Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Henry Cassel’s War

As November marks a time for remembering war related stories of sacrifice and survival, the OJA is highlighting the life story of Henry Cassel (previously Heinz Kassel). Henry was a German refugee during the Second World War who was classified as an enemy alien by the British government. He spent two years in an internment camp for prisoners of war (POWs) in Quebec. He later became a naturalized Canadian citizen and enlisted in the Canadian military.

Heinz was born on October 25, 1912 in Aschaffenburg, Germany to Adolf and Olga Kassel. Adolf owned a successful banking business which he had inherited from his father. The family resided above the bank and lived a comfortable life during these early years. They moved to Frankfurt around 1920 after Adolf sold his business to buy a partnership in a bank there.

Heinz’s parents had hoped that he would one day become a corporate lawyer. In 1931, in preparation for his future career, he began studying law and economics at Frankfurt University. He enjoyed his initial university years. However, after Hitler’s rise to power in 1933 he became alarmed when his non-Jewish university friends began ignoring him and when the German government passed laws forbidding Jews from practicing law in court. Determined to leave Germany and seek out a better life elsewhere, he begged his parents to immigrate with him to the United States. They refused to go, unwilling to leave behind the life they had worked so hard to build. In accordance with his parents’ wishes, Heinz relocated to nearby Italy instead of the US in 1934. He learned Italian and eventually secured a job with an engineering firm.

Sensing that the political climate in Italy was becoming dangerous for Jewish people, Heinz applied for immigration to the US in early 1939. Eager to leave Italy, he relocated to London to await the approval of his US visa. He left just in time – Britain declared war on Germany less than a week after his arrival. His parents, in turn, managed to escape to Holland. Soon after Britain’s declaration, all immigrants from enemy countries were considered enemy aliens and suspected of being spies.

On May 12, 1940, the British military arrested Heinz and interned him with other German immigrants and POWs. He believed his detainment was only a precautionary measure and that he would be cleared within a few days. However, the British shipped him to the Isle of Man where he remained for several months. Fearing an invasion, the British shipped 3,000 of the POWs, including Kassel, to Quebec, where he was briefly interned at a POW camp set up at the Plains of Abraham. In October 1940, he was moved with 736 other refugees to an abandoned railway yard (later known as “Camp N”) in Newington, near Sherbrooke, Quebec. While there, he confronted a great deal of anti-Semitism from the guards.

While he was interned in Quebec, the Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC) interviewed him and other Jewish prisoners in order to lobby for their release. Realizing that the internees were not POWs, the Canadian government declared the camp a refugee camp in 1941. By October 1942, the CJC was successful in helping Heinz secure employment with Benjamin Pape & Company in Toronto.
Cassel's internment headshot taken by Canadian
officials soon after his arrival in Canada, 1940.
OJA, fonds 93, file 8.

Heinz met Reta Freeman in Toronto and they were married in November 1944. Reta was born and raised in Toronto. After their nuptials, they were both briefly classified as enemy aliens and had to report to the RCMP on a regular basis. Shortly thereafter, Heinz enlisted in the Royal Canadian Army and was sent to basic training in Manitoba. On January 21, 1946 he was granted landed immigrant status, and in April of that year, he became a citizen.

After the war, Heinz learned that his parents as well as other relatives had been transported to concentration camps and had not survived. He was certainly one of the few fortunate ones to leave the country, despite the circumstances of his removal. He resented being interned for so long, but did not blame the British for rounding him up with other Germans based on their initial fears regarding enemy aliens. His feelings about Canada's treatment of him during that time, however, were not as sympathetic. Reta passed away in August 1962 and Henry later remarried Esther Cassel. He passed away at the age of 96 in February 2009.

