through his work in banking, Wallenberg became aware of the Nazi plan to exterminate millions of people. When the Nazis invaded in 1944, the Swedish legation in Hungary was given permission to issue a limited number of special security passes to Jews who had a special connection with Sweden. Of course the Swedish legation was overwhelmed with requests for special passes and Raoul Wallenberg was added to the Swedish legation.

Wallenberg was committed in his efforts to save those persecuted in the Holocaust. He created special protective passes, which would allow those about to be sent to the camps to leave Hungary for a safer place. He made sure that the passes looked really professional and appeared to be issued by government agencies. His goal was to ensure that those carrying the passes would not be stopped and questioned.

Wallenberg also acquired several houses in Hungary, which he declared to be Swedish government property. He used these houses to hide Holocaust victims while they waited for their passes. It is estimated that Wallenberg, himself, saved about 100,000 people.

Artifact Three › Oskar Schindler
A black and white photo of Oskar Schindler peering off into the distance, dressed in a suit and tie. enlarge image
Oskar Schindler

1908 - 1974

Credit: Yad Vashem

When the war began in 1939, Oskar Schindler, the son of a wealthy German Family followed the Nazis into Poland hoping to make some easy money. There, as a member of the Nazi Party he managed to acquire a factory for little money. To make the largest possible profit Oskar hired Jews who were not allowed to work elsewhere as cheap labour.

As Jews began to be herded into ghettoes in Poland, Oskar managed to protect a number of them by having them designated as "essential labour" in working toward a Nazi victory in the War. The workers in his factory were fed, clothed and most important, safe from being sent to the concentration camp.

When the Nazis began to ship trainloads of Jews from the ghettos to the concentration camps, Shindler said, "Beyond this day, no thinking person could fail to see what would happen. I was now resolved to do everything in my power to defeat the system."

Early on, Schindler had protected victims for his own interest but he was now determined to save their lives. He converted his factory to a bullet manufacturer and took over 1000 Jews to work there. In this way he saved their lives.

After the war, those whom Schindler had saved, supported him financially for the rest of his life and he is buried in Israel where his survivors or their children tend his grave.

Action 1 


The Righteous Among the Nations

The Holocaust Memorial in Israel considers it a moral obligation to locate and honour those who rescued Jews from death during the Nazi persecution. By 2010, about 24,000 heroes from forty-four different countries had been honoured there. Those honoured are called, The Righteous Among the Nations. Although almost 70 years have passed since the end of the Holocaust, the museum continues to honour about 800 additional Rescuers each year.

Research tells us that the vast majority of the populations of the Nazi occupied countries chose to remain bystanders to the persecutions and deaths of the Holocaust. In fact, historians have estimated that the number of Rescuers represent only 0.5% of 1% of the populations of Nazi occupied countries.

Why is it that some people made the transition from Bystander to Rescuer?  Historians have begun to study this question hoping that understanding this question will prepare future generations to act morally even when it is dangerous and challenging for them to do so. Historians began by studying the profiles of many who had already been honoured as The Righteous Among the Nations. These profiles are archived at the Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem. Studies reveal that in most cases the Rescuers began as Bystanders and only later became Rescuers. Often Rescuers themselves could not explain why they had made the decision to help when they clearly understood the risk to their own lives.

We know from the testimony of those who survived the Holocaust that the majority of Rescuers were not motivated by a desire for financial rewards. Why, then, did they choose to risk their own lives to save others? Accounts provided by Holocaust survivors form a vast ORAL HISTORY, which allows us to study this question in more depth.

Action 2 


Testing your assumptions

Beliefs about the motivation of Rescuers

A. In pairs, discuss which statements you assume to be true. Why have you made these assumptions?

Statement Reason
Young people are more likely to become Rescuers than older people.  
Women are more compassionate and are more likely to become Rescuers.  
Religious people are more likely to become Rescuers.  
People with more education are more likely to become Rescuers than people with less education.  
People who are rich or powerful are less likely to become Rescuers than people with less wealth and power.  
People who are politically involved are more likely to become Rescuers than those who are not involved in politics.  
Testing your assumptions

B. Working in groups you will now have the opportunity to test your suppositions using the information in the profiles of the following Rescuers:
Raoul Wallenberg
Pierre Marie-Benoit
Selahattin Ulkume

Each member of the group selects one of the names above.


Go to the WEBSITE: http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Holocaust/righteous.html

Under the heading Rescuers, find the profile of the person you have chosen to research. As you read the profile, refer to the assumptions you completed earlier and determine the veracity of your assumptions.

Share your findings with the group and explain why some people changed from bystanders to Rescuers. Post your sentences on chart paper and share your thoughts with the class.

C. Using the same website, read four or five more profiles of Rescuers. Refer to the statements that your group posted earlier. After reading the additional profiles, discuss and change or amend your group statement if necessary. Use a different colour to make the changes to your original statement.

Unexpected findings

From the archives of profiles and from the words of Rescuers, we know that Rescuers came from all classes, all levels of education, all social classes and all nationalities. Some historians argue that the Rescuers acted from a political desire to act against the Nazis. Others felt the Rescuers were by nature independent thinkers. Still others believe that Rescuers had strong family ties and the ability to empathize with other people. Rescuers, of all profiles, were people who recognized that the persecuted were fellow human beings and because of this perception felt obliged to act.

The Two Faces of Poland

Action 3 


Report Bullying!

Read the following facts about an incident in a Canadian School. How do these facts support your research about Rescuers?

Eight Girls Charged in Bullying Case

Eight teenage girls at a high school in London, Ontario, have been arrested in connection with a bullying incident involving another student, police say.

Const. Dennis Rivest of the London Police Service said the eight girls were arrested Thursday. Police said an investigation revealed that the victim had been the target of physical and emotional bullying, and cyber bullying.

The arrested girls face charges of criminal harassment.

Police said information about the bullying came from individuals who came forward in person and through an anonymous reporting web portal, called "South Cares," which is on the London South Collegiate website.

Photograph of a very large Jewish family gathered in the Yad Vashem gardens in Israel. The men are dressed in black suits and the women are dressed in skirts and dresses. enlarge image
Honouring the Rescuers

Yad Vashem held an event posthumously honoring Ludwika & Zygmunt Szostak as Righteous Among the Nations from Poland. The memorial ceremony took place in the Hall of Remembrance Monday, May 13, 2013

Credit: Yad Vashem

Here are the facts

On Monday, May 13, 2013 Yad Vashem held an event posthumously honoring Ludwika & Zygmunt Szostak as Righteous Among the Nations from Poland. The memorial ceremony took place in the Hall of Remembrance, followed by the unveiling of the name of the Righteous in the Garden of the Righteous Among the Nations, in the presence of His Excellency Polish Ambassador to Israel Jacek Hodorowicz. Elzbieta Stradowska, great-niece of the late Righteous Ludwika, and Zygmunt Szostak received the medal and certificate of honor on their behalf. Also in attendance were Holocaust survivor Karolina Eisen, Members of the Commission for the Designation of the Righteous Among the Nations, Holocaust survivors, family members and friends.

About 24,000 people from 44 different countries have been honoured in this way and each year the Memorial continues to recognize about 800 additional Rescuers. It has been almost seven decades since the end of the Holocaust and many Rescuers and Survivors have passed on. Still the Memorial continues to accept documentation from survivors or from their children.

In addition to a ceremonial celebration, Rescuers receive a specially designed medal and a Certificate of Honour. Their names are inscribed on the Wall of Honour in the Garden of the Righteous at Yad Vashem.

This medal, made of silver, is the Yad Vashem “Medal of the Righteous”, inscribed with French and Hebrew writing. enlarge image
The Medal of the Righteous of the Nations – Front and Back

Credit: Yad Vashem

There are also some exceptional ways in which Rescuers are honoured. The Israeli Government can decide to declare a Rescuer a citizen of Israel. Rescuers who have fallen on hard times are provided with monthly support from the Government of Israel and they receive funds to pay for their medications if they become ill. For many years Oskar Schindler was supported by those whose lives he had saved. He became a citizen of Israel and chose to be buried there.

Wall of Honour with the names of “righteous” individuals who helped rescue Jews during the Holocaust. enlarge image
The Wall of Honor in the Garden of the Righteous

Credit: Yad Vashem

Historica Canada at https://www.historicacanada.ca/ hired Angus Reid Pollsters to survey whether Canadians think we do enough to honour Canadian heroes. The results were published on June 30, 2013. Of those polled, 86% felt that too little is being done to recognize Canadian heroes.

A King with Empathy

Non-Jewish Danish citizens rescued 7,000 Jews in Denmark. The king of Denmark, Christian X and the heads of the Danish churches all denounced the persecution of Danish Jews. When the German forces in Denmark began deportation of Jews, Danish resistance groups intercepted the information, and warned the Jews of Denmark. En masse, Danish civilians rescued the country's Jewish population when fishermen smuggled them to Sweden on their boats. The Swedish government announced it would accept all refugees from Denmark.

Action 4 


In groups of four or five, your task is to design a meaningful way in which Canadians can honour those who take significant personal risks to save the lives of others.

The website below will provide you with an example of one way Canadians currently use 'ORDERS' to honour those among us who have made exceptional contributions to our country. http://www.gg.ca/document.aspx?id=72

Requirements of the Action:

  • Create a name for the Rescuers' Award.
  • Decide how the Rescuers who receive this Rescuer Award will be honoured.
  • Establish 4 or 5 Criteria for receiving the Rescuers' Award.
  • Create a Nomination Form that will allow Canadians to recommend Rescuers for the Award. Provide some examples of Canadians who you believe would be eligible for the Rescuers Award.
  • Design a concrete object that Rescuers will receive to take home. This could be a certificate, a statue, a picture, a poem, or any other object you feel would be suitable recognition.
  • Display your Rescuers' Award in your school or in your school newsletter.

The Canadian Society for Yad Vashem, The Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority, pays tribute to Rescuers, raises financial resources for Yad Vashem Jerusalem’s global initiatives and implements Yad Vashem’s vision of disseminating the facts and universal lessons of the Holocaust across Canada through significant educational and commemorative initiatives. http://www.yadvashem.ca/

A documentary about Rescuers is coming in May (see the trailer): http://rescuersdoc.com/Home

Further reading

Blum, Jenna Those Who Save Us, 2005
Trudy, a history professor collects oral histories of WW II survivors, including that of her aged German mother. Throughout the book are interviews with German immigrants, many of whom reveal unabashed antisemitism.

Klempner, Mark The Heart Has Reasons: Holocaust rescuers and their stories of courage, 2006
The ten Dutch people profiled in this book provide an in-depth look into the hearts and minds of Holocaust Rescuers who saved the lives of thousands of Jewish children during the Nazi occupation of Holland.

Korczak, Janusz Ghetto Diary, 2003
Korczak, a paediatrician and well-known author, gave up a brilliant medical career to devote himself to the orphans of Warsaw.

Lyson, Leon.The Boy on the Wooden Box. How the impossible became impossible,2013
As one of the youngest members of Schindler’s list, Leyson offers a perspective of the righteous hero in this memoir.
Rappaport, Doreen Beyond Courage: The untold story of Jewish resistance during the Holocaust, 2012
The author presents 21 true stories of defiance and heroism in Nazi-occupied Europe. The book is divided into five chapters: The Realization, Saving the Future, In the Ghettos, In the Camps, Partisan Warfare.

Unit 3 Understanding Prejudice and Discrimination

Chapter 2 Entry Denied: The Komagata Maru Incident, 1914

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Ask yourself:

  • How do prejudice and discrimination prevent immigration for those who are seeking asylum?
  • What laws are in place to protect the rights of immigrants?

This really happened

The Komagata Maru was a Japanese steamship that sailed from Punjab, India to Vancouver, British Columbia in 1914, via China and Japan. Upon arrival to Canada, entry was denied for all the ship’s Indian passengers who were hoping to immigrate. A law stated that those hoping to immigrate, could only do so by a ‘continuous journey’ and through tickets purchased before leaving their country of nationality. Because of these exclusion laws designed to keep out immigrants of only Asian origin, the ship was forced to return to India. Upon arrival in India, a riot broke out, killing about 20 passengers who were thought to be lawbreakers and political agitators.

By investigating photographs, reading about voices connected to the incident, exploring a script and discussing whether apologizing is enough, you will consider how the media has an impact on historical events as well as investigate laws connected to immigration that might be discriminatory.

Sikh man talks about the Komagata Maru and discrimination against Sikhs


Images of the Komagata Maru

There are many existing archival photos of the Komagata Maru incident. Many photos featured in newspaper articles, give insight into the experiences of the people involved. The two pictures depict a moment on board the ship and on the pier in Burrard Inlet, Vancouver. Together these images convey two different perspectives providing insights into the thoughts and feelings of both groups of people on either side of this historical event.

This old photo is of a group of Sikh men wearing suits and turbans, and accompanied by one unhappy little boy. They are standing on a dock in front of the Komagata Maru steam liner. enlarge image

Indian immigrants on the Komagata Maru

Credit: City of Vancouver Archives

An old photo of a large group of male Vancouverites standing and sitting on the dock in 1914. enlarge image

Vancouver, British Columbia - dock

Credit: Vancouver Public Library

Action 1 


Response to images

A. Work in four large groups to examine these photos. To begin, two groups can examine Photo A, and two groups can work with Photo B. As a group, share your responses to this image by considering the following areas of inquiry. Use a T-chart format to organize your thoughts.

What do you see?What do you wonder about?
What do you see? What do you wonder about?

B. As a group, recreate the photo of some of the people in the scene. Each person will need to choose one character’s role to play. What physical position will you take? What gestures and facial expressions will you include?

C. Once each group has prepared the still image, Group A1 can stand opposite a partner Group A1 (i.e. both still images face each other on a count of three.)

The activity is then repeated, with one group being an audience for the other. Those who are watching the image are encouraged to walk around the image to examine it from a variety of angles and to look carefully at the gestures and facial expressions. On a piece of chart paper, with markers, record what comes to mind when you look at the picture: What did these people feel like? What might these people say? What words convey their emotions?

Each group should have the opportunity to present images to their partner group and complete the chart.


As a class, discuss the following:

  • What did you learn about the Komagata Maru incident from looking at the photos?
  • What stories do pictures tell?
  • Can one picture capture a ‘truth’?
  • Why were the people on the pier so fearful of approaching immigrants?
  • What other pictures might you expect to see?

Action 2 


The Komagata Maru Incident: The script

Sharon Pollock, Canadian playwright, wrote the play entitled The Komagata Maru Incident. It depicts historical events that invite readers and audiences to ask questions about the real story and the one depicted on stage. The following scene takes place early in the script. T.S., The Master of Ceremonies, who plays many roles, meets with Immigration inspector, William Hopkinson.

A. Reading and Responding to the script excerpt

Read the script independently, then work with a partner to discuss the following:

  • What are some facts you learn from this excerpt about the plight of the Sikhs aboard the ship?
  • Summarize the two points of view of these characters.
  • In the play, the character of T.S. plays the Master of Ceremonies (and other roles). What role do you think TS is playing here? How might you describe this character?
  • How do you imagine that this scene might be staged for a theatre presentation?

B. Interpreting the script

With a partner, choose a role to read out loud from this script. Repeat the activity, switching roles.

To rehearse this script, actors might play their roles in different ways. Once you have decided upon a role to practice, choose one of these ‘attitudes/emotions’ to interpret the lines (e.g., T.S. could be calm and Hopkinson could be angry; both characters could be angry, etc.).

  • calmly
  • with anger
  • with hesitation
  • with sadness
  • apathetic, uncaring

C. Rehearsing the script

As an actor rehearses, he or she explores a variety of emotions to inform how to best convey the meaning of the texts. Experiment with a few different ways to read these lines with your partner. Discuss which way seemed the most authentic theatre presentation (i.e., How would each character feel as they continue the conversation?). Once you have rehearsed the scene, present it to another pair and compare different interpretations.

Action 3 


Writing a new scene

A. As with any historical conflicts, there are many sides to the story. Choose one or more of the following roles to write a new scene that features two or three characters. Choose roles from any combination of the following:

  • An immigration official
  • A Sikh who has travelled aboard the ship
  • An Indo-Canadian who has been living in British Columbia for several years
  • The Prime Minister of Canada
  • A politician who demands that entry be denied
  • Other?

B. In pairs, or small groups, prepare a new scripted scene to convey other viewpoints connected to this event. For this scene consider:

  • Which characters might appear in the scene?
  • What is the setting?
  • How will the particular conflict be conveyed?
  • What information and feelings will your scene represent about the injustice done to immigrants?

C. Once completed, rehearse the scene with your group to present to others who have worked on a different scene.

Note: The complete Sharon Pollock script of The Komagata Maru Incident is available through Playwrights Canada Press.

The Komagata Maru Incident: A script by Sharon Pollock
(Permission granted, Playwrights Canada Press)

T. S.:   Master of Ceremonies
William Hopkinson:  Department of Immigration Inspector

The Komagata Maru Incident: A script by Sharon Pollock
(Permission granted, Playwrights Canada Press)

T. S.:   Master of Ceremonies
William Hopkinson:  Department of Immigration Inspector
T.S. The Komagata Maru’s in port with three hundred and seventy-six potential immigrants.
Hopkinson: Yes, sir.
T.S. So? What do you know about them?
Hopkinson: I’ve spoken to my man, Bella Singh, sir. He tells me they’re Sikhs from India, British subjects, and as such they do have a right of entry to Canada, sir.
T.S. The word is no entry.
Hopkinson: I realize that, but we may have a problem.
T.S. A what?
Hopkinson: Many are veterans of The British Army, sir: they’re sure to plead consideration for military service.
T.S. You can put it this way—we don’t mind them dying for us, we just don’t want them living with us.  (laughing.) Get the point.
Hopkinson: (laughing) Yes sir… but if they should go to the courts–
T.S. They won’t go to the courts. He hasn’t done his homework. Have you forgotten our two orders-in-council? If an immigrant wishes to enter the country through a western port, he must make a continuous voyage from his own country. Have they done so?
Hopkinson: No sir, they haven’t.
T.S. And that’s no surprise. There’s not a steamship line in existence with a direct India-to-China route and for our second ace-in-the-hole – a tax, two hundred dollars per head, to be paid before entry. Do they have it?
Hopkinson: Bella Singh says they do not, however–
T.S. Again, not surprising. In the land of his birth, the average Indian’s wage is nine dollars per year. There—you see how we operate, Hopkinson? Never a mention of race, colour, or creed – and yet, we allow British subjects; we don’t allow them to enter.
Hopkinson: Thank you, sir; However, I must inform you that Herman Singh says–
T.S. Sh, sh.
Hopkinson: (lowering his voice) Hermann Singh says that the local Sikhs have raised the money for the head tax.
T.S. That’s not good.
Hopkinson: It’s possible that a launch–
T.S. It is possible? Do you pay for information like that?
Hopkinson: Bella Singh says a launch will deliver the head tax to those on ship late tonight.
T.S. The word is no entry, Hopkinson.
Hopkinson: Yes, sir!

