This Week in JPL History: Pierre van Paassen – The Forgotten Ally

The name Pierre van Paassen may not be one that you are familiar with, though there was a time in Canada where he was well known in Jewish households.  van Passen was a European correspondent for a variety of American and Canadian newspapers, and who came to speak at the Jewish Public Library on November 25th in 1945.

Almost 45 years later a lecture was given by David Kirk and Beverly Tansey on this forgotten ally of the Jewish people. van Paassen was born Pieter van Paassen in Holland, he immigrated to Canada when he was 16. He served with Canadian Expeditionary Force in France in 1919, during which time he adopted the name ‘Pierre’.

van Paassen was referred to as a “noted friend of Jewry” on the 1945 handbill, you may wonder why this is. The reason is that not only was he one of the first non-Jews to support Zionism in America, he also repeatedly gave warnings of the threats facing European Jews in the beginning of the last century. Some of his warnings fell on deaf years, and at least one of them was censored outright.

During a 1934 lecture, early in Hilter’s rise to power, van Paassen spoke to a capacity audience at Ottawa’s Chateau Laurier and is quoted as saying:

“A relentless boycott of the Jews in Germany is reducing them to the same state as ‘untouchables’ in India. One-third are doomed to destruction, one-third to slavery, and one-third to exile.”

Earlier in 1927 he attempted to publish a series of articles contrasting the Jewish conditions in Palestine and Poland. The New York newspaper The Evening World refused to publish the articles. van Paasen wrote them after visiting Warsaw alongside other journalists at the invitation of Marshal Joseph Pilsudski, who was then the leader of Poland. The purpose of the trip was to show correspondents the progress Poland had made in recovering from the First World War.

During his visit van Paassen managed to evade his (police) chaperones and visit Stare Miasto, where as van Paassen describes in his 1939 book To Number Out Days “lived ’Jews without money,’ 300,000 of them, in conditions that can only be described as the lowest depth of human degradation.” While there he spoke to Dr. Shmaryahu Levin about what the future held for Polish Jews. He quotes the following conversation in the same book:

During his visit van Paassen presented the library with the manuscript for “The Forgotten Ally” a novel on Israel.

“There is no hope for the ‘Polish citizens of the Jewish faith.’ No hope at all. They are doomed…” [Dr. Levin]
“How many are there?” [van Paassen]
“More than three million!”
“What will become of them?”
“The majority is [sic] going to perish!”

The Library was truly honoured and excited to host van Paassen in 1945. The packed audience, which included poet A.M. Klein crowded around to listen to this prestigious speaker. [

The This Week in Jewish Public Library History blog series was made possible through the generous support of the Peter and Ellen Jacobs Virtual Archives Fund.





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