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What would it have looked like if the Holocaust came to Canada?

What would it have looked like if the Holocaust came to Canada?
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This week, Library and Archives Canada unveiled its newest acquisition: A 137-page book once owned by Adolf Hitler that seems to represent the first outlines of a Nazi plan to bring the Holocaust to Canada. “It undoubtedly breaks the myth viewed by many at the time that the Holocaust and WWII were only Europe’s problems,” said Mina Cohn, director of the at Carleton University.

Canadian troops participated in the liberation of Nazi concentration camps, including Bergen-Belsen. Canada also became a postwar haven for tens of thousands of Holocaust survivors. But Canada of the early 1940s was also a viciously antisemitic country with one of the world’s worst records of admitting Jewish refugees.

Below, some chilling details of what the Nazis intended to do with Canadian Jewry — and how willing Canada might have been to stop them.

The Nazis were apparently planning something for North America’s Jews

“I don’t think it’s a crazy claim to say that governments and militaries, especially during wartime, don’t do research for no reason,” said Michael Kent, the Library and Archives Canada librarian who acquired the German book. Entitled Statistics, Media, and Organizations of Jewry in the United States and Canada, the book includes a detailed accounting of Jewish newspapers and organizations in Canada, as well as a census of Canada’s Jewish population and where they could be found. Cities as small as Moose Jaw, Sask., for instance, are noted to have 96 “Juden.” The book, which appears to have been commissioned for senior Nazi leadership, is similar to other censuses that Nazi authorities used to organize the deportation and murder of Jews in occupied countries. Prior to the planned invasion of Great Britain, for instance, the SS prepared a lengthy “arrest list” of British citizens, including prominent Jews such as Sigmund Freud. Of course, a Nazi conquest of Canada would have been virtually impossible. If Nazi German forces couldn’t mount an invasion across the English Channel, it’s much more unlikely they could handle one across 4,000 kilometres of ocean. Nevertheless, the book was commissioned right around the time when Germany was dispatching saboteurs to North America , and when Nazi planners were investigating the possibility of an “Amerikabomber”; an extremely long-range bomber that could lay waste to cities such as New York.

The book was likely looted by a U.S. soldier after the Allied liberation of Berchtesgaden, site of Hitler’s mountain hideout. Library and Archives Canada

France, Norway and even occupied British territories all willingly participated in the Holocaust

In occupied Norway, it was Norwegian police who and the seizure of their property. The collaborationist Vichy regime in France started cracking down on its Jewish population even without orders from Berlin . When French Jews started being shipped to Auschwitz, the French national railway took the contract to deport them east. Even in the British Channel Islands, occupied by the Germans during the war, local authorities handed over information on Jewish residents without protest. Although none of these places would have perpetrated a genocide on their own, their collaborationist governments ultimately proved remarkably willing to comply with German demands. “Why would Canada of that time be any different from all the other western civilized counties in Europe?” said Mina Cohn. Hilary Earl, a Holocaust researcher at Nipissing University, is more skeptical. Denmark rescued almost its entire Jewish population. Fascist countries such as Spain and Italy sheltered Jews. The Netherlands strongly resisted the Holocaust, but still wound up losing a higher percentage of their Jewish population than almost anyone else. “It is impossible to know for certain what would have happened and who would have pushed back,” Earl said. “Antisemitism does not automatically beget genocide, it facilitates it for certain, but it isn’t the only factor.”