*Note: B. Singh was an active member of the Shore Committee members, an Indian community in British Columbia

A photo of a postage stamp commemorating the Komagata Maru incident. A group of Sikh men wearing different coloured turbans stand above a picture of the ship in the water. enlarge image
May 6, 2014 - Komagata Maru Commemorative Postage Stamp for Canada Post

Credit: The Toronto Star

Action 4 


Voices of the Komagata Maru Incident: Entry Denied

Imagine the ship docked in the Vancouver Harbour in the warm summer months of June and July. 376 passengers were ready to disembark; ready to begin a new life in Canada only to be told their entry was denied. They would not be able to leave the ship: no food, no water, and no communication with the outside world. Their hopes and dreams of working in Canada, beginning a new life, sending for their loved ones were lost.

On the other side of the dock were government officials, lawmakers, citizens who faced their own struggles. Would these workers take their jobs? Would many more follow? Were they different because they were brown? Would they change their way of life?

For two months, the South Asian Community and some members of the white community rallied to give entry to the passengers in the media, in the public eye and in the courts. They fought racist thinking and values and they fought racist laws designed to keep Asians, the “other” out of the country.

And the community on land fought to preserve what they thought their borders guaranteed them. They thought they were fighting for their jobs and a way of life.


  • Do you think the government or the immigrants had a stronger argument?
  • How do you think the media might have captured the event?
  • How does the Komagata Maru incident serve as a profound understanding of prejudice and discrimination?
  • Research how the Canadian immigration policy has changed since 1914 and make a list of the changes that might serve to prevent an incident like this from happening again.
  • Even though the law has changed, do you know of any situations today that might echo the sentiments of the above quotations and perspectives?

Action 5 


Is Apologizing Enough?

A. With a partner, discuss what apologizing means to you. Remember and share a significant experience where you (or someone you know) apologized to someone or when you received an apology. Consider:

  • How did you feel after giving/receiving an apology?
  • Do you think the apology was sincere?
  • Did the apology change your relationship with that person?
  • What might have happened had you not apologized?
  • Did your apology include more than words?

B. In a class discussion, consider the criteria for a strong and meaningful apology. You may volunteer to share personal stories about apologies.

A Country Apologizes

Considering the criteria you generated for a personal apology, does this criteria apply to a country apologizing for an injustice to a group of people?

  • In 2008, the British Columbia government brought forth a motion of apology in the Legislative Assembly. Read the motion and discuss if this apology is meaningful and meets your criteria for an apology. Why do you think it took so long for this apology to be granted?

    Debates of the Legislative Assembly
    2008 Legislative Session:
    4th Session, 38th Parliament, Friday, May 23, 2008
    B.C. Government, Motion No. 62 – Motion of Apology
    Komagata Maru: Motion Unanimously Approved
    “Be it resolved that this Legislature apologizes for the events of May 23, 1914, when 376 passengers of the Komagata Maru, stationed off Vancouver harbour, were denied entry by Canada. The House deeply regrets that the passengers who sought refuge in our country and our province, were turned away without benefit of the fair and impartial treatment befitting a society where people of all cultures are welcomed and accepted.”
  • In August, 2008, at the Bear Creek Park in Surrey, British Columbia, Prime Minister Stephen Harper spoke in front of 8,000 people at an East Indian Canadian community event to offer a federal apology for the 1914 Komagata Maru incident. Read the apology and consider the strength of Harper’s words:
    • Would this be enough to a community that had felt this injustice from the past?
    • What message might Harper have added to his speech to convince others of the government’s sincerity?
  • Members of the Descendants of the Komagata Maru Society immediately following the speech rushed to the podium denouncing the apology.
    • Why might they have responded this way?
    • What else could the Canadian government have offered by way of apology?

In May 2016 Prime Minister Justin Trudeau issued a formal apology for the Komagata Maru at the House of Commons: "No words can fully erase the suffering of the Komagata Maru victims. Today we apologize and commit to doing better." Canadian Sikhs have become a significant political force with Jagmeet Singh being elected the first Sikh and first South Asian leader of a national party, the New Democratic Party (NDP), in October 2017.

Action 6 


Apologies have been made to other groups who have faced injustices in both immigrating and settling in this country, (e.g., the Chinese Head Tax, the internment of Japanese Canadians during World War II and others.)

  • Are there groups of people today emigrating or settling in Canada who continue to face injustices?
  • How could we or the government support these groups?
A photo of the metal memorial plaque commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Komagata Maru incident. The plaque is plain and has a written message on it. enlarge image
The Memorial to the Komagata Maru in Portal Park, Vancouver (Sally Gray)

Credit: Sally E. Gray, Grayhound Information Services

Further reading:

Understandables: White Canada and The Komagata Maru, an illustrated history. Edited by Ali Kazimi, published by Douglas and McIntyre, 2012 is a recent publication that documents the incident using archival photos, personal stories and historical references of the immigration of the Indo-Canadian community.

Unit 3 Understanding Prejudice and Discrimination

Chapter 3 Islamophobia

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Ask yourself:

  • Was there a time in your life that you encountered something or someone new or unusual, and you took on a closed view? Be as honest as you can when describing the event. Explain what you have learned, and then share it with a partner.
  • If you identify as a Muslim, have you experienced any prejudice or discrimination? If so, share with non-Muslims.

In recent years there has been increasing immigration by persons identifying as Muslims to the West, including to countries in Western Europe and North America. Given the unfamiliarity of some people in the West with the religion of Islam and with Muslims, and because of recent events such as 9/11, the Iraq War and other isolated incidents of terrorism, some people openly or privately confess to not understanding, fearing, or even hating Islam and Muslims. The broad term for this fear or hatred is Islamophobia.


Islamophobia (IP)

Islamophobia is defined as a “dread or hatred of Islam and therefore, fear and dislike of all Muslims”

Source: Runnymede Report, 1996

Islamophobia Group Discussion


Islam is a monotheistic (worshipping one God) religion that is practiced by more than 1.5 billion people worldwide, or roughly one in four people. Practitioners of Islam are called Muslims. The two major sects, or denominations of Islam are Sunni (80%) and Shia (20%). Some things that Islam shares in common with Judaism and Christianity include the belief in one God. The three religions also share recognition of some prophets such as Moses and Abraham. Together, Judaism, Christianity and Islam are called the Abrahamic religions, after the prophet Abraham.

Open or Closed views on Islam

Islam and Muslims can be approached with either open or closed views, and closed views are the ones that are more associated with Islamophobia. Here are eight closed views of Islam as identified by the Runnymede Report (1996):

Islam is seen as:

  • A monolithic bloc, static, and unresponsive to change.
  • Separate and “other”. It does not have values in common with other cultures, is not affected by them and does not influence them.
  • Inferior to the West. It is seen as barbaric, irrational, primitive, and sexist.
  • Violent, aggressive, threatening, supportive of terrorism, and engaged in a clash of civilizations.
  • A political ideology, used for political or military advantage.
  • Criticisms made of "the West" by Muslims are rejected out of hand.
  • Hostility towards Islam is used to justify discriminatory practices towards Muslims and exclusion of Muslims from mainstream society.
  • Anti-Muslim hostility is seen as natural and normal. (Wikipedia, 2013)

Action 1  

Do >

Seeing the Other

Was there a time in your life that you encountered something or someone new or unusual, and you took on a closed view? Be as honest as you can, describe the event, what you learned, and share it with a partner.

With a partner, create a list of eight open views of Islam and Muslims that contrast with the closed views above.

A young Kenyan girl wearing a hijab sits at her wooden desk in class reading the Quran, surrounded by other girls doing the same. enlarge image
A Kenyan child reads verses from the Quran on the fifth day of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in a Madrassa in Nairobi, Kenya.

Photo credit: AP Photo/Sayyid Azim

Criticizing the Term

Some people have criticized the use of the term Islamophobia, claiming that terming critics of Islam as Islamophobic prevents honest discussion and criticisms of the religion. Others have criticized the term Islamophobia in that Muslims are more often the "target of hostility" than the religion itself, and hence a better term is Anti-Muslimism.

Some basic facts about Islam
  • There are more than 1.5 billion Muslims worldwide.
  • The Holy Book of Islam is called the Qu'ran. Although it is most often found in the original Arabic, it has been translated into many languages over the years.
  • Islam was established about 1400 years ago by the Prophet Muhammad, who is considered the last Prophet in the line of Abraham by Muslims.
  • Muslims are forbidden from eating pork or drinking alcohol.
A picture of thousands of Muslims in the midst of the hajj, encircled around Kaaba, a black box at the center of the Al-Masjid al-Haram Mosque of Mecca, Saudi Arabia. enlarge image
Muslims performing Haij, or pilgrimage in Mecca, Saudia Arabia

Credit: iStock

Five pillars, or tenets of Islam:

  • Testimony: Where a Muslim accepts that there is no God but God alone and that Muhammad is his prophet.
  • Prayer: Ritual prayer that all Muslims are required to perform five times a day.
  • Alms giving: All Muslims are required to give 1/40th (2.5%) of their annual income to the needy or poor annually.
  • Fasting: Muslims are required to fast (no eating or drinking) from sunup to sundown during the holy month of Ramadan.
  • Pilgrimage: All Muslims who can physically and financially afford to are required to perform pilgrimage (a journey to holy land) at least once in their lifetime.

According to Canada's 2011 National Household Survey, there were 1,053,945 Muslims in Canada or about 3.2% of the population, making them the second largest religion after Christianity. In the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), 7.7% of the population is Muslim, and in Greater Montreal, Muslims are 6% of the total population.

Young Muslim Woman


Action 2  

Think >

Understanding Islam and Muslim Life

What is your knowledge of Islam and/or Muslims? Unless you are one yourself, do you know any Muslims in real-life? How many of the above facts did you already know? Share with a partner.

Consider how Muslim women in Canada might feel unsafe and targeted simply because they are wearing a hijab. Canada has taken in Syrian refugees - approximately 25,000 in 2015 and 33,000 in 2016. Can you imagine being a teenage girl who experienced atrocities in her home country and has come to Canada, a supposedly safe and welcoming country, only to find herself being targeted? Read this article and think about how you might speak out and take action against this kind of injustice.

Action 3  

iSearch >

When The Media Reacts

Read the following article by University of California-Davis Professor Karima Bennoune, written in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings on April 15, 2013. In the article, find and highlight as many unfamiliar words, phrases or concepts as you can. Research online for their definitions or for more information.

Once you finish reading, role-play with a partner as Karima Bennoune being interviewed by a journalist for the article. Ask and answer at least three questions this way. Feel free to research online to help you determine both the questions and the potential answers.

People scatter and police rush to the scene as a second bomb explodes during the 2013 Boston Marathon. Smoke rises down the street just as the bomb is going off. enlarge image
The Boston Marathon bombing poses searching questions for counter-terrorism agencies across the world.

Photo credit: David L Ryan/AP (The Guardian, UK)

40 days after Boston bombing: We must stop radical jihad

"We must stop trying to make excuses for the Tsarnaev brothers or jihad. It is wrong. Let's support peaceful Muslims around world."

By Karima Bennoune

In many Muslim societies, the 40th day after a death is a time to gather and grieve again with loved ones. So, in honor of this the 40th day after the atrocities in Boston, I find myself thinking again about the 264 injured people, some of whom are learning to live without their legs, and about the dead victims: 23-year-old Chinese graduate student Lingzi Lu, who had just passed her exams, friendly 29-year-old waitress Krystle Campbell, and eight year-old Martin Richard who famously carried a sign that said "No more hurting people. Peace."

Bearing such losses in mind, I would ask anyone who wants to support the rights of people of Muslim heritage in the United States in the wake of the Boston bombings, please do not do so by explaining that jihadist terrorism is simply a response to US foreign policy, or a consequence of the alleged difficulties faced by Muslim youth in integrating into American culture, or the result of Russian bombing of Chechnya.

Many of us have criticisms of US foreign policy and that of other countries; integrating may indeed be challenging for those from immigrant backgrounds in many contexts; and Chechens did suffer through the intolerable flattening of their country by the Russian military between 1992 and 2009. (As far as I know the United States never bombed the province.) However, most Muslims, immigrants and Chechens have not become terrorists as a result. These things are no excuse for – or even explanation of – the choice to deliberately murder children and young people at a sporting event. Such a grave international crime has nothing to do with legitimate grievances and everything to do with extremist ideology and movements that indoctrinate and instrumentalize young people. We must defeat those movements which have killed so many civilians, especially in Muslim majority countries like Afghanistan, Algeria, Iraq and Pakistan.

I have just wrapped up three years of interviewing hundreds of people of Muslim heritage working against fundamentalism and terrorism around the world, and I learned many lessons from them that are helpful today. For example, Cherifa Kheddar, president of Algeria's Association of Victims of Islamist Terrorism, or Djazairouna, who wrote right after 15 April to say how terrible the Boston bombings were. She told me that:

"We cannot defeat terrorism by an anti-terrorist battle without doing the anti-fundamentalist battle."

In other words, it is not just the violence of radical jihadis, but the underlying ideology of Islamism that we must confront. That ideology discriminates between Muslims and non-Muslims (as evidenced by Tamerlan Tsarnaev's reported indignation that his Imam mentioned Martin Luther King, a non-Muslim, during a sermon), and between "good" and "bad" Muslims. It justifies egregious violence against women and civilians, or at least creates an environment conducive to them.

Of course, being an Islamist or a jihadist is not the same thing as being a devout Muslim, and it is unhelpful when the US media simply describes radicalization as becoming "more religious". This process is rather the adoption of a dangerous political stance that deploys religion in the service of an extreme agenda. The best way then to take a pro-human rights stance in the face of recent events is to support those people of Muslim heritage who are risking their lives to denounce and defy these movements. Many have raised their voices around the world in places like Afghanistan, but have rarely been heard in the west.

Discrimination against Muslims in the wake of an atrocity like the Boston bombings is wrong and unhelpful, but so too is a politically correct response, which fosters justification and denial. A young Iranian-American scholar reported that at a recent conference at UC Berkeley on Islamophobia, she was bullied by older US academics for daring to raise the issue of Muslim fundamentalism, along with anti-racism, and, in the same week as the Boston bombings, was told that there was no such thing as what she called "the Muslim right". We must face the reality of extremism.

Many people in Muslim contexts have spoken out against terror even while facing it themselves. I think of Diep Saeeda, a peace activist I met who organized rallies against Taliban violence in Pakistan, or against the blasphemy laws despite the threat that suicide bombers would take down the protestors. Or the Women's Action Forum in Pakistan that regularly denounces terrorism in print. After a March 2013 attack on Shia residents of Karachi, they wrote:

"[o]nce again we share unspeakable horror at the carnage…Once again we express our condemnation and outrage. Once again we wonder how many more times we will do this before there is resolve to deal with religious militancy."

I think of the Libyans who took to the streets of Benghazi in 2012 after the murder of US ambassador Chris Stevens. Or of Somali American activist Abdirizak Bihi who campaigned against Al Shabaab recruitment in the Somali-American community in Minneapolis, after his own teenage nephew's recruitment and death at the hands of the militants. We have to support these people and listen to their voices.

In light of the national origin of the alleged Boston bombers, I have been thinking a lot about a wonderful Chechen journalist I interviewed in Moscow in December 2010. A devout Muslim, Said Bitsoev, then-deputy editor of Novye Izvestia – an independent newspaper – was terribly concerned about what such movements were doing to his home province. "There [a]re a lot of radical people who are really bad for Chechnya. They want to put the country back in the Dark Ages."

Before the Chechen wars, most followed a spiritual Sufi Islam, in contrast to the harsh dogma of the extremists. Said himself loathed the radicals, their new restrictions on women, and new forms of violence. He especially hated the thousands of foreign jihadis who came to Chechnya during the second war. "They brought a lot of fear. I was not able to sleep without a gun under my pillow." These foreign fighters left behind a new breed of Chechen "radical-thinking Islamists" in Bitsoev's view. "The worst thing," Said tells me, is that they were "hunting for those Muslims who were representatives of tolerant Islam, and killed these people". He gives the example of Umar Idrissov, 80, a mufti from Urus-Martan, southwest of Grozny, who was assassinated in 2000 by the Wahhabi group "Wolves of Islam". In fact, across the Caucasus liberal Muslim clergy have been regularly targeted in recent years by extremists.

Said Bitsoev was all too aware that Chechens like those murdered clerics, or like him, are relatively inconspicuous internationally. "Radicals are interesting for the public because they are loud. We normal people are boring," he said. We must support the daily struggles of people like Said, who are too often invisible, against those who twist the religion of their birth into a totalitarian terror manifesto.

Unit 3 Understanding Prejudice and Discrimination

Chapter 4 The Nazis' View of Homosexuality, plus Homophobia Today

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Ask yourself:

  • The Nazis rejected any form of homosexuality. Was taking action against this position a danger for homosexuals?
  • Why might some people become hateful to those who are homosexual? What action might be taken to combat homophobia?

This page provides you with opportunities to consider Nazi views of homosexual men who were sent to concentration camps because they were considered inferior. The pink triangle, sewn onto the left breast of prison uniforms, became the symbol of persecution for gay men in Nazi Germany and today is recognized as a symbol of both remembrance and celebration. The actions in this chapter invite you to discuss issues connected to homophobia and prejudice and also explore facts connected to those who were “branded” by the pink triangle.

