Elsewhere on this website you can find an article about the history of the quota system at the University of Manitoba medical school. In response to that article we received the following letter from well-known historian Allan Levine:
Re: The University of Manitoba medical school quota
Your assertion that “Jews in Winnipeg willingly accepted at quota system” based on Dean Alvin Mathers’s 1933 conversation with Rabbi Solomon Frank is an incorrect conclusion. You are thinking about this in the wrong way. You have to ask yourself about the choice Frank and any other members of the congregation actually had at the time, given the anti-Semitic climate of the day. If Frank had refused Mathers’s offer, then what? He likely feared that even less Jews would have been admitted, which was the case in any event. Agreeing to Mathers’s terms was hardly agreeing to a quota because there was not much else he could have done. Going to the media about it, as Eva Wiseman notes, was not an option in 1933 and he almost certainly would have feared that such publicity would have made the situation worse. The Jewish community’s power and influence in such matters was minimal as was shown, for example, by the inability of Canadian Jewish leaders to convince the federal government to permit more German-Jewish refugees into the country during the thirties. As well, even if the rabbi and the congregation agreed, so what? It is not as if Frank or any of the other members of the Shaarey Zedek controlled the actions of the Winnipeg Jewish population, which in 1931 was 17,600. The rabbi did not even control the actions of his congregation.
The responsibility for the quota is on Mathers, the medical school and the University of Manitoba and any other assertion to the contrary does a disservice to this historical discriminatory injustice.
In my eidtorial column in the Dec. 7 issue I focused on one aspect of Allan's letter. Here is what I wrote:
Allan Levine’s letter about the quota system at the University of Manitoba medical school on the opposite page raises a very interesting question: Was there anything that could have been done to oppose a system of discrimination against Jews, given the widespread anti-Semitism that was common throughout the world at the time that quotas were introduced here in Manitoba?
While I would not disagree that the context in which quotas were introduced is absolutely essential to understanding what happened, what bothered me more about what happened here - and which Eva Wiseman referenced in her talk about the quota system at the Jewish Heritage Centre’s program on Jewish physicians November 10, was the complicity of certain members of the Jewish community in having that quota system institutionalized here. Wiseman referred specifically to the consent that Rabbi Frank of the Shaarey Zedek and members of the Shaarey Zedek executive gave to Dean Mathers when he said that he was going to introduce a quota on the number of Jews allowed into the medical school.
Wiseman also mentioned the refusal of the Canadian Jewish Congress and B’nai Brith to support the efforts by a group known as Avukah to expose the quota system.
During her talk Wiseman referred to the central role that a former University of Manitoba professor by the name of Shlomo Ben Adam (a.k.a. Shlomo Mitchell) played in exposing the formal system of discrimination that prevented more than a handful of Jews from gaining admission to the University of Manitoba medical school.
Myron Love mentioned to me that he had interviewed Shlomo Ben Adam many years ago and, after searching our own online archives (which are accessible to anyone on our website: jewishpostandnews.ca), I found Myron’s article about Ben Adam.
The key part of the article - and the one that I think is most relevant to the question whether Jews were complicit, not only in not opposing the adoption of a quota system, but in actively resisting efforts to dismantle that quota system is this section of the article:
“JEWISH COMMUNITY UNWILLING TO COOPERATE
“The question was how to prove the allegations in the absence of witnesses. Ben Adam noted the Jewish community was unwilling to co-operate for fear of damaging the image of the Medical College and its renowned Dean, Dr. Mathers.” (emphasis mine)
I agree that one might well argue that opposing the introduction of quotas on Jews, not only in medicine, but in almost other area of life, would have been difficult, if not impossible, given the climate of the time, but the realization that members of the Jewish community here actively opposed an attempt to expose the quota system for what it was introduces an entirely new dimension to the discussion.
Yes, it’s easy to point fingers in hindsight and say that too many Jews simply stood by and did nothing to resist institutionalized anti-Semitism - not just here, but everywhere, including Nazi controlled Europe, but it’s another thing to realize that Jews actively worked to prevent other Jews from fighting back against that anti-Semitism.