The records of Henry Cassel were donated to the Archives by his sons, Andrew and Richard. The collection documents his family and personal life as well as his experience as an internee. Records include his autobiography, family photograph albums, legal records, a diary and hand-made notebook written by Henry during his interment, correspondence between Henry and his parents, and, correspondence between Henry and several Jewish agencies. Also included are newsletters that were produced during the 1990s by ex-internees who had kept in touch over the years. These remarkable records are invaluable in documenting the Canadian internment camps, the refugee and immigrant experience, Canada’s treatment of enemy aliens, as well as the Jewish community’s response.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Provincial political history at the OJA

The OJA has recently processed the records of Joseph Baruch (J.B.) Salsberg (1902-1998), a prominent labour leader, political activist, politician, and journalist. Salsberg was also active in various Jewish organizations, including the Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC), the UJA Federation of Greater Toronto, and the New Fraternal Jewish Association. He is well remembered by contemporaries, such as Sam Lipshitz, as a "champion of the people", committed to social justice, the plight of the working-class, and the preservation of Jewish culture.

J.B. was born in Lagov, Poland on November 5, 1902 to Abraham and Sarah-Gittel Salsberg. In 1913, he immigrated to Toronto with his mother and two younger sisters, following his father's arrival three years earlier. Four additional siblings were born in Canada. J.B. briefely attended Landsdowne Public School, but dropped out at age 13, against his parent’s wishes, and took a job in a leather goods factory in order to contribute to his family’s income. His parents had hopes that he would become a rabbi and, despite his full-time employment, J.B. continued to study the Torah at the Centre Ave Synagogue.

In 1917, J.B. decided to pursue the ideas of Zionism and Socialism and abandoned his plans to become a rabbi. He became involved in establishing the Young Poale Zion organization, a Labour Zionist youth group dedicated to secular aims. Around 1923, he became the organizer for the Hat, Cap, and Millinery Workers Union of North America in Chicago. While in Chicago,  J.B. married Dora Wilensky, who would become his constant companion and supporter, and a well-respected communal worker in her own right.

In 1926, J.B. joined the Communist Party of Canada (CPC). He was an active member of the CPC for 30 years, serving as the head of its Trade Union Department for two decades. It was as a member of the CPC that he entered electoral politics. After a series of failed bids in municipal and provincial elections between 1935 and 1937, J.B. was elected Alderman of Ward 4 in Toronto in 1938, but only held the position for one year. In 1943, he was elected to the Ontario Legislature as the representative for the St. Andrew riding. He sat as Member of Provincial Parliament for the Labour-Progressive Party (the provincial wing of the CPC) for 12 years. For several years, he was the only elected communist in North America. As MPP, he helped create legislation banning discrimination in public places and introduced a bill that would ensure fair employment practices in the province. He lost his seat to Allan Grossman in 1955 and unsuccessfully ran in the federal election later that year. Remembered by journalist Gordon Sinclair as "one of the best debaters in the house", J.B. was well-respected by members of all political parties. Out of admiration for J.B., Conservative Premier Leslie Frost named Salsberg Township in Northern Ontario in his honour.

1943 Provincial Election Campaign sign for the Labour-Progressive Party, 1943.
OJA, fonds 92, series 3, file 12. 

Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, J.B. had grown increasingly concerned about reports of Soviet anti-Semitism and privately urged party leaders to pursue the issue. In 1956, when Soviet First Secretary Nikita Khrushchev exposed the transgressions of Stalin’s regime, J.B. went to Moscow as part of a CPC delegation. After meeting with Khrushchev himself, it became clear to J.B. that anti-Semitism was indeed a serious threat in the USSR and that his efforts to probe the situation were being stonewalled. J.B. publicly expressed his concerns in a series of articles published in the Vochenblatt between October 25 and December 13, 1956. He formally renounced his membership in the Communist Party in 1957. Two years later, J.B., along with others of like mind, resigned their membership in the United Jewish People’s Order (UJPO), a communist Jewish fraternal organization, for not being critical enough of the Soviet Union. A non-communist left-wing Jewish organization was founded as an alternative - the New Fraternal Jewish Association - of which J.B. served as President for several terms and edited its publication "Fraternally Yours".

