The Holocaust in the Canadian Yiddish Press: The Keneder Adler (Canadian Jewish Eagle), 1939-1945

Project: Research

Project Details

Project Description

The Nazi annihilation of European Jewry in the Holocaust is a cataclysm that has become embedded in the North American collective consciousness. In the existing scholarly literature, the marginalization of the Jewish genocide during World War II, in particular in the media, has become axiomatic: In the period 1939-45, the popular press failed in its coverage. This failure translated into a lack of agency among Jewish communities to intervene on behalf of European Jewry and a correspondingly limited impact on public policy. What this picture omits, however, is the active and diverse coverage of these events within the Jewish community, specifically, in the Yiddish-language press. This historical study proposes to broaden the existing discourse about the Holocaust by spotlighting the responses generated internally by the local Jewish population, in particular in the Yiddish press, where the genocide was front and centre. It will do so by examining Canada’s largest Yiddish daily, the Keneder Adler (Canadian Jewish Eagle) as a window onto the many ways that the Jewish community actively confronted the destruction of European Jewry during the war years. 

In Canada, where over three quarters of the Jewish population was Yiddish-speaking during the war years, the Yiddish press served a broad readership of first- and second-generation immigrants from Eastern Europe, with dailies formed in the hubs of Montreal, Toronto, and Winnipeg. The Keneder Adler, Canada’s premier Yiddish newspaper, was widely read across the country as a source on local, national and international news, analysis of current events, community life, cultural activity, and the arts. It remains a vital yet virtually untapped source on the Canadian Jewish experience in the first half of the twentieth century, in particular during the pivotal years of the Holocaust. 

In his introductory chapter of Why Didn't the Press Shout? American & International Journalism During the Holocaust, scholar and journalist Marvin Kalb states, “I remember, during the war, that my father would read the Yiddish-language newspaper, the [New York] Forward, and he would share the gruesome news from Europe about the Nazi slaughter of the Jews. We knew about the slaughter. We knew, and many other Jews knew” (2003, 3). And yet, Yiddish newspapers have not been investigated to determine what they knew, how they knew it, and in what ways that knowledge translated into thought, discussion expression, and action. A study of the Keneder Adler offers a rich and hitherto unstudied picture of a community generating dynamic mechanisms to address the mounting crisis.

Using a Receptive History approach, this research will offer a close examination of the evolving collective consciousness of wartime Canadian Jewry as reflected and refracted in the Keneder Adler between 1939 and 1945. As a publication produced by and for the Yiddish-speaking Jewish community, this newspaper reflects a set of communal concerns that are distinct from English-language sources such as the non-Yiddish press, government and organizational documentation, where scholarship has been more extensive. Moreover, in contrast to the “news” orientation of existing scholarship on the press during the Holocaust, this study proposes a comprehensive examination of the newspaper’s component parts: the spectrum of news, editorials and opinion pieces, testimonials, and literature, notably belles-lettres. Preliminary examination of this material points to a variegated set of responses to the crisis—from campaigns to poetry—in a community that was far from monolithic. This new research dimension both complements and enriches historical scholarship on the Holocaust in the Canadian context. While Yiddish language is facing a steady decline, a growing scholarly and popular interest in Yiddish Studies is opening up new venues for research. The proposed research will expand and enhance the existing discourse of the Canadian Jewish experience by bringing to the fore a rich area of source material that has been sorely neglected. Furthermore, it will contribute to the training of future scholars in accessing Yiddish sources, notably the Yiddish press. Ultimately, it will highlight the importance of accessing media produced not only by the Jewish community but by all immigrant groups in the understanding of ethnic community responses to pivotal moments in Canadian and world history.
Effective start/end date1/04/0830/03/11