100 Years of Remembrance and Saluting my dad for his service

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This Remembrance Day marks 100 years since the end of hostility in World War I, the War to End All Wars.

This week we also mark 80 years since Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass, which notoriously was the beginning of what became known as the Holocaust, or Shoah.

Sergeant George Nashen, Royal Canadian Air Force, 1944

My father, George Nashen, 95, served in the Royal Canadian Air Force from December 1942 to April 1946 and was stationed at RCAF Overseas Headquarters in London, England for nearly three years. Luckily, he was not called up to the front lines. But his buddies were. Some never returned.

My father enlisted in December 1942 with several of his friends from Baron Byng High School, and was shipped off for two months of basic training in Toronto where the RCAF had taken over the CNE Fairgrounds. From there he was stationed at the Rockcliffe Airbase in Ottawa from February until August 1942 and then to Halifax where they boarded the Queen Mary cruise ship that had been commandeered to transport troops.

“We were 26,000 troops and 1,000 crew members crammed into the ship for the four day crossing to London, England,” my father told me. “There were 54 troops to a room and we took turns sleeping, 27 at a time slept on the hammocks lined up three high in nine columns,” he said. “It was so uncomfortable and there were so many disturbances that I chose to sleep in the hallways and stairwells. But the ship would list from one side to the other every seven minutes as it curved to avoid sailing in a straight line to escape any pursuing German U-boats. I remember the empty Coke bottles rolling bake and forth in the halls and hitting the walls preventing any rest there as well,” my dad said.

RCAF Aircraftsman 2nd Class, George Nashen (1943)

“In London, we slept in the Canadian Legion Hall until we could find an apartment,” my dad reminisced. There were no barracks in the city as they couldn’t chance losing so many soldiers in a targeted German bombing raid. “One night a bomb fell right outside the Legion Hall and blew in the doors and windows. As the glass flew and the ceiling collapsed I immediately rolled under my bed to take cover,” he said. “I yelled out to my buddy, Mel Nicol. ‘Are you alright Nic?’ Mel Nicol was real joker and responded, ‘I’m not sure, I’m looking for my leg’. Of course, he was just fine,” George said.

George and Mel eventually rented an apartment at Queens Gate Gardens about a 30 minute walk from Harrods, where the RCAF set up their administration and accounting division. We often joke that my father served in women’s lingerie during WW II, in reference to the department in Harrods where the Accounting Office was located. They were paid $2.50 per day subsistence allowance for their lodging and another $1 for food.

As an Aircraftsman 2nd Class they received $1.30 per day. Dad used to send $10 per month back to his Mom in  Montreal to save for him. Upon his return, three-and-a-half years later he had saved up about $300.

George Nashen in front of the Cote Saint-Luc cenotaph in Veterans Park 2012

One night they were awakened by a bomb blast and heard that the nearby hospital was hit. Mel and George raced over to offer their assistance only to find out that 30 babies had been tragically killed. “It was the saddest day of my life,” my father said.

Back at Harrods he was busy taking care of Airman Pay Accounts to ensure each of the troops received their salary. Daily Routine Orders were meticulously entered for the tens of thousands of airmens’ accounts, all manually, of course.

My dad lost his best friend in battle. “Jay Singer was like a brother to me,” my father recounts. “Jay and I were inseparable from kindergarten through Baron Byng High School. Jay was an air force pilot from the age of 19. His plane went missing while laying mines in the Baltic Sea on June 15, 1944. Jay was just 22 year’s old when he died in service. I’ll never forget him.”

Jay Singer

Jay Singer

 

My father endured the bombardments and hardship of everyday life in London but fortunately was safe relative to so many others. The thick, dark clouds that hung over the city many nights from fog made it impossible to see right in front of you. My father recounts as he would feel his way along the walls of the buildings on his way home, counting off the number of doors and turns in the road to find his way home.

One night a bomb fell at a pub just outside of Harrods and some Londoners were killed. The next day, a young Princess Elizabeth, came by to visit and offer her support. My father watched excitedly from the window as the future Queen made her way along the street.

My father returned home in April 1946.

Three generations of Cote Saint-Lucers: George, Glenn and Jeremy Nashen 2013

Each year, I ask dad to take out his medals and his beret and to teach my own kids what it meant to serve Canada as a soldier.  They listen in amazement at his stories of 70 years ago, as they reflect on their lives in the best country to live in, Canada.