This really happened

Up until the middle of the 1930’s, Germany was considered to be one of the most sexually liberal and accepting countries in the world. When the Nazis took power in Europe, gay men were harassed and labeled as “inferior”.

The Nazi Party did not need to create new laws to prohibit homosexual behaviour. Paragraph 175 was a law against homosexuality that prohibited sex between men. Since the law was already in existence, all the Nazis had to do was enforce it. Paragraph 175 dated back to 1871 when the King of Prussia united various kingdoms into one German state. A new constitution was established. Paragraph 175 stated: “a man who commits indecency with another man, or allows himself to be misused indecently, will be punished with prison.”

Pink became the color of persecution for gay men in Nazi Germany. Those who identified as homosexuals had a pink triangle sewn onto the left breast of their prison uniforms, just as the yellow Star of David was sewn onto those of the Jews. Though drawn from the terrifying period of gay history, the pink triangle today can be recognized as a symbol of remembrance and celebration.

Daniel speaks out against homophobia

Action 1  

Discuss >

Let’s talk about…Homosexuality, Prejudice and Discrimination

Form groups to discuss issues connected to homophobia and prejudice.

A. You will need a single die. Each player in turn will roll the die and whatever number appears, that is his or her assigned topic listed below to discuss. You will offer your opinion on one of the topics, by sharing your reactions, making connections, asking questions. Once completed, another person rolls the die and discusses the corresponding topic. Note: it is ok if two players discuss the same topic. If someone rolls a six they can choose a topic of choice.

B. The activity is repeated. This time, the group members contribute by having a conversation about the topic. There is no time limit. Alternatively, the group can choose one topic to focus attention on:

  1. There is nothing wrong with men who choose to wear pink clothing.
  2. Having a GSA (Gay Straight Alliance) in the school is helpful.
  3. Every country should legalize gay marriage.
  4. I know a story about a homophobic incident.
  5. I have a strong reaction when I hear someone using the word ‘faggot’.
  6. Choose a topic.

Action 2  

Do >

The Nazis views of Homosexuality

The persecution of homosexuals was just a small part of Hitler’s plan to strengthen the Aryan race. The Aryan or ‘Nordic’ race was proclaimed biologically superior to all others according to Hitler’s regime. The Nazis believed that discipline must be exercised at all costs in order to maintain power. Homosexual relationships were considered vulgar, perverted crimes. The following outlines the Nazi position on homosexuality in response to Paragraph 175.

A black and white photo of homosexual prisoners, dressed in striped prisoner uniforms and berets, are gathered in a concentr
ation camp. enlarge image
Homosexual Prisoners at Buchenwald 

Permission: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

"It is not necessary that you and I live, but it is necessary that German people live. And it can only live if it can fight, life means fighting. And it can only fight if it maintains its masculinity. It can only maintain its masculinity if it exercises discipline, especially in matters of love. Free love and deviance are undisciplined. Therefore, we reject you, as we reject anything that hurts our nation. Anyone who thinks of homosexual love is our enemy. We reject anything which emasculates our people and makes it a plaything for our enemies, for we know that life is a fight, and it is madness to think that men will ever embrace fraternally. Natural history teaches us the opposite. Might makes right. The strong will always win over the weak. Let us see to it that we can once again become strong! But this we can achieve only in one way—the German people must once again learn how to exercise discipline. We therefore reject any form of lewdness, especially homosexuality, because it robs us of our last chance to free our people from the bondage which now enslaves it.”
~Richard Plant, The Pink Triangle, p. 50

A. What do you think homosexual men might have done in response to the Nazi position?

B. Was taking action a choice for them?

Answer these questions in writing by having a conversation on paper.

Having a conversation on paper

This activity works best with two or three people, each with a piece of paper. This activity invites you to respond to a topic or issue in writing. Done in silence, the goal of the activity is to write your thoughts in responses to a topic and then share it with another person. That person responds in writing to what you have written. The paper is passed back and forth as if you are having a conversation.

You are encouraged to remain silent as you reflect on the issue, raise questions, make connections, agree or argue the topic.

Upon completion, you and your partner can meet with another pair to share what you have written and discuss the issues in small groups.

Action 3  

Do >

Exploring facts about those who were “Branded” By The Pink Triangle

In his book Branded by the Pink Triangle, author Ken Setterington brings to life the under-told stories of bravery and perseverance of homosexual men who were imprisoned in Nazi concentration camps.

Cover of a book, depicting an animated silhouette of a bald man with a triangle on his chest, behind lines of barbed wire. enlarge image
Branded by the Pink Triangle

Source: Permission granted by Second Story Press

Just the Facts

Ken Setterington, a storyteller, book reviewer, author and librarian did extensive research on the topic of the persecution of homosexuals during the Nazi regime. The following statements that appear in Setterington’s book provide some factual information about those who were branded by the pink triangle. With a partner, decide if each of these statements is TRUE or FALSE.

  1. Many homosexual men joined the German army, hoping that they would be safe from arrest.
  2. The Nazis believed that if homosexuality was legalized, there would be fewer German babies and hence a lower birth rate, which would lead to a weaker Germany.
  3. Lesbians who were arrested and sent to concentration camps wore the pink triangle.
  4. In many concentration camps, homosexuals were housed apart because the Nazis believed that homosexuality was a disease that could spread to other prisoners.
  5. Some gay bars remained open during the Olympics held in Berlin in 1936.
  6. The gay community was not allowed to participate in the memorial services held at concentration camps or at war memorials.
  7. Even SS Officers who were caught in homosexual acts were put in concentration camps.
  8. Rosa Winkel was the first lesbian to die in a Buchenwald concentration camp.
  9. German and other European governments provided the same compensation to homosexuals as was provided to other victims of the Nazi regime who suffered losses.
  10. There are less than ten known gay Jewish survivors of the Holocaust who suffered losses.

Scroll down to see answers at the end of the chapter.

Getting Better: The Pink Triangle Today


In the 1970s, the pink triangle was chosen as a pro-gay symbol by activists in the United States. In Nazi Germany, the pink triangle badges identified homosexuals who were considered at the bottom of the camp social system and subjected to degradation and harsh maltreatment. To transform a symbol of humiliation into one of solidarity and resistance, the pink triangle was turned upright (i.e., point at the top) rather than inverted. In the onset of the AIDS epidemic it was considered a symbol of gay pride and liberation.

The Silence=Death Project drew parallels between the Nazi period and the AIDS crisis. The project concerned those who chose not to discuss safer sex and the unwillingness of those to resist government indifference to the cause. The men who created the project declared that “silence about the oppression and annihilation of gay people, then and now, must be broken as a matter of our survival.” The six men who created the Silence=Death Project offered the logo to the protest group ACT UP.


1985 - a pink triangle plaque was displayed in Dachau. A memorial sculpture made up of triangles of many different colours had been previously created in the camp. The pink triangle had been excluded.

1987 - the Homomonument was opened in Amsterdam, close to the Anne Frank house. Comprised of pink granite triangle ‘steps’, the monument is one of the largest in the world honouring gay men and women. The Homomonument is meant to "inspire and support gays in their struggle against denial, oppression and discrimination.”

Picture of a memorial slab dedicated to the homosexual victims of the Holocaust, at the side of a river in Amsterdam. The words Homomonument are chiseled in it. enlarge image
Memorial in Amsterdam commemorating all gay men and lesbians who were killed by the Nazis due to their homosexuality. It consists of three large triangles of pink granite.

Credit: P.H. Davies Homomonument Amsterdam

1989 - in Berlin, a pink granite plaque in the shape of triangle was placed outside a subway station in the area of the city where gay culture was celebrated in the years before the rise of the Nazi regime. The plaque states: “Killed and forgotten, the homosexual victims of National Socialism”.

2008 - the Memorial to Homosexuals Persecuted under Nazism was unveiled in Berlin across the street from Murdered Jews of Europe. Visitors to the monument look inside a small window to watch two alternating videos: either two young men kissing or two women kissing.

According to Ken Setterington, the video and the monument “act as strong reminder that these two young men would certainly have been arrested and probably would have died if they had lived during the Nazi period” (p. 101). The wording on a nearby plaque concludes:

Because of its history, Germany has a special responsibility to actively oppose the violation of gay men’s and lesbians’ human rights. In many parts of the world, people continue to be persecuted for their sexuality: homosexual love remains illegal and a kiss can be dangerous.

With this memorial, the Federal Republic of Germany intends to honor the victims of persecution and murder, to keep alive the memory of injustice, and to create a lasting symbol of opposition to enmity, intolerance, and the exclusion of gay men and lesbians.

LGBT Youth Group Discussion

Thank you to the Canadian Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity (Jer’s Vision) for their help and participation in the group discussion.

LGBT Awareness and Understanding

Everyone has the right to live freely with all human rights, regardless of their sex and sexual preference. People are born as heterosexuals or homosexuals, and many are bisexual. While a person might be born as one sex they may identify as the other sex. Young people who don’t fit into the standard heterosexual mold often experience painful exclusion and bullying. Some of them even take their own lives because their lives are too difficult and painful. In order to be compassionate and understanding, we must educate ourselves about the different types of people in our world and everyone’s personal challenges.

LGBTQ Terminology

The true north LGBT: New poll reveals landscape of gay Canada

The Forum Research poll in 2012, commissioned by the National Post and taken twice … to confirm its accuracy, found that 5% of Canadians identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. And contrary to the popular wisdom that the same-sex marriage rate is surprisingly low, the poll found that a third of LGBT people say they are in a same-sex marriage.

Milestones in the evolution of gay rights

  • Homosexuality was decriminalized in Canada in 1969. Before that, individuals who engaged in sexual activity with others of the same sex risked long prison sentences.

  • Rights and freedoms in the provinces: In 1977, Quebec became the first province to amend its Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation. In the years that followed, all provinces and territories eventually followed suit, Alberta being the last, in 2009.

  • Canadian Armed Forces: Sexual orientation was removed as a barrier to enrolment and promotion for military personnel in 1992.

  • Hate crimes: Since 1996, the Criminal Code has provided stricter penalties for crimes motivated by hate based on certain personal characteristics, including sexual orientation.

  • Spousal recognition: In 1999, the Supreme Court of Canada’s landmark decision in M. v. H. recognized same-sex couples as common-law partners. This was followed by provincial and federal legislation granting same-sex couples benefits and obligations similar to those that apply to other common-law couples.

  • Same-sex Marriage: In 2005, Canada legalized same-sex marriage by enacting the Civil Marriage Act. This led to amendments to other statutes granting same-sex couples equal access not only to the civil effects of marriage, but also to those of divorce.

Source: http://www.parl.gc.ca/Content/LOP/ResearchPublications/2013-90-e.htm

The Sad Truth:

From: http://egale.ca/all/backgrounder-lgbtq-youth-suicide/

  • 33% of LGB youth have attempted suicide in comparison to 7% of youth in general (Saewyc 2007).
  • Over half of GLB students (47% of GB males and 73% of LB females) have thought about suicide (Eisenberg & Resnick, 2006).
  • In 2010, 47% of trans youth in Ontario had thought about suicide and 19% had attempted suicide in the preceding year (Scanlon, Travers, Coleman, Bauer, & Boyce, 2010).
  • LGBTQ youth are 4 times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers (Massachusetts Department of Education, 2009).

Action 4  

Do >

Designing a poster

Following a number of tragic suicides by LGBT students who were bullied in school, columnist and author Dan Savage, along with his partner uploaded a video to YouTube to inspire hope for LGBT youth who were facing harassment. The couple spoke openly about the suffering they suffered as teenagers and shared the story how they both came to lead rewarding adult lives. Their video launched the “It Gets Better Project” and initiated a worldwide phenomenon with thousands of videos posted. The campaign provides an opportunity for personal heartfelt support for LGBT youth everywhere.

Design a poster that features the Pink Triangle for an It Gets Better campaign. It Gets Better

Your posters can be displayed in the classroom, school or in the community to help others understand the significance of the pink triangle as a symbol of remembrance and celebration, liberation and gay pride.

  • How will you feature one or more pink triangles in your design?
  • Who is your audience?
  • How will your poster draw an attention to your audience? What message do you hope your poster will convey to others?
  • What words (if any, will your poster have)?

Action 5  

Discuss >

Engaged Response: Taking action against Homophobia

A. Why do people hate?

It is hard to understand why someone might hate someone else because of his or her differences. Those who identify as LGBQT often get grief from others because of their sexual preferences.

Examine the list of reasons below and rank them in order from #1 (strongest) to #6 (lowest).Once completed, share your list in groups of three or four. Are there any other reasons why you feel someone might be homophobic?

People might be cruel to others who identify themselves as queer because:

___ They are afraid of what they don’t know. Someone might feel intimidated.

___ They might never have had any close interactions with someone who identifies as queer.

___ Religious or cultural beliefs do not condone homosexual lifestyles.

___ Some people are taught to hate or distrust what they don’t know or understand.

___ People go along with awful things because they need to feel accepted. Peer pressure can influence how we treat others.

___ Bigots are often insecure. Insecure people often take out their own anxieties about themselves on others – especially those who are a minority. Being hateful to others gives them power.

B. Triumphing over Haters

Examine the list of strategies below that outline actions someone might take if they are being harassed. Rank the list in order from #1 (strongest) to #6 (lowest).

Then, in small groups, discuss the pros and cons of each strategy.

If someone is being tormented by others because of their sexual identity, they should:

___ Ignore the situation

___ Talk to a trusted adult

___ Confront the issue by fighting back

___ Seek professional counseling

___ Stick with your friends to approach the tormentor

___ Other

Action 6  

Discuss >


Organizing a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) / Respecting Difference Clubs

Dedicated to making schools more inclusive for all students, thousands of Gay-Straight Alliances (GSA) have been established in schools throughout North America. A GSA is a student-initiated and student–run club that provides a safe supportive environment for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, two-spirit, queer, questioning (LGBTQ) and straight ally youth to meet and discuss sexual orientation and gender issues. Many GSAs function as support groups that provide safety and confidentiality for students struggling with their identity. Some GSAs have a mandate to educate themselves and their broader school community about gender and sexual identity issues.

This activity applies to both schools that have or don’t yet have a GSA*. In groups, discuss the following:

  • How familiar are you with GSAs?
  • Why are GSAs important?
  • What are the benefits of having a GSA in your school?
  • What might be some challenges of having a GSA in the school?
  • How can straight youth become involved in GSAs.
  • What are some significant activities for a GSA to become involved in?
  • How might teachers, administrators, families, experts get involved in GSA initiatives?
  • What are the ground rules that need to be established to ensure that discussions are safe, confidential and respectful?
  • What action plan (projects?) might be developed to make the GSA successful?
  • Would you consider being involved in a GSA in your school /community?

Jer's Vision: Canada's Youth Diversity Initiative is Canada's LGBTQ youth organization. They offer free workshops, youth forums and educator training across Canada. They also present the Day of Pink (DayOfPink.org) the day we wear pink to stop bullying, discrimination, homophobia & transphobia. They are always happy to help you start a GSA, organize programming and make spaces safer. Find out more: www.JersVision.org

*For more information see GLSEN: Gay, Lesbian 7 Straight Education Network.

Action 7  

Think >

Responding to a Hungarian Demonstration

Read the article below and respond to the following questions:

  • How successful was Craig Cowan at capturing the events of this clash?
  • What messages was he attempting to convey?


Artifact › A Hungarian Demonstration

By Craig Cowan

June 18, 2011 – Budapest, Hungary

We chose the left side of the intersection simply because a larger crowd was gathered on the left. It seemed intelligent to assume that the local Hungarians would know the best vantage point, so we followed their lead. Prior in the day I had continuously questioned our Hungarian history professor guide regarding the discrepancy between the Gay Pride committee in Budapest and the Hungarian government. The committee avowed that the Pride Parade would take place whereas I had read that the Hungarian government had refused to grant parade permission. After noticeably avoiding my questioning, I was told by the accompanying University of Toronto history professor, “Don’t go looking for trouble, Craig.” How could asking about the Gay Pride parade and wanting to attend it mean trouble? This confused me even further.

Upon arriving on the thoroughfare on which the parade was supposed to take place that day, two things became palpably obvious. First, something frightfully different than what I had expected was about to take place and second, the parade was seemingly going to occur. The mood on the street was very tense; few people wandered about. One person from our group hurriedly left, advising us that this was not a good place to find ourselves. Hundreds upon hundreds if not thousands of Hungarian riot police, wearing full gas mask protective gear, were filing onto the street and readying themselves. They began positioning themselves on each of the adjoining side streets, blocked and shut down intersections, rushed forcefully up and down sidewalks while continuously paying attention to those of us who still remained on the street. They then commenced clearing all people off of the entire parade route. The street was emptied from side to side.

My remaining friend and I were not sure what to do. As I wanted to stay (the photographer in me wanted pictures), we began to walk the emptying street. The police were systematically ordering people off as they moved along. Those businesses that were not already closed began to close up quickly. Every civilian was forced to make a choice. Either leave the street and the area entirely, or choose to stand on either side of one single designated intersection and watch the pride parade from there. As few spoke English, my understanding came from observation and from interpreting hand gestures. My decision to stay was made definite when a black leather gloved hand with extended finger pointed directly at my friend and I and indicated our two choices. One hand gesture indicated the far off distance, the other pointed to the intersection. We chose the left side.

Had I been more astute and not so overwhelmed by the huge numbers of riot police, I would have noticed more closely that hundreds of riot police stood in front of where I now waited (along what I believed would be the parade route) but also directly behind. The scene directly behind us seemed odd but I did not foresee what it might mean. That quite a few males in the crowd were wearing black bandanas over their faces and still others had actual gas masks around their necks (some actually wearing them already) still did not alert me.

Riot police and metal fences separated the crowd from the parade route. Officers were video taping the crowd. The overall mood seemed calm and peaceful, yet there was a tense anticipation of something. Then, loud music was heard. This triggered an assumption that the parade had begun, off in the distance, up the street, beyond sight. The music set off mayhem. Fists went up into the air and angry rioter chanting began. It was scary: the protestors became angry and violent in appearance. There were lots of them. The music grew louder, the parade got closer. The shouts and fists grew more heated and incensed. My friend and I moved back from the metal barricades, away from where the danger seemed most evident.

