Quebec History Marianopolis College

Date Published:
September 2006

L’Encyclopédie de l’histoire du Québec / The Quebec History Encyclopedia


Ross GORDON, The Historiographical Debate on the Charges of Anti-Semitism Made Against Lionel Groulx, M.A. Thesis (History), University of Ottawa, 1996, 141p.


Section VI - Esther Delisle

As we have seen, before Esther Delisle's work came out there were already very different, yet often entrenched opinions about Lionel Groulx and his contributions to Quebec nationalism and the accusations of his anti-Semitic nature. The breakdown of the opposing camps in many ways foreshadowed, if not preordained, the outburst of enmity when The Traitor and the Jew was first published if not before. Critics on both sides felt a personal stake in supporting or opposing the book's accusations about Groulx and Le Devoir and had, for the first time in years, a public forum for their discussions and attacks.  At the same time the breakdown of the Meech Lake Accord and the subsequent rise of linguistic and nationalist tensions in Quebec, the introduction of the Bill 178 language law and challenges against it in the Supreme Court of Canada, and a sense of rising anti-Semitism world-wide all played a part in the unfolding drama of her thesis defence.


Her defence took on a life of its own, even before its publication the book became a 'cause célèbre (1)'.  It was launched not just as another academic book on Quebec nationalism, but virtually as the antidote to it.  It makes a bold attempt to forever link Groulx, Le Devoir and the more extreme nationalists to racism, fascism and anti-Semitism.  When she uses a source it is readily apparent who is on which side of the debate.  Pierre Anctil, who voted against her thesis, is shown on the first page of Ramsay Cook's forward to be one of those writers who judged Groulx's anti-Semitic sentiments as "marginal, almost eccentric." (2) From then on, when Anctil is used as a source, or Groulx biographer Guy Frégault, it is in a negative or disparaging way.  Frégault, for instance, is shown to have been one of the young agitators writing for l'Action nationale, though in other works he is praised as one of the few of Groulx's former students to attack the racism he then found in nationalist ideology.

Esther Delisle began working on her thesis for a doctorate in political science after three years of study at the International Centre for the Study of Anti-Semitism in the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.  Studies that prepared her to uncover "extensive evidence of systematic Judenhass in the writings and teachings of some of the most important, and in nationalist circles, revered, names from the recent past." (3)  And it was to be found not, as she has protested, solely in the nationalism of the "extreme right”, but virtually throughout Québec society.  She was looking for anti-Semitism and there it was, as it always had been, in the journals, speeches, sermons and pamphlets published for a century before the 1950's and in its greatest concentration during the 1930's.

Delisle says at the top that her subject "only a few years ago, could have been seen as heterodox." (4)  She is alluding to what seems to have been an agreement by intellectuals and politicians in Quebec to avoid the topic of anti-Semitism in the nationalist movement.  She obviously is not including the Anglophone David Rome's Clouds in the Thirties in this statement and indeed his name rarely appears in her notes.  If it was heterodox to call Groulx an 'antisemite', it had been done many times before.  The difference in her case was the context that she used, the extensive revisiting of the list of 'all time racist ideologues'. And her not so subtle attacks on those writers who forgave Groulx his trespasses.  There were sometime remarks made against one another's work but nothing like the all out criticisms that she launches at those who, she feels, let Groulx off easy.

If context is everything to these apologists, then Delisle feels that she can use it too.  From the introduction onwards Groulx is placed firmly into the European school of racist thought.  "Right from the beginning of his myth of our origins, Groulx slides into one of the themes which will ultimately feed his Fascism: the purity of race." (5)  He does so by denying racial mixing, by revising the history of Quebec along the lines of biological rather than sociological evolution.  "Socio-psychological characteristics are transmitted through the blood, and union between people of different "races" engenders firstly, the degeneration of the individual, and ultimately, on a larger scale, the degeneration of the "race" itself." (6)  These theories were absorbed by Groulx 'the ideologue' from the European masters: Charles Maurras, Maurice Barrès and Gustave LeBon. (7)  No note is made as to the source for this, although it had been repeated for decades by some, like Fraser, Wade and Gaboury.  No note is made either of Groulx's denial of having even read much of the Europeans until he was older.  To Delisle there are certain facts to work with and no need for further discussion:  Groulx was a fascist, (or more properly a 'corporatist' though she is not always so discerning) a racist, and an anti-Semite.