WWII veteran George Nashen, 93, deposits the wreath on behalf of Royal Canadian Legion Branch 97 at the Cote Saint-Luc Cenotaph in Veterans Park. Accompanied by his grandson Cory, son Jeff and vCOP Phil Mayman. (Photo: Darryl Levine, CSL).

Each year on Remembrance Day, I salute my dad, and all those who served, who paid the ultimate price, who sustained injury and who were lucky to return just like George. His bravery and commitment, and theirs, to stand on guard, to liberating those who had their freedom taken from them so many years ago, to keeping Canada glorious and free, shines like a beacon to my kids and our entire family.

With my dad on Remembrance Day (Jewish General Hospital, 2014)

We’re proud of his accomplishments and grateful to still have him, and my mother, as our bridge between our past and our future.

 

George and Phyllis Nashen at their 95th and 90th birthday party (June 2018)

 

 

More:

A day of remembrance, honour and appreciation in CSL

In tribute to my father, the soldier

Councillor Mike Cohen’s blog

The JGH Remembers

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Canada apologizes to Jewish community for “None is Too Many”, turning back refugees to Hitler’s Nazi Germany

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This was a historic, monumental day not only for Canadian Jews, but for Canada. Today’s apology by the Government of Canada for turning away the 907 Jews fleeing the Holocaust aboard the ill-fated MS. Saint Louis was long overdue. In issuing today’s apology Canada has solidified its place as a tolerant, peace-loving and safe land. The Prime Minister has committed to doing more to safeguard places of worship and to fight antisemitism.

Thank you to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for his eloquent and emotional words of accountability and apology. Your words, Mr. Prime Minister, are powerful and meaningful and will be felt for generations. Thank you to the Government of Canada and to all Members of Parliament for standing in solidarity, united across party lines, to acknowledge the failures of the past and to take corrective actions to secure our future. The occasion was made even more powerful by the solemn remarks by the leaders of the Conservative Party, NDP and Green Party.

Thank you as well to our honourable and outstanding Member of Parliament for Mount Royal, Anthony Housefather, for his leadership role in today’s declaration. Anthony has worked tirelessly on behalf of not only his constituents but all Canadians in ensuring the Government of Canada support its Jewish Communities, fight against BDS, denounce antisemitic acts of hate and support the Jewish State of Israel.

Canada has taken a major step in ensuring ‘Never Again’ resonates from coast to coast to coast.


Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer taking part in the Canadian government’s official apology for the 1939 decision to turn away the MS St. Louis and its 907 German Jewish passengers fleeing the Nazi Regime. 10:43


The NDP’s Guy Caron taking part in the Canadian government’s official apology for the 1939 decision to turn away the MS St. Louis and its 907 German Jewish passengers fleeing the Nazi Regime. 9:36


Green Party Leader Elizabeth May taking part in the Canadian government’s official apology for the 1939 decision to turn away the MS St. Louis and its 907 German Jewish passengers fleeing the Nazi Regime. 7:19

A Bintel Brief: Yiddish Theatre alive and well in Montreal

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A review by Glenn J. Nashen

NEW: Now featured in the Jewish Standard Magazine!

 

The Dora Wasserman Yiddish Theatre opened its 60th season this week with its latest production of A Bintel Brief. This performance at the Segal Centre for Performing Arts  is brought back to the stage after it originally opened in Montreal in the 1970s. It is a story based upon real letters to the editor of a Yiddish language daily newspaper in New York City in the early 1900s.

 

The production is composed of a series of true stories of Jewish immigrants coming to America and trying to adapt to their new world. It not only connects the stories of immigrants in the early 20th century to their former lives in Russia and Europe but it also connects them to their descendants 100 years later.

 

A Bintel Brief peeks inside the immigrant experience of long ago and reminds us that little has changed and that the struggles and efforts made are both timeless and universal.

 

The show is brought to life by budding director Michelle Heisler who has previously acted in the DWYT and works with young children’s theatre. Heisler is a talented actor and singer having performed on stage across Canada, the United States and Europe.

 

The cast is an energetic and spirited group of youngsters, young adults and older folk who come together as though they were a true family.