In his later life, J.B. was active as an executive member of organizations such as the CJC and the Baycrest Centre for Geriatric Care. He was the first chairman for the CJC Ontario Region’s Soviet Jewry Committee and the Committee for Yiddish. He also began writing an award-winning weekly column for the Canadian Jewish News. J.B. was awarded the CJC’s Samuel Bronfman Medal for distinguished service, and the UJA Federation of Greater Toronto’s Ben Sadowski Award of Merit. A strong supporter of Israel, he was involved in the creation of two Israeli medical centres that are named in his honour. He also helped establish the J.B. and Dora Salsberg Fund and the J.B. Salsberg Fund for Yiddish at the Jewish Foundation of Greater Toronto. J.B. passed away in 1998.

The records in this collection document J.B.'s political and communal activities and includes personal and professional correspondence, photographs, political and editorial writings, artifacts and campaign materials. The records will be of great value to researchers interested in provincial politics, labour history, and the history of communism within the Jewish community of Toronto.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Knesseth Israel Synagogue centenary celebration

The OJA was host to over 170 people on Wednesday September 7, 2011 as the Knesseth Israel Synagogue (the Junction Shul) celebrated their 100th anniversary. The event was punctuated by the launch of a new book on the shul and the Jewish presence in the Junction, entitled 100 Years at the Junction Shul, written by Lorne S. Miller and Neil Ross. The night included speakers from UJA Federation, the Ontario Jewish Archives, book publisher Jack David and Neil Ross. A tribute to the late Dr. Stephen Speisman z'l, former director of the OJA and a great friend to the Junction shul, was also read by Jules Kronis. The whole event was MC'd by synagogue preisdent, Edwin Goldstein.

The OJA has a long-standing relationship with the Junction shul, dating back to its heritage designation in 1984. We also featured the first written history of the synagogue on our Toronto's First Synagogue's web exhibit in 2004 and we are the repository for the shul's records.

Books are available for purchase through the shul by contacting them directly.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Ontario Jewish Archives Awarded OHS Scadding Award of Excellence

The Ontario Jewish Archives was awarded the Ontario Historical Society’s Scadding Award of Excellence on June 4th after the Society’s AGM. The intent of the award is to honour an historical society or heritage group that has made an outstanding contribution to the field of history. The OJA was selected for its virtual exhibition initiative Ontario’s Small Jewish Communities.
The OJA launched this Trillium funded virtual display in the fall of 2009. It documents the histories of 11 small Jewish communities from across the province, spanning from Cornwall to Thunder Bay. The site relies on approximately 250 pages of text along with oral history clips, archival photographs, textual material, maps, architectural plans and artwork to tell the compelling stories of Jewish life and culture in these mostly undocumented communities.
The OHS described this initiative as being of the highest merit, stating “from a technical standpoint the design and execution of the virtual exhibit takes full advantage of the rich and varied historical material at its core and presents new information in an innovative, educational and entertaining manner.”  Since its launch, the display has attracted thousands of viewers from around the world. 
OHS Award Presentation, 4 June 2011
Pictured in photograph (left to right): Dr. Brad Rudachyk (President, OHS), Cyrel Troster (OJA Board Member), Dr. Ellen Scheinberg (Former Director, OJA)
and Dr. Sharon Jaeger (Chair, Honours and Awards Committee, OHS)

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Jewish Vocational Services Case Files

The Ontario Jewish Archives' volunteer program is essential to the successful operation of the Archives. Much of the work done by our small but dedicated group of volunteers results in better access to our records by the public. One such example is the recent completion of the Jewish Vocational Services of Toronto case file project, which involved over a year of volunteer time. These case files number approximately 3000 in total and date from 1947 until 1951. They are an important part of our collection as they document a group of individuals who received assistance from JVS immediately following the Second World War.

