January 21, 2009


EDITORS: An collage of Resistance items can be downloaded for publication at http://dailynews.mcmaster.ca/images/Resistanceart.jpeg


McMaster acquires Resistance collection

Offers multinational perspectives of War

Hamilton, ON. January 21, 2009 – A remarkable collection relating to the Resistance movement, underground literature, concentration camps, anti-Semitism, and propaganda during the Second World War has been acquired by McMaster University. The concentration camp material includes many poignant letters written or received by those interned in the camps.

The collection will be unveiled on Wednesday, Jan. 21, at 2 p.m. in Convocation Hall at McMaster University, in a ceremony marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day. As well, the creation of a Virtual Museum of the Holocaust and the Resistance will be announced along with the establishment of a post-doctoral fellowship.

The Resistance Collection covers the period between 1933 and 1945 when millions of people were interned and often died in Nazi concentration camps throughout Europe. Nearly 2,000 letters from or to prisoners in Dachau, Buchenwald and Auschwitz, as well as in Gestapo prisons and POW camps, comprise much of the material. In several cases there are 20 letters or more written by the same prisoner, an uncommon feature in such a collection when often only a single letter survives. There is also a diary of the Nazi evacuation from Ravensbrück (the women’s concentration camp), and even a hand-fashioned recipe book, which prisoners exchanged to pass the time.  

The private collection was acquired from Michel Brisebois, a former Montreal antiquarian book collector and rare book librarian at Library and Archives Canada, who was fascinated by the Resistance and by the human dimension and tragedy portrayed in the material.

“The Resistance propaganda was very potent, and anyone caught with this in their possession was immediately jailed or killed,” says Carl Spadoni, director of Archives and Research Collections at McMaster University Library. “But the material is extremely important not just for the terrible period it documents but also because its multinational nature is vital to capturing different perspectives on the War.”

Spadoni says the sheer number of concentration camp letters is the largest of its kind in Canada. The collection’s dimensions and breadth will appeal to scholars researching the period.

The Brisebois collection also includes many books, posters, magazines, newspapers, and air drop leaflets. This has been augmented by a Nazi soldier’s magazine, Nazi year books, children’s books designed to instill anti-Semitic sentiments at an early age, and the infamous Notgeld currency. Much material has been collected by Hamilton philanthropists Madeleine and Monty Levy. The Levys are funding the creation of a Virtual Museum dedicated to the Holocaust and the Resistance, and are establishing a post-doctoral fellowship through the University Library, Faculty of Humanities and the Faculty of Social Sciences.

McMaster University, one of four Canadian universities listed among the Top 100 universities in the world, is committed to discovery and learning in teaching, research and scholarship. It has a student population of 23,000 and more than 140,000 alumni in 128 countries.


For more information, please contact:

Jane Christmas

Manager, Public & Media Relations

McMaster University

905-525-9140 ext. 27988


Michelle Donovan

Public Relations Manager: Broadcast Media

McMaster University

905-525-9140 ext. 22869