Max Yas in 1943.
Max Yas with his wife, Jacqueline, in Montreal, 1945.
Max and Jacqueline Yas in 1945.
"Then he said, well, if you died today, who would know what to do here? I said, Sir, I’m doing the best I can with what I have."
There was no open discrimination [against Jews]. One night in the evening, we were sent out, a couple of us in each truck and a driver to pick up scrap. The public was notified as to what we were looking for and we just stopped at every house where material was gathered, loaded the truck. And when we came back, they put on a little refreshment for us and we sat about, almost 12 around the table and there were two francophones speaking to each other. My French is very rusty now but one said to the other, said, Tout pour enrichir les juifs. They said, it was all to make the Jews rich.
And we were wearing overalls, so my stripes [rank insignia] didn’t show, not that it meant anything and I looked at him and I said, I’m a Jew -how much do you think I was enriched today? So you know, they were highly embarrassed and that was the end of it.
All the senior NCOs [Non-Commissioned Officers] and officers were sent out for a week of training. So I became the senior. I was a lance corporal but the rest were all privates. Our office at that point - do you know how the army H-huts are built? Long building, long building and connecting all the lavatories and so on. So our office was in that space. And without any warning, I don’t know, five, six, maybe seven officers, I think the highest ranking was a major, came in and he called out “attention!” And I wasn’t even a lance corporal, I was just a senior by time served. And [he asked], Who’s in charge of all this mess? It was a mess, it looked like a mess, because there was a shelf on top running through the space and this is where we filed our documents and there were maybe eight or so toilets. And some of the recruits were brought in by RCMP [Royal Canadian Mounted Police] and they would hand them over to me and each cubicle became a prison with a guard.
So when he asked, who’s in charge here, I said, I am, Sir. What’s that pile of paper over there? Well, I knew it, so I told him. How about this? Then he said, well, if you died today, who would know what to do here? I said, Sir, I’m doing the best I can with what I have. Didn’t say anything but I got my first stripe.
And the other incident, again, it’s just an anecdote, as I told you, I was calling the roll in the drill room and at the beginning, it always happened that after I finished calling all the names, two, three, maybe four people would come over to me, “what am I supposed to do, Corporal?” And then I had to go through all the documents to find their name. So after that, before starting, I would say, now, your names are going to be called. And when I call your name, I want you to raise your hand and say, here. And of course, I had to repeat it in French. So it got to be known as Max’s Circus.
And another day, I noticed out of the corner of my eye that all the brass [officers], I believe including the Colonel Echenberg, were behind me, watching. So that’s when I got a second stripe but this is where it stopped, I was category A and it was temporary.