Sam Stein and Aron Gonshor (Courtesy CJNews.com)

Aron Gonshor and Sam Stein are iconic in the DWYT and for good reason. Their vaudeville singing and dancing with old-fashioned, side-splitting humour kept the audience in tears of laughter. Their shtick was out of Wayne and Shuster and they were classic funnymen. They also took on serious roles in skits ranging in theme from overworked and underpaid, depressed immigrants to tragic episodes involving loss of life and great despair. If there are lifetime achievement awards for outstanding performance in Yiddish theatre this duo is certainly right for the prize.

 

Mikey Samra is known for  his many performances in the Cote Saint-Luc Dramatic Society but his stage presence in Yiddish was equally spectacular. He is a compelling young actor who will continue to flourish in whatever language he chooses.

 

Jodi Lackman has played at the Segal before but her performance in A Bintel Brief takes the cake. Her facial expressions and shrieking voice at learning her husband has another wife and children, her melodramatic overtones in yearning for her secret lover and her comedic expressions are worthy of praise and applause.

 

The list of talented and dedicated young actors who have put in tremendous effort to speak a language that is probably quite foreign to most of them is long and impressive. Kudos to all of them for entertaining the audience with song and dance, with drama and comedy and by keeping the language and rich history alive.

 

One particular skit involves a class of immigrants trying to learn to speak English. It is ridiculously funny with mispronunciation and misunderstanding. I could just imagine my Bubby and Zaida in such a class with their thick yiddishe accents trying to learn their new language. Indeed, I still remember the words of my very funny Russian-born Zaida who’d say, “I speak 12 languages and don’t understand any of them!”

 

The stage was simple and old fashion in the Segal Centre’s smaller theatre. Presented with English and French supertitles it is an easy-to-understand show even if you’re not fluent in mama-loschen. The four piece band was fun and lively under the musical direction of Nick Burgess.

 

Despite the young children who sing and dance in the first act (they leave at intermission to get home for bedtime) the heavy adult themes would give this musical performance a PG-13 rating, not age appropriate for pre-teens.

 

DWYT President Ben Gonshor thanked the capacity opening-night audience for continuing to support community theatre, particularly in Yiddish. With such great benefactors such as Alvin Segal, Barbara Seal and the Azrielli Foundation and Federation CJA Montrealers are fortunate in that they will continue to be treated to such memorable and entertaining evenings for years to come.

 

A Bintel Brief continues at the Segal Centre though October 21. Tickets are available at SegalCentre.org or by calling 514-739-7944.

 

Birnbaum announces a new Liberal government will support relocation, expansion of Montreal Holocaust Museum

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D’Arcy McGee MNA David Birnbaum speaks to a group of supporters at the Gelber Conference Centre

D’Arcy-McGee Liberal MNA and candidate David Birnbaum confirmed that a re-elected Liberal government will be a financial partner in the planned relocation and expansion of the Montreal Holocaust Museum. The Museum leadership has already secured a major lead donation and completed a feasibility study for the ambitious project, evaluated at about $45 million. The Museum, Canada’s only one uniquely focused on Holocaust remembrance and human rights education, is recognized the world over for the quality of its exhibits and its outreach programs. It has also long been recognized that the museum needs more space than available at its current location in the Jewish Community Campus on Côte Ste-Catherine Rd.

“I am so proud that the Premier has made this commitment, which is profoundly important to our Jewish community but also significant for all Quebecers,” Birnbaum noted. He first briefed the Premier on the project in late Spring. “The Museum, with the help of courageous survivors, reaches out to schools, in French and English, to ensure that the terrible lessons of the Holocaust are neither forgotten nor repeated.’’ Montreal is home to the third-largest population of Holocaust survivors and children of survivors in the world.

Mr. Couillard, whose own family was deeply implicated in the French resistance, had a brief discussion about the project with Museum Director Alice Herscovitch when he accompanied Mr. Birnbaum for the second time during this mandate to the annual commemorative service on Yom Hashoah at Tifereth Beth David Jerusalem Synagogue.

“We are very encouraged by this news,’’ said Alice Herscovitch, Executive Director. “It is deeply important that all Quebecers have access to a modern and accessible museum that embodies messages of courage in the face of inhumanity and helps Quebecers and people the world over understand the importance and responsibility we all have to prevent racism and genocide. Our museum will be so much more able to deliver those messages to schools and adults alike through an expansion.”

