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Column: Holocaust Jokester Sergeant in Canada ‘Suffers’ Light Sentence

Guess what an organization should do if a supervisor repeatedly humiliates and bullies a Jewish subordinate in the course of joking about Jews who were exterminated in Nazi death camps.

Not in the Canadian army.

Military judge Cmdr. Martin Pelletier chastised Sgt. K.E. Bluemke for abusive anti-Jewish comments he uttered while supervising a military training course at an army base in eastern Ontario, as recorded in the judge’s sentencing decision published on June 2, according to reports from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency and CTV News Vancouver Island.

“He has made comments adverse and indeed demeaning to an entire community who has suffered unspeakable harm in history,” Pelletier said. “This conduct needs to be sanctioned with punishments that a strong enough symbolic impact as well as a strong personal impact on the offender.”

Pelletier’s severe reprimand was accompanied by…drum roll, please…a fine ranging between $2,200 and $3,000. Prior to publication of the sentence, the 38-year-old Bluemke was placed on probation and underwent counselling.

We can assume that Bluemke will pay his fine through the paycheck he will continue to receive at his present rank. He was not kicked out of the service or broken down to the Canadian version of buck private. A down-a-notch demotion was considered.

“I did seriously consider reducing you to corporal,” Pelletier continued. “I hope this sentencing hearing has offered an opportunity to reflect on what you have done wrong and convinced you to do better in the future. I have decided to give you a chance to continue your efforts to rehabilitate yourself, based on what I have heard from those who have testified on your behalf.

“You may not see me again, but you will see them,” he added. “I hope you will not let them down by reoffending.”

Why didn’t Pelletier slap him, literally, on the wrist? Maybe he feared that it would amount to physical punishment that is lumped together with flogging or execution by firing squad, which are all ancient history for civilized military operations.

Bluemke’s sentence can hardly be called a sentence. Many Jews probably believe he should be ousted from the service. At the least, he should have been demoted much lower in rank than corporal. He enlisted in the army more than two decades ago and was promoted to sergeant in 2017. He did not know better?

How can he be trusted to command troops again? He should be forced to earn his rank back all over again. If he was severely punished, would he have blamed the Jews?

Bluemke pleaded guilty last October to one charge of conduct to the prejudice of good order and discipline while he was an instructor for an infantry command course in 2021 at Canadian Forces Base Petawawa, located 100 miles northwest of Ottawa on the Ontario Province side of the Ottawa River. A dozen participants in the course reported Bluemke’s anti-Jewish comments, triggering an investigation and a court martial proceeding.

Bluemke opened the course by asking, “Is anyone here Jewish?”

During a cleanup of the firing range later in the course, Bluemke called on the soldiers to “move with the sense of urgency as a certain group did leaving Germany in 1939.”

Another zinger: “Why do Jews have big noses? Because the air is free.”

Or, when seeking additional space inside course vehicles, he said, “Germans are really good at packing things in tight,” he said.

A Jewish soldier identified as Master Cpl. Mahar said in a victim-impact statement that Bluemke’s conduct impaired his confidence and he was so enraged that he could not retain the information he was being taught, JTA reports.

Court documents stated that another master corporal did not believe that Mahar was harmed since he performed well in the course, but Pelletier conceded that damage to Mahar may not have been apparent to others in the unit.

Pelletier said, “The harm that the conduct caused to MCpl. Mahar, as detailed in the victim impact statement introduced in evidence, regardless of the fact that the suffering experienced may not have been externalized and visible to others.”

What is not “visible to others” are the feelings of humiliation, anxiety and fright that Mahar likely experienced. He was vulnerable to the whims of his commander in a strict environment where he could be punished for even questioning these comments.

Bluemke’s behavior was far more common decades ago, not only against Jews, of course. My father was harassed by a southerner in his unit during World War II. Movie versions of two best-selling books – “The Young Lions” and “The Naked and the Dead” – featured subplots of commanders hounding Jewish soldiers.

Famed sportswriter Dick Schaap recounted that on their first day in the army a group of “recruits were lined up and the sergeant immediately began spouting some antisemitic remarks like ‘I don’t want no Goldbergs and no Cohns in my unit.’”

Then a 6’4” hulk of a guy raised his hand and said, “My name is Greenberg.”

That’s Hank Greenberg, the legendary Detroit Tigers power hitter who spent much of his Depression-era baseball career confronting antisemitism. The incident was recounted in the documentary film “The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg” produced by Aviva Kempner.

The sergeant recoiled, saying, “I didn’t say anything about Greenbergs.”

Hammerin’ Hank had years of practice putting the sergeant’s kind in their place. It sounds like it was all new to Mahar.

About Bruce Ticker

Bruce S. Ticker, who writes from Philadelphia, also blogs for The San Diego Jewish World and Smirking Chimp and previously for the suspended Philadelphia Jewish Voice. He was previously a reporter and copy editor for daily newspapers in eastern Pennsylvania.

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