The theory that L'appel de la race was written as a metaphor for the linguistic split in Canadian society is summarily rejected by Delisle at the beginning.  It is rather, "in itself an acme of racism." (8)  It is clear that she is going farther than even David Rome in her outright accusations.  "My thesis is only about the anti-Semitism of Lionel Groulx, of l'Action nationale, of the Jeune-Canada movement and of Le Devoir from 1929-1939: there is no question at all of confusing them with the entire French-Canadian population of the time.  This methodological precaution is ignored by those writers who, in their haste to absolve Groulx and his henchmen of anti-Semitism, promote them to the rank voices of an oppressed people..." (9)  Despite what was said in the introduction about mainstream society, she is fully against the idea that historical context be used to whitewash the actions of Groulx and angry at those who would do so.  "Lionel Groulx is not the kindly but wayward country historian who some have called innocuous." (10)   Groulx is certainly a 19th century man as some have claimed.  But he was formed from the same forces that created racial theories and the relatively new term 'anti-Semitism' which was incorporated at about the time of his birth. (11)

Delisle puts Groulx into the context of 19th century racial theorists who took up the theme of reaction against liberalism and a return to 'Blut und Boden' as the Nazis called it.  "Groulx, like Barrès and other tenors of extreme right-wing nationalism and Fascism, are involved in the crisis of civilisation.  To a man, they reject, not only bourgeois society and liberal democracy, "but an entire civilisation founded on the belief in progress, the rationality of the individual and the postulate according to which the final aim of all social organisation in the well-being of the individual" (12)   Groulx is often mentioned in the context of the European racists and fascists with whom he was not involved on any level.  Mixing quotes from works on anti-Semitism with quotes from Groulx's books and then adding in Hitler from time to time creates the impression that they were all tied together on a level heretofore never revealed.  Through colourful language she describes a grim picture of "the putrefied universe painted by Lionel Groulx" (13).

Interestingly she uses J.P.Gaboury and André Bélanger as examples of writers who had put Groulx in his place as a racist and anti-Semite even though Gaboury put it into a milder historical context, which she does not mention, and Bélanger did not actually mention Groulx's name but the names of his journal and youth group instead.  She seems to purposely leave Wade and Rome out of the equation.  Perhaps they are too closely identified with the school of 'Groulx is an anti-Semite' to be entirely credible and she wants the endorsement of French Canadian academics to bolster her thesis.  If she was to use only Wade and Rome to back up her arguments, she could lose credibility within her own academic community.  It was important to bolster her attack on the nationalist leader, with the ideological studies of his work written by Francophone authors.  Indeed it would have been easy to ignore her thesis had it only contained the secondary sources written by 'outsiders.'

As mentioned before, after Rome's 13 part series on the 1930's with the massive amount of material incorporated into it, one wonders how Esther Delisle could write something that would bring anything new to the debate.  Besides the tone of her book, in which Groulx is a major force for racist, anti-Semitic tendencies in the nationalist movement rather than just another chapter in a larger work, there is very little in the way of new sources.  She uses the same quotes from Jacques Brassier that several other writers used and in much the same way.  That is to say by using more than one quote from each article, it seems to build up a case of a large library of anti-Semitic works rather than the few that can be identified.  She manages, however, to present a much different picture of Groulx than some of the previous authors, notably Anctil, Gaboury, Bélanger and Langlais.  Closer to Rome's work, but with more to it than Betcherman's, it uses a background of works written on anti-Semitism and racism to portray the nationalists in another context altogether.  With works from Jacques Zylberberg, Stendhell and others she sets Groulx into the world of the racists and anti-Semites, not just as historical figures who lived in Quebec, but as a group apart from the rest of the human race.  By tracing the political, historical and ideological underpinnings of the right-wing in Quebec, and then offering comparisons with similar groups in Europe, she is taking Groulx out of the refuge he has been offered by other writers.  He no longer is just one of the peuple; he is of another variety of human altogether.  (It is ironic to put it mildly).

In her thesis she takes all the evidence that she could find from the previous works, (though Wade is not much in attendance), and adding her own research, sets it into the framework of those who write on racist theory.  What is new to her book and not her thesis, however, and what sets it even farther apart from all of those previous to it, are the vicious, violent images attributed to an author known as Lambert Closse.  This writer, who took his nom de plume from the name of one of Dollard's friends, is said by Delisle to be none other than Lionel Groulx.  No other writer to this point, despite the revelations of his use of a dozen known pseudonyms, has found this same connection.  Indeed, no other writer to this point even mentions Lambert Closse.  He has somehow been overlooked, despite the fact that copies of his book are not hard to locate.  This in itself is strange, and it is good that Delisle brings this work out into the light. Yet there is no mention of Closse in her thesis, not as a source, nor as a hypothesis.  His work was not a part that the jury ever saw or considered. (14)  Considering the violent anti-Semitic language of Closse, his extensive use of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and the year in which his work, which includes a foreword by Groulx, was published, 1936, it is most surprising that she did not include it in her thesis.  It fit in every respect.  It was anti-Semitic, it was published in Quebec, in the 1930's, and contained work by Groulx and Georges Pelletier.