Quebec Liberal leader Dr. Philippe Couillard introduces D’Arcy McGee candidate David Birnbaum (2014)

The Museum is seeking a site in downtown Montreal, and the support of all levels of government. Treasury Board President and Mont-Royal-Outremont candidate Pierre Arcand currently serves the territory where the museum is situated. It will find itself in D’Arcy-McGee after the election.

“In my ministerial role, I see and evaluate each day the many difficult and important choices a government must make in allocating public funds. Of course, schools, health care and other services are essential but so are the Quebec institutions that identify and transmit our vision of humanity, of our responsibility to each other and to the wider world. This commitment is a meaningful example of that vision.”

Birnbaum noted that an initial analysis of the Museum project is already underway by the Ministry of Cultural Affairs, with the details and modalities of the provincial government partnership still to be determined.

Cavendish Boulevard extension may be a pipe dream

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Global News reports that the Cavendish extension dream may fade completely in 2 years from now. After endless discussion, pronouncements and media opportunities over the last 50 years we may be down to the wire on whether this project will come to fruition.

Montreal city council passed a motion last Tuesday to extend the negotiation deadline with CN and CP Rail by two years, according to Global News.

This means city officials have 24 months to reach a deal with the rail companies to allow for the extension of the boulevard over their tracks — but no more extensions will be granted after that period.

So what’s the problem?

Cote Saint-Luc has wanted to see this plan come about since the late 1990s. It was a major promise in the merger debacle of the early 2000s. The former City of Saint-Laurent and current Borough of the same name (and same mayor) is also in favour. Local Members of the National Assembly have been on board for years as has the Member of Parliament, notably Anthony Housefather is his capacities of Borough Councillor, CSL Mayor and MP for Mount-Royal.

But Montreal and the province have been mired in construction gridlock across the Island. Resources have been prioritized elsewhere and municipal, provincial and federal funding has been allocated for years to come. Turcot will be a mess for several more years. The REM project will keep us tied up for the next 5 years too. And those are just some of the biggies.

Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante is no friend to motorists! And the upcoming Quebec election dust will have to settle for us to know what new priorities lie ahead.

This will not be an easy time for Mayors Brownstein and de Sousa who must get the necessary major players around the table to make things happen. The project cannot advance without the next Quebec premier and the Mayor of Montreal giving the nod of approval.

Time may be running out on this critical infrastructure plan and 50 years of dreaming may go up in smoke without concrete action, and fast.

 

Global News:  Cavendish Boulevard extension faces deadline

For more information on the history of the Cavendish extension , search this blog.

I Want You To Remember… A Childhood Lost

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That was the theme of this year’s Yom Hashoah commemoration held in Cote Saint Luc, organized by the Montreal Holocaust Museum.
Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard spoke eloquently about his family’s memory of this dark period in the 20th century. His mother came from Grenoble and Couillard recounted how so many stories were told to him as a youngster from his many aunts and uncles in France.
He also recounted with great pride about the first-ever Quebec Economic Mission to Israel last year when he was accompanied by Member of the National Assembly, David Birnbaum. Additionally, Couillard indicated that Quebec was one of the first governments in the world to declare a National Day of Commemoration of the Holocaust, in 1999, when introduced by then MNA Lawrence Bergman.
Newly installed Consul General of Israel, David Levy, spoke about his Parisian mother and their family’s personal experiences of betrayal by the French Nazi sympathizers. He spoke passionately about the large number of family members who never returned home.
Six candles were lit by survivors and their children, grandchildren and even great-grandchildren in memory of the Six Million Jews who perished.
Each survivor gave a video testimonial recounting in vivid detail their horrific memories of incarceration, deportation, hiding, hunger and terrible loss. Each one, between the ages of 85 and 90, spoke of the loss of their own childhood.
One such Survivor was Zissel Farkas. The 90 year old woman told her story, through her daughter. This brave, courageous and lucky woman is today the matriarch of three children, 26 grandchildren and an incredible 70 great grand-children.
The JPPS choir sung stirring tunes of remembrance from the 1930s and 40s. The solemn and impassioned song, Ani Ma’amin, I Remember,
was reportedly composed in a cattle car en route to the Treblinka concentration camp. The song was sung by many Jews as they marched to the gas chambers in the Nazi death camps.
With the song being hummed in the background the names of Jews murdered by the Nazis were slowly read aloud, along with their place of birth, where they were murdered and their age. Many childrens’ names were read out. Three years old. Six year’s old. One name was that of a baby just months old. In all, more than 1.5 million children were murdered in the Holocaust.
The ‘Partisan Hymn’ was sang out loud by the hundreds in attendance. It is a song written by poet and partisan Hirsch Glick in the Vilna Ghetto and became the anthem of the resistance movement. Today it is considered to be the main anthem of Holocaust Survivors and is sung at Memorial services around the world.
I have attended this commemoration for longer than I can remember. This year, I was joined by my daughter Nicole, who was on the March of the Living one year ago. She traveled to Poland and marched with thousands of students and adults to the death camps at Auschwitz and Birkenau, waving the Israeli flag, proclaiming Am Yisrael Chai. The People of Israel Live!  In this way, we are all doing our part in passing the responsibility of never forgetting from one generation to the next.