There was going to be trouble. It had started. I fully understood it now. The riot police shoved forcefully against the barricade fences and held the line as united protestors tried to push into the parade route. The hollering escalated. Fists thrust higher and more passionately into the air and then, more fences. Suddenly we were caged in on all sides by huge numbers of riot police, their facemasks down now, standing behind interlocking barricade fences. We were kettled! The police were rows deep behind each fence. The protestors went ballistic, threw bottles at the police and jammed up against the fences in every direction. Tear gas was fired in at us. The crowd went frantic, dispersed, and ran wildly as one large group, swarming towards my friend and I. We dodged behind a tree, the crowd parting and racing around it. The police pulled open barricade entry points and stormed in after the rioting protestors.

Things escalated further. The protestors, now kettled (all of us would remain kettled for the next four hours) suddenly realized that the pride parade had been re-routed. It had turned off on a side street two blocks north of us. Rioters now knew that they had been duped into standing at this intersection. Minutes later, the parade passed parallel to our prison, two full city blocks to our west and far out of range of any potential harm. As the world’s media looked in at those kettled, recording the event with cameras, four young men with faces fully visible, proudly displayed large placards that had the Nazi pink triangle symbol and rope nooses displayed on them. Death to homosexuals was the clear message.

Neo-Nazis as well as others had threatened to attack and do bodily harm to the parade’s marchers. Hungarian riot police had prepared for such an attack. The use of the pink triangle made apparent the protestors’ agenda towards homosexuals, their violent actions proved their intent. That neo-Nazis presented themselves at this specific parade doesn’t limit the need for our awareness to the potential full scope of their hatred towards all of those groups historically targeted by Hitler and the Nazis, not only homosexuals.

Riot police standing guard at a demonstration in Budapest, Hungary. enlarge image
Riot Police at a demonstration against the Gay Pride Parade in Budapest, Hungary - June 2011

Source: Photo permission by author

Homosexuality Map

Answers to quiz in ACTION 3: Only #3, #8, #9 and #10 are FALSE

Lesbians were not considered harmful to the regime and wore the black triangle as anti-social prisoners. There was no systematic persecution of lesbians that compared to the persecution of gay men.

Rosa Winkel is the German translation of ‘pink triangle’.

Homosexuals were considered to be criminals and were denied compensation. It wasn’t until 2001, that the German government recognized gays as victims of the Nazi regime. By that time, most of the men were very elderly or dead.

Gad Beck, the last known gay Jewish survivor, died on June 14, 2012.

Unit 3 Understanding Prejudice and Discrimination

Chapter 5 Judaism and Antisemitism Through the Ages

Back to top

Ask yourself:

  • Why do you think the Canadian government designated May as National Jewish Heritage Month?
  • What do you already know about Jews? Which of your views are positive or negative? Why?
  • What would you guess is the population of Jews in Canada? In the world?
  • Why is antisemitism the oldest hatred in history?



A form of racism related to the discrimination, persecution or irrational hatred of Jews, resulting from their cultural, linguistic and religious differences; blaming the Jews for everything from economic conditions to epidemics and natural disasters.

The term “antisemitism” was first used by Wilhelm Marr (a German theorist, 1819–1904) to express the hatred towards Jews that was at the heart of his political philosophy. Some people confuse the issue by claiming that antisemitism is really hatred of “Semites;” the term “Semite” comes from Semitic languages, which include both Hebrew and Arabic. Removing the hyphen from the term focuses the reader on the original meaning.


One cannot begin to examine antisemitism unless one has an understanding of Judaism.

Does Judaism refer to a religion or a race? It can be both simultaneously. Jews consider themselves a People. Judaism is a monotheistic religion which originated over 5000 years ago. According to the Jewish calendar, we are now in the year 5779. That means that Judaism is well over 5000 years old. It started with Abraham, known as the founder of Judaism, and developed further through the next thousand years with Moses and King David. This is all documented in both the Hebrew Bible (also called the Old Testament) and the Christian and Islamic scriptures.

Main beliefs:
  • Worship only one god who has made a special “covenant” (agreement) with them
  • The Messiah has not come yet; Jews are still praying he will come
  • Worship takes place in a synagogue with a rabbi as the leader
  • A person is considered to be Jewish if his or her mother is Jewish
Sects in Judaism

Over the years, Jews have formed groups within Judaism. This is the same as Christianity and Islam having many groups, e.g.: Catholics, Orthodox Greeks, Anglicans, Protestants, Lutherans, and Pentecostals, Sunnis, Shiites etc.

Orthodox Judaism – observe all the rules; what is written in the sacred books is the word of the divine; must have a Jewish mother or convert to Judaism (a long and difficult process). What has been done for hundreds of years, is remarkably unchanged. Very male dominated; only males can have a bar mitzvah (coming of age ceremony), read from the Torah (entire body of Jewish teachings), or be a rabbi. An Orthodox man is not allowed to touch a woman other than his own wife, not even to shake hands. Marriage with a matchmaker, somewhat arranged (only a few dates to meet), dates are chaperoned and no touching or holding hands allowed. Married women must cover their hair, usually with a wig or headscarf. Men and women pray separately in the synagogue. Men always wear a kippa (head cap) and other religious garb, even outside of synagogue.

Hassidic Jews – ultra-Orthodox and follow all the rules; a closed community who isolate themselves; essentially speak only Yiddish and Hebrew; recognizable by black hats, black suits, beards and sideburns grown out. Lebovich/Lubavitch are a sect of Hassidic Jews who are out there proselytizing; trying to recruit or convert Jews to become more Orthodox.

Reform Judaism – started in the 1800s, this movement aims to combine scientific theories with what is known through faith. They reject many of the rules as “man-made” and are more concerned with how Jews relate to others and the planet, than following all the rules and traditions. It doesn’t matter to Reform Jews if your mother or father are Jewish; either one makes you Jewish if you are raised as a Jew.

Conservative Judaism – started in 1913. Conservative Jews are the middle road between Orthodox and Reform movements; observe many of the rules but makes some compromises for modern times. The rule is you must have a Jewish mother or convert (the process is not as long or as difficult as Orthodox rules.) In the 1960s when feminism grew, women were considered the equal of men. Many Conservative congregations have female rabbis and women are leaders in every way.

Jewish Population

In the world: Before the Second World War, the peak was approximately 18 million.
Currently, there are approximately 14.7 million Jews, about one fifth of 1% of the world’s population. (Total world population in June 2018 was 7,630,036,500). Four-fifths of Jews live in two countries: United States (41%) and Israel (43%).

Contrast this with 2,173,180,000 Christians (31% of world population); 1,598,510,000 Muslims (23%); 1,126,500,000 No Religious affiliation (16%); 1,033,080,000 Hindus (15%)
(According to 2010 study by Pew Forum)

In Canada: Currently there are approximately 400,000 Jews, about 1.2% of the population, with the largest numbers living in Toronto and Montreal. (Total population of Canada 37 million - June 2018)

Note: Exact numbers of Jews are difficult to deduce in many countries due to intermarriage, conversions, those who are non-practicing and those who may not identify as Jewish on a census. The exception is Israel with about 6.5 million Jews of a total population of 8,842,000 (April 2018).

BELOW: As registered in 2013 by the Jewish Data Bank - Table shows the breakdown per country as a percentage of a total population of 14 million Jews in the world.

CountryCore Jewish Population% of total Jewish population of approx. 14 million
Country Core Jewish Population % of total
Israel 6,014,300 43.4%
United States 5,425,000 39.2%
France 478,000 3.5%
Canada 380,000 2.7%
United Kingdom 290,000 2.1%
Russian Federation 190,000 1.4%
Argentina 181,500 1.3%
Germany 118,000 0.9%
Australia 112,500 0.8%
Brazil 95,200 0.7%

Jewish Data Bank 2013

Different categories of Jews:

Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews represent the two main subcultures or categories of European Jews. All Jews share the same basic beliefs but there are some differences in culture, prayers, Hebrew pronunciation, tunes and other practices. Traditions and foods differ based on differences in climate and produce where they lived.

Ashkenazi Jews - the Jews of France, Germany and Eastern Europe, and their descendants. The word is derived from the Hebrew “Ashkenaz” which is used to refer to Germany. During the 8th and 9th centuries they originally followed trade routes and ended up in the interior of Europe. Today they comprise approximately 70% to 80% of all Jews in the world (formerly 90% before the Holocaust and the Second World War) with the majority in North America.

Sephardic Jews - the Jews of Spain, Portugal, North Africa and the Middle East and their descendants. The Hebrew word “Sepharad” refers to Spain. There was less segregation and oppression in the Islamic lands where Sephardic Judaism developed thousands of years ago. Historically, they were wealthier and better educated possibly due to being less persecuted than Ashkenazi Jews, particularly in the 10th to 12th centuries, known as the “Golden Age”.

Other categories of Jews are the Falasha Mura – Ethiopian Jews (a black African tribe, most of whom were rescued and brought to Israel around 1989, and now a population of over 120,000), Yemenite and other Middle Eastern groups called the Mizrahi as well as some Asian Jews (Eastern European Jews fled to Shanghai in the Second World War). Jews have spread throughout the Diaspora (in the world outside Israel) and settled almost anywhere you can think of … even in the Arctic.

Hassidic Ashkenazi Jews praying from the Torah enlarge image
Hassidic Ashkenazi Jews praying from the Torah

Source: dailyholybiblereading.com

Synagogue - the place of worship for Jews. The rabbi leads the service from a central podium called the Bima (like a pulpit) and the Cantor or Hazzan sings the prayer songs. The Torah scrolls are kept in the Ark, a box or wall niche covered with curtains, and are removed when used in prayer. The congregation faces the Ark. In Orthodox synagogues men and women sit separately so that the women and children don't distract the men from prayer. Women sit either on an upper balcony or on the same level with a curtain or divider separating them. Conservative and Reform synagogues allow mixed seating and also welcome non-Jews to attend services, especially for weddings and bar/bat mitzvahs. (Everyone, including members entering their own synagogues, requires a security check at the door, a sad necessity these days.)

Articles of prayer:

The Kippah – round cloth head covering (also called yarmulke) worn at all times by Orthodox Jewish men and by all Jewish men, Conservative and Reform, inside the synagogue

The Tallit – fringed prayer shawl to remind one of the 10 Commandments, to aid in reverence for God and create a prayerful spirit during worship

The Tefillin – parchment scrolls in a small box, worn on the arm and head by men during weekday morning prayers. The Torah commands Jewish men to bind tefillin onto their head and upper arm every weekday, in fulfillment of the verse (Deuteronomy. 6:8), “You shall bind them as a sign upon your hand, and they shall be for a reminder between your eyes.”

Jewish funerals and mourning - Jewish law states that Jews must be buried within 48 hours after death. The body is never left alone until internment and respect for the dead body is extremely important. To prepare the body for burial, it is thoroughly cleaned and wrapped in a simple shroud, so that poor and rich people receive the same honour in death. Cremation is not allowed, organs removed only to save a life, and autopsies permitted only if the local law dictates it. The body must come into contact with the earth, so if a coffin is used, holes are drilled in them. Open caskets are forbidden. Flowers are not given to mourners. Immediate family members express their grief by tearing their clothing.

The first seven days of mourning are called Shiva (shiva in Hebrew means seven) and are spent in prayer with visitors coming to the home of the family. Mirrors in the home are covered. Traditionally, mourners sit on the floor or low stools, do no work and do nothing for comfort or pleasure for the week. Depending on level of observance of the immediate family, the next period of mourning is for 30 days and if mourning a parent, the final period would be for a full year. Mourners might attend morning services at the synagogue every day for the eleven months to recite the mourners’ prayer. When the year is up, that is when the tombstone is revealed, called an unveiling ceremony. When visiting the gravesite, for some it is a custom to place small stones on the grave.

The Jewish Bible and Texts

The Hebrew Bible is called the Tanakh and includes the same books as the Christian Bible’s Old Testament, though in a different order. At a deeper level, the Hebrew Bible consists of 24 sacred texts including the 5 books of the Torah, plus the Prophets and the Writings (19).

The Torah provides all the laws for Jews to follow in the 5 books of Moses: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. Every Torah in every synagogue is handwritten, and there’s a specific section every day of the calendar that is read or chanted out loud during worship at a synagogue or a temple. For the observant Jew, there is a rule for just about everything.

Torah cover salvaged from the Berlin New Synagogue that was destroyed by the Nazis November 9, 1938 known as Kristallnacht enlarge image
Torah cover salvaged from the Berlin New Synagogue that was destroyed by the Nazis November 9, 1938 known as Kristallnacht

Credit: Nicole Miller

The Talmud (written 3rd – 5th Centuries CE) is a collection of teachings and commentaries on Jewish Law that was created later. Divided in two sections, it includes the Mishna, that explains the Jewish code of law originally passed down orally, and the Gemara that includes the interpretations of thousands of rabbis and the 613 commandments. Central to Judaism is the constant interpretation, discussion, debate, examination, and critical inquiry. An important commentary on the Mishnah is the 13 Principles of Faith by Maimonides, a Sephardic Jewish philosopher and Torah scholar, 1135-1204 from Córdoba, Spain (formerly the Almoravid Empire).

The Hebrew Calendar

Based on moon or lunar cycles instead of sun cycles and seven days of the week, starting on Sunday and ending on Saturday, the Sabbath. Each Hebrew month corresponds approximately to the lunar month, whether 29 or 30 days, and one year has 12 or 13 months. The length of the Hebrew year varies in numbers of day: 353, 354, 355, 383, 384 or 385 days. Standard years have 12 months with 354 days and leap years have 13 months with 384 days. This is the official calendar of Israel. The world was supposedly created on a Saturday night, on October 6th, the year 3761 BCE (Before Christian Common Era.) This calendar is also used to determine religious observances such as the reading of the Torah portions, daily Psalm readings and Jewish holidays and festivals.

Jewish Holidays

Jewish holidays include many annual big holidays determined by the Torah, as well as small holidays instituted by rabbis and generally tied to historical events.

1878 painting by Maurycy Gottlieb – Jews praying in Synagogue on Yom Kippur enlarge image
1878 painting by Maurycy Gottlieb – Jews praying in Synagogue on Yom Kippur

Source: Tel Aviv Museum of Art

The High Holy Days:

Rosh Hashanah – the Jewish New Year starts the calendar and literally “Rosh” means Head of the Year

Yom Kippur – this the day of Atonement. Jews fast from sundown to sundown while praying for forgiveness from God. Goals are:

  • to make up with the people you have offended or hurt
  • to acknowledge and confess to sins committed willingly or unwillingly
  • to make amends with the Divine; to atone for your sins
  • to plan to do better within the next year; wipe the slate clean
Three Pilgrimage Festivals
Passover: Cartoon of Moses leading the Jews through the desert. enlarge image
Passover: Cartoon of Moses leading the Jews through the desert.

Image source: http://christianfunnypictures.com/2016

A c. 1900 CE oil painting by Gebhard Fugel depicting Moses receiving the Ten Commandments from God on Mt. Sinai. enlarge image
A c. 1900 CE oil painting by Gebhard Fugel depicting Moses receiving the Ten Commandments from God on Mt. Sinai.

Image source: https://www.ancient.eu/image/5741/

Passover – An important holiday to commemorate and tell the story of how Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt after centuries of enslavement. At the Passover family dinner called a Seder, families get together to retell the story reading from a Haggadah. When the Jews fled Egypt there was no time for the bread to rise so they had to resort to eating unleavened flat bread (matzah). Therefore, for 8 days during Passover, Jews eat only matzah and other unleavened food, like their ancestors.


Israelites – The religious narrative and the archaeological findings are not the same when defining the tribe of Israelites or Twelve Tribes of Israel. According to modern archaeology, the Israelites branched out from the indigenous Canaanite people living in the Southern Levant, Syria, ancient Israel and the Transjordan region. They took over the region as the monotheistic religion dominated and not by force. Abraham is commonly considered to be “the First Jew” although in the bible the descendants of one specific tribe of Israel, Judah was “Yehudah” in Hebrew or Jew, in English. That term “Yehudi” became used to refer to all Israelites. Modern Jews and Samaritans trace their ancestry back to the ethnic stock of the Israelites, with two exceptions, the priestly orders of the Kohanim (Cohen) and Levites (Levy).

Palestine – derived from the Egyptian and Hebrew word “peleshet”.
After the First World War the territory of present-day Israel and present-day Jordan was placed under British Mandate. The name “Palestine” was applied to the entire area and the inhabitants, including Jews who were all called Palestinians by the international press until Israel’s independence in 1948. Years later, Arabs living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip were called Palestinians. The word Palestine does not appear in the Koran. It appears at least 250 times in the Jewish Tanakh as “peleshet.” You are encouraged to do further research about the history of the name.

Sukkot – Commemorates the Israelites wandering the desert for 40 years and the miraculous protection of God before arriving in the Holy Land. It also celebrates the harvest time. To celebrate Sukkot, for a week observant Jews eat all meals in an outdoor booth or “sukkah” with leaves and branches as a roof.

Shavuot – Moses gets the Ten Commandments/Torah

Menorah, jelly doughnuts and other things for children – chocolate coins and spinning tops for games. enlarge image
Menorah, jelly doughnuts and other things for children – chocolate coins and spinning tops for games.

Photo source: Shutterstock and www.mozi.co.il

Chanukah – The Festival of Lights lasting for 8 days and commemorating the miracle of the oil in the temple. The Hebrew word means “dedication” and celebrates the re-dedication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. In the second century BCE, the Syrian Greeks who occupied the Holy Land, tried to destroy their culture and traditions and desecrated the Temple. A small group of Jews led by Judah the Maccabee (the “Hammer”) were able to defeat the huge army that vastly outnumbered them and reclaimed the Holy Temple. For the Temple’s candelabra or menorah, there was only enough holy oil to keep it lit for a day but it miraculously stayed burning for 8 days. Chanukah was a very minor holiday until the 20th century when it became commercialized since it falls in December around Christmas. A candelabra with 9 flames, called a menorah, is lit for 8 nights with the “attendant” candle or shamash used to light the 8 candles. During this holiday, foods cooked in oil such as latkes and doughnuts are eaten to celebrate the miracle of the oil.

