Friday, November 11, 2005

Jacque Parizeau's "Jewish" Offspring

October 30 is the tenth anniversary of the Quebec referendum when the NO side won by a hair, only by roughly 1% of the vote. It is also the anniversary of the address by the premier of Quebec, Jacques Parizeau, to the crowd of disappointed separatists—some crying, some fuming, some numb— with his now famous explanation for that loss. “It's true we have been defeated,” he told them, “but basically by what? By money and the ethnic vote”.

That statement was a shock to many people, but more so to Jews in Canada, because it suggested that Parizeau was targeting the Jews of Montreal who voted almost 100% against separation. The combination of money and ethnicity appeared to be a euphemism for Jews.

A couple of years after the referendum had taken place, I accidentally learned that Parizeau himself had a very close personal connection to Jews. In sum, and to my amazement, it turns out that Parizeau’s two children are Jews, if only in accordance with halachic interpretation.

My story begins one evening when my husband and I were invited to meet Irene, the bride of a widower friend of ours named Peter. Irene is a stunningly attractive woman, a very successful business woman, vibrant and full of energy for a woman who had passed the age of seventy. Or so I learned over cocktails at her charming home in Florida.

In the course of our conversations, having learned that my husband and I were Canadians, Irene began to ask me questions about Jacques Parizeau, about the Parti Quebecois, and about the referendum. She wasn’t merely raising questions, she seemed to know a great deal about matters concerning Quebec. So much so, that I was amazed. How come, I wondered, when most Americans know practically nothing about Canadian politics and can rarely name the Prime Minister of Canada, Irene was cognizant of the premier of a Canadian province and much more. I put that question to Irene. It was then that she told me this incredible and interesting story.

Irene and her cousin Alice were young, Jewish Poles when Hitler invaded Poland. Together they averted the horrors of the concentration camps and survived by passing themselves off as Christian girls. That Irene could successfully so disguise herself was not too surprising, at least on the basis of her blond, blue-eyed features. I presumed that her cousin was similarly endowed. When the war was over the two of them made their way to Paris. Irene had expectations to migrate to the United States because her brother had fortunately been stranded there while working on the 1939 New York World’s Fair and was by then an American. Her cousin at that point not was eligible for sponsorship by her brother.

In any case Alice enrolled in the Sorbonne where she flourished and where she met a Canadian who asked her to marry him. He arranged for her to follow him to Canada, which she did. However, she decided not to marry that original admirer, but instead she met and married Jacques Parizeau, a young, bright student of economics.

Having seen and heard Parizeau on that fateful night when he blamed money and ethnics, I had to ask the obvious question. “Did Parizeau know that Alice was Jewish?” Of course, I was assured. And do their son and daughter know that their mother, who had died in 1990, was a Jew? Again, Irene stated positively that they did, because they were in contact with Irene and her own children, their cousins, who definitely identified themselves as Jews. After all, said Irene, we are Alice’s only remaining family. Alice’s family died in Bergen-Belson.

Does Irene’s account check out with official biographies of Alice Parizeau? Not if you look only at French versions which never mention her Jewish origin. One English encyclopedia includes the information that she was a “Jewish writer”. In fact, Alice Parizeau had a brilliant career as civil servant, journalist, novelist, famous in her own right, and was the recipient of many honours, including the Order of Canada.

But there seems to be some confusion in the French bios about her history through the war years. It is claimed in these that she was interred in Bergen-Belson after the Germans invaded Warsaw and that she survived that internment. The English bio says only that her father, a wealthy industrialist, died in Bergen-Belson. There is no mention here that Alice herself was sent to the concentration camp.

Whatever the truth about her whereabouts in those terrible years, there is no doubt that Alice Poznanska Parizeau was born a Jew. I believe that she abandoned her Jewish roots in the course of her life. I say that because I learned that when she died there was a very prominent and public funeral held in Montreal under the auspices of the Catholic church. That suggests to me that her children’s upbringing was in all likelihood in the Catholic tradition. Nevertheless, Jacques Parizeau had enough exposure through Irene and her family to be sensitive that language that reflects hostility to Jews can do harm, and he therefore should have known how his attack on “money and ethnics” might be seen by Jews in Canada.


Blogger Geoff Clein said...

The fact that Parizeau was married to a Jew should not in any way mislead us to think that he would be sensitive to Jews.

As an expat Montrealer, I know too well the experience of wearing a kippah in that society. The French Canadians are anti-Semites, plain and simple. It is not the anti-Semitism of modern France which is political anti-Semitism. It is plain and simple religious anti-Semitism that is taught in the Catholic churches. I will always remember as a 10 year old being told by my next door neighbour that I had killed Jesus - and we were friends!

Parizeau's wife Alice apparently did not identify as a Jew, but rather as a Catholic. As such, there is no conflict for him with regard to anti-Semitic statements and his wife. It is political anti-Semitism that focuses on one's ethnicity and does not allow one to escape his or hers heritage. Religious anti-Semitism, in its classic form as represented in Church teachings in Quebec, is only concerned with one's religious affiliation. After all, don't forget that Torquemada, just like Alice, was born a Jew. That didn't stop him rising in the Catholic Church to become the ultimate anti-Semite.

Jacques Parizeau, like most French Canadians, is a religious anti-Semite, plain and simple. Canadian Jews shouldn’t be surprised since that anti-Semitism exists all across Canada. The only difference is that a French Canadian will call you a dirty Jew to your face whereas the Anglo Canadian anti-Semite will call you a dirty Jew behind your back.

10:37 PM  
Blogger Professor Sal said...

I am not naive about Jew-hatred in Quebec and in Canada. But what was interesting to me was that the Parizeau offspring (a son and a daughter) were linked to their Jewish cousins, at least family-wise. Most people care about their children's sensitivity. I wonder if Parizeau had any feeling for his own children's connection to their Jewish relatives. I really don't know and I haven't seen Irene for a long time so I couldn't ask her. My friend Peter passed away and our mutual friends that were closest to her have been quite ill. Perhaps I will get together with her this winter while I'm in Florida and try to draw her out on this subject.

I also don't know if the secularization of Quebec makes a difference now regarding anti-semitism. If you see who the PQ's elected as their leader just a few days ago, it's got to be indicative of the decline of the influence of the Church. Boisclaire is openly gay and admitted using cocaine while he was a minister in the last PQ government. Imagine how impossible that would have been in the days of Church domination of Quebec. Although Jew-hatred may still be ingrained in the society from other sources, including the presence of numbers of French-speaking Moslems. Sadly, Islam has adopted all the ugliest aspects of this ancient hatred of Jews and have propogated it through all their religious and secular outlets. I don't mean to say that Islam didn't have its own sources and versions of anti-semitism, but it has enhanced that with the inclusions of Church-originated bias and tactics.

8:47 AM  
Blogger Geoff Clein said...

So now Quebec anti-semitism will move from its "primitive" Catholic format to a post-modern intellectual form that will be expressed in terms of Israel's right to exist in light of its displacement of poor Palestinian peasants.

As for Arab anti-semitism, have a look at this:

5:58 AM  
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4:43 AM  

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