German troops march through the centre of Saint Peter Port, capital of the Channel Island of Guernsey. Three Jewish residents of the island were later killed at Auschwitz. Imperial War Museum

Canada was much more antisemitic than we know it now 

McGill University had quotas to limit Jewish enrollment. Toronto Island and other Ontario vacation spots . Alberta premier William Aberhart openly blamed Jews for the Great Depression. Newspaper editorials in mainstream publications such a Le Devoir called Europe’s Jewish population “a very serious problem.” Prime Minister Mackenzie King was deeply antisemitic, objecting to the introduction of “foreign strains of blood” and even believing that the United States was too much in the thrall of “Jews and Jewish influence.” “The vast majority of Canadians have no lived memory of a Canada in which antisemitism was widely and legally tolerated,” wrote the authors of the groundbreaking 1983 book None is Too Many. The meticulously researched book framed Canada as having the worst record among Western democracies for accepting Jewish refugees during the Holocaust. Only 5,000 Jews were admitted to Canada from 1933 to 1945, compared to 200,000 accepted by the United States and 70,000 by the U.K. Still, while Canada did not like Jews, this was far from the preconditions for participation in a genocide. “Antisemitism to a degree was universally present in the 1940s but cooperation in the Holocaust was not,” Tomaz Jardim, a Ryerson University Holocaust scholar told the National Post by email.

Lionel Groulx, an influential Quebec Roman Catholic priest who condemned Jews in his writings. Archives Université de Montréal

Canada already had a fair bit of experience with rounding up ethnic groups

During the First World War, the federal government interned 8,000 Ukrainian-Canadians and forced others to carry special identity papers. During the Second World War, West Coast authorities forcefully rounded up Japanese-Canadians into transit centres, seized their property and then deported them to remote internment camps. Internees at the time even complained that they were being given the “same treatment the Nazi’s gave the Jews.” A French gendarme rounding up Parisian Jews for the gas chambers might have been able to take comfort in the Nazi fiction that they were simply being sent to agricultural colonies in the east. Similarly, Canadian police in the 1940s carried out mass deportation orders without full knowledge of where detainees were going. “I would hope that Canada would have proven itself to be another Denmark and resisted persecution of its Jewish population at all costs, even under extreme duress, but given the internment of Japanese-Canadians and the anti-Semitic sentiment that was widely accepted within mainstream Canadian life at the time, one can imagine a Canada engaging in anti-Jewish activity that would fill us with horror and regret today,” said Rebecca Margolis, president of the Association for Canadian Jewish Studies.

Japanese-Canadians being deported into the B.C. interior via open truck. Library and Archives Canada

There were already Jews behind barbed wire on Canadian soil

During the Second World War, lived in internment camps in Quebec and the Maritimes. They had come to Canada as refugees from Nazi oppression, but were detained as “enemy aliens” due to their country of origin. Had Canada fallen to Nazi occupation, these camps could have functioned as the first hubs of Canadian Final Solution. This precise scenario is what happened to the Netherlands. Shortly after the Nazi invasion of Poland, the Dutch set up Westerbork , an internment camp for the more than 400 Jewish refugees who had entered the Netherlands illegally across the German border. After Germany conquered the Netherlands in 1940, Westerbork was converted into a transit camp and its internees transferred to killing centres in occupied Poland.

An image of Statistics, Media, and Organizations of Jewry in the United States and Canada, showing the Jewish populations of various Canadian communities. Courtesy of Mizrahi Bookstore

Killings probably would have been carried out on Canadian soil

The Nazis prioritized efficiency above all else when it came to genocide. Initially, Jews were murdered in mass shootings conducted in open areas by German military units. Later, to assuage the psychological burden of soldiers killing hundreds of civilians per day, Nazi military scientists experimented with mobile killing vans that would asphyxiate victims with carbon monoxide. By war’s end, Nazi authorities had settled on the method of deporting Jews to centralized killing centres. The expense of moving Canadian Jews to occupied Eastern Europe would likely have been prohibitive, so German genocide planners would likely have settled on a made-in-Canada solution. “Parts of remote areas could have been turned into enormous camps where people could have been starved and left to die of the cold,” said David MacDonald, a researcher in genocide studies at the University of Guelph. At the time, the Soviet Union’s gulag system had already proven the utility of using remote northern areas to make thousands of people disappear. And Canada’s own experience of Indian Residential Schools showed that it was indeed possible for early 20th century Canadians to without anybody asking all that many questions.

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