Historian Irving Abella, co-author of a landmark book on the Canadian government’s refusal to accept Jewish refugees fleeing the Holocaust, has died.
Abella died on Sunday, the day after his 82nd birthday, after a long illness.
Born and raised in Toronto, he received his bachelor’s, master’s and PhD degrees from the University of Toronto.
His 1982 book, None is too Many: Canada and the Jews of Europe 1933-1948, co-written with Harold Troper, sheds light on the largely untold story of Canada’s anti-immigrant policy toward persecuted Jews and helped persuade future governments to welcome them hot migrants flee war.
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Between the rise of the Nazi Party in 1933 and the founding of the State of Israel in 1948, Canada took in just 5,000 Jewish refugees – a legacy Abella and Troper described as the “worst record of any nation in the world”.
This was particularly evident in the case of the MS St. Louis, which was denied the right to disembark its passengers in Cuba and the United States in 1939. Some Canadians tried to persuade Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King to allow the ship to dock in Halifax, but this was opposed by Fredrick Blair, an official in charge of the government’s immigration service at the time. Abella and Troper revealed in None is Too Many that Blair had a particular dislike for Jews and was the architect of an extremely restrictive immigration policy, with the full backing of the king’s liberal government.
By Abella’s own admission, None is Too Many was never intended to be more than an academic text describing a particularly dark period in Canadian history. In the meantime, much more has become of it, not least the entry of the sentence “none is too much” in the Canadian lexicon. In Abella’s own words, the book “became an ethical benchmark against which contemporary government policy is judged.”
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To that end, advance copies of some chapters of the book were sent to former Immigration Secretary Ron Atkey in the late 1970s, just as Canadians were debating what, if anything, the country should do about the crisis of Vietnamese refugees, who became known as the Boat People . After reading these chapters and learning of Canada’s deplorable treatment of the Jews of Europe, Atkey vowed not to repeat the mistakes of the past, and Canada welcomed tens of thousands of new citizens.
The book won the 1983 National Jewish Book Award in the Holocaust category.
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Abella also criticized Canada’s post-war acceptance of thousands of Nazi collaborators and war criminals, particularly members of the Waffen SS Division Galicia, made up of Ukrainian nationalists and fascists.
In a 1997 interview with Mike Wallace of “60 Minutes,” Abella explained that entry into Canada was relatively easy for SS members because their trademark tattoo showed they were reliably anti-Communist.
Abella was also the author of Coat of Many Colours: Two Centuries of Jewish Life in Canada, an important text chronicling the history of the Jews in Canada, as well as several key texts on the history of the labor movement in Canada. He spent his career teaching history at York University and late in his career held the position of Ship Professor of Canadian Jewish History.
Abella has also been active outside of academia, serving as President of the Canadian Jewish Congress from 1992 to 1995 and as Chair of VisionTV, a religious television network.
“Irving Abella was a thoroughly Canadian Jewish leader,” said Bernie Farber, former CEO of the Canadian Jewish Congress and current chair of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network. “He was wise, articulate, engaging, courageous and forward-thinking. His inspirational leadership has become his legacy. For me he was my mentor and teacher. May his memory always be a blessing.”
Abella was married to Rosalie Silberman Abella, a former Supreme Court Justice of Canada who was not only the first Jewish woman but also the first fugitive to sit on the Supreme Court of Canada. They have two sons, Jacob and Zachary.
Abella was appointed a member of the Order of Canada in 1993 and a member of the Order of Ontario in 2014. He was also a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal in 2002.
© 2022 The Canadian Press
https://globalnews.ca/news/8966546/irving-abella-dies-at-82/ Irving Abella, who documented Canada’s rejection of Jewish refugees in World War II, dies aged 82 – National