By all accounts, Sgt. Samuel Moses “Moe” Hurwitz was a one-man army.
For Hurwitz, as for many Canadians, the war was deeply personal. The Montreal native entered Normandy in the summer of 1944, upset by the fate of his younger brother Harry, who had been captured by the Germans when the Canadian destroyer HMCS Athabaskan was sunk a few weeks before the D-Day invasion.
A member of the Canadian Grenadier Guards (22nd Canadian Armored Regiment) tank regiment, Moe Hurwitz led major actions in France and the Netherlands until, wounded and captured, he died in a German military hospital in October 1944 .
Recipient of the Military Medal and the Distinguished Conduct Medal, Hurwitz, 25, was one of the most decorated Canadian Jewish soldiers of the Second World War.
But outside of a select community of historians and soldiers, its fascinating story of courage, love and loyalty has been largely forgotten today.
“He was the original”
“I keep telling people my uncle was Rambo before they had the Rambo movie,” said Debbie Hurwitz, Harry’s daughter and Moe’s niece. “He was the original.
The story of the sergeant. Moe Hurwitz is given new life thanks to the team of researchers, historians and programmers behind Project 44.
The original intention of the project was to digitally map the movements of Canadian military units during the D-Day invasion. With federal funding and enthusiastic supporters, the project gained momentum. Using archival maps, battle logs, and geo-mapping technology, Project 44 has now cataloged the Canadian campaigns in Northwestern Europe and Italy.
More importantly, the team began using these digital maps to tell the stories of soldiers like Hurwitz – where they went, what they did, how they lived and died – in ways that could shape how future generations of Canadians will remember the war. .
“We’re trying to put those sacrifices back on the map and put them on a more technologically friendly platform,” said Drew Hannen, co-founder of Project 44 whose grandfather served with Hurwitz and then went on to helped set up a memorial. in his memory.
An “intrepid leader”
The Sergeant’s Mess at the Grenadier Guards Armory in Montreal is a bit of a sanctuary for Hurwitz, but the quest to save its history from obscurity dates back many years to research journalist and author Ellin Bessner reunited for his delivered Double threat: Canadian Jews, the military and World War II.
She came across an old pamphlet, written just after the war in 1946, which told the stories of Canadian Jewish war heroes.
“And Mo’s story takes up seven pages, which is the most number in this book,” Bessner said. “I had never heard of him, even though I grew up in Montreal.
Watch | Author Ellin Bessner on Hurwitz’s background and the sacrifices he made for his country:
She said that when she read the account of how he won his medals, she got hooked.
“I thought of the movie ‘Fury’ with Brad Pitt,” she said, referring to the 2014 Hollywood drama of an American tank crew fighting desperate battles in a nearly defeated Germany during the last days of the war. war. “Brad Pitt was a fearless leader. That’s what Moe did. That’s what Moe was.”
Hurt and still fighting
As the Normandy campaign drew to a close and the Allies surrounded the German army in France, Canadian soldiers advanced to the Falaise road. Hurwitz was the second in command of a Sherman tank troop that attacked the enemy flank, digging a kilometer hole in the German lines at the village of Cintheaux on August 4, 1944.
Faced with the anti-gun positions and the infantry, Hurwitz dismounted and attacked on foot. A burning German self-propelled artillery cannon exploded. The explosion killed one Canadian, injured several others, and nailed Hurwitz under a fallen tree.
Burned and slightly injured, Hurwitz freed himself then picked up a Bren machine gun to continue the assault.
In the end, 11 German anti-tank guns were destroyed. Fifteen Germans are killed, 31 others captured.
For his heroism, Hurwitz received the Military Medal.
Six weeks later, during the Battle of the Scheldt in the Netherlands, Hurwitz dismounted again and led a foot attack in the community in the Philippines. Armed only with a pistol, he and two other Canadians attacked two German machine gun positions and captured 25 German soldiers before knocking out an 88mm anti-tank gun.
A personal war
For this action, he received the Distinguished Conduct Medal, the second highest decoration an NCO could receive at the time.
There was a ferocity in the way Hurwitz fought that made an impression on his fellow soldiers that lasted long after the war was over.
“My dad thinks Mo tried to attack the whole German army to get to his little brother,” Debbie Hurwitz said. “He feared my father would be tortured because my father was the only Jewish sailor on his ship.”
Watch | Debbie Hurwitz recounts her grandfather’s grief over the loss of her son:
Leading Seaman Harry Hurwitz was in a German POW camp as his brother traveled through France and Holland, but had not been singled out by the Nazis, his daughter said. The German guards – many of whom were veterans of the Great War – kept his secret and treated him like all other captives.
A month after the battle in the Philippines, Sgt. Hurwitz carried out a night attack on the elite German 6th Parachute Division near Bergen-op-Zoom in the Netherlands on October 24, 1944.
Surrounded by anti-tank guns and cut off from all support, his Sherman tank continued to fight until he was knocked out. Hurwitz and the rest of his five-man crew were wounded and captured.
Four days later, Moe Hurwitz died in a German military hospital in Dordrecht in the Netherlands.
Pride and sorrow
Neither the regiment nor his brother Harry learned of his fate until the end of the war.
“Losing her brother Moe was the worst thing that happened to her in the war,” Debbie said of her father. “He was so proud of his brother and so completely devastated when he found out his brother was dead.
“My dad was a prisoner of war. He didn’t know his brother was dead until he came back from Germany to England and met people with Moe in his regiment. And my dad really has it. , very badly taken and never went a day without mourning his brother. “
When Moe Hurwitz’s medals for bravery were returned to the family, Debbie said, his grandfather simply remarked that he wanted his son back. There were originally 13 children in the Hurwitz family and although many of them served and returned home, Moe’s loss was keenly felt.
Watch | Honorary Lieutenant Colonel. describes Hurwitz in combat:
His regiment continued to honor him for many years, but the memories faded over time. Even the honorary colonel of the Canadian Grenadier Guards – Paul de B Taillon, life reserve officer and public servant – had only a vague knowledge of Moe Hurwitz’s history before he joined the regiment a few years ago. .
He has since come to know the chapter and verse of the story.
“Real courage is a word I would use,” said Taillon, who added that it is unfortunate that Canadians seem to be unaware of their military history.
“We are essentially a warrior society which is sublime, quite frankly. And in doing so … we forget [who] are our heroes, really. “
“Worthy of the highest honors”
Debbie Hurwitz said some of the soldiers who served with her uncle believe he should have received the Victoria Cross, the highest honor for bravery on the battlefield.
“It was my father’s greatest hope that his brother would receive the Victoria Cross before his death,” she said.
“My dad passed away last year at the age of 99, and he was lucid until the end, and one of the last things he talked about was his late brother, Moe, and how he is worthy of the highest honors that can be bestowed. “
She said the soldiers she spoke to said they believed Moe Hurwitz was denied this honor because he was Jewish. She said she didn’t necessarily believe him, but many of the men who served with Hurwitz did.
Bringing new life to Moe Hurwitz’s story was deeply satisfying for Hannen, who said he believed the project had brought him closer in many ways to the guard officer’s grandfather he did ‘had never known.
It also gave him a unique personal appreciation for the terrible choices the War Generation had to make.
As the war began, Moe Hurwitz, a tough young athlete, was drafted by the Boston Bruins for a career in the National Hockey League.
“Mo had a very promising career as an amateur hockey player and almost turned pro and he decided he wanted to go serve his country,” Hannen said.