Researching the Contributions of Jewish Servicewomen through Archival Resources
by Saundra Lipton
Over 250 Jewish women served in the Canadian Forces during the Second World War. These women, ranging in age from late teens to late 30s, served in various roles, including as military police, secretaries, wireless operators, and drivers. They were posted across Canada, and some served overseas—some right behind the frontlines. Until the 2017 publication of my article, “She Also Served: Bringing to Light the Contributions of the Canadian Jewish Servicewomen of the Second World War” and Ellin Bessner’s 2018 book Double Threat: Canadian Jews, the Military and World War II, little had been written about their contributions.
I am a recently retired librarian and currently the President of the Jewish Historical Society of Southern Alberta. In 2012, I became involved in a project of the Society to honour Jewish World War II veterans from southern Alberta. In my research, I discovered, to my surprise, that some Jewish Albertan women had also enlisted. Like many others, I had assumed that only Jewish men signed up for military service. This discovery spurred me on to uncover the names and stories of Jewish Canadian servicewomen.
Archival collections, such as the Ontario Jewish Archives, have been critical sources in locating oral histories, documents, newspaper clippings, biographical information, and photographs for identified servicewomen, and for finding new names to research. While the various local Jewish archives across Canada provide a wealth of information on servicewomen from their areas, the Alex Dworkin Canadian Jewish Archives is an incredible centralized resource for anyone researching Canadian Jewish military contributions. I am grateful to Ellin Bessner for sharing with me her discoveries from this rich resource.
Visiting the various archives in person is challenging. However, their online resources have been most useful, and their staff have been most accommodating in assisting me via email. I am grateful to the Ontario Jewish Archives, particularly Faye Blum for her research help. Fortunately, the Ontario Jewish Archives had collected the photographs of Airwomen Norda Bennett and Esther Mager. I encourage servicewomen’s family members to donate photographs, documents, and other material to the appropriate archive so that this essential primary historical information is preserved for the future.
In addition to the 2017 article, my work on Jewish servicewomen has also resulted in a recently unveiled website, She Also Serves: Jewish Women in the Canadian Armed Forces. The website, which currently features the stories of 36 servicewomen, has been created as part of a project with Art Curator and Educator, Dr. Jennifer Eiserman.