The Traitor and the Jew

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The Traitor and the Jew (full title: The Traitor and the Jew: Anti-Semitism and the Delirium of Extremist Right-Wing Nationalism in French Canada from 1929–1939), a history by Esther Delisle, was published in French in 1992. She documented the history of antisemitism and support of fascism among Quebec nationalists and intellectuals during the 1930s and '40s.

The book was first published in the French language by L'Étincelle as Le traître et le Juif: Lionel Groulx, le Devoir et le délire du nationalisme d'extrême droite dans la province de Québec, 1929–1939. In 1993 it was published in English by Robert Davies Publishing of Montreal. Delisle is a political scientist based in Quebec.

Because of her criticism of Lionel Groulx, a leading figure of Canadian intellectuals and a father of Quebec nationalism, whom she alleged had published anti-semitic articles under his pseudonyms, her book generated considerable debate. In addition to arguing with Delisle's conclusions about Groulx, some critics said that her methodology was inaccurate and her conclusions could not be supported. Other historians supported her work as part of a revision of thought on Quebec nationalism as well as Canadian thought before World War II. She was quoted favorably by the author Mordecai Richler in his collection of essays, Oh Canada! Oh Quebec! (1992), which generated its own controversy.

Je me souviens is a documentary based on her book made by Eric R. Scott. It was shown on Canal D in 2002 and premiered in the United States in 2003 at the New York Jewish Film Festival.

Conclusions of book[edit]

Delisle assessed the content of articles published in the nationalist review L'Action nationale and the Montreal newspaper Le Devoir during this period, to evaluate the attitudes among French Canadians and show the connection between nationalistic and fascist thought. She also linked Canadian attitudes to those of the Roman Catholic Church in Quebec, as well as Catholics in Europe and the United States during the period.

Specifically, she said that Lionel Groulx (1878–1967), a Roman Catholic priest and leading Canadian intellectual, was anti-semitic, noting hundreds of antisemitic quotations by or attributed to him. She alleged that Groulx had published antisemitic articles under pseudonyms and was an active Fascist sympathizer. This assertion generated great controversy, as did her reporting of numerous antisemitic opinion pieces and articles that had been published in the respected intellectual Quebec newspaper Le Devoir during the 1930s.

Delisle did not believe that residents of Quebec were uniformly antisemitic. She felt that it was more characteristic of Quebec intellectuals of the time rather than of the common people, and was part of their condemnation of liberalism, modernity, and urbanism, not to mention movies, jazz music and other aspects of American culture, all of which they saw as dangers to their conception of the ideal Quebec society. She notes that the mass circulation newspaper La Presse, as one example, did not publish as much antisemitic content as the intellectually influential but less popular Le Devoir.[citation needed]

She argued against what she calls the myth, as recounted by historians such as Groulx, that the Québécois are a racially and ethnically homogeneous group of pure descent (pure laine in French, meaning "pure wool") from French-speaking Catholic immigrants to New France. She said that the Quebec intellectuals of the 1930s and 1940s were less isolated from and more deeply influenced by the intellectual currents in Europe, particularly the nationalism of the extreme right, than is described in most Quebec histories of the period.[citation needed]


Delisle's book about Groulx and other Quebec nationalists was based on her doctoral dissertation. Her conclusions had generated such strong disagreement among her thesis committee at the Université Laval that they did not approve it for two years.[1] The average period for approval of a thesis at the university was three to six months.[1]

Delisle's analysis of Groulx and Le Devoir was covered sympathetically in a 1991 article about the young scholar in L'Actualité magazine, the Quebec newsmagazine.[2]

In March 1, 1997, L'Actualité revisited the controversy about Delisle's doctoral thesis and book in a cover story titled Le mythe du Québec fasciste (The Myth of a Fascist Quebec). In the same issue, it featured a profile of Groulx. Both articles acknowledged Groulx's antisemitism and the generally favourable attitude of the Roman Catholic church towards fascist doctrine during the 1930s. Pierre Lemieux, an economist and author, wrote: "The magazine's[citation needed] attack is much weakened by Claude Ryan, editor of Le Devoir in the 1970s, declaring that he has changed his mind and come close to Delisle's interpretation after reading her book."[3]

L'Actualité claimed that Delisle's work had been subsidized by Jewish organizations, but did not document this. Claude Charron, a former Parti Québécois cabinet minister, repeated this assertion when introducing a 2002 broadcast on Canal D of Je me souviens, the Eric R. Scott documentary about Delisle's book. Scott and Delisle said this was an absolute falsehood. They asked Canal D to rebroadcast the documentary as they considered Charron's introduction to be defamatory and inaccurate.[4]

Groulx is revered among French residents of Quebec as a father of Quebec nationalism, although his work is little read today. As a sign of his stature, a station on the Montreal Metro as well as schools, streets, lakes, and a chain of mountains in Quebec are named for him.

