Wednesday, May 17, 2017

A real life Double Threat: two Jewish WWll veterans meet at a tribute breakfast at Crestwood Preparatory College in Toronto

Norman Cohen and Lorne Winer (Ellin Bessner/Photo)
Ellin with Norman Cohen and Lorne Winer (photo Joan Cohen)
   They both grew up in pre-war Toronto, although one came from the poor neighbourhood known as The Ward, while the other came from a nicer neighbourhood near the Beaches. Both served in the Second World War, and it isn't hard to see why they'd never met: Lt.- Col. Norman Cohen (left) served as a navigator in the RCAF and was posted to England and then to Burma, while Lorne Winer was with the Royal Canadian Artillery and served in England and then through Normandy and Northwestern Europe after D-Day until long after V-E Day.                 
   Cohen and Winer met Tuesday May 16, 2017 in the gymnasium of Crestwood Preparatory School in Toronto, at an appreciation breakfast put on by the amazing history teacher, Scott Masters, and his students. I was honoured to be invited, too. For ten years now, Masters and his classes have done oral history interviews with veterans, and Holocaust survivors, and now are focusing on survivors of Canada's '60s scoop of First Nations children.
     Cohen is his '90s, and just retired after a career in the insurance business. Winer, who is just a few years older (99!) keeps busy, too, volunteering with the Royal Canadian Legion and, like Cohen, both granted interviews to the Crestwood students.
      They are among the 17, 000 Canadian Jewish men and women who put on a uniform during the Second World War, and whose important stories are now being told. Both veterans are featured prominently in my forthcoming book "Double Threat: Canada's Jews, the Military and WWll" which is being published by New Jewish Press.  
Look for it on November 11, 2017 through, Chapters/Indigo and Target. Preorders are available now.

Norm Cohen and Lorne Winer (Ellin Bessner/photo)
Scott Masters at the microphone

Video from the school's Oral History project
Norman Cohen in the school's video

Norm and his brother Al in uniform

Lorne being interviewed in the Oral History project

Bill Tymchuk with Ellin Bessner.

 Bill Tymchk was also at the breakfast. Tymchuk, who is not Jewish, served with the Lake Superior Regiment during WWll.  His regiment liberated Vucht, in the fall of 1944. It is an SS-run concentration camp in Southern Holland with a crematorium, which had processed 30,000 people, mainly thousands of Jews, especially children, until their ultimate transport to death camps elsewhere.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Order my New Book here!

Available Nov. 11, 2017 on Chapters Indigo, and, and

Screen capture of Amazon 
How to pre-order:

Canadian readers: Indigo Chapters 
Amazon. ca:

Monday, November 7, 2016

Kingston's Jewish War Heroes: a Remembrance Day lecture and dinner Friday November 11, 2016 in Kingston, Ontario

Tickets are still available for the event:

Friday 11th November 2016  

“How Canada’s Jews Fought WWII”

Remembrance Day Service, Shabbat Dinner & Guest Speaker

Kingston Jewish Council (KJC), Queen’s Hillel, and Beth Israel Synagogue Adult Education are pleased to announce a wonderful opportunity to honour and remember our military veterans and all 17,000 plus Canadian Jews who served in WWll, at a special event on Friday, Nov. 11, 2016 at 5:30 p.m.
The evening will start with a Kabbalat Shabbat Service, including a time to honour all Fallen Soldiers. A Shabbat dinner will follow.  Professor Ellin Bessner, a journalist and professor of journalism at Centennial College in Toronto, will talk about Kingston’s Jewish War Heroes, and preview her new book “Double Threat: Canada’s Jews, the Military, and WWll”.
This will be a very special evening.   We hope you can attend.

For more information, and to reserve a spot, please contact:
Paul Gilmore   or Ian Sarfin at
FREE for members of the Canadian Forces in uniform.
$20.00 for adults, $12.50 for students, $10.00 children under 10
Location:  Beth Israel Synagogue, 116 Centre Street, Kingston, Ontario K7L 4E6
Payment by Cash or Cheque (made out to KJC) at the door.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

"Canadian Jews, the Military, and World War ll: Double Threat". My new book about the 17,000 Jewish Canadians who defeated the Nazis

The cover /New Jewish Press

Just in time for the 71st anniversary of the end of the Second World War, I am thrilled to announce my new non-fiction book. Double Threat: Canadian Jews, The Military, and World War ll is a journalistic look at the untold stories of the Jewish Canadian men and women who served in uniform during the dark years of the last great war.  At least 10 per cent of the Canadian Jewish population answered the call, whether as volunteers or as conscripts. About 450 didn't come back: some lie buried in graveyards from Normandy to Hong Kong, while others have no known final resting place. 

Double Threat: Canadian Jews, The Military, and World War ll is the untold story of why so many Jewish Canadians served, what life was like for them as Jews in uniform, and how they confronted antisemitism both at home and abroad while fighting to win the war and liberate their brethren from the horrors of Nazi work camps and death camps. 

“He died so Jewry should suffer no more.” 
These words on a Canadian Jewish soldier’s tombstone in Normandy inspired the author to explore the role of Canadian Jews in the war effort. As PM Mackenzie King wrote in 1947, Jewish servicemen faced a “double threat” — they were not only fighting against Fascism but for Jewish survival. At the same time, they encountered widespread antisemitism and the danger of being identified as Jews if captured. Bessner conducted hundreds of interviews and extensive archival research to paint a complex picture of the 17,000 Canadian Jews — about 10 per cent of the Jewish population in wartime Canada — who chose to enlist, including future Cabinet minister Barney Danson, future game-show host Monty Hall, and comedians Wayne and Shuster. Added to this fascinating account are Jews who were among the so-called “Zombies” — Canadians who were drafted, but chose to serve at home — the various perspectives of the Jewish community, and the participation of Canadian Jewish women.

The cover was adapted from a 1943 propaganda poster issued by the Canadian Wartime Information board.

Double Threat is due out November 11, 2017.  
Hard copies are available for consumers to buy at Indigo/Chapters, and also through Amazon, Target, and also as an ebook.  
For booksellers/retailers/librarians who want to order copies, the purchasing information is below.

Ellin Bessner is a journalist and a professor of journalism at Centennial College in Toronto.

320 pages • 6 X 9 with photographs
Paper • $269781988326047
epub • $109781988326054
HISTORY/ Jewish / Canada / Military

General inquiries

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Friday, July 22, 2016

Enlisted because his friends had died in Dieppe: Toronto veteran Larry Levy dies

Larry Levy, April 2016 (Photo by Ellin Bessner)
I had the pleasure of meeting and interviewing Larry twice this spring at his Toronto home, where he gave me some amazing stories about his World War ll service, being Jewish in the military, even about a brothel, and the first open-air Jewish service held inside Germany in March 1945. He was a sweet, and energetic Jewish war veteran. I was writing about him on Friday morning and holding his file in my hand when the Legion emailed me to let me know he had passed away. Beshert. I am only sorry he didn't live to see his stories in my forthcoming book.