At the University of British Columbia on Nov. 21, Prof. Robin Judd will speak on What’s Love Got to Do With It? Jewish War Brides and North American Soldier Husbands after the Second World War. (photo from Robin Judd)
Prof. Robin Judd noticed that a significant number of the earliest Holocaust memoirs written by women were penned by “war brides” who had married American, Canadian or British soldiers.
In the course of teaching about the Holocaust at Ohio State University, the coincidence struck her and, as happens in research, led her onto a new topic. She is nearing completion on a book about the experiences of Jewish women – and a few men – in Europe and North Africa who married Allied service personnel and moved to Canada, the United States or Britain. She will give a guest lecture on the subject at the University of British Columbia next week and the public is welcome to attend.
The lecture is titled What’s Love Got to Do With It? Jewish War Brides and North American Soldier Husbands after the Second World War, and Judd told the Independent that love certainly played a key role, but some of the other factors at play also interest her.
“What prompts individuals from radically different cultures, who may not necessarily speak the same language, what prompts them to create relationships with one another and long-lasting relationships, relationships that are going to result in marriage and then bring the civilians to Canada, Britain or the United States?” she asked.
Most of the soldiers that Judd is studying were Jewish themselves, though there are exceptions to the rule.
In some cases, the wives would arrive in the new country before or otherwise apart from their new husbands or fiancés. An entire infrastructure was in place to accommodate and integrate them.
“The war brides, particularly if you come to the United States or to Canada as a war bride, first you live with other war brides at least temporarily in a kind of war bride home or war bride camp and you travel on a war bride ship and there are particular Red Cross workers who teach English and show films and cooking classes,” she said.
If the fiancés or husbands were not yet decommissioned or were traveling with their units, the brides may have found themselves in the position of living with their new in-laws.
“These were not the spouses they were planning for their sons,” Judd comments. “And all of a sudden here you have this woman show up. You are processing stories that you are hearing about the war and all of a sudden here comes this person and you might not be able to communicate, you might not have a shared language, you might not know how to even ask questions about what this person had experienced.”
Feeling isolated and foreign, some of these women used the opportunity to express their experiences privately, to themselves, in writing.
“Some of the women that I’ve spoken to have told me that they used that time to write out their story, to put it to paper, because they needed to kind of get it out and there was no one with whom they could talk, literally,” she said. “But then, as they began to create networks, make new connections, maybe by that point their now-husbands have returned to Canada, Britain or the U.S., a number of them tell me that they then destroyed them.”
By an apparent coincidence, though, Judd concluded that it was disproportionately the women who had married soldiers who were among the first to publish English-language Holocaust memoir narratives for general readers in the 1970s and ’80s. She has a theory about this, but admits she could be wrong: these may have been some of the first women who were asked to speak about their early life and Holocaust experiences to Jewish women’s groups, federations and other community audiences, acclimating them to become among the first to put them on paper for general readers.
“But, again, I could be completely wrong,” she said.
Judd’s lecture is supported by a Holocaust education fund in UBC’s department of history to support undergraduate education on the Holocaust. The fund supports a biannual lecture, alternating years with the Rudolf Vrba Memorial Lecture, and is incorporated into an undergraduate course, History of the Holocaust, taught by Prof. Richard Menkis, who is also chair of the committee that manages the fund. The public is welcome to attend on Thursday, Nov. 21, 5-6:15 p.m., at Buchanan D217 at UBC.