Action 1  

Do >

Food and culture

Think about the food you eat and what it means to you. On various holidays, we all eat certain traditional foods. Each time we celebrate a holiday, or a special occasion like a wedding, we eat these foods. Which holidays (cultural or otherwise) do you love because of the food you get to eat? Do you have a favourite holiday food? How does food play a role in bringing cultures together? Are there spiritual beliefs around the food you eat for special occasions?

Create a collage depicting your favourite holiday foods and what they mean to you. Find images in magazines or online and print them in colour. Exhibit them in the classroom and take turns explaining your collages. Do your choices have religious or spiritual significance? Are they cultural or relating to a specific country?

What do all Jews have in common?

Generalizations and assumptions cannot be made about any group of people, including Jews. Due to persecution throughout their history, Jews have often had to flee their homelands to settle in foreign countries, usually called the Diaspora. As a result, there are Jews throughout the world and they do not look the same or have the same traditions or culture.

  • Education has always been very important to Jews, including the education of women so they can teach their children.
  • Family is central to Jewish life. Observant Jews do not believe in birth control.
  • All Jews worry about antisemitism. Playwright David Mamet wrote: “There are two kinds of places in the world: places where Jews cannot go, and places where Jews cannot stay.”
Do all Jews look alike? Can you name the celebrity? enlarge image
Do all Jews look alike? Can you name the celebrity?

Sources: hiphop.dx, A&E biography, Facebook, Getty Images, StarTrek.net, biography.com, Toronto Star, variety.com, Time.com

Bar mitzvah boy and bat mitzvah girl enlarge image
Bar mitzvah boy and bat mitzvah girl

Photo source: Temple Emanu-El, Atlanta https://templeemanuelatlanta.org/celebrate/barbat-mitzvah/ and http://www.rabbijk.com/bar---bat-mitzvahs.html

Most Jews, even the least observant, follow these 3 traditions:

1. Circumcision of male newborns (called a “bris” or “brit millah”) – to symbolize the covenant with God.

2. Bar mitzvah – any time after the 13th birthday, boys are considered an adult for religious purposes and must take responsibility for their own actions. During the ceremony, they lead a service in a synagogue. For girls it is called a Bat mitzvah and can happen any time after they turn 12, but is not mandatory in all communities.

3. Jewish weddings – sign a marriage contract called a “ketubah” and the groom smashes a glass under his heel to symbolize and remember the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.

Items needed for prayer on the Sabbath: candles, wine, challah and prayer book enlarge image
Items needed for prayer on the Sabbath: candles, wine, challah and prayer book

Photo source: www.jewishakron.org

The Sabbath (Saturday, not Sunday) according to the Old Testament in the Bible

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. Exodus 20:8-11

One day of rest when you are not allowed to work, travel, or handle money and must spend time at the synagogue praying and learning. It starts with the first star on Friday evening and ends about 24 hours later. On Friday nights traditional Jews might just say the prayer for the candles, the wine and the bread and may or may not attend synagogue services that evening or on Saturday. Generally, only Orthodox Jews follow the strict rules: They attend services on Friday night, Saturday morning and late afternoon before the Sabbath ends. Once the Sabbath starts, you are not allowed to do anything even considered to be work such as lighting a candle (turning on a light switch), making a meal, driving and another thousand things that are forbidden, including no cell phone use. For example, turning the oven on is considered work so stoves have a Sabbath setting to turn it on and off, or keep pre-prepared meals on a hot plate. Elevators in Israel even have a setting over the Sabbath. They stop on every floor so you don’t have to do labour by pushing buttons. The exceptions are child care or health issues.

What does Kosher mean?
Kosher and non-kosher meat and seafood enlarge image
Kosher and non-kosher meat and seafood

Image source: freepik.com

  • Strict rules about what you eat. Separating meat, dairy and pareve (neither meat nor dairy)
  • Rules on how to slaughter animals
  • Forbidden foods: pork and all products from pigs, shellfish (bottom-feeding)

Being Kosher

Three categories: meat, dairy and pareve (neither meat nor dairy).
Items designated “Meat” must meet the following requirements to be considered kosher (See in the Bible - Deuteronomy 14:3-10):

  • Kosher meat must come from an animal that chews its cud and has split hooves. Cows, sheep and goats are kosher; pigs, camels, rabbits, kangaroos, horses and fox are not.
  • Kosher fowl are identified by a universally accepted tradition and include the domesticated species of chickens, Cornish hens, ducks, geese and turkeys. The Torah names the species of fowl that are forbidden, including all predatory and scavenger birds.
  • Animal and fowl must be slaughtered with precision and examined by a skilled shochet who is extensively trained in the rituals of kosher slaughtering.
  • Permissible portions of the animal and fowl must be properly prepared (and soaked to remove any trace of blood) before cooking.
  • All utensils used in slaughtering, cleaning, preparing and packaging must be kosher.
  • Fish are allowed but not shellfish of any kind – lobster, shrimp, clams, mussels etc. since bottom-feeders eat garbage.

In recent polls, less than one-quarter of Diaspora Jews (outside of Israel) keep kosher. In Israel, where kosher food is readily available, approximately 63% of Jews keep kosher at home. All Orthodox Jews keep kosher at home and divide their kitchen into dairy and meat sections including separating dishes and cooking utensils. They will not eat in restaurants unless they are designated as kosher. They strive to follow every law of observance.


  • A widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing.
  • A person or thing that conforms to a widely held but oversimplified image of the class or type to which they belong: don’t treat anyone as a stereotype.

Source: Oxford Dictionary

Action 2  

Do >

What are some of the stereotypes of Jews and money?


  • Jews are greedy and cheap
  • All Jews are rich

(The same accusations have been made toward Chinese people and Mennonites)

The danger is that these stereotypes have been used to justify persecutions, unlike the other groups. Can sweeping generalizations be applied to groups of people? We grow up seeing, hearing, and eventually believing things about certain groups of people. Sometimes, we don’t even question where this information comes from and simply believe the opinions to be facts. Most stereotypes are false and come from a place of fear and judgment. Many stereotypes exist about Jewish people. List the ones you’ve heard and may even believe to be true:

Positive StereotypesNegative Stereotypes
Positive Stereotypes Negative Stereotypes
Jewish people are funny Jewish people are cheap

Print and keep this list and revisit it to add or remove stereotypes as you learn about Judaism and the history of the Jewish people.

Are all Jews rich?


Jewish law states that 10% of your income must go to charity. Maimonides listed his famous Eight Levels of Giving (in order of most to least preferred):

1. Giving an interest-free loan to a person in need; forming a partnership with a person in need; giving a grant to a person in need; finding a job for a person in need; so long as that loan, grant, partnership, or job results in the person no longer living by relying upon others.

2. Giving tzedakah anonymously to an unknown recipient via a person (or public fund) which is trustworthy, wise, and can perform acts of tzedakah with your money in a most impeccable fashion.

3. Giving tzedakah anonymously to a known recipient.

4. Giving tzedakah publicly to an unknown recipient.

5. Giving tzedakah before being asked.

6. Giving adequately after being asked.

7. Giving willingly, but inadequately.

8. Giving "in sadness" (giving out of pity): It is thought that Maimonides was referring to giving because of the sad feelings one might have in seeing people in need (as opposed to giving because it is a religious obligation). Other translations say "Giving unwillingly."

Jews and money

Biblical laws about moneylending:

Forbids taking or giving interest to a fellow Jew (“your brother”) including money, food or “any thing”. Strict interpretation in the Talmud means it is forbidden to even greet someone from whom you have borrowed. Historically, it was also forbidden to lend money to a fellow Jew but allowed lending money on interest to a “stranger”.

During the Middle Ages moneylending to Gentiles (non-Jews) proved to be very profitable and became widespread though at first, it was restricted to scholars and only allowed by rabbis when absolutely necessary. In order to pay their very high taxes, moneylending became more acceptable over time. In times of persecution, however, this proved to be a big risk. For example, during the Third Crusade starting in England, in York, a number of local nobles, who were in heavy debt to the Jews, seized the opportunity to rid themselves of their burden by slaughtering the Jewish community. They could do bad things with a good conscience while justifying it as doing God’s work.

Although moneylending was forbidden by the Church, in the late 12th C and early 13th C, the penalties for Christian lending on interest were often overlooked by churches, monasteries, bishops and the popes. For example, Italian merchants lent money on interest in France and Germany, usually at higher rates than the Jews.

Action 3  

Discuss >

Charitable giving

In a small group discuss what you’ve just learned about Tzedakah. Is there a reason that one form of giving is more honourable than another? Do you have a giving practice in your religion or culture? Is it similar or different than Tzedakah? Explain the rules and reasons supporting your religion’s giving practice. If you don’t have a giving practice, is there anything you do to give back to your community? Why do you believe this practice is important to cultural/religious groups or society in general?

A few major Canadian Jewish philanthropists who have made donations to huge causes:

Peter Munk and wife Melanie – charitable foundation has donated approximately $300 million to organizations for health, education and global reputation of Canadians. Education: The Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto; the Peter Munk Centre for Free Enterprise Education at the Fraser Insitute; Health: Toronto General Hospital – the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre; the Melanie Munk Chair in Cardiovascular Surgery at UHN.

Seymour Schulich major philanthropist – Universities: York - Schulich School of Business; Western Ontario – Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry; Calgary – Schulich School of Engineering; Dalhousie – Schulich School of Law and Faculty of Computer Science; McGill – Schulich School of Music; and Nipissing – Schulich School of Education. Health: Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre – Schulich Heart Centre as well as others outside of Canada.

Larry and Judy Tanenbaum (Maple Leaf sports and Entertainment)– charitable foundation has donated millions to Montreal Neurological institute, Tanenbaum Open Science Institute in conjunction with McGill U., Mount Sinai Hospital Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Centre, University of Toronto and other charitable initiatives.

Joseph Rotman (d. 2015) – donated more than $90 million to education, health and the arts: Rotman School of Management, U of Toronto; Rotman Institute of Philosophy - engaging Science, U. of Western Ontario; Canadian Institutes of Health Research; MaRS (Medical and Related Sciences) Discovery District; Canada Council for the Arts; Art Gallery of Ontario. Joseph said, “My father taught me that the most powerful way to inspire others to give is for them to see people giving in their community.”

Gerald Schwartz and Heather Reisman – Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation, Indigo Love of Reading Foundation, Toronto International Foundation – a few of 74 organizations to which they donate.

Mitchell Goldhar - $1 million to Canadian Sports Concussion Project; children’s charities.

Harvey and Elise Kalles – donations to Make a Wish Canada, Wellspring (programs for Canadians with cancer) and other causes.

Isadore and Rosalie Sharp – Founder and Chairman Four Seasons Hotels – started and is director of the Terry Fox Run; major donors to the Four Seasons Centre for Performing Arts, the Ontario College of Art and Design, Mount Sinai Hospital.

Ed Mirvish (d. 2007) – University of Waterloo, Camp Oochigeas, United Way and others. Christmas turkey giveaway until 2015.

Dani Reiss – Canada Goose CEO and President; Polar Bears International PBI – a nonprofit dedicated to worldwide conservation of the polar bear habitat; Canada Goose Resource Centres – popup centres for providing free materials for traditional Inuit workers to create clothing for their community.

Tikkun Olam – This means literally “heal or fix the world”, also key to Jewish values. It is the place where mysticism meets activism. It is a very powerful and optimistic world view, because it means each one of us can do something to improve things. Instead of being passive and giving up hope, you can be active and make change happen. Every person, even a child, can be master of their own world.

Rabbi Schneur Zalman who lived in Eastern Europe in the 18thC taught that our mission on earth is not to get to heaven but to bring heaven down to earth. Follow this teaching of Hillel, the most important sage or teacher in the first century BCE “That which is hateful to you do not do to your neighbour”, in other words, “Do unto others what you would want done to you.”

Jews and the Afterlife

  • Jewish teaching is quite vague on this and the subject of heaven and hell is rarely discussed in the synagogue. There are some references to heaven and hell in the Talmud and a 1st century sage Ben Zakkai made the first reference to the Garden of Eden and Gehinnom (hell) as a pair.
  • Other sources in the bible refer to the resurrection of the dead followed by a day of judgement when the righteous live forever and the wicked will be punished.
  • In the second century BCE the idea of immortality of the soul after the death of the body appeared.
  • Most commonly seen is that the ultimate reward would be “The World to Come” (olam haba) mentioned in various descriptions in the Talmud. Some imply it exists as a parallel world. Others believed that it will be ushered in by the resurrection of the dead while Maimonides felt the resurrected will die a second death and the righteous will enjoy a spiritual existence in the presence of God.
  • Like many concepts when it comes to Jews, there are many interpretations and it is an ongoing debate. Most important however is life on earth.

Jewish Life Before the Second World War

Two streams of European Jews;

  • East: Russian, Poland and the Ukraine
  • West: Germany, France and England
Early 1900s, a poor Jewish village in Poland, known as a shtetl enlarge image
Early 1900s, a poor Jewish village in Poland, known as a shtetl

Photo credit: https://www.apartfrommyart.com/from-shtetl-to-jello/



Russian word meaning “to destroy, demolish”. This term is used in English to refer to collective violence, usually against Jews but has also been used for violence against other ethnic minorities.

The East - Russia:

Fiddler on the Roof is a popular musical and film based on short stories by Sholem Aleichem. It is fiction however, a very fond looking back, and should never be taken as history any more than watching Guardians of the Galaxy and thinking that is what life will be like for your grandchildren. This very large group of about 5 million Jews in Russia was extremely religious and superstitious. Their life rotated around their faith and their rebbe (teacher). Jews were not allowed to own lands or have jobs outside of their little village. Tradition was important and life was precarious.

  • Eastern European market towns, almost completely Jewish communities (Ashkenazi), located in Poland and Russia
  • Started around 1200, ending in the Second World War
  • About 85% of the 5 million Jews spoke their own language called “Yiddish” with roots in High German mixed with some Hebrew, Aramaic, Turkic, Slavic and Romance languages
  • From 1790s to 1915 under Russian Empire control
  • Russian “Pogroms” in 1880s led to emigration of up to 2 million Jews from Eastern Europe
  • Strong sense of community
  • Followed the rules in the Torah
  • Jewish education, mostly for the boys
  • During the Holocaust, Nazis exterminated all the Jews in the communities or villages called shtetls

The Jews were extremely poor and life was difficult. The Jewish calendar of holidays was central to life and every Jew kept a strictly kosher diet. There was tremendous social pressure to be observant. No one worked on the Sabbath, all the men went to the synagogue, marriages were arranged, and life was short and basically unpleasant. On the other hand, music and religious instruction (not much art, drama) were important. From time to time, there were very violent attacks called “pogroms” (definition below) on Jewish settlements by the army or armed groups who had the government’s support.

From 1791 to 1835, The Russian Empire gained new territory known as the Pale of the Settlement and prohibited Jews from settling in Russian territory outside the Pale. The region included parts of present-day Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova and Poland. Russian pogroms by non-Jews began in 1881 in Elizavetgrad (present-day Ukraine) and spread through seven provinces in southern Russia and Ukraine. Jewish stores and homes were looted, their property destroyed, women were raped and many Jews were beaten or murdered. Regardless of whether or not the government ordered these attacks, the response to stop them was slow, with the military or police often joining the violent mobs.

Anti-Jewish laws by the Russian government in the 1880s:

  • Limited the number of Jews who could attend high schools and universities
  • Prevented Jewish law school graduates from joining the bar
  • Restricted where Jews could live
  • Non-Jews prohibited from issuing mortgages to Jews
  • Jews prohibited from doing business on Sundays

Why were there pogroms and antisemitic laws?

  • Jews blamed for the bad economy and political instability
  • The blood libel myth that Jews murder Christian babies and bake their blood into their matzah
  • Claim that Jews murdered Jesus
  • There was a rumour that Jews were involved with the assassination of Czar Alexander II in 1881 by members of the Narodnaya Volya socialist movement.

Jewish Response: Jews fled to Western Europe, the United States and Israel, which at that time was ruled by the Ottoman Empire. Some Jews became politically active, joining the General Jewish Labor Bund, Bolshevik groups and self-defense leagues or becoming Zionists.

1904 Illustration. US President Roosevelt tells the Russian Tsar, “Stop Your Cruel Oppression of the Jews” enlarge image
1904 Illustration. US President Roosevelt tells the Russian Tsar, “Stop Your Cruel Oppression of the Jews”

Print by Emil Flohri. Source: Library of Congress

1903-1906 Pogroms – in Kishinev (present day Moldova), hundreds of homes and businesses destroyed and dozens of Jews killed, causing tens of thousands of Jews to flee
1905 Odessa - about 2,500 Jews killed
1919 – in Kiev, Cossacks, fearless and brutal fighters within the Russian military, led pogrom injuring and raping many and killing 14 Jews.

The West - Germany

Walther Rathenau (1867 –1922) enlarge image
Walther Rathenau (1867 –1922)

A German Jewish industrialist, politician, writer, and statesman who served as Foreign Minister of Germany during the Weimar Republic. He was assassinated on June 24, 1922, two months after the signing of the Treaty of Rapallo between Germany and Russia.

Photo credit: Getty Images

Laws that were favourable to Jews were passed in the early 1800s but by 1850, the 24 kingdoms that spoke German were starting to unify under the concept of a nation, and Jews were not welcome. Germany had very hierarchical societies; everybody had their place, like at Downton Abbey: at the top - aristocracy, then below that, wealthy families, then a rising middle class, then the poor, at the bottom. In Germany, there was a large Orthodox Jewish community who were the face of Jews. Men always wore hats or a kippah, women wore long dresses, and there was little intermarriage. If you married a non-Jew, your family would go through all the same rituals as if you had died and would never speak to you again.

There was a large Reform community in Germany and they were very assimilated by the late 1800s. Assimilation was a big problem for the Jewish community. Jews were giving up everything that made them different and trying to have social lives with non-Jews. Wealthy bankers held music “salons” that included Jews and non-Jews. Antisemitism was an issue but not in polite company. Some Jews did very well, for examples: Albert Einstein and the Rothschilds. Germany’s Foreign Minister in the 1920s, Walter Rathenau, was Jewish (see image above).