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Nachshen Family descendants celebrate Passover tradition

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Nachshen Family Seder 2018, Markham, Ontario (Rob Currie Photography)

The Nachshen Family recently gathered for the second Seder as they’ve been doing for three decades. The family, all descendants of Rabbi Moishe Nachshen (1872-1968) and Sarah Romanek (1875-1956), who emigrated to Canada from Russia in 1927, had assembled annually in Montreal for the second Passover Seder for the past 33 years until the festive gathering switched to Toronto this year. In the 1960s and 70s, the five branches of the family came together for Chanukah and Purim celebrations at Pomerantz House (then known as the Workmen’s Circle), on Van Horne Avenue near Cote des-Neiges Road, in Montreal.
The elders of the family now include siblings Kate Nachshen (Brecher), 96, George Nashen, 94, both of Cote Saint-Luc, Quebec and Elizabeth (Bess) Nachshen (Goldman), 89. of Boynton Beach, South Florida. The youngest member of the Nachshen Family was born one week prior to the Seder, Ellis Gray Adawalla of Toronto.
The 2018 Seder, held at a banquet hall in north end Toronto, brought together first, second and third cousins.
The event was organized by Mintzi (Clement) and Rafi Skrzydlo of Markham, Ontario and Mandy Senanes (Fitleberg) of Richmond Hill, Ontario. While most of the family is now situated in the greater Toronto area others traveled from Cote Saint-Luc, British Columbia, New York, Maryland, Florida and other points across North America, and as far away as China. With mobile devices in hand other family members from around the world joined in (virtually).
This family’s history reflects that of so many other Jewish Canadians. Having emigrated to Montreal from Eastern Europe in the early 1900s, some of the family began drifting to Israel in the 60s and many to Toronto in the late 70s and 80s. By the 1990s the family had spread across Canada, the United States and Israel.

Cover of the Nachshen Family Seder Haggadah with image of family patriarch, Moishe Nachshen, Matriarch, Sarah Romenek, and their seven children

As the descendants of a rabbi, part of the Chasidic movement in Skvira, Russia, the family modernized and assimilated over the last three generations. So much so, that they created their own customized Passover Haggadah, emphasizing the centrality and equality of women and inclusion of all members of the family specifically citing lesbians, gays or converts to Judaism. An orange had been added as an important symbol on the Nachshen Seder plate to highlight these differences from the olden days.
While this family has grown and evolved quite differently from the strict religious practices of its patriarchs and matriarchs it continues to remain a cohesive and connected entity thanks to the fundamentals instilled by those family elders several generations earlier. The centrality of Judaism, community, cultural traditions, Zionism and family throughout the generations has remained strong and resolute. The Advent of social media has certainly helped to keep distant cousins connected through video, photos and stories on a daily basis.
The Haggadah, emblazoned with the photos of ‘Zaida Moishe an Bubbe Sarah’ was read aloud with all family members taking turns. The tunes sung aloud were those heard around the Nachshen table over a century ago in the shtetles of Skvira and Pogrebische (south of present day Kiev, Ukraine).

Back cover of the Nachshen Family Haggadah, depicting Nachshon, the first to enter the Red Sea as it parted during the exodus from Egypt

Once all the Afikomen had been found by the many young children and mingling had wound down, the many good bye hugs and kisses concluded the evening with wishes for Next Year in Jerusalem. But the Second Seder will be booked for Toronto, just in case.

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