Anne Petrie (photo from Maurice Yacowar)
The University of Calgary has organized a virtual exhibition to honour the efforts of Jewish women in the Canadian Armed Forces during the Second World War. Called She Also Served, it comprises a series of nine banners by various artists.
Originally scheduled to be displayed at the Military Museums in Calgary during Jewish Heritage Month in May, it has been made available online throughout 2021 and will be physically hung in May 2022. Of the 17,000 Jews who served in the Canadian armed services, more than 275 were women.
Among those selected to display their work is Anne Petrie of Victoria. For her banner, a digital print called “In the Tradition of Service,” Petrie chose to list all the known names of the Jewish Canadian servicewomen. She used a font that is reminiscent of the typewriters of the 1940s. Another layer of the banner has the names of 12 biblical heroines, confirming the tradition of Jewish women’s courage and dedication to serving their communities.
“I was immediately struck by knowing that, although they would not have had to hide their Jewish identity, it was still in those days not something that you would be comfortable being completely open about,” Petrie told the Independent. “Even if it was, at best, very casual antisemitism, it was a reality when they would have signed up. So, there you are fighting (even if it’s only at a desk) for something – a religion, a people, a culture – that you can’t really be openly passionate about.”
For Petrie, She Also Served is an opportunity to reveal and contextualize the “Jewishness” of that other “them, the unsung and – worse – unidentified Jewish-Canadian women soldiers.” She said she is honouring them by naming them in “their doubly suppressed identities, as women and Jews.”
Petrie’s intention was to present the full names and rank (where available) of all the Jewish women known to have served. The collection of names fills the background layer of the 75-by-165-centimetre banner. Each name is in the colour of their respective services: olive green for army, dark navy for the navy and a lighter “air force blue” for the Women’s Army Corps. Emerging from the background in a larger, translucent Hebrew script, and in a camouflage pattern, are the names of Judaism’s biblical heroines, “themselves often subordinated by patriarchal tradition to the male heroes,” said Petrie.
“In making the banner itself, I was struck by how powerful it was to actually write out all the 279 names of the Jewish servicewomen that have so far been identified. I knew none of them personally, of course, but I felt that typing each name was a kind of acknowledgement and, strange as it sounds, I did feel a kind spirit or presence as I typed each of the names. I only wish we did know more about them, but I understand that research is continuing and, hopefully, there will eventually be stories attached to each of these women’s names,” she said.
Petrie thanked Janice Shulman and Rabbi Lynn Greenhough for their assistance with the project.
Prior to beginning her work as an artist, Petrie’s career spanned more than 30 years in radio and television, where she worked as a researcher, producer, documentary-maker, columnist and commentator in news and current affairs. She is also the author of several non-fiction books: Ethnic Vancouver, Vancouver Secrets and Gone to an Aunt’s: Remembering Canada’s Homes for Unwed Mothers.
After retiring from the CBC, she returned to school and obtained a bachelor of fine arts from the Alberta College of Art and Design in 2008. Since then, she has had a number of exhibitions. Her next exhibit, said/unsaid, is a two-person show with Jane Coomb – it opens at the errant artSpace gallery in Victoria (975 Alston St.) on July 9.
The other artists whose work is featured in She Also Served are Razieh Alba, Sophia Borowska, Alysa-Beth Engel, Lily Rosenberg, Talie Shalmon, Jules Schacter, Bev Tosh and Susan Turner. The representations exploring the servicewomen’s experiences range from naturalistic to abstract. Some works use archival photographs, while others use media include oil painting and paper-cutting.
The stories of 41 Jewish servicewomen are also featured on the website. These accounts were an impetus for the call for submissions for the exhibition, which was curated by the University of Calgary’s Prof. Jennifer Eiserman and librarian emerita Saundra Lipton. They ask for help in “completing the story” from anyone who has more information about the featured servicewomen and any of those identified in the list of names collected.
To view the exhibition, visit live-ucalgary.ucalgary.ca/she-also-serves/exhibition.
Sam Margolis has written for the Globe and Mail, the National Post, UPI and MSNBC.