"You'll Get Used to It!": The Internment of Jewish Refugees in Canada, 1940-43

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Whitehouse, Christine




After the fall of France in 1940, when German invasion of the British Isles seemed imminent, some 2000 Jewish refugees from Nazi oppression were detained by the British Home Office as dangerous "enemy aliens" and sent to Canada to be interned for the duration of the war. While the British government admitted its mistake in interning the refugees within months of their arrest, the Canadian government continued to keep them behind barbed wire for up to three years, reflecting its administration's anti-semitic immigration policies more broadly. Instead of using their case as a signpost in Canada's liberalizing immigration history, this dissertation situates their story in a longer narrative of class and ethnic discrimination to show the troubling foundations of modern democracy. As one tool in the nation state's normalizing project, incarceration attempted to mould the Jewish men in the state's eye. How the refugees pushed back in a joint claim of selfhood forms the material basis of this study. Through their relationship with the spaces of internment, work and leisure, sexual desire and gender performance, and by protesting governmental power, the refugees' identities evolved and coalesced, demonstrating the fluidity of modern selfhood despite the limiting power of nationhood. The internees' evolving sense of self played a large role in their experience and the development of their collective postwar narrative which trumpets their own success in Canada; while the state differentiated them from its own citizenry, the Jewish refugees pushed back in order to be seen as valuable contributors to the national body. Consequently, their collective memory of internment as a continuation of that project and, finally, as evidence of its fulfillment constitutes a critical part of internment history. By broadening the framework of Jewish internment during WWII, a pattern of differing and detaining under the mores of modern democracy emerges.


History - Modern




Carleton University

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