Morris Pearlman was a captain in the Royal Canadian Dental Corps during the Second World War. He served in various prisoner of war camps in Canada. Learn how Pearlman, a Jewish dental officer, set aside resentment and hostility as he treated German POWs.
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"But I did say this to him. Look, you were in Germany all this time, you weren’t blind, didn’t it bother you what was going on?"
My name is Morris Pearlman. I was a captain in the [Royal] Canadian Dental Corps. In my first posting, I was posted in a clinic of seven dentists and I think five of them were Jewish. As strange as it may seem, when I was posted in the prisoner of war camp, there was only two Jewish officers there. I never knew about the other ranks, but of the two that were there, they were both in the health field. The medical officer and the dental officer were Jewish. And many of the people made comments that they were admiring that how I could treat comfortably, or uncomfortably, German POWs, but it was a matter of responsibility. My responsibility to my service came first and I did what I was told, and that was they had to be treated. They were treated only for emergency purposes, of course.
The German prisoners were in the camp in Neys [Ontario] and the Japanese prisoners were, I’d say, about five miles, 10 miles away, at a place called Angler, Ontario. They were very close to each other. In the German POW camp and I might point out that prisoners at that time were divided into three categories, blacks, whites and greys. The whites were considered the ones that had been completely converted from Nazism; the grays were those that are halfway between; and the blacks were those that were staunch Nazis. That camp that kept the blacks was in Alberta. The prisoners basically seemed to be more up to or alert than the Japanese prisoners, even though they were Canadians. And the thing that rather impressed me many times, I’d get a patient come in and his son with him; and it was almost heartbreaking because the son may have been my own age, but because he was Japanese and born where he was and lived where he was and because of the war, he was in prison with his father.
I suddenly wondered in my own mind, the son was there because the love of the parent was greater than the love of the country or because the country was afraid to trust him. When I started, for the first time when I was in Angler, I was sent out to, or I wasn’t sent out, there was a call that came out to these lumber camps. Back then, these whites and grays were allowed to work in the lumber camps. They were trusted enough to be allowed to do that. And when we’d get noticed of enough dental complaints in various camps, we would close our office, say in Neys; and we’d take three or four days off and go in around the various lumber camps, and look after the emergency work for the prisoners.
I was, I guess, doing an anesthetic or something for a prisoner for whatever reason, I don’t know, but the interpreter, he started squirming. The interpreter said to him, now look, you’re a big, brave German soldier, what are you squirming about? So I looked up at him and I says, well, aren’t you? He says, no, I’m not. So I said to him, what do you mean? He says, I’m a conscript; I avoided the draft for about two and a half years. I says, in Germany, how did you do that? He says, I was a salesman for medical supplies. I worked out of Switzerland, all they had was a bank address for me and when they sent letters to my parents, they’d refer them to the bank. He says, this went on between two and a half and three years, and all of a sudden, the bank gave him a letter from the German government saying there is no more money available to you. If you want to get any money, come home. So he says, I came home and got drafted. So we never think of anybody trying to dodge the draft in Germany, but obviously it happened.
I went into this one camp and I had to do some treatment that involved a medical officer. And he was so hungry for strange faces and people, and by the way, this man spoke English fluently. He insisted [I] come over to his room. So I went with my sergeant and we were talking, and he made homemade wine and the whole works. He lived it up and all the all time. It was bothering me and again, I didn’t want to raise an uproar because that’s not my job. But I did say this to him. Look, you were in Germany all this time, you weren’t blind, didn’t it bother you what was going on? He says, you know, it bothered me, but this is the answer. Before Hitler came in, things were so bad and when he came in, things got so good, we closed our eyes. That’s a poor excuse for what happened, but that was his story. I minded my own business. My name certainly should tell him that [I was Jewish] and I certainly wasn’t German. My answer was, my personal feeling was, I was indifferent, but let them see that Jews are not what they were taught they were. Jews are human and to try and advertise it isn’t as good as to try and be a mensch [a person of integrity], let them know that they are human beings too.
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