By ALFRED MUTCHNIK, M.D.
Ed. note: We recenlty received this very interesting article from Dr. Alfred Mutchnik about his difficulties in gaining admission to the University of Manitoba medical school following World War II.
Although the quota on the number of Jews allowed into the medical school had been lifted as the result of the efforts of such individuals as Percy Barsky and Hyman Sokolov, as Mutchnik notes in his story, the long-time - and overtly anti-Semitic dean of the medical school, Alvin Mathers, also made it exceedingly difficult for veterans returning from the war to gain admission into the school.
According to Eva Wiseman, who is writing a history of Jewish physicians in Manitoba, this article will also be a part of that book once it is published.
When I learned of the recent articles in the Jewish Post & News regarding The Jewish Doctors in Manitoba Program, the Jewish Heritage Center Project, and the history of the quota system, my memory on the subject has not been erased even at my age of 93. If anything, it has left an indelible mark on my life.
As an addition to the well documented research by Bernie Bellan and Eva Wiseman, as well as others, I would like to add my own personal experiences how the quota system affected my life.
I think my story is important to keep the record straight by showing not only how the quota system was in effect between World War I and World War II but abolished after 1945 by a few war veterans including myself.
It was well-known but not discussed openly in public that for 30 years prior to World Was II (the Dean of Medicine, Dr. Alvin T. Mathers was an anti-Semite who had almost complete control of the selection of pre-med students and the function of the medical school. He limited the number of Jewish pre-med students to between four to six out of a class of 60 places. It was no wonder that during that time the competition was fierce amongst the Jewish pre-med students to attain the best grades.
I grew up in the North End and went to St. Johns High School, where I excelled in track and field. I held the Manitoba championship for the half mile for many years. I also played on the Winnipeg Irish soccer team that won the city championship in 1940.
In 1942, when I entered pre-med, some of my fellow classmates included Morley Cohen, Reuben Cherniak, Ben Shell and Sam Kantor, all of whom went on to graduate and establish memorable careers in Winnipeg.
After I passed my pre-med studies I chose to enter the military, joining the RCAF. It is not necessary for me to dwell on my tour of duty except to say that I was discharged in June 1945 as a commissioned officer in the RCAF with the rank of Pilot Officer. After I came home, I was hoping to start where I left off and try to get into medical school. As it was too late to apply for the class of 1945, I enrolled in the third-year science faculty.
At that time, there were many veterans of all religious denominations who were hoping to pursue a medical career. The number was well over 100, although many of them did not have the pre-med prerequisites. After the war, the Manitoba government designated a new category of Member of Parliament (MP) to represent each of the three services, i.e. Army, Navy and Air Force who were supposed to help with the needs and rehabilitation of the many veterans returning home. Part of this group of veterans made it known to their MP that they were hoping to get into medical school. It was concluded at several meetings by the veterans that, in order to gain admittance and to absorb more veterans into the medical school, two events would have to take place: The first was to give priority to the veterans who were qualified for admission while letting younger students wait, and the second priority was to increase the facilities in the medical school from 60 to 90 places.
I was elected by the veterans’ group to act as their spokesman. With the help of several others, including Danny Snidel, who later became Associate Dean of Medicine, we started to lobby various influential people in the community who would consider our needs and act on our behalves to accommodate us.
We lobbied the Board of Governors of the University, Members of Parliament and other organizations to bring to their attention the changes that were necessary. The press recognized a good story - that the veterans were being victimized and that the Dean of Medicine, Dr. Mathers was against any expansion, saying that there were too many obstacles to overcome such as the cadaver act, etc.
As veterans, we were treated as heroes by the public and, with the constant press coverage, this set off a battle insinuating that Dr. Mathers was anti-veteran and against the need for expansion. I was constantly named in the press as the veterans’ representative. Dr. Mathers eventually had to bow to public opinion and to higher authorities and, by the fall of 1947, the necessary changes were made for the first class.
I was accepted on my merit into the first class of 90, along with other qualified veterans and, to a lesser degree, non-veteran students. This is how the quota system for entry into medical school was subtly abolished.
After starting classes and focusing on my studies a few weeks went by when I was confronted one day in the corridor by Dr. Mathers. He addressed me by name, saying that I was the troublemaker who had smeared his name in the press and ruined his reputation. He told me that I had no right to be a doctor and he would do all he could to see to it. This was the first of several encounters during the next three months in which he blamed me for being the ringleader who caused him to be accused of various falsehoods by the press. I could see that he was seriously planning to make my life miserable and I didn’t know how I was going to survive this kind of persecution for the next four years.
