While the refugees confronted the Canadian government with petitions, letters and strikes, voluntary organizations worked outside the barbed wire to improve their conditions, and to gain their release. The leader of Canadian Jewry’s efforts was a young Montreal lawyer, Saul Hayes, who served as director of the United Jewish Refugee and War Relief Agencies (UJRA) of the Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC).
During the first years of the Second World War, Canadian Jews focused on aiding and rescuing European Jewry. The plight of the Jewish internees, officially labelled as dangerous spies, presented them with a public relations dilemma. Until the refugees were cleared of suspicion, the UJRA tread lightly. They provided communication, kosher food, religious items and other material to improve everyday life for the internees.
Securing release into Canada for the interned refugees was an enormous challenge. The UJRA knew that during the Holocaust era the term “refugee” was synonymous with “Jew.” In Canada, where antisemitism permeated the political and social landscape, Jews were regarded as unassimilable immigrants. At first, the UJRA focused its efforts on gaining entry for the internees into the United States. When that scheme failed, Hayes worked with Alexander Paterson, quietly lobbying to secure release into Canada.
A collection that relates to the United Jewish Refugee and War Relief Agencies.