 Many of the individuals were Holocaust survivors and had recently immigrated to Toronto with the assistance of other Jewish social service agencies and organizations, such as the Canadian Jewish Congress, Jewish Immigrant Aid Service and Jewish Family and Child Services. These case files shed light on this period of immigration in Canadian Jewish history and also document the number and the range of private sector companies who provided job opportunities for those in need of work.

Atlantic Fur Company, 1940s. OJA, photo #24.
The JVS case files are very sensitive documents as they contain personal information such as names, addresses, past education, job placements and wages. As such, access is restricted and must be first approved by the Director of the OJA in accordance with our privacy policy. Yet, it is certain that these files will prove invaluable to genealogists, demographers, labour historians and others interested in this long-running Jewish agency.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

A Sense of Spadina and Jane's Walk

On a beautiful, clear and sunny Sunday May 8th, over 50 interested Urbanists attended this year's Sense of Spadina Jane’s Walk tour of the Kensington Market and Spadina Avenue area.

Jane’s Walk honours the legacy and ideas of urban activist and writer Jane Jacobs who championed the interests of local residents and pedestrians over a car-centered approach to planning. Jane’s Walk advances local engagement with contemporary urban planning practices and helps knit people together instilling belonging and encouraging civic leadership. Free walking tours held on the first weekend of May each year are in many cases led by locals. Since its inception in Toronto in 2007, Jane’s Walk has expanded rapidly. In May of 2010, 424 walks were held in 68 cities in nine countries.


Cyrel Troster with her group in front of John's Italian Caffe.
The restuarant is the site of the former Mandel's bakery.
The Yiddish is still visible on the front window.
Photo courtesy of Daniel Woolfson.

Our tour began in the Anshei Minsk Synagogue, where tour leaders Cyrel Troster and Ryan Handlarski discussed the history of Jewish life in Kensington Market and the importance that Spadina Avenue held in early Jewish life in Toronto. While at the Anshei Minsk Synagogue, its spiritual leader, Rabbi Shmuel Spero, joined the group for a quick discussion of the Synagogue’s long history and significance for Urban Jewish life.

The group then proceeded to experience first hand the Spadina Avenue neighbourhood. The tour leaders guided their respective groups around parts of Baldwin St., Beverly St. and Cecil St., stopping at various locations of former, and current, Jewish significance. The tour concluded with all the participants feeling a greater connection to past Jewish life in downtown Toronto.

If you missed the walk this year, Jane’s Walks take place the first weekend in May. Be sure to join us at next years Walk! Or better still, sign up for one of our four public walks this year by visiting our website:

Friday, March 25, 2011

London Called....

Ginsberg grocery store, London, Ontario, 1909.
Ontario Jewish Archives, photo #4048.

On May 4, 2011, the Ontario Jewish Archives hosted a book launch for "A History of the Jewish Community of London Ontario: From the 1850s to the Present Day." Written by Bill Gladstone and published by Now and Then Books, this wonderful hardcover history traces the rise of London synagogues and communal organizations, presents dozens of family histories and profiles many leading figures in business, medicine, law and the arts, all alongside hundreds of photographs from private and archival sources.

The book was commissioned in 2009 by children of David and Rachel Rubinoff as a tribute to their parents and to the city and community in which they lived for nearly half a century. Initially a ladies’ wear merchant, David Rubinoff (1913-2008) became a real estate speculator and land developer in and around London, responsible for such projects as the Stoneybrook subdivision and the White Oaks Mall. Having acquired the international franchise for Holiday Inn, he built a chain of more than 60 Commonwealth Holiday Inns across Canada, the Caribbean and Europe.

Bill Gladstone gave a short presentation highlighting some of the individuals, organizaitons and events of London's Jewish history to a packed crowd of over 180 ex-Londoners and history enthusiasts. Most of those in attendence hadn't seen each other in years and even decades making the event a happy reunion for many. The evening was capped off with a lovely dessert reception, courtesy of the Rubinoff Family.