To separate his political and literary activities from his academic work, Groulx wrote journalism and novels under numerous pseudonyms. In her history, Delisle claimed that Groulx, under the pseudonym Jacques Brassier, wrote in a 1933 article published in L'Action nationale: "Within six months or a year, the Jewish problem could be resolved, not only in Montreal but from one end of the province of Quebec to the other. There would be no more Jews here other than those who could survive by living off one another."[citation needed]

Referring to Groulx and the Le Devoir newspaper, Francine Dubé wrote in the National Post on April 24, 2002 that "the evidence Delisle has unearthed seems to leave no doubt that both were anti-Semitic and racist."[5] The Montreal Gazette referred that year to "anti-Semitism and pro-fascist sympathies that were common among this province's (Quebec) French-speaking elite in the 1930s."

A variety of commentators have agreed with Delisle's conclusions:

  • In a 1994 issue of The Canadian Historical Review, Irving Abella wrote:

"Clearly Delisle's message is discomfiting to many French-Canadian nationalists and it should be. She portrays a nationalism which was racist, paranoid, xenophobic, and anti-Semitic. Yet its spokesmen and ideologues were not cranks, but rather the leaders of French-Canadian society, its clerics, academics, and journalists – people who were universally admired and listened to."[6]

  • Claude Bélanger, Department of History at Marianopolis College, said: "Anti-semitism was alive and well among the ultramontane nationalists of the period of 1890 to 1945" and "These anti-semitic views were propounded broadly and openly from about 1890 to 1945." Bélanger noted that Pierre Anctil documented anti-semitism in Quebec in his 1988 book Le Devoir, les Juifs et l'immigration.[7]
  • Gary Evans, an historian, author, and professor at the University of Ottawa said:

    "Academic Esther Delisle angrily attacks the Establishment for its position of "Everyone knows, but no one should say" with regard to her own attempts to reveal Quebec's shameful intellectual past, including a postwar policy of welcoming Nazi collaborators from France and of trivializing the Holocaust."[8]

Delisle-Richler controversy[edit]

The Delisle-Richler controversy is the title of a separate Wikipedia article that explores in more detail the issues related to Esther Delisle's and Mordecai Richler's discussions about antisemitism among Quebec intellectuals of the pre-World War II years, including Groulx. Sarah Scott has noted that, after Delisle's work was quoted with approval in Mordecai Richler's book Oh Canada! Oh Quebec!, which generated its own controversy, Delisle was subject to considerable criticism. Delisle has said that the reaction among the French Canadian public to Richler's praise was as if she had been "embraced by the Devil."[9]

Criticism by academics[edit]

In 1994, Gary Caldwell criticized Delisle's work on the following grounds in an article in The Literary Review of Canada. He is a sociologist and demographer who is a member of the governing national council of the Parti Québécois.

  • Delisle did not prove her assertion that articles published under the pseudonym of Lambert Closse were written by Groulx;
  • She ignored articles with more moderate opinions;
  • Many of her cited articles could not be found as referenced;
  • Her excerpts from selected articles often misrepresent the ideas in them;
  • She failed to distinguish Catholic antisemitism from fascist sympathies;
  • She did not adequately address the contradictions in Groulx's attitudes towards Jews (although he expressed antisemitic opinions in his private correspondence and pseudonymous journalism, opposed Jewish immigration to Canada and urged French Canadians not to buy from Jewish-owned stores as part of the "achat chez nous" campaign, his opinions were more muted in his academic writings; he publicly denounced antisemitism as unchristian and invited French Canadians to take Jews as a model of ethnic solidarity).
  • she ignores the possibility of interethnic rivalry between two minority groups (French Canadians and Jews) as did for example Morton Weinfeld in The Jews of Canada .
  • she does not compare the texts drawn from Le Devoir or l'Action nationale to texts from French Canadian publications generally considered to have been fascist, such as the newspapers edited by Adrien Arcand.
  • she presented an admittedly exploratory study as a test of several linked hypotheses (for example, by drawing inferences from isolated texts rather than by estimating the frequency of antisemitic themes in Le Devoir and l'Action nationale and comparing it to a control frequency, such as the frequency of antisemitic references in English Canadian or foreign publications of the same period).[10]