The First World War

Printed Leaflet in Germany 1920 – (translated) enlarge image
Printed Leaflet in Germany 1920 – (translated)

"12,000 Jewish soldiers died on the field of honor for the fatherland."
"Christian and Jewish heroes fought together and lie together on foreign soil."
"12,000 Jews fell in battle."
"Blind, enraged Party hatred does not stop at the graves of the dead."
"German Women: Do not allow the suffering of Jewish mothers to be mocked!"

Source: The Reich Association of Jewish Veterans [Front-line Soldiers]

Many Jews fought for Germany in the First World War, were decorated war heroes who loved their country and felt that Germany was the leader in the world for all the good things. They were convinced that their military service would make Jews more accepted but clearly this wasn’t true in the years leading up to the Second World War. 12,000 German Jews died for their Fatherland (Germany) in the First World War.

Action 4  

Discuss >

Understanding history

With a partner, discuss the history of the Jews leading up to the Second World War. What did you learn that surprised you? Why did it come as a surprise? Discuss the specifics of Judaism and its history – what is of interest? Why? Can you sense a divide between Jewish people and people of other cultures and religions? Can you understand how persecution of Jews was justified throughout history? Explore these questions with your partner then discuss as a class.

Historical Antisemitism

There are 3 types of antisemitism: religious, racial, and the new antisemitism. The first two are examined in this chapter. For the New Antisemitism, please see Unit 6 Chapter 2 Contemporary Antisemitism: https://www.voicesintoaction.ca/Learn/Unit6/Chapter1

1. Religious Antisemitism

In the past, Christians have had an issue with Jews because they believed Jews murdered Jesus, and also because Jews refused to accept Christianity. Similarly, many Muslims, in the past and many currently, are antisemitic because Jews do not accept Islam.

Christian antisemitism began in the centuries after Christ died. John Chrysostom (344-407 CE) was one of the "greatest" of church fathers, known as "The Golden Mouthed." This missionary preacher, famous for his sermons and addresses, stated:

The synagogue is worse than a brothel…it is the den of scoundrels and the repair of wild beasts…the temple of demons devoted to idolatrous cults…the refuge of brigands and debauchees, and the cavern of devils. It is a criminal assembly of Jews…a place of meeting for the assassins of Christ… a house worse than a drinking shop…a den of thieves, a house of ill fame, a dwelling of iniquity, the refuge of devils, a gulf and an abyss of perdition. As for me, I hate the synagogue…I hate the Jews for the same reason.

Source: "The Roots of Christian Anti-Semitism" by Malcolm Hay

The Last Supper – Famous painting by Leonard da Vinci of Jesus Christ and his 12 disciples celebrating Passover, his last supper enlarge image
The Last Supper – Famous painting by Leonard da Vinci of Jesus Christ and his 12 disciples celebrating Passover, his last supper

Source: Wikimedia Commons

The Crusades

Routes of the Crusades from 1095 to 1289 enlarge image
Routes of the Crusades from 1095 to 1289

Image Source: Maptitude1.tumblr.com

The Crusades began in 1095 and ended in 1289. The Christians in Europe had two motives:

  • to remove Muslims from Jerusalem; some Crusaders were honestly driven by religion.
  • to win riches, bring non-Christians to the Church (or, in many cases, sentence them to death if they refused to convert)

1095-1096: First Crusade - Germany witnessed the first incidents of major violent European antisemitism when these Crusaders massacred Jewish communities in what’s become known as the Rhineland massacres. In Speyer, Worms, Mainz, and Cologne the range of anti-Jewish activity was broad, extending from limited, spontaneous violence to full-scale military attacks.

Try to imagine this: you are living in a small village, scratching a living from the hard ground. You hear a noise, you see dust. You see thousands and thousands of very heavily armed men, and their servants, marching toward your village. They are hungry and thirsty. The food they packed is long gone. And you’ve heard rumours about what these Crusaders do to non-Christians. So you know that every chicken, every cow and every last grain of wheat is going to be taken. And, as the saying goes, resistance is futile. Jews are slaughtered by the thousands during the Crusades for the glory of Christianity.

While the events of 1096 debilitated Rhineland Jewry, the First Crusade should not be seen as a watershed event that inevitably led to the decline of Ashkenazic Jewry. Several Rhineland Jewish communities were destroyed, but they rapidly rebuilt in the early 12th century. Jewish economic activity flourished; moneylending, in particular, increased as subsequent crusading ventures needed cash. There was certainly no decline in intellectual creativity among Ashkenazi Jews; the study of law continued, although the focus shifted from Germany to northern France.

Interestingly, the Jews of Europe were motivated by the journeys of Christians to the Holy Land, and aided by the increased maritime transportation between Palestine and Europe, to make a greater number of pilgrimages themselves. For example, “The Aliyah of Three Hundred Rabbis” occurred in 1211. This emigration of several hundred rabbis from Western Europe (mostly France and England) marks the beginning of an active period of aliyah (immigration to the Land of Israel) that continued through the 13th century.

The Spanish Inquisition 1478-1834

The Catholic Church in Spain sought to root out and punish heretics, that is, non-Catholics, especially Jews and Muslims who were subjected to persecution and torture.

Illustration depicting the key elements of an auto-da-fé, or public sentencing, during the Spanish Inquisition. Plaza Mayor in Madrid, 1680 enlarge image
Illustration depicting the key elements of an auto-da-fé, or public sentencing, during the Spanish Inquisition. Plaza Mayor in Madrid, 1680

Source: The Jewish Encyclopedia (after printing by RICI)

1478: Spanish Jews had been heavily persecuted from the 14th century onward, particularly during the reign of Henry III of Castile and Leon (1390-1406). To avoid persecution, many had converted to Christianity. The Spanish Inquisition was set up by the Church in order to detect insincere conversions. King Ferdinand II and Queen Isabella of Spain believed that converted Jews, called “Conversos” caused corruption in the Catholic Church. They were accused of poisoning drinking water, abducting Christian boys and blamed for the Plague (later known to have been caused by fleas carried by rats). Laws were passed that prohibited the descendants of Jews or Muslims from attending university, joining religious orders, holding public office, or entering any of a long list of professions.

On November 1, 1478, Pope Sixtus IV issued the papal bull Exigit Sinceras Devotionis Affectus. He declared, “We are aware that in different cities in your kingdoms of Spain many of those who were regenerated by the sacred baptismal waters of their own free will have returned secretly to the observance of the laws and customs of the Jewish [faith]…because of the crimes of these men and the tolerance of the Holy See towards them civil war, murder, and innumerable ills afflict your kingdoms.”

To eliminate this menace, the Pope gave Ferdinand and Isabella the permission to establish the authority of the Spanish Inquisition, first in Castile. Aragon soon followed. The Inquisition would unite the nation with one common religion, Christianity, and with a common purpose, eradicating hidden Jews and Judaism within its borders. An added benefit: Conversos accused by the Inquisition had their property and wealth automatically confiscated.

1483: Grand Inquisitor Torquemada was given jurisdiction by the pope to act as the head of the Inquisition in Spain. Dominican Tomàs de Torquemada was one of the cruelest and most evil men in history. Public sentencing happened at an “Auto-da-fé” where the accused heretics had to wear a sackcloth over their heads with only a single hole for the eyes. At least 2,000 of the accused refused to confess and were burned at the stake.

1492: Jews were given the choice of being baptized as Christians or be banished from Spain. 300,000 left Spain penniless. (In the 1550s the same persecution happened to the Muslims in Spain.) Many Jews migrated to Turkey, where they found tolerance among the Muslims. Up to 600,000 Jews converted to Christianity, but often continued to practice Judaism in secret. They are known as Marranos.

1536: John III of Portugal was given permission by the Pope to carry out an inquisition of Portuguese Jews, even more severe than the Spanish one. It was only suppressed forever in 1821.

1834: Depending on who was ruling the country, the Spanish Inquisition was suppressed and restored on and off until finally ending in 1834.

Martin Luther – 1483-1546. Portrait by Lucas Cranach der Ältere, 1528. enlarge image
Martin Luther – 1483-1546. Portrait by Lucas Cranach der Ältere, 1528.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Martin Luther
10 November, 1483 – 18 February, 1546

Luther was a German friar, priest and professor of theology who was a key figure in the Protestant Religion. Lutherans are those who follow his teachings. He was really angry that Jews still would not convert to Christianity despite the changes that he and others brought to Christianity.

On the Jews and their Lies
What then shall we Christians do with this damned, rejected race of Jews?...
First, their synagogues should be set on fire,
Secondly, their homes should likewise be broken down and destroyed.
Thirdly, they should be deprived of their prayer-books and Talmuds in which such idolatry, lies, cursing, and blasphemy are taught.
Fourthly, their rabbis must be forbidden under threat of death to teach any more...
Fifthly, passport and traveling privileges should be absolutely forbidden to the Jews. If this advice of mine does not suit you, then find a better one so that you and we may all be free of this insufferable devilish burden - the Jews...
Such a desperate, thoroughly evil, poisonous, and devilish lot are these Jews, who for these fourteen hundred years have been and still are our plague, our pestilence, and our misfortune.

Translated by Martin H. Bertram, "On The Jews and Their Lies, Luther's Works, Volume 47"; Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1971.

Present-day members of the Lutheran Church gradually disavowed the anti-Jewish writings by Luther, first in 1994 by the American branch of five million at the Evangelical Lutheran Church and then more recently, renounced in European Lutheran churches in 2016 in Germany, Norway and the Netherlands.

Pogrom in Frankfurt August 22, 1614 enlarge image
Pogrom in Frankfurt August 22, 1614

– The plundering of the Judengasse (the Jews’ Alley or Jewish ghetto)

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Pogroms: Russian word “pogrom” means the deliberate persecution of an ethnic group usually applied to anti-Jewish violence in the Russian Empire in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but also used for attacks against other groups. During the Middle Ages Jewish communities were targeted in the Black Death Jewish persecutions of 1348-1350 in France, Spain, Belgium and Prague where Jews were blamed for the Plague. In the Khmelnytsky Pogroms of 1648-1657, for the first time on the scale of a genocide, 20 percent of the Jews of present-day Ukraine were massacred. Cossacks killed over 100,000 men, women and children.

Action 5  

Do >

Pogroms, then and now

Google “Pogrom” and you’ll see on Wikipedia a timeline from the year 38 CE to this century.

Write a compare/contrast essay (500 words) about the similarities and differences between the Pogroms experienced by Jews and the refugee crisis experienced by the Rohingyas in Myanmar/Burma. Can the term be applied to what the Rohingyas are now experiencing? Is history repeating itself with the Rohingyas? Why (or not) do you think so? Remember to present credible evidence to support your position.

Antisemitism in Islam

Hadith Commentary in Sunni Islam, 9thC enlarge image
Hadith Commentary in Sunni Islam, 9thC

Source: Wikipedia

Qur’an 98:7:
This hadith (commentary created after the death of Muhammad) has been quoted countless times, and it has become a part of the charter of Hamas. This is an armed group dedicated to the destruction of Israel, currently governing the Palestinians living in Gaza.

“The unbelievers among the People of the Book and the pagans shall burn forever in the fire of Hell. They are the vilest of all creatures.”

2. Racial Antisemitism

The belief that:
Jews are NOT like “us”; they are genetically different and naturally cheat, steal, are greedy etc. They are a threat to “us”. Leading to: There is no solution except extermination.

Caricature of Jewish stock-exchange speculators which appeared in the German satirical magazine Fliegende Blätter in 1851. enlarge image
Caricature of Jewish stock-exchange speculators which appeared in the German satirical magazine Fliegende Blätter in 1851.

----"Herr Baron, that lad's stealing your handkerchief."
----"Let him go. We were just as small when we started out."

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Nationalism: In the 1800s Europe went from loosely aligned counties and relatively small districts to “nations”. This was the rise of nationalism as communication and transportation made these larger organizations possible and even necessary as other nations were rising.

Nationalism is the love of one’s country, often taken to extreme and used by those in power to stay in power. Here is the thinking: Let’s blame THEM for our lack of success; let’s blame them for the rain falling (a true story); let’s blame them for the Russian Revolution (The Russian Revolution ushered in communism which makes it hypocritical as Jews are usually called greedy capitalists).

All over Europe, and even in Canada, we have nationalist parties that want all foreigners removed. Nationalism frequently leads to violence against those who are considered “other”.

Action 6  

Discuss >

Can nationalism and diversity work well together?

In a small group discuss Canada’s diverse population. Do you think it helps or hurts a country to contain such a large number of people from various countries and backgrounds? How does it help build nationalism? How can it hurt it? What have you witnessed to prove your point? Raise any questions you have about whether or not diverse societies function well? Ask the group the questions and discuss with an open mind.

The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, invented by Russian government agents and printed in 1903; English publishing 1919 enlarge image
The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, invented by Russian government agents and printed in 1903; English publishing 1919

Source: Wikipedia. www.holocaustresearchproject.org

The Protocols of the Elders of Zion is a work of fiction and the most notorious and widely distributed document inciting antisemitism. It pretended to be the minutes of a late 19th-century meeting of Jewish leaders discussing their goal of global Jewish domination by subverting the morals of non-Jews, and by controlling the press and the world's economies. Even after it was exposed as a government hoax in the 1920’s, it was still a powerful influence because it told people what they wanted to hear: “Our problems are not created by us; our problems are because of them, the Jews.”

Cartoon of an octopus representing a Jew taking over the world enlarge image
Cartoon of an octopus representing a Jew taking over the world

Source: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

As the 1917 Russian Revolution unfolded, causing supporters of Czars to flee to the West, this document was transported with them and assumed a new purpose. Until then The Protocols had remained obscure; it became an instrument for blaming Jews for the Russian Revolution. It was now a tool, a political weapon used against the Communists who were depicted as overwhelmingly Jews, allegedly executing the "plan" embodied in The Protocols. The purpose was to discredit the Russian Revolution, prevent the West from recognizing the Soviet Union, and bring the downfall of Vladimir Lenin's regime. Translated editions were sold across Europe, the US, South America and Japan. Then Arabic translations appeared in the 1920s.

The Dearborn Independent newspaper owned by Henry Ford, a big antisemite; Time Magazine cover with Henry Ford, January 13, 1935 enlarge image
The Dearborn Independent newspaper owned by Henry Ford, a big antisemite; Time Magazine cover with Henry Ford, January 13, 1935

Source: Time Magazine; Wikipedia

Henry Ford, the founder of Ford Motor Company and mass production of cars, claimed that Jews created capitalism. He opposed the First World War and believed that German-Jewish bankers started it for their own profit. He sponsored the printing of 500,000 copies, and, from 1920 to 1922, published a series of antisemitic articles titled "The International Jew: The World's Foremost Problem", in The Dearborn Independent, a newspaper he owned. In 1921, Ford cited evidence of a Jewish threat: "The only statement I care to make about the Protocols is that they fit in with what is going on. They are 16 years old, and they have fitted the world situation up to this time.”

The international Jew published by Henry Ford in 1920. In his auto showrooms he distributed 500,000 copies, some included with cars. enlarge image
The international Jew published by Henry Ford in 1920. In his auto showrooms he distributed 500,000 copies, some included with cars.

Source: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Two years before becoming the German chancellor in 1933, Hitler kept a life-size portrait of Henry Ford next to his desk. He told a Detroit News reporter, "I regard Henry Ford as my inspiration."

Hitler refers to the Protocols in Mein Kampf:

...To what extent the whole existence of this people is based on a continuous lie is shown incomparably by the Protocols of the Wise Men of Zion, so infinitely hated by the Jews. They are based on a forgery, the Frankfurter Zeitung moans and screams once every week: the best proof that they are authentic. [...] the important thing is that with positively terrifying certainty they reveal the nature and activity of the Jewish people and expose their inner contexts as well as their ultimate final aims.

After the Nazis came to power in 1933, The Protocols of Zion was studied as a text in German schools, despite having been exposed as fraudulent by The Times of London in 1921. Despite conclusive proof that the Protocols were a gross forgery, they had sensational popularity and large sales in the 1920s and 1930s. They were translated into every language of Europe and sold widely in Arab lands, the US, and England. But it was in Germany after the First World War that they had their greatest success. There they were used to explain all of the disasters that had befallen the country: the defeat in the war, the hunger, the destructive inflation.

Protocols continue to be widely available around the world, particularly on the Internet, as well as in print in Japan, the Middle East, Asia, and South America. The US Senate issued a report in 1964 declaring that the Protocols were "fabricated." The Senate called the contents of the Protocols "gibberish" and criticized those who "peddled" the Protocols for using the same propaganda technique as Hitler.

In most parts of the world, governments and leaders have not referred to the Protocols since the Second World War. The exception to this is the Middle East, where a large number of Arab and Muslim regimes and leaders have endorsed them as authentic, including endorsements from Presidents Gamal Abdel Nasser, King Faisal of Saudi Arabia, and the 1988 charter of Hamas, a Palestinian Islamist group. Recent endorsements in the 21st century have been made by the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and Palestine, Sheikh Ekrima Sa'id Sabri (appointed by Arafat 1994 to 2006) and the education ministry of Saudi Arabia. This document continues to circulate on the Internet. Many Arabic and Islamic school textbooks throughout the world use the Protocols as fact. To this day, neo-Nazis, white Supremacists and Holocaust deniers circulate the Protocols.

Action 7  

Discuss >

Historical and present views of Jews

How do some of the historical views of Jews contribute to antisemitism today? Did you know that antisemitism was so widespread and enduring? What do you now know about Jews that you did not know before?

Other Antisemitism in the United States Before the Second World War

Antisemitism in Hollywood

In the 1920s there were antisemitic views toward Jews in the film industry. Charles Lindbergh* (See note below this section) once said “Their [Jews’] greatest danger to this country lies in their large ownership and influence in our motion pictures…” When interviewed Marlon Brandon said, “Hollywood is run by Jews.” Jews who appeared on screen in the early days, hid their Jewishness – for example, Lauren Bacall (formerly Betty Joan Perske) and Tony Curtis (formerly Bernard Schwarz). In the first silent films, identifiable Jewish characters, themes and issues were mostly avoided by Hollywood, and the few that showed Jewish families, depicted them dealing with assimilation. Assimilation means when a minority group of people become fully integrated into the wider society and culture in which they live.