The Lionel Groulx Centre in Montreal has identified two letters to Groulx written by a priest named J.Henri Guay.  Guay, who died in 1959, identifies himself as Lambert Closse in one letter dated August 1936. (15)  Another priest has been identified as Closse as well. (16)   It was a nom de plume that was used fairly often. (17)  But the main problem that she has with 'Closse as Groulx' is that, as she says herself; "I believe the real author to be none other than Lionel Groulx himself, even though I cannot yet prove it." (18)  Why does she think that it is abbé Groulx writing this appalling nonsense?  Because La réponse de la race had been dedicated to Lionel Groulx and prefaced by Arthur Laurendeau. She feels that Groulx's spirit of hatred resides in this man's works.

To associate him with the work of this Lambert Closse is to raise the accusations against Groulx to unheard of levels.  These are not like the articles of Jacques Brassier which speak of the "Problème Juif" as being one of an object lesson to French Canadians to learn how to stick together as an ethnic group.  Closse made heavy use of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion in his La réponse de la race, including the 22 "resolutions" by which the Jews plan to take control of the world. (19) These resolutions, from the fraudulent Protocols, recommend creating hunger, subverting children and destroying the family among other weapons to destroy society and author Closse notes that "Since they apparently haven't succeeded with 'Protocol' no. 2, 'destroy the life of the family through the preaching of liberalism', they chose to pull out all the stops. The police have seized bacilli, microbes, the germs of venereal diseases in Jewish laboratories, with which sanitary napkins were to be infected.  Is that criminal enough?" (20)

These are the words of a madman, closer to something Adrien Arcand would have written.  To pin this on Lionel Groulx without any real proof, is frankly unbelievable.  Groulx was certainly anti-Semitic in some of his writings but these are written by a psychotic, or group of them, and to accuse him of being the author needs at least something more to tie it to him.  Because of the quotes from Closse, her book is far more damning than anything seen previous[ly].  Rome and Gaboury have virtually all of the same material, although their interpretations differ somewhat.  Wade and Betcherman make the same accusations about his racist ideology.  But no one comes close to producing the evidence that Delisle offers.  Everyone used pretty much the same resources up until this new theory was revealed and if it is true that Groulx did write this stuff, then he is truly among the worst anti-Semitic authors in Canadian history.  That is why it is so imperative that proof be given.  In a thesis, she would not have been allowed to pass suspicions off as proof.  In a popular book, she could.

In fact, although she points out that he used at least 13 pseudonyms, and Teboul and Trofimenkoff also found several, the only other quotes in her book said to have been from Groulx that use a pseudonym are the same Jacques Brassier and André Marois lines found in other works such as Rome and Gaboury.  Of those, the André Marois articles attack politicians, especially Liberals, not Jews. If he had reason to use so many false names to hide himself, why did he not publish his anti-Semitic rantings under one of those?  He had ample opportunity and outlets for his work, yet most of his racist remarks are published under his own name.

Again, to amplify, it has been made abundantly clear in other works, even those which are favourable to him, that he carried the baggage of an anti-immigrant, anti-Jewish outlook.  But whether that carried to the extent that he would write "Who are Christ's greatest enemies? Lucifer and the Jews. They must be linked if we are to advance in our study of the social question...The Jews!" (21) "And :"The moment the Jews entered the order of Freemasons, murders and gruesome assassinations began.  It should come as no surprise when Police Chief Bingham tells us that Jews make up 50% of the criminal population.  And how many lunatics are locked up in asylums, victims of Jewish materialism?" (22)  These quotes are all from the same source, Lambert Closse, and published in 1936, two years after, it has been claimed, Groulx saw the errors in the achat chez nous campaign which had become too divisive, and ten years after he refused to publish an article in l'Action francaise because it was too extreme.  By taking quotes from this work and sprinkling it throughout several chapters, Delisle makes it seem that Groulx/Closse wrote torrents of anti-Semitic bilge.


