A Nazi navy officer’s name will finally be stripped from a street in the Toronto suburb of Ajax.
A town committee voted March 8 to rename Langsdorff Drive for two Allied navy veterans who fought against that German in the 1939 Battle of the River Plate.
The renaming, ordered by town council in November on a 4-3 vote, was hailed by Jewish groups Monday as a victory for decency and civic action.
The street at the heart of the debate is named for Captain Hans Langsdorff, a career officer of the German navy. In 1939, as commander of the Nazi warship Admiral Graf Spee, he sank nine Allied merchant ships in the southern Atlantic Ocean carrying desperately needed supplies to Britain.
The street will now be named for two Allied servicemen who served in the British Royal Navy, Victor and Alfred Croker. Victor served aboard HMS Ajax, for which the town is named, from 1940-1941. Alfred served in HMS Exeter at the River Plate and was killed fighting against Graf Spee.
The official policy of Ajax is to name its streets from an approved list of ships and sailors of the River Plate battle. Alfred Croker’s name was the last one on the list of a serviceman killed in that engagement.
“Langsdorff was a Nazi navy captain and the choice to name anything after him baffled a lot of people, and outraged the Jewish community. This was done some years ago, so today’s decision rectified a situation that was never acceptable and was done in error of judgment.” Canadian Antisemitism Education Foundation executive director Andria Spindel said in a news release.
“Let’s all take a lesson from this. Every small step to confront anti-Semitism is a righteous deed, so thanks again to those who initiated and those who supported this name change.”
B’nai Brith Canada CEO Michael Mostyn said in a press release that the organization was pleased to see the name change moving ahead after months of effort.
“We are very pleased to see that the community’s wish will become a reality,” he said.
Langsdorff was respected by Allied sailors because he allowed merchant seamen to abandon their ships before he turned his guns on them.
In December 1939, after Graf Spee was damaged in an engagement dubbed the Battle of the River Plate, off the coast of South America, Langsdorff put his 1,100 crewmen ashore in Argentina and blew his ship up rather than continue a hopeless fight against a superior British force.
Three days later he committed suicide, leaving behind a note that praised Adolf Hitler as a prophet.
Ajax resident Adam Wiseman sparked the campaign to rename the street, arguing even if Langsdorff was a decent and honourable man, he still fought for the regime that carried out the worst crime against humanity in history.
In an interview Monday, Wiseman said he was glad to see the renaming finally moving ahead.
The name change was approved by the town’s general government committee. It must be ratified by a formal council meeting set for March 22.
The recommendation to change the name was made despite opposition from a small majority of residents who attended a virtual open house sponsored by town staff. In his report to council, planning director Geoff Romanowski said 11 of 52 homes on the street were represented at the meeting. That was also the majority opinion of letters sent to the town after the meeting.
For Wiseman, that remains a troubling point.“It shows this is still a divisive issue and that some people still think of Jews are not equal citizens,” he said. “It’s pretty disheartening to be an Ajax resident right now.”
In an unrelated development Monday, B’nai Brith praised Toronto-based Evanov Radio Group, owner of several radio stations across Canada, for ending a business relationship with Radio Maryja Canada, “a Polish station with a well-documented history of broadcasting anti-Semitic and homophobic statements.”
Radio Maryja, B’nai Brith said, is headed by Polish priest Tadeusz Rydzyk. He was sanctioned in 2016 by the Polish broadcast regulator for accusing American Jewish senators for being critical of Poland. The program was carried by Winnipeg station CKJS AM 810.
He was also rebuked by Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI. Last September, B’nai Brith was instrumental in getting him barred from visiting parishes in Edmonton.
In the same year, another commentator on the program blamed Jews for a series of social ills allegedly affecting Poland.
Oakville-based station CJMR ended its relationship with the program in December.
“We commend Evanov Radio for taking action and making a responsible decision in cutting the cords with Radio Maryja,” B’nai Brith CEO Michael Mostyn said in a news release. “We thank those behind this decision for taking the issue seriously and recognizing the harm that Radio Maryja has caused. Station by station, the elimination of Radio Maryja in Canada is a victory of decency over bigotry and discrimination, which must have no place in our society.”