Partial proceeds from the sale of the books at the event benefited the Ontario Jewish Archives and we would like to thank both Penny Rubinoff and Bill Gladstone for their generosity.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

100th International Women's Day at the OJA

Today marks the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day. This year, the United Nations has chosen “Equal Access to Education, Training and Science and Technology: Pathway to Decent Work for Women” as its theme. In honour of this 100th year, the OJA is profiling an outstanding Jewish woman in Toronto’s history whose ardent support and dedication to education was a life-long focus.
Ida Lewis Siegel, ca. 1971.
OJA, Ida Lewis Siegel fonds 15, item 17.

Ida Lewis Siegel (1885-1982) was born to Samuel Lewis and Hannah Ruth (Ticktin) Lewis on 14 February 1885 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She was the first child to be born in the United States after her parents immigrated from Lithuania. She had two brothers, Abe Lewis and Charles S. Lewis. She attended elementary school in Pittsburgh, and in 1894, she and her family moved to Toronto. On 14 February 1905, Ida married Isidore Hirsch Siegel at the Elm Street Synagogue. Isidore was a travelling salesman, and later, owned a store in Cochrane, Ontario. The family had a home in the Beach area of Toronto where Ida spent most of her time caring for her six children with the aid of her mother.

Communal work was Ida’s calling. She is credited with helping to found a large number of Jewish philanthropic and social organizations including the Daughters of Zion, which was the first ladies' Zionist society in Canada, the Herzl Girls' Club, Hadassah-Wizo Organization of Canada, the Hebrew Ladies' Sewing Circle, which developed into the Hebrew Ladies' Maternity Aid Society, the Y.M.-Y.W.H.A., the Women’s League of the United Synagogues of America in Toronto and many others. In addition, she and her brother Abe formed the first free Jewish Dispensary in Toronto, located on Elizabeth Street in the Ward, which was the forerunner to the Mount Sinai Hospital. Ida was also instrumental in the formation of a unified fundraising body for the Jewish community known as the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies, which would become the current UJA Federation of Greater Toronto. However, she was denied a seat on the executive after campaigning for a female representative.

In 1937, Ida ran unsuccessfully for alderman in Toronto, but remained politically active with the Association of Women's Electors. She was active in the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom from 1915 onward and was an outspoken opponent of both World Wars. She held the position of national vice-president of the Zionist Organization of Canada and sat on the executive board of the Canadian Jewish Congress.

Toronto School Board election blotter, 1930.
The blotter is in Yiddish and the last line reads:
The Mother is the Best One to Bring Up the Children.
OJA, Ida Lewis Siegel fonds 15, scrapbook file.
 But it was education that was Ida’s true passion. She was one of the original founders of the Home and School Association in 1919 and formed the first Home and School club for Jewish mothers. She began her professional career with the public school system in 1930, when she became the first Jewish woman to be elected to the Toronto Board of Education, a post which she held for six years. She was later named honorary secretary of the Toronto Bureau of Jewish Education in 1949, serving until 1969. She was honoured by the BJE at its annual Education Dinner in 1955 for her devotion to Jewish learning. Among her many accomplishments, Ida was involved in bringing milk distribution into the public school system for undernourished children and campaigned for better physical and health education curriculum. In 1933, Ida fought for and won the discontinuance of mandatory cadet training in the public schools, both on ideological grounds and because she believed the money could be better spent elsewhere.

