In 1942, 17-year-old Winnipegger Ziona Kaplan was worried about the war in Europe, but she was also a teenager looking for adventure. So, without telling her family or friends, she enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force and served as a medical stenographer until the end of the war.
Sarah Lack, also from Winnipeg, was ten years older than Ziona when she joined the Royal Canadian Air Force Medical Branch as a Nursing Sister. She was sent first to the United States for air evacuation training and then overseas where she worked in RAF medical facilities for the next five years.
Ziona and Sarah were two of 265 Jewish women who served in the Canadian military during World War II. They are also two of the women featured on the University of Calgary’s website, She Also Serves.
She Also Serves was created by University of Calgary Librarian Emeritus Saundra Lipton and Jennifer Eiserman, Associate Professor in the Department of Art and Art History. It was inspired by research Lipton undertook in 2014 for a journal article on the participation of Canadian Jewish women in World War II. While Lipton found some vague references to Jewish women who volunteered in the military, navy, and air force, she was unable to find any detailed information about these women or their contributions to the war effort. . Details of Canadian Jewish participation seemed to focus only on men.
The She Also Serves website features 41 Jewish military women, detailing, to varying degrees, their years of service, branch of service, reasons for joining, and lives before and after WWII. Some of the profiles also allude to how the Jewish identity of the women influenced or was influenced by their experiences of service.
For teenage Ziona Kaplan, according to the website, the Air Force was her ??… first exposure to making friends with non-Jews. Coming from an Orthodox household, her military service was also the first time she had tasted non-kosher food.
While the website serves primarily as an archive and as a valuable tool to document, educate, and recognize the volunteerism and contributions of Jewish women to the Canadian war effort, it also has a role to play as a tool for fight against racism. Anti-Semitism was rampant in Canada at the height of World War II, yet despite it, or perhaps because of it, the women profiled on the website, and the more than 200 others not yet identified on the site? ? as well as about 17,000 men out of a total Jewish population of 168,000 ?? volunteered to serve the country.
As Lipton and Eiserman continue to research names and biographical details to add to their virtual archive, they recently unveiled a complementary art exhibit designed to further highlight the courage and conviction of Jewish female volunteers.
This exhibition, entitled, She Also Served: Jewish Canadian Military Women in World War II, features the art of nine Canadian Jewish women, including Winnipeg visual artist Susan Turner.
Turner’s image pays homage to Naval Officer-Lt. Frieda Bindman (Dougherty), an Ottawa-based wireless telegraph operator who decoded top secret signals.
?? The image of Frieda, ??? Turner explains, ?? is composed of an abstract field that refers to a sense of the spiritual and intellectual and is combined with a pattern / texture / image square geometry that refers to his interests in structure and precision. ?
?? I see Frieda’s work as a metaphor for a worldview in which she was somewhat invisible, certainly as a woman, perhaps as a Jew, ?? Turner continues. His work, however, built critical processes that led to action, and his efforts were extremely important in the war effort for Canada.
Currently, the She Also Served art exhibit can be viewed virtually through the She Also Serves website and will be on display at the Calgary Military Museums next spring.
Sharon Chisvin is a writer from Winnipeg.