Hektoen International

A Journal of Medical Humanities

The resident doctors’ strike: Montreal, 1934

Howard Fischer
Uppsala, Sweden


Pavillon Mailloux of the Hôpital Notre-Dame de Montréal. Photo by Sarah Ismert, Marie-Laurence Maisonneuve, and Jennifer Marcout. Via Wikimedia. CC BY-SA 3.0.

“We don’t want him because he’s a Jew. But we are not antisemites.”1
– From a statement by striking residents at Hôpital Notre-Dame, Montreal


Samuel Rabinovitch, M.D., (1909–2010) graduated first in his class from the Faculté de Médecine of the University of Montreal in 1934. His four brothers were physicians. He applied for and received an intern position at the Notre-Dame Hospital in Montreal, his hometown.2 He became the first Jewish intern to be hired by a French-Catholic hospital.

On his first day as an intern, June 6, 1934, the residents at Notre-Dame Hospital petitioned the hospital board to rescind his contract. The board refused. The residents then went on strike, as a protest against having a Jewish, or “Hebrew,” doctor working alongside them.3 Residents from three other Montreal hospitals (Hôtel-Dieu, Sainte-Justine, and Miséricorde) joined the strike, bringing the number of striking residents to seventy-five.4,5 Residents at three other Montreal hospitals signed petitions of support for the strikers, and several hundred nurses threatened to strike.6 The striking residents were still provided with the usual room and board at their home hospitals.7 Private practitioners worked in the hospitals during the strike, so that the sickest patients were not abandoned.8

Letter-writers to Montreal newspapers feared Catholic doctors being “replaced by Jews.” Patients, some letters stated, have the right to refuse to be treated by a Jewish doctor. The public contributed five-hundred dollars to the doctors’ strike fund.9,10 Most of Montreal’s Catholic clergy11 and physicians’ associations12 agreed with the strikers, as did Quebec nationalist groups.13

Montreal’s antisemitic newspapers claimed that Dr. Rabinovitch was the wedge that would open Montreal’s hospitals for more Jews, on the orders of an (unspecified) “Jewish organization.”14

On the fourth day of the strike, Dr. Rabinovitch resigned his position, so that the residents of Montreal would go back to taking care of patients.15 He took an internship at a Catholic hospital in St. Louis, Missouri, US. Soon after, the Jewish community of Montreal founded the Jewish General Hospital, which had the first “official nondiscrimination policy in Canada.”16 No disciplinary action was taken against the striking residents.17

At a time of widespread antisemitism in North America, Jewish hospitals were necessary. They were needed to treat indigent Jews, to train residents, to provide beds for private patients, and to offer “culturally sensitive” care.18

The Montreal Star said about Dr. Rabinovitch’s resignation: “The lesson that stands out clear as crystal is that a doctor’s oath is sacred and to be honored at whatever cost to self.”19 In 1940 he returned to Montreal and practiced internal medicine.



  1. Frédéric Bérard. “Une bien sale histoire.” Métro, November 18, 2020. https://journalmetro.com/actualites/national/2580874/une-bien-sale-histoire/.
  2. Yvette Miller. “Montreal’s Days of Shame: When 75 doctors went on strike until a Jewish doctor resigned.” AISH. https://aish.com/montreals-days-of-shame-when-75-doctors-went-on-strike-until-a-jewish-doctor-resigned/.
  3. “Days of Shame.” Wikipedia.
  4. Ira Robinson. “‘Maitres chez eux’. La grève des internes de 1934 révisitée.” Érudit, November 4, 2016. https://www.erudit.org/fr/revues/globe/2015-v18-n1-globe02707/1037882ar/.
  5. “Hospital strike spreads; Internes of Four Montreal Institutions Join Protest.” New York Times, June 18, 1934.
  6. “Days of Shame,” Wikipedia.
  7. Robinson, “Maitres.”
  8. “Hospital strike spreads,” NYT.
  9. “Days of Shame,” Wikipedia.
  10. Bérard, “Sale histoire.”
  11. Andrew Wilner. “The Art of Medicine, Episode #45, History of Medicine and Anti-Semitism.” YouTube video, 24:39. August 16, 2021. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=istDy48DNOE.
  12. Francis Dupuis-Déri. “De l’antisemitism á l’islamophobie: De la grève de 1934 á la loi 21,” Le Devoir, April 29, 2019. Archived at https://web.archive.org/web/20190429063452/https://www.ledevoir.com/opinion/idees/553137/de-l-antisemitisme-a-l-islamophobie-de-la-greve-de-1934-a-la-loi-21.
  13. “Days of Shame,” Wikipedia.
  14. Robinson, “Maitres.”
  15. “A fine example,” Montreal Star, June 21, 1934. Archived at http://faculty.marianopolis.edu/c.belanger/quebechistory/docs/jews/strike/20.htm.
  16. Miller, “Montreal’s Days of Shame.”
  17. “Days of Shame,” Wikipedia.
  18. Edward Halperin. “The rise and fall of the American Jewish hospital.” Academic Medicine, 87(5), 2012.
  19. “A fine example,” Montreal Star.



HOWARD FISCHER, MD, retired as a professor of pediatrics from Wayne State University School of Medicine, Detroit, Michigan. He studied medicine at the Catholic University of Louvain (Belgium) and did his “rotating internship” at a Catholic hospital in Detroit.


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