Ida was always vocal about women’s equality in education and actively campaigned for the rights of female educators, especially when it came to leadership roles. In an undated letter to the editor of the Toronto Globe newspaper, Ida offered her congratulations to the first woman elected as chair of the Windsor Board of Education, stating that Windsor was “proving itself more broadminded than Toronto.” Ida went on to criticize the Toronto Board for continuously passing up a woman trustee for chair, even though her qualifications were equal to those of the men on the board. “It is up to the women of Toronto to remind those concerned that women now enjoy the franchise and are in line for public office on a merit basis equally with men.” [Letter to the editor, Toronto Globe and Mail, undated. Ontario Jewish Archives, Ida Lewis Siegel fonds 18, correspondence file.] Ida was involved in the field of education right up into her 80s. For ten years during the 1970s, Ida volunteered her time teaching civics classes to immigrant children at the Dewson Street Public School in Toronto. She related her own experiences as an immigrant in Canada and arranged for special field trips for the children.

The OJA holds the personal records of Ida Siegel, including correspondence and memoirs, photographs and records documenting her educational and communal activities.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Philip Givens records at the OJA

Mayor Phil Givens with wife Min
 and Israeli President Zalmon Shazar
during a mayoral visit to Israel, 1965.
Ontario Jewish Archives,
Philip Givens fonds 51,
series 4-6, file 40, item 2.
The OJA has recently processed the records of former Toronto mayor, Phil Givens. The fonds consists of several boxes of textual records, artifacts, political cartoons, and scrapbooks as well as over 900 remarkable photographs documenting Givens' political, communal and personal life.

Philip Gerard Givens (1922-1995) was a municipal, provincial and federal politician, a judge, a police commissioner and an active Jewish communal leader. He is largely remembered as the 54th Mayor of Toronto. Although he graduated as a lawyer from Osgoode Hall Law School in 1949, shortly thereafter Givens decided to enter politics, running as a municipal school board trustee in 1950. He then went on to serve as alderman and city controller until 1963. Givens was appointed Queen’s Counsel in 1962.

Following the sudden death of Mayor David Summerville in 1963, Givens was appointed by City Council as the Mayor of Toronto and was officially elected to the position in 1964, winning a close race against the former mayor, Allan Lamport. Givens was publicly seen as an affable and populist mayor but his tenure was not without controversy. His support for the construction of the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts and his decision to acquire Henry Moore’s bronze sculpture "the Archer" for the new Nathan Phillips Square were both highly controversial during his term in office. In particular, the Moore sculpture sparked intense controversy and public debate amongst council members and citizens alike. Although ultimately purchased with private solicited donations, the controversy surrounding the statue’s purchase was still partly to blame for Givens’ 1966 election defeat to William Dennison.

In 1968, Givens entered national politics for the second time, (the first being a failed 1957 bid in Toronto’s Spadina riding), winning a seat as a Liberal in Toronto’s York West riding. In 1971, he stepped down before the end of his term to campaign for a seat in the Provincial Legislature. Again running under the Liberal banner, Givens won his seat and represented the ridings of York-Forest Hill and Armourdale until 1977, when he officially retired from politics. That same year he was appointed as a provincial court judge and chairman of the Metropolitan Toronto Police Commission, serving in both capacities until 1985, when he left the Commission but continued in the judiciary as a civil trial judge until officially retiring from public life in 1988.

An ardent Zionist, Givens was also a prominent leader of several Jewish communal organizations. He was founder and first president of the Upper Canada Lodge of B’nai Brith and sat on the executives of several Jewish organizations. He was chairman of the United Israel Appeal-Israel Emergency Fund in 1967 and the United Jewish Appeal-Israel Special Fund in 1968. From 1973 to 1985 he was the national president of the Canadian Zionist Federation and in the 1990s was the national chairman of the Canadian Jewish Congress’ Committee for Yiddish. Givens was honoured by many Jewish community organizations and received several awards over his lifetime. Givens was also known to be a passionate sailor and was a member of both the Royal Canadian and the Island Yacht Clubs in Toronto.

The records of  former mayor Phil Givens will complement those currently housed at the City of Toronto Archives and will be invaluable to researchers studying municipal, provincial and national politics as well as the history of Jewish communal life in Toronto. The OJA would like to thank Mrs. Min Givens for assisting with the identification of many of the events and individuals depicted in the photographs.