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Special to the JTA a Tarnished Hero

In 1985, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation won accolades for its television special, “Charlie Grant’s War.” The program, which related the adventures of a young Canadian businessman in Vienna before and during World War II, singled out Grant as an outstanding example of a Canadian gentile who did so much to help Jews escape from the Third Reich.

One of the reasons the television docu-drama was so warmly received by both Canadian Jews and the general population of Canada was because it seemed to serve as a counter-balance to the horrendous official policy followed by the government of Canada before, during and after the war in excluding Jews from immigrating.

One of the most gripping scenes in the film, moreover, showed Grant’s mother petitioning Prime Minister Mackenzie King and immigration official Charles Blair for a more liberal policy towards potential Jewish immigrants. Their refusal to open the doors for persecuted Jews was stressed in the video drama.

In depicting the heroism of Grant (who died just a couple of years ago in Canada) the CBC program placed him in a concentration camp where be befriends an old Jewish acquaintance. The latter teaches Grant the Kaddish because he feels that death is imminent and wants the prayer said for him.

A CONTROVERSY SURFACES

A year after the program was aired, a controversy has surfaced in Canada regarding the factuality of the Charlie Grant saga. A recent article in the TV supplement of The Toronto Star (January 18) by Gerald Levitch indicates that the author of the television script based her information on Grant’s life on stories which he told people before he died and on his widow’s recollections. She is still alive and was feted by the Jewish community on the occasion of the film’s release.

According to the film, Grant is said to have saved some 600 Jews from death by arranging for the procurement of passports and exit visas in Vienna. It has been noted, however, that not one of those 600 has ever come forward to acknowledge Grant’s role in their rescue.

The Star’s columnist also noted that at Israel’s Yad Vashem, where careful records are kept regarding the role of “Righteous Gentiles” during the Holocaust (and where Raoul Wallenberg and Oskar Schindler are mentioned), there is no record of Charlie Grant.

Irving Abella, co-author with Harold Troper of “None Is Too Many,” the historical study of the Canadian government’s anti-Semitic immigration policies before, during and after World War II, says he heard about Grant in researching his book and was anxious to include information about him in order to offset the depressing picture of Canadian government complicity in shutting the door against European Jews.

Levitch wrote: “But because he (Abella) could find no evidence of his deeds in Europe, Israel or the U.S., he decided he couldn’t use the story.”

In trying to determine the authenticity of Grant’s exploits, Abella suggests that a passport and an exit visa were not sufficient to permit a Jew to leave Vienna during the period in question. A whole slew of official documents was required, and for Grant to have assisted 600 people in acquiring them would have necessitated access to a small factory. Anna Sandor, the film’s writer, now admits that certain parts of her work are “fictionalized history.” She describes as poetic license her placement of Grant in a death camp at the end of the war. The story of Grant learning to say Kaddish for a deceased Jewish comrade is also an invention, she says. The latter, known as Jacob in the film, is a composite drawn from Grant’s description of several Jews he knew in Vienna.

“I don’t know if Charlie Grant really did what he said he did, “Levitch wrote, “but I do need more than his word for it. Therefore, I have to re-evaluate this movie for what it really is: a piece of cheap fiction, full of cliches, hackneyed characters, and corny melodrama. By hiding behind its claims of authenticity and truth, it sleazily has exploited our emotional need for real heroes.”

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