La réponse de la race contains a series of essays, all of which are signed by their authors.  There's Arthur Laurendeau and Georges Pelletier, Thomas Chapais, and others.  There are quotes from Groulx, a dedication to Groulx, and the authors urge their readers to review Groulx's work.  Nowhere, in his Mémoires, in the works of these other men, is there any hint that the Closse chapters were the work of Groulx.  As far as comparing styles, he could change his style of writing, it is true, but he did not seem to fear sanctions from the church or a backlash from the public when he posed as Jacques Brassier.  None of Le Devoir editors involved seems to have suffered lasting damage to their reputations.  (It looks very much like the work one finds in Le Devoir under the pseudonym Le Grincheux said to have been written by several editors from Le Devoir, including Pelletier.) 

The Closse material was written allegedly by Groulx, yet he never lowered himself to send an article to La Nation or to speak at any Goglus functions.  If he had hated Jews this much one would think more of his work would have been affected.  Whoever wrote La réponse de la race was a real Jew-hater of a kind that one would expect it to show up in all of their work, not a chapter here, an article there.  Esther Delisle spread quotes from Closse, and paraphrases of his work over four chapters of her book making him the unrivalled king of the vicious anti-Semitic stakes in depression era Quebec.  She writes: “Closse suggested that along with their sidekicks the freemasons, Jews controlled the League of Nations, they had also, apparently, infiltrated the presidential office of the United States of America.  Was not the real name of Theodore Roosevelt-who was also a freemason-Rosenfeld?" (23)  Then from the Protocols: "He (the Jew) had sworn that one day he would take over the world and become a rich and powerful ruler to all people." (24)

What is important to remember is that Groulx, who wrote the introduction to La réponse de la race, did not denounce Closse.  If he had truly felt by 1937, that anti-Semitism was wrong, and counterproductive, as is alleged by André Laurendeau, then why did he not apologise for this books’ existence?  Indeed André Laurendeau’s father has a place in this book, yet he complains later about the efforts of historians like Wade to ‘discredit’ Groulx.  This is wilful blindness.  It is as important to Delisle's argument as trying to prove that Closse and Groulx were the same man.  Without solving the mystery she can still accuse Groulx of tacit co-operation in the creation and publication of the worst anti-Semitic work published in Quebec's history.  Not only published but distributed to many large and influential libraries, something that a run of the mill racist could never have achieved.

Closse, who Delisle refers to as an 'historian' in case we forget who it is supposed to be, carefully outlines the ramifications of world-wide Jewish power:  "They infiltrate everywhere in their search for gold: banks, trade, government, behind the scenes in Parliament if they cannot be elected as Jews....One cannot reiterate often enough the Judeo-Masonic nature' of the League of Nations" (25)  And so on to the point of repeating the assertion that Theodore Roosevelt is Jewish again.  Why, one might wonder, would Lionel Groulx care so much about the League of Nations and Theodore Roosevelt?  Why especially would he care in 1936?  Why not attack Franklin Roosevelt if his problem is with the Roosevelts?  This does not match up with any of Groulx's previous concerns, his desire for French Canadian self assertion, his feelings that the playing field was not level.  But as previously stated, why then did he put his name onto an introduction for such a bilious work?

In La réponse de la race  there are the usual accusations about the power of the Rothschilds family.  There are discussions of meetings in Grand Rapids, Michigan, New York and many references to goings on in Europe.  Closse discusses at length the Jews as enemies, not of French Canadians particularly but of everyone.  It is written by someone who is concerned more with the international conspiracy than local matters, something that Groulx constantly harps upon.  Closse recommends books by Madame Nesta Webster such as The Morning Post and Cause of World Unrest, in English yet, certainly the first and only time in Groulx's life that he would have done so. (26)  If it really was Groulx, exposing for the only time in his life an interest in something other than French Canadian society and history, then he managed to keep his output to a minimum, perhaps burning the rest or using other pseudonyms as yet undiscovered. 

Lambert Closse, "the mysterious, pseudonymous historian, explained that the evil went deeper and further than people realised." (27)  Closse, again in the same chapter previously quoted, explains that the French revolution was a Judaic freemason plot and that the Rothschild family had been directing 'La Main Cachée since the 1770's and were now behind Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin et al. (28) Closse is interested in the international aspects of Jewish power. He mocks the Jewish fear of fascism and warns that they would renew their energies behind communism even though that would appear counterproductive to their money loving nature.