In summary, Caldwell characterized the Université Laval as "disloyal" to the French Canadian community for having granted Delisle a doctorate.[11]

In response, Delisle said:

  • The Lambert Closse articles are not central to her thesis; they were not mentioned in her doctoral thesis on which her book is based; she acknowledges that she cannot prove that the Closse article was written by Groulx, but says that Groulx's involvement in the publication of the book in which the article appeared is of concern.);
  • Delisle did not believe that the bulk of the French and Jewish populations were antagonistic to each other; she considered stronger antisemitism to have been more prevalent among the French Canadian intellectual elite);
  • She has corrected some of the citations noted as inaccurate;
  • She drew parallels between Canadian thought and the connections between the Catholic Church's anti-semitism with fascism in Italy and Portugal, in Vichy France, and in the writings and radio broadcasts of the Father Coughlin in the United States (see clerical fascism);

The historian Gérard Bouchard also criticized Delisle for her methodology in his book on Groulx, Les Deux Chanoines – Contradiction et ambivalence dans la pensée de Lionel Groulx published in 2003. Bouchard writes in the book that he chose not to use Delisle's history as a source because, according to his own process of verification, it contains too many errors in the citations of references. He said that, of Delisle's 57 references to texts by Groulx published in L'Action nationale between 1933 and 1939, he was unable to find 23 and 5 others were not accurately cited.[12]

Esther Delisle contested his conclusions in a letter published in Le Devoir on April 11, 2003.[13] She had her lawyer submit a formal notice to have Bouchard withdraw the assertions he made on page 19 of his book. The letter from her lawyer to Bouchard provided her clarifications on the sources she used in her work and recognized 13 irregularities in her references.

Bouchard wrote a letter to Le Devoir, published on May 1, 2003, relating the results of his second review of Delisle's methodology. He said the following:

  • Of the total of 58 references to texts by Groulx in L'Action nationale published between 1933 and 1939, only 14 were accurately cited in terms of the year, the month, and the page number, with the excerpt being;
  • In the 44 inexact references, "23 contain 31 modifications of Groulx's text". The modifications take the form of "amputations and other types of alterations".
  • He could not find 21 references (instead of 23); he found two based on information provided by Delisle.[14]

Bouchard and Caldwell both acknowledge that Groulx at times expressed antisemitic opinions. They argue that such opinions do not discredit his scholarship or secular Quebec nationalism, either because the antisemitism arises from Groulx' Catholic beliefs or because it is a personal bias unrelated or peripheral to his academic work. Delisle, by contrast, argues that antisemitism is an integral component of Groulx' race-based nationalism and his enthusiasm for right-wing authoritarian governments.

Representation in other media[edit]

  • 2002, Eric R. Scott directed and produced the documentary, Je me souviens, about Delisle's book. It was shown on Canal D television. The title is the motto of the province of Quebec.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Arnold, Janice (April 23, 1992). "Post-graduate paper comes under attack". The Canadian Jewish News.
  2. ^ Luc Chartrand, "Le chanoine au pilori", L'Actualité, June 15, 1991, p. 114
  3. ^ Lemieux, Pierre. "Fascism and the Distinct Society in Quebec". Archived from the original on 2000-12-05.
  4. ^ [1] Archived June 2, 2006, at the Wayback Machine.
  5. ^ Francine Dubé. "Exposing Quebec's Secret," The National Post, April 27, 2002
  6. ^ Irving Abella. Canadian Historical Review – Volume 75, Number 4, December 1994.
  7. ^ Bélanger, Claude. "Quebec Nationalism – Quebec History". Marianopolis College.
  8. ^ Holocaust Education – Bibliography, Sympatico
  9. ^ Sarah Scott, "The Lonely Passion of Esther Delisle", Elm Street, April 1998, p. 98.
  10. ^ Gary Caldwell. "The Sins of the Abbé Groulx," The Literary Review of Canada, volume 3, issue 7, July–August 1994: 17–23.
  11. ^ Sarah Scott, "The Lonely Passion of Esther Delisle", Elm Street, April 1998.
  12. ^ Gérard Bouchard, Les Deux Chanoines – Contradiction et ambivalence dans la pensée de Lionel Groulx, 2003, p. 19
  13. ^ Esther Delisle, "M. Bouchard échoue son exercice de validation." Le Devoir, April 11, 2003.
  14. ^ *Gérard Bouchard. "Réplique à Esther Delisle – À propos des deux chanoines", Le Devoir, 1 May 2003