I became his whipping boy. He felt that I was responsible for his loss of control of the medical school. Unfortunately, I suffered the consequences of his anger.
The next time he cornered me and began insulting me with the same accusations, I lost my temper and told him in no uncertain terms that I would become a doctor despite him and walked out of the college.
After six months of agonizing and reappraising my choices, I decided to go overseas and try to get into a medical school in England. Fortunately, as an officer in the RCAF, I was allowed to stay at the RAF officers’ club, which existed in every major city.
I started in London by visiting the medical schools affiliated with hospitals, such as Middlesex and Guys. I received the same answer: that they had their own waiting list of veterans who must be given priority. I was handicapped as well by not being able to say why I left first year in Winnipeg, also not having any references - which I certainly couldn’t expect Mathers to give me.
From London, I went into every major city all the way up to Liverpool staying a few days in each and getting the same response. Then I went to Scotland where I was offered the opportunity to start pre-med again at St. Andrew’s University. At least it was the first positive response, even though it would mean losing a year.
Then, someone told me to go over to Ireland, where they had three medical schools in Dublin. I crossed the Irish Sea and arrived in Dublin. I met with the Registrar of the Royal College of Surgeons, who happened to be an ex-colonel in the British Army, so we had something in common to talk about. He said that there were upcoming exams that he would allow me to take and, if I passed, I would be allowed to continue in first year.
I spent five years in Dublin, Ireland and graduated in 1953. From there, I went to Cincinnati, Ohio starting an Oby/Gyn residency. When I came home on a short trip to visit my parents, a medical friend of mine told me that Dr. Maxwell Rady was going on an extended trip and looking for a locum to cover his practice. As I was short of money, I thought I would meet with him and take up the offer. We met and he gave me the job. After he returned, he asked me if I would like to join his General Practice as an associate. Again I thought I would stay with him for a year and go back to finish my residency. Instead I stayed with him for 10 years and became his partner in 1959, opening a new and larger office designed by his son-in-law, Morley Blankstein at 377 Graham Ave. After his demise in 1964, I invited Dr. David Pearlman to join me. We brought in Dr. Gerald Hanks, a general surgeon from England.
By 1969, I decided for various reasons including the need for a climate change for one of our children to move to the United States. Fortunately, Bobby Hull had come from the Chicago Blackhawks to play for the Winnipeg Jets and bought our house. I moved to Scottsdale, Arizona in 1973 with my wife Beverly, four children and two dogs and no license to practice medicine. There was no reciprocity between Canada and the states of California, Florida and Arizona. At the age of 49 I had to study for the same exam that I had taken as an intern and started again in practice until I retired in 1993. After I retired we spent most of our time in the San Diego area because of the cooler weather.
Both Evelyn and Ernest Rady (son of Max Rady), who live in San Diego attended my 90th birthday celebration. Ernest was a young boy when I started in practice with his father and I would take him occasionally to the Blue Bomber football games.
When I learned that Ernest made a 30-million-dollar donation to the Health Science faculty of the U of M in honor of his father I was overwhelmed. I also felt personally vindicated, knowing that his father will now be forever identified with the medical school named after him.
It was an honor and a privilege to have been associated with Max Rady during most of my medical career in Winnipeg. He started his general practice in the North End, where he soon developed a large and diverse ethnic following. As his practice grew he moved his office into the Toronto General Trust building, where I first joined him.
Maxwell Rady had the stature and poise which gave his patients an added feeling of confidence in him. He was an excellent surgeon, a true gentleman and a great friend. He was respected and befriended by some of the medical leaders of that era, such as Dr. Thorlekson and Dr. McCharles, who later founded the Winnipeg Clinic and the Manitoba Clinic.
He also had an excellent relationship with the administration and the Sisters of St. Boniface Hospital, where he admitted most of his patients and to whom he gave large charitable contributions.
What a change a century has made in the history of Manitoba Jewish physicians. It took the end of World War II and the work of a few veterans like myself to influence the expansion of the medical school and to accept future medical students on their qualifications without prejudice based on religion or race
As was once said by a famous radio commentator: “Now you know the rest of the story”.