The Holocaust was not shown in films by Hollywood during the Second World War since American involvement in Europe’s war wasn’t popular. The only exception was Charlie Chaplin (also Jewish) in the famous “The Great Dictator” in 1940. After the war ended however testimony by Holocaust survivors, the creation of Israel and strong nationalism, made American filmmakers eventually change their attitudes. By the 1970s there was complete acceptance and in fact, 80 percent of professional comedians were Jewish according to Time Magazine, 1979. Examples are Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner, Woody Allen, Gene Wilder and Neil Simon. Others who were famous on stage and screen were Irving Berlin, Molly Goldberg and Sid Caesar.

(*Charles Lindbergh – an American pilot who was the first to fly a plane non-stop from New York to Paris.)

Antisemitism in education: From the 1920s to 1950s universities such as Harvard, and other private liberal arts, as well as medical and dental schools wanted to prevent the rising percentage of Jewish applicants and instituted a quota system to keep Jewish admissions down to 10%. Yale University only eliminated this policy in 1970.

“The crimes with which the Jews have been charged in the course of history—crimes which were used to justify the atrocities perpetrated against them—have changed in rapid succession. They were supposed to have poisoned wells. They were said to have murdered children for ritual purposes. They were falsely charged with a systematic attempt at the economic domination and exploitation of all mankind. Pseudo-scientific books were written to brand them an inferior, dangerous race. They were reputed to foment wars and revolutions for their own selfish purposes. They were presented at once as dangerous innovators and as enemies of true progress. They were charged with falsifying the culture of nations by penetrating the national life under the guise of becoming assimilated. In the same breath they were accused of being so inflexible that it was impossible for them to fit into any society.”

- Albert Einstein in Collier’s Magazine, November 1938, immediately following Kristallnacht, the “night of broken glass”. Throughout Nazi Germany, Kristallnacht was a pogrom against Jews carried out by the military and civilians on November 9 to 10, 1938.

Action 8  

Do >

Putting yourself in their shoes

Look over your list from ACTION 1 and add or delete any information that has changed your mind since learning about the history of the Jews and antisemitism. Imagine what it would be like to grow up Jewish before the Second World War, assimilated in the society your family lived in, then this happens: you are suddenly expelled from school, forced to wear a Jewish star on your clothing to identify you, then on a path to exclusion, segregation in ghettos and doomed to extinction.

Using the first-person perspective, write a journal entry as a Jewish person of your age, during that time period. Include specifics about your practices, feelings about friends who no longer spend time with you, and being shuffled around to ‘gated’ communities without knowing what the future has in store for you and your family. Imagine the fear you would experience. Include any details about Jewish religious practices that will infuse the journal entry with reality and emotion.

Antisemitism in Canada Before and After the Second World War

Once European explorers made first contact with First Nations Peoples, immigrants were encouraged to settle the West, clear the forests, farm the land, and build Canada’s cities. The preference was for people from Great Britain and other White Europeans. Other immigrants, including Black people, East Asians and Chinese, were turned away.

In the early part of the 20th century, Canada selected immigrants according to ethnic and racial stereotypes. Advertising encouraged immigration to Canada before the Second World War with headlines like this: “Britishers! Bring Your Families to Canada.” White people from the United States and Great Britain, and from northern and western Europe, were welcomed with no problem. Russians and other eastern Europeans had more trouble entering Canada however because their racial traits were considered to be inferior to that of other white and Western immigrants. One immigrant group was classified as “undesirable” by Canada: Jewish people, arriving from any country in the world. They could only enter Canada with special permission from the government.

Around the 1870s, some scientists came up with the idea of ranking stronger and weaker countries based on the racial and ethnic characteristics of their citizens. In South Africa and the United States, black people were discriminated against because their racial characteristics were believed to be inferior to that of white people. In Europe, the United States and Canada, Christians were considered to be superior to other ethnic and religious groups. In reality, people’s physical characteristics and personality traits are neither superior nor inferior, but this did not stop Canada from discriminating against certain immigrant groups based on ethnic and racial stereotypes.

History of Canadian Jews

Fun Facts about some of the first Jews who came to Canada

Esther Brandeau (born about 1718 near Bayonne, France; date of death unknown)

The first Jewish person to set foot in Canada was actually a girl disguised as a boy! In 1738 a 20-year-old girl arrived on a ship in Quebec dressed as a boy and calling herself Jacques La Fargue. She was the daughter of a Jewish merchant, David Brandeau, from Bayonne, France. Esther was sent in 1733 by her parents on a Dutch ship to join her brother and an aunt in Amsterdam. When the ship was wrecked she was saved by one of the crew and provided shelter by a woman living in Biarritz. At that point, she decided to disguise herself as a boy and after being forced to eat forbidden foods such as pork, decided she wanted a life of liberty as a Christian. After various odd jobs, she ended up being hired as a ship’s boy on the Saint-Michel that set sail for Quebec in 1738. When her true identity was discovered in Quebec, she was arrested, taken to Hôpital Général and interrogated. It was a big source of embarrassment for this Catholic community in New France, trying to be monotheistic, and they agreed to allow her to convert. Even the admiral and King Louis XV of France became involved in her situation. After living there for a year, Esther never adapted however and was finally deported back to France in 1739, with her return voyage being paid by the state.

Aaron Hart Jewish businessman in Quebec 1700s enlarge image
Aaron Hart Jewish businessman in Quebec 1700s

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Aaron Hart (born about 1724; died 28 Dec., 1800)

Aaron Hart was a Jewish businessman from either Bavaria (Germany) or England, who lived and died in Trois Rivières, New France (Quebec). He followed British troops north, though some say he was an office serving with the British forces under Amherst. Jews were not welcome by European armies so it is less likely he was on the staff. A document in 1760 refers to him and the following year he became a merchant in Trois-Rivières providing supplies to the troops. His home was turned into a post office by the authorities in 1763 and a year later, he purchased his first land and kept acquiring properties. In 1767 he went to London to find a wife and married Dorothy Judah in 1768. They returned back to New France to begin their lives in a new country with much promise. With a Jewish wife, they raised their children with Jewish traditions. The extended family in the area grew when Aaron’s brother Moses joined him, while another brother settled in Albany, New York. His wife’s bothers had already settled in Canada prior to her arrival. The British relied on Jewish merchants who were among the few who spoke English in the province. Aaron Hart had two sons who established themselves in Trois-Rivières because their father gave them lands there. He involved them in his fur-trading, assigned a shop, Aaron Hart and Son, to Ezekiel and opened a brewery and a bakery. After Aaron’s death in in 1800, the Hart family owned four fiefs and seven seigneuries, according to lists in about 1857. It amounted to $86,293, a vast fortune at that time. His sons inherited his properties and he left generous sums in his will to his four daughters. Aaron’s son Ezekiel was elected to the assembly in 1807. Over generations many members of the Hart family remained in the Trois-Rivières region, mixed with long-term Canadians and became assimilated.

Rachel Myers – Jewish woman Loyalist who emigrated to New Brunswick

Rachel Myers was born in Austria and was married to a Hungarian Jew, Benjamin Myers in 1757 when she was only 12! Due to the antisemitic policies of the Empress Maria Theresa, they emigrated to America, arriving in New York. Their first son Benjamin Jr. was born in 1758 followed by eight more children. They moved to Newport, Rhode Island where there was already a thriving Jewish community. After their last child was born in 1776, Rachel’s husband died at age 43. Their eldest son Benjamin Jr. was a British Loyalist who refused to swear allegiance to the American cause. Rachel and her eight other children followed Benjamin Jr. to New York when Newport, formerly occupied by the British, became American. In 1778, he and his brother Abraham joined the British troops fighting the Americans. Along with many other Loyalists, they then fled to Canada where the British offered them free land in Nova Scotia.

They landed in Saint John, NB on April 27, 1783 and found themselves in terrible conditions of cold, wet weather, swarms of insects, lack of food and water, poor sanitation, violence, theft and alcoholism. Benjamin and Abraham were finally granted land over a year later but the family lived in makeshift tents waiting for them to clear the 200 acres. Rachel petitioned the governor for cleared land, and had assistance with her letter as she was illiterate. Her petition described the “Distressed situation of your petitioners”, her “fatherless children” and her “Real Need Family” who had been living in “very deplorable circumstances” since their arrival. At first, she was provided with unsuitable land that was too low to build on, then received only slightly better land in 1786. There were severe food shortages and starvation that winter. The family was provided only one third of the promised provisions. She was fed up with the empty promises by the British and the suffering they were enduring and decided to head back to New York. Furthermore, as the only Jewish family in New Brunswick, they lacked a Jewish community. In 1787 they arrived back in New York and were provided housing and a community. She died in 1801 and despite living at the bottom of American, Jewish and Loyalist societies, Rachel Myer’s legacy lies in the successes of her children. In the 1850s her son Mordecai became mayor of Schenectady, NY. Her daughter, Judith Myers married a Loyalist and moved to Toronto in 1831 where she died at age 62.


Sign prohibiting Jews in St. Agathe-des-Monts, Quebec. July 1939 enlarge image
Sign prohibiting Jews in St. Agathe-des-Monts, Quebec. July 1939

Source: Azrieli Foundation

Between the 1890s and the 1920s some Jewish immigrants did manage to enter Canada. They were fleeing terrible pogroms in Russia and Poland that were organized by the Russian government. In Canada, Jewish people experienced discrimination only because they were Jewish. (After the Second World War, the intolerance toward Jews continued.) They could only get low-paying jobs on farms or in factories because big companies, banks, and stores didn’t trust Jewish employees. Like the United States, universities had quotas on how many Jews could become doctors, lawyers or engineers. Even if Jews did become doctors, they couldn’t find hospitals where they were allowed to work or where non-Jewish doctors would work with them. People wouldn’t rent apartments or sell houses to Jewish families, and there were tennis and golf clubs that refused to permit Jews to become members. Signs at beaches, swimming pools and parks declared “No Jews or Dogs Allowed.”

Sign in Quebec, c. 1930’s enlarge image
Sign in Quebec, c. 1930’s

Source: The Canadian Encyclopedia

Christie Pits Riots, August 16, 1933 in Toronto

An antisemitic group who called themselves the “Pit Gang” taunted Jewish baseball players, yelling “Heil Hitler” and displaying swastikas. It began with words and became the biggest riot to date in Canada involving violent fighting and a crowd of about 10,000. The three youths who started it were arrested.

McLean’s magazine article “No Jews Need Apply” November 1, 1948 by Pierre Berton enlarge image
McLean’s magazine article “No Jews Need Apply” November 1, 1948 by Pierre Berton

Source: The Maclean’s Archive. http://archive.macleans.ca/article/1948/11/1/no-jews-need-apply

Action 9  

Do >

Immigration to Canada

Why do you think that Jewish people believed there would not be pogroms in Canada and that they would be safe? Organize your information into a 3 to 4-page essay or be prepared to speak to the class for 5-10 minutes on this question.

Action 10  

Discuss >

Parallels between the experiences of Jewish and Indigenous People

Compare and contrast stereotypes of Jews and those of Indigenous People. Looking around the world at Indigenous people in Canada, the United States, and Australia, have governments mistreated them in the past in similar ways to how Jews have been mistreated? What is the same and what is different? Compare how both groups have at times been forced to assimilate to Christian society or face persecution. Discuss in small groups then as a class.

During the Great Depression of the 1930s, when there was a worldwide economic depression and mass unemployment after the stock market crashed in 1929, Canadians experienced severe unemployment and poverty. Because life was difficult, many turned to traditional Christian stereotypes for answers and ended up blaming the Jews for the economic problems they were facing. The Jews became the scapegoat. Canadians who might never have met a Jew began to believe ugly caricatures depicting Jews as “controlling all the money in the world” or as the “killers of Jesus Christ”. These were lies that people told about Jews to make themselves feel better. Groups calling for the expulsion of all Jews (and other “foreigners”) from Canada grew increasingly popular in English-speaking provinces, especially among French-speaking Quebecers. These groups spread more lies about Jewish people to make Canadians afraid. Some engaged in violence against Jewish Canadians.

St. Agathe, Quebec 1935. German Bund group Nazi supporters. enlarge image
St. Agathe, Quebec 1935. German Bund group Nazi supporters.

Source: Montreal Holocaust Memorial Centre (Musée Holocauste)

Canada’s Jewish leaders worked with the country’s handful of Jewish members of Parliament (MPs) and non-Jewish supporters to counter the lies being told about Jews. They also met with the Prime Minister, gave speeches, and held rallies urging Canada’s government to allow in more Jewish immigrants, even as they helped settle the few who managed to enter the country. But by the mid-1930s, Canada was slamming its doors to all immigrants and especially to Jewish refugees from Europe.

See Unit 4 Immigration Chapter 1 - The Voyage of the MS St. Louis for Canada’s immigration policies towards Jews in the 1930s: https://www.voicesintoaction.ca/Learn/Unit4/Chapter1

Resource: Maristella Botticini and Zvi Eckstein, authors of The Chosen Few: How Education Shaped Jewish History, 70-1492 (Princeton University Press, 2012)

Unit 3 Understanding Prejudice and Discrimination

Chapter 6 Japanese Internment Camps in World War II

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Ask yourself:

  • Was the Canadian government justified in removing thousands of Canadians of Japanese descent, from Canada’s west coast to the interior during World War II?
  • How would you feel if you were suddenly removed from your place of birth for no apparent reason?
  • Should we take responsibility for the “sins” of our ancestors?
Minoru Fukushima - Internment of Japanese Canadians


Internment – the imprisonment or confinement of people (considered ‘enemy aliens’), without trial, often connected to times of war or terrorism. This definition can be used to describe a "concentration camp".

Restitution – reparation made by giving an equivalent or compensation for loss or damage to property, or injury caused without justification.

War Measures Act – an undemocratic statute passed by the Canadian parliament on August 4th, 1914, giving the government broad power to take emergency measures during war or rebellion in order to maintain security and order. It also gave the government full authority to censor the media, arrest without charge, deport without trial and expropriate control and disposal of property. Implementation was not approved by the democratically elected Parliament but through an Order in Council. It was used three times: in WWI, WWII and in the October crisis of 1970 by Prime Minister Trudeau.

Issei – a Japanese term to describe a first generation person who settled in Canada or the United States.

Nisei a Japanese term to describe a person born to Japanese parents in Canada or the United States, also known as second generation.

This Really Happened

After a decade of military campaigns and victories in Asia (mostly Korea and China), the Japanese government wanted to cripple American efforts to contain its military expansion and on December 7th, 1941 made a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, the American naval base in Hawaii. This surprise attack which killed 2,500 Americans, was quickly followed by attacks on other parts of Asia including the British garrison (military post) in Hong Kong which had recently welcomed two battalions of Canadians. On December 25th, the Japanese forced the garrison’s surrender and took survivors as prisoners of war (POWs).

At the time, British Columbia had 22,000 Japanese Canadians living there—14,000 of whom were born in Canada. Many of these immigrants worked in the fishing industry. On February 24, 1942, an Order in Council passed under the Defence of Canada Regulations of the War Measures Act gave the federal government the oppressive power to intern (confine) all "persons of Japanese racial origin.” A "protected" 100-mile (160 km) wide strip up the Pacific coast was created, and men of Japanese origin between the ages of 14 and 45 were removed from their homes and taken to road camps in BC’s interior or to camps beyond. Those who refused to leave their families were rounded up by the RCMP and deported to prisoner of war camps in Angler, Ontario. About 4,000 people were sent to the Prairies in Alberta where they endured difficult conditions.

Soon the remaining Japanese population of more than 20,000 men, women, and children were removed from the west coast and placed in internment camps in the interior. Families were torn apart, some who had been living in Canada for two generations. In addition, they had to pay for their own living and relocation costs, since the Geneva Convention did not protect them as they did prisoners of war of enemy nations. Their mail and written material was censored.

Map of Japanese-Canadian relocation sites.

Source: https://www.awesomestories.com/asset/view/Japanese-Canadian-Relocation-Sites

Many able-bodied Japanese Canadian labourers were sent to camps near fields and orchards, such as the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia. This quickly solved the area’s shortage of farm workers.

During the war the federal government passed legislation to confiscate the property of “enemy aliens”. For Japanese Canadians this meant losing farm property, fishing boats and equipment. These were sold for far below their value and the proceeds used to help operate the camps.

enlarge image
1,200 Japanese fishing boats seized and impounded – 1941 in New Westminster, BC

Source: opentextbc.ca

At war’s end in 1945 there were calls to deport Japanese Canadians to Japan. Some of those who had earlier signed this "repatriation agreement", tried to have it annulled. Beginning in May 1946 the journeys to Japan began for what would amount to nearly 4,000 people, many of whom had been born in Canada and knew no other home. A great number of the remaining Japanese returned to the west coast but others stayed near their internment locations or moved to cities like Toronto. In any case, they did not regain their property and only won the right to vote, along with Chinese Canadians, in 1949. At that time all other restrictions were lifted.


