Toronto's Jewish War Heroes
“I am a Canadian, proud of Canada’s heritage and proud -- if need be -- to fight for it.”
--Benjamin Dunkelman (in his autobiography Dual Allegiance)
On June 9th, 1954, Major Benjamin Dunkelman was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for his bravery on March 5th, 1945, during the final Allied assault on Germany. Dunkelman was born in Toronto in 1913, the son of David and Rose Dunkelman, founders of Tip Top Tailors and the Jewish Standard. Dunkelman’s parents ensured that he was aware of his Jewish heritage, and as a result, he felt a deep connection to his Jewish roots. In 1939, Dunkelman joined the Canadian Armed Forces, and in 1940, he was commissioned in the Second Battalion of the Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada.
After the Second World War, Dunkelman joined thousands of other Jewish veterans who assisted Israel during the 1948 War of Independence. Under Dunkelman’s command, the 7th Brigade of the Israeli Army took control of what is currently a part of the State of Israel.
Like Dunkelman, Barnett (Barney) J. Danson, born in Toronto in 1921, was raised with a strong sense of his Jewish identity. In his autobiography, Not Bad For A Sergeant, Danson recalls a family story about himself marching down Jameson Avenue where he lived, waving a large Canadian flag while hollering, “Hurrah for the Canadian Jews.”
Danson served with The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada during the Second World War. He was severely wounded in Falaise, Normandy in 1944, losing his sight in one eye. He also suffered the great loss of four of his closest friends who were killed in combat.
In 1957, Danson helped found the Reform synagogue, Temple Emanu-El in Toronto. After a successful career in business, Danson was elected to the House of Commons in 1968. From 1970 to 1972, Danson served as Parliamentary Secretary to Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. In 1976, he was named Minister of National Defence, a position he held until leaving politics in 1979.