In an interesting contrast, Delisle follows Closse's thoughts on communism with those of journalist Paul Angers and others in Le Devoir. Angers figures largely in her descriptions of Le Devoir's anti-Semitism.  His prose was mean and very colourful, his attacks as constant and scattered as those by Closse.  Yet, she follows a quote from Groulx with quotes from Closse time and again, tying the two together in spirit.  Even though the material quoted is years apart and on different subjects.  Where Groulx (as Brassier) writes that Jews in Quebec receive ample protection, to the point of being a 'privileged class', Closse follows immediately with "blind politicians, Jews and Freemasons have managed to transform the province of Quebec". (29)  In one phrase, using a pseudonym, Brassier, Groulx writes vaguely of the 'Sons of Israel' having rights and privileges in Quebec which they use to advantage in elections by voting in a bloc, a lesson he hopes his confreres will learn.  In another, under another pseudonym, Closse, he is angry and looking for scapegoats to blame for world-wide problems, settling upon Jews and Freemasons.  They might be the same man, but he has lost a good deal of tact and intelligence on the three year odyssey between articles.  Georges Pelletier at Le Devoir, who also contributed to La réponse de la race, was at that same time advocating that "an entire group of voters and candidates be stripped of their voting rights." (30)

Since she has no proof that Lambert Closse and Lionel Groulx are one and the same, she opens her book up to attacks on its credibility.  As students researching this topic discover the differences between her thesis and the book, there is the chance that they might dismiss her work entirely.  She could have used the material by Closse as an excellent illustration of the extreme vitriol that was being published in French in the 1930's.  No one else, including the exhaustive searching by David Rome, had thought to include this work.  And further, she could have damned Groulx, and Georges Pelletier for that matter, for having had no qualms about helping to create such a monstrous work.  That would have been a black mark indeed.  But by putting it down as Groulx's work she has allowed critics to focus attention on the discrepancy between accusation and proof and thus call all of her work into question.  Critics focus on it as a form of hate literature against nationalists.  That way they can distract the unwary from the fact that she does have a lot to say on the matter. 

She has brought the question of Lionel Groulx's anti-Semitism out of the closet.  She has put it into the proper venue for discussion: racial ideology, fascist ideology and anti-Semitic ideology.  It is not a crime to discuss such things, no more than it would be to take Groulx and put him into the role of freedom fighter for the oppressed colonial peoples.  He is always being studied in the light of what is current in academe.  He is often used as an example of theoretical work that he would not have been comfortable with.  Esther Delisle took him and put his work into the late 20th century and its obsession with racism and fascism.  If only she could have contented herself with exposing his role in the book by Lambert Closse, that would have been enough of a shock.

(1) She described it as a "street brawl."  That Book of Esther's.  p32.


(2) Ramsay Cook quoting Anctil. p11.


(3) Cook, p11.


(4) Esther Delisle.  The Traitor and the Jew.  p13.


(5) Ibid. p24.


(6) Ibid. p25.


(7) Ibid. p25.


(8) Ibid. p25.


(9) Ibid. p32.


(10) Ibid. p55.


(11) Ibid.


(12) Ibid. p62 quoting Zeev Sternhell: La droite révolutionnaire. Les origines françaises du fascisme, 1885-1914. Paris 1978.


(13) The Traitor and the Jew. p.73.


(14) Interview with Pierre Anctil.


(15) That Book of Esther's. p34.


(16) Abbé Jean-Baptiste Beaupré.The copy that I found in the Library of Parliament was catalogued under Beauprés' name


(17) I read four works by an author(s) named 'Lambert Closse.'.  Each was completely different from the other.  From a homely history of a small parish to a call for people to open their eyes to the Jewish threat of biological warfare.


(18) The Traitor and the Jew,  p47. The italics are mine.


(19) Lambert Closse (pseud.) La réponse de la racep515-517.


(20) The Traitor and the Jew, p46.


(21) Ibid. p140.


(22) Ibid.


(23) Ibid. p147.Actually Closse writes of 'President Roosevelt' p527.  One might assume that in 1936 he meant Franklin.


(24) The Traitor and the Jew, p147.


(25) Ibid. p149.


(26) La réponse de la race. p523.


(27) The Traitor and the Jew. p155.


(28) Ibid.


(29) Ibid. p165.


(30) Ibid. p168.


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Source: Ross GORDON, The Historiographical Debate on the Charges of Anti-Semitism Made Against Lionel Groulx, M.A. thesis (History), University of Ottawa, 1996, 141p., pp. 96-110.


© 2006 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College