YearEvents in History
Year Events in History
1877 Manzo Nagano, a nineteen-year-old sailor, was the first Japanese person to officially immigrate to Canada, entering the salmon-exporting business.
1885 The Federal government passed a Head Tax to limit Chinese immigration. Such a tax was not extended to Japanese immigrants.
1899-1902 During the Boer War the British set up camps for South African Boer farmers, women, and children as well as Black South Africans, as part of a strategy to defeat Boer guerrilla fighters. These were referred to as “concentration camps”.
1907 The United States prohibited Japanese immigration using Hawaii as a stop over. Over 7,000 immigrants came to British Columbia as a result (compared to just over 2,000 in 1906). As a result of tensions over increased immigration of Asians to American and Canadian west coasts, an Asiatic Exclusion League was formed. The League held a rally in front of Vancouver’s City Hall but it soon turned into a riot in which shops in Chinatown were vandalized. The shops in the Japanese area of the city suffered less damage due to resistance by the local population.
1914 The War Measures Act was a federal statute adopted by Parliament in 1914, after the outbreak of the First World War, giving broad powers to the Canadian government to maintain security and order during war or insurrection. During the First World War, enemy aliens (nationals of Germany and of the Austro-Hungarian and Turkish empires) were subject to internment, but only if there were "reasonable grounds" to believe they were engaged in espionage or illegal activities. Many of these ‘aliens’ were Ukrainians, who at that time were not part of an independent country.
1916-1922 Japanese Canadians went to Alberta to volunteer to serve in the war. They fought in most of the major battles, winning 11 Canadian Military Medals for bravery and suffering 54 deaths.
1931 Japanese military invaded Manchuria.
1937 Japanese military launched a full-scale invasion of China. By 1941 it held the coastal areas of both China and Vietnam. A particularly infamous event occurred in December when the city of Nanking was captured (The Nanking Massacre aka the “Rape of Nanking”.)
27 September, 1940 Germany, Italy, and Japan formed a defensive alliance through the Tripartite Pact, sometimes called the Berlin Pact.
1941 Japanese attacked American naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. This was followed by more invasions of south Asian territories including Hong Kong and the surrender of thousands of British and Canadian troops.
1942 Over 20,000 Japanese Canadians were removed from the west coast to camps in the interior of BC, Alberta and beyond. Most of the camps were internment camps but some were road camps.
19 January, 1943 A federal government Order in Council liquidated all the Japanese property that had been under "protective custody."
2 May, 1947 The SS Marine Angel left Vancouver carrying 3,964 internees to a war-devastated Japan.
31 March, 1949 Japanese and Chinese Canadians were given the right to vote.

Action 1

Two terms— “internment camps” and “concentration camps” are used to describe camps in which civilians are held (which violates their basic human rights). Sometimes the terms are used interchangeably. Should they be?


Research the use of these two terms as they have been used throughout history and conduct the following “test” using the “Venn Test”.

Venn diagrams prompt us to compare: a key ingredient for improving your understanding of concepts. Here is a “test” to enhance comparison and contrast. We can compare two ideas; e.g.
“prejudice” and “discrimination”

Or the experiences of two groups of immigrants; e.g.,
Chinese and Japanese Canadians from early settlement to 1949

Or experiences in Canada and the United States; e.g.,
the treatment of people of Japanese ancestry

A. Do the people, events, or ideas being compared have nothing in common?

B. Are any similarities overshadowed by their differences?

C. Are their similarities so strong that their differences don’t matter that much?

D. Are they synonymous: do they constitute the same thing, although they go by different names?

E. Is one idea a part of the other idea?

This “test” can be used in all subject areas when comparing, for example:

  • Two (or more) historians’ accounts of an event, idea, or person (artifacts).
  • Editorials from two newspapers on a current issue related to prejudice, discrimination, human rights or any other topic found in Voices into Action.

The Venn Test is more open-ended than a simple Venn diagram and promotes deeper analysis of patterns and relationships.


Using the Venn Test, discuss and debate these issues in pairs or larger groups. Some comparative relationships may be a matter of judgment in which there may more than one “right” answer.

Action 2


From the timeline and classroom work, including studying other Voices into Action chapters and units, you know that there was intense and unfair prejudice against many Canadians throughout our history involving many acts of discrimination by individuals, organizations, and even the government. Examine another group that suffered prejudice and discrimination throughout our history (and perhaps found within Voices into Action) and compare with the Japanese Canadian experience using the Venn Test.

Artifacts 1

The following documents, both primary and secondary sources, relate to the decision to remove Japanese Canadians from the west coast.

Document 1: › Parts of a resolution passed by the British Columbia Legislature in 1924
Whereas statistics show that there is a large increase in the number of Orientals {Chinese and Japanese} in British Columbia, multiplying each year to an alarming extent:

And whereas the Orientals have invaded many fields of industrial and commercial activities to the serious detriment of our white citizens:

And whereas many of our white merchants are being forced out of business by such commercial and industrial invasion:

Therefore be it resolved that the House go on record as being utterly opposed to the further immigration of Orientals….

Adapted from Ken Adachi, The Enemy That Never Was, Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1991, p. 141.

Document 2: › Statement about Japanese Canadians by British Columbia M.P. Thomas Reid, in a speech in January 1942
Take them back to Japan. They do not belong here … They cannot be assimilated as Canadians for no matter how long the Japanese remain in Canada they will always be Japanese.

Adapted from Roy Miki and Cassandra Kobayashi, Justice in Our Time. The Japanese Canadian Redress Settlement. Vancouver: Talon books, 1991, p.24.

Document 3: ›
On December 7, 1941 Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, the American naval base in Hawaii. This attack brought the war close to North America and created near panic in British Columbia and on the California coast.

The first victims of this growing fear were the Japanese Canadians. About 23,000 of them, not all Canadian born, but almost all citizens, lived in British Columbia. Racism in Canada had existed for a long time, but the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor had raised it to a fever pitch. The federal government in Ottawa was repeatedly told by its officials, the RCMP and by military officers that the Japanese Canadians posed no threat. But the political pressure grew, especially from British Columbia’s representatives in federal cabinet. The government felt obliged to act. The Japanese Canadians were rounded up, deprived of their jobs and property and sent to the interior of BC or to other parts of the country. It was the most shocking violation of basic human rights in Canada during the war.

Adapted from J. L. Granatstein et al, Twentieth Century Canada, 2nd ed., Toronto McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 1986

Document 4: ›
There were many reports – both real and imagined - of enemy submarine activity off the coast of California in late December 1941. A few American freighters were shelled and one sunk. Although there were no further attacks after December, many coastal residents felt they were under threat from a whole fleet of enemy submarines.

The same panic was evident on the west coast of British Columbia in December 1941. One rumour was that Japan’s main fleet was exactly 154 miles west of San Francisco and heading northeast towards B.C.

The closest thing to an attack on British Columbia’s coast however was the shelling by a Japanese submarine of a radio station and lighthouse on Estaven Point on Vancouver Island in June 1942. The shelling caused virtually no damage. There was no invasion of Canadian soil, no landings from the sea or aircraft bombings. There was no evidence that the Japanese ever seriously considered such steps.

Adapted from Ken Adachi, The Enemy That Never Was, Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1991, p. 206-208.

Document 5: ›
It would be possible to make the whole of British Columbia a battleground, and even to bomb the prairie cities such as Edmonton and Calgary. We should be protected from treachery, from a stab in the back. … There have been treachery elsewhere from Japanese in this war, and we have no reason to believe that there will be none in British Columbia... the only complete protection we can have from this danger is to remove the Japanese population from the province.

British Columbia M.P. Howard Green in a House of Commons speech, January 29, 1942.

Document 6: ›
For six weeks, from the middle of January 1942 to the announcement of mass evacuation, many community groups in B.C. feared that the Japanese Canadians would betray Canada. Municipal councils, most notably those of Vancouver and Victoria, urged Ottawa to remove all Japanese. The Citizens’ Defense Committee made up of 20 prominent B.C. citizens supported the mass evacuation of the Japanese Canadians. This committee caused a “deep impression” in Ottawa.

“It is a fact that no person of Japanese race born in Canada has been charged with any form of sabotage or disloyalty during the war years,” said Prime Minister Mackenzie King in 1944. He also could have added that no Japanese Canadian, wherever born, had ever been found guilty of such crimes.

Adapted from Ken Adachi, The Enemy That Never Was, Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1991, p. 206 and 276.

Document 7: ›
An important factor guiding federal policy at this time was the fall of Hong Kong in late December 1941, and the capture of Canadian soldiers there. As well, reports of Japanese treatment of prisoners in Hong Kong greatly increased the hostility towards the Japanese residents on the west coast.

On February 19, 1942, Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King recorded in his diary that he was fearful of riots on the west coast. He thought those riots might be caused by reports of mistreatment of Canadian prisoners. King wrote, “Once that {rioting} occurs there will be repercussions in the far east against our own prisoners.” It was partly in fear of such reprisals that King decided that all Japanese must be evacuated.

The mass removal of the Japanese Canadians also would remove a widespread fear among the white population which might lead to riots.

Adapted from Ken Adachi, The Enemy That Never Was, Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1991, p. 211.

Document 8: ›
During the sixty-five years since the first settler from Japan came to Canada in 1877, legal restrictions in British Columbia denied them the right to vote or be elected to public office. In addition, they were prevented from entering professions such as law, pharmacy, teaching and accounting.

The uprooting of Japanese Canadians in 1942 was not an isolated act of racism, but the end result of discrimination which had build up from the first days of their settlement. Indeed, for many decades, Japanese and Chinese immigrants had been harassed by racists. Older Japanese Canadians remembered well the Vancouver Riot of 1907. A crowd at an anti-Asian rally suddenly turned into a mob, stormed through Chinatown, breaking store windows and were finally beaten back by a group of Japanese Canadians.

Adapted from Roy Miki and Cassandra Kobayashi, Justice in Our Time. The Japanese Canadian Redress Settlement. Vancouver: Talon books, 1991, pp. 17-18.

Document 9: ›
In 1942 a special committee in B.C. reported that unless anti-Japanese sentiments were reduced, there would be riots. Such an incident had already occurred in the Japanese Canadian district on Halloween night in 1939 when a mob of 300 white youths smashed plate glass windows and looted stores.

Adapted from Ken Adachi, The Enemy That Never Was, Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1991, p. 191.

Action 3


The Spectrum Line

This organizational structure helps those who are visual or kinesthetic learners demonstrate what they know by “placing” views along a spectrum. Apply it to your learning by discussing a question that can have many possible answers.

  1. In pairs use a spectrum worksheet in which you examine a number of significant events related to a question in a social studies area. Number each event.

  2. The line or scale at the top of the page represents a wide spectrum of views about the question or issue. Opposing criteria are placed at each end of the spectrum line. Work in pairs to reach consensus as to where each event belongs, according to the criteria. If you are looking at reasons Japanese Canadians were removed from the west coast during World War II, you might locate the historical interpretations offered in the previous 9 documents along the spectrum, based on the identified or implied cause for removal as follows:
    A spectrum line with 'racial fears' at one end and 'security fears' at the other
  3. With your partner, position the number of the document on the spectrum line according to its relevance to the issue or question being discussed. For this particular example, you might expect document 2 to be near the “racial fears” spectrum line.

  4. Write a sentence beside or after each document justifying its position on the line based on your summarized and paraphrased interpretation of the source.

  5. Team up with another pair to exchange views and attempt to reach a consensus by merging both teams’ spectrum lines.

Another kind of spectrum line is a scaled spectrum that can be used throughout your research of the topics within Voices into Action. When comparisons are required you may wish to include a Scaled Spectrum (rather than one with just two opposing criteria) with criteria being identified as:

A spectrum line with 'Unimportant' at one end, 'Somewhat Important' in the middle and 'Very Important' at the other end.

Spectrum Construction - Find statements, events, ideas, quotes, etc. to fall on each end and in the middle of the spectrum.

The range of perspectives along the spectrum line can include criteria such as:

  • unimportant - very important
  • good example - poor example
  • good leadership - poor leadership
  • strongest influence - weakest influence.


Artifacts 2

The following diary entries and memoirs capture some of the experiences of the internment detainees: https://www.lib.washington.edu/subject/Canada/internment/excerpts/oiwa.html.

First independently, then in pairs, then in groups of pairs, share your reactions (feelings) as you read the entries. Some questions you can ask yourself are:

  • What emotions come to you when you read each entry?
  • Which adjectives come to mind as you read?
  • Can you identify or relate with an experience or a character from a reading? What in particular do you feel/see? How does this connection influence your understanding of the character or event?

A. From the foreword, by Joy Kogawa (author of Obasan):

I devoured these stories in one hungry afternoon of reading. Some of it was painfully familiar. Some of the flavouring tasted strange and felt unsettling. Here were some Issei, professing in their diaries, an identity with a country that was the enemy country of my youth. As a passionately Canadian Nisei, I never did want to believe that Japanese Canadians were anything but totally Canadian in their identity. This was unreasonable. How could I expect people to feel no connection to the land of their birth? As I read, I ranged through discomfort, old sadness, nostalgia, admiration, tenderness, pride, and anger as I was taken back to look again with the help of these additional perspectives, into the secrets and intimacies of my childhood.

B. From the diaries of Koichiro Miyazaki

April 15, 1942
Rain. I haven't seen rain for a long time. As I look into the birch forest it is shrouded with a gentle spring rain. It is all very dream-like. My diaries, which were confiscated, were returned cut up and censored. It is just an internee's diary. Do they have the right to do such things? At least they should give some reasons. They can confiscate my diaries but the facts of my life will not disappear... (Oiwa, 52)

July 19, 1942
This is the last day of our life at Petawawa internment camp. I remember the day we arrived here when the camp was still surrounded by the harsh, bleak winter. The lake was frozen white. The biting wind was blowing. The ground was hard and icy. The birch forest gave a bleak impression of white skeletons and made us shiver. The whiteness of the landscape is still clearly imprinted in the back of my mind. It so happens that we are leaving here in the middle of summer. Tomorrow morning we are leaving this place for good. The camp is now surrounded by lush green ... Many people have cleared the barren land and sowed various vegetables and flowers which our eyes and stomachs have begun to enjoy. Well, I'd better stop being sentimental. Tomorrow a new struggle begins in a new camp ... (Oiwa, 61)

C. From the letters of Kensuke Kitagawa (written while interned at Angler Prison Camp):

May 28, 1943 (from a letter to his wife)
I still look at the wisteria branch that you sent me which is on the wall. As I slept in the lower bunk, a haiku came to me:
Wisteria flowers:
But double-decker bed
Is in my way

I wonder how you interpret this poem. Guess where my mind is? (Oiwa, 112)

D. From the diary of Kaoru Ikeda:

... We have seen Canada's true nature through our recent experiences. What is democracy? Who can talk about it? Who has the right to accuse Japan of invading other countries? Isn't Britain the champion invader? The last several centuries of British history is full of invasion after invasion. Since they can be neither Japanese nor Canadian, I wonder what the future of the Nisei youth will be? Deprived of civil rights these young people are in a sad situation. I just hope that their efforts will lead to a positive solution. (Oiwa, 146)

E. A tanka poem, written while at Slocan:

I thought
It would only be temporary
In this Mountain country
Accumulate another year
As snow deepens
(Oiwa, 119)

F. In the words of Genshichi Takahashi:

The government promised us that until the end of the war the Custodians would take care of our properties. We trusted the words of the government and left all our belongings behind. These were all very important things to us. They then confiscated and sold for next-to-nothing, our farmland, fishing boats, and cars, by means of the unjust law called the War Measures Act. From the beginning the government intended to deceive us. (Oiwa, 192)

Camp Conditions

Action 4


Writing is one way to express the emotion of a situation. Haiku is a Japanese poetic style that uses sensory language to capture a feeling or image. They are often inspired by an element of nature. The traditional format is three-lines with 17 syllables arranged in a 5–7–5 pattern.

Here is an example that may depict what the Japanese went through:

Prejudice is a dark cloud
Bad for all of us.

Write a Haiku to represent the feelings of a child in an internment camp.

Artifacts 3

The following are photos from the internment period:

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A family of Japanese Canadians being relocated in British Columbia, 1942.

Credit: Library and Archives Canada/C-046355.

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An internment camp for Japanese Canadians in British Columbia, 1945.

Photo Credit: Jack Long / National Film Board of Canada/Library and Archives Canada/PA-142853. LAC

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The Lemon Creek Internment Camp, 1944-1945, constructed specifically to intern Japanese Canadian families.

Source: http://www.michaelkluckner.com/bciw4slocan.html
Photos courtesy of Diana Domai.

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The Lemon Creek Internment Camp, 1944-1945, constructed specifically to intern Japanese Canadian families. The school in the centre held classes for kindergarten to grade 12.

Source: http://www.michaelkluckner.com/bciw4slocan.html
Photos courtesy of Diana Domai.

Action 5


This website has many photos from the internment period. As part of the Japanese Canadian Legacy Project, SEDAI is dedicated to collecting and preserving the stories of earlier generations of Canadians of Japanese ancestry for all future generations to witness.

First on your own, then in pairs, examine the photos above and those on the website. Pick out the photos that have the most emotional impact to you and explain why you feel this way.

Action 6


“Minoru”, a film by Michael Fukishima portrays the story of his father’s family’s internment during the war.

After viewing, compare your feelings about the film with other sources about the time, such as photos, memoirs, daily entries, textbook accounts and more.


  • How historical context enriches the study of literature and media portrayals
  • How literature and media can enhance our understanding of an event in history

Action 7


On September 22, 1988, the Japanese Canadian Redress Agreement was signed. In the House of Commons, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney acknowledged the government's wrongful actions, pledged to ensure that the events would never recur and recognized the loyalty of the Japanese Canadians to Canada. As a symbolic redress for those injustices the government offered individual and community compensation to the Japanese Canadians. To the Canadian people, and on behalf of Japanese Canadians, the federal government also promised, under the terms of the agreement, to create a Canadian Race Relations Foundation, which would "foster racial harmony and cross-cultural understanding and help to eliminate racism." The federal government proclaimed the Canadian Race Relations Foundation Act into law on October 28, 1996. The Foundation officially opened its doors in November 1997. http://www.crr.ca

Prime Minister Brian Mulroney’s remarks to the House of Commons, Sept. 22, 1988

I know that I speak for Members on all sides of the House today in offering to Japanese Canadians the formal and sincere apology of this Parliament for those past injustices against them, against their families, and against their heritage, and our solemn commitment and undertaking to Canadians of every origin that such violations will never again in this country be countenanced or repeated.

CBC News story about the event (4 ½ minutes)

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The Redress Agreement of 1988

Front, L-R: Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and Art Miki, President of the National Association of Japanese Canadians signing the Redress Agreement on September 22, 1988. Back, L-R: Don Rosenbloom, Roger Obata, Lucien Bouchard, Audrey Kobayashi, Gerry Weiner, Maryka Omatsu, Roy Miki, Cassandra Kobayashi.

As a class, respond to questions such as:

  1. What criteria should we use to offer redress or compensation for past wrongs?

  2. What other issues in the news today should be the subject of redress or compensation?

Further Resources:

1. Ten short films about the Nikkei by students at Lucerne Secondary School, New Denver BC

2. Nikkei National Museum and Cultural Centre, New Denver BC