WARNING: This story contains offensive comments about a minority group.
A 38-year-old sergeant in the Canadian Army was fined $3,000 and issued a severe reprimand after he made what a military judge described as “utterly disgusting” anti-Jewish comments while conducting an infantry training course in 2021.
Sgt. K.E. Bluemke pleaded guilty last October to one charge of conduct to the prejudice of good order and discipline for jokes and comments he made about Jewish people and the Holocaust while he was an instructor for an infantry command course at Canadian Forces Base Petawawa in Ontario.
The comments came to light at the end of the course when a dozen participants reported that Bluemke made frequent inappropriate jokes and comments about Jewish people and the Holocaust, prompting an investigation and ultimately a court martial proceeding.
Military judge Cmdr. Martin Pelletier heard that Bluemke began the course by asking, “Is anyone here Jewish?” according to the judge’s sentencing decision, published Friday.
Later on in the course, during the cleanup of a firing range, Bluemke urged his course participants to “move with the sense of urgency as a certain group did leaving Germany in 1939,” Pelletier wrote.
“Why do Jews have big noses? Because the air is free,” Bluemke joked.
“Germans are really good at packing things in tight,” the sergeant said when trying to find additional space inside course vehicles.
One course participant testified the latter comment embarrassed and angered him, telling the court the comment “made him think of the ordeal Jewish people have gone through while packed in train cars and in gas chambers, and because the casual way in which it was said,” the judge wrote.
‘EXTREMELY TROUBLING, IN SEVERAL WAYS’
In making the comments, Bluemke, who was born in Germany in 1984 and immigrated to Canada in 1995, eroded trainees’ confidence in his leadership and in the Canadian Armed Forces at large, participants testified.
One participant, who is Jewish, said in a victim impact statement the comments were extremely disturbing and left him so angered that he could not retain the information he was being taught.
Following the revelations of his conduct during the course, Bluemke’s commanding officer put him on probation and he underwent counselling, followed by an extended monitoring period.
Judge Pelletier wrote that denunciation and deterrence were the focus of his sentencing decision.
“The conduct which Sgt. Bluemke engaged in is extremely troubling, in several ways,” Pelletier wrote.
“I am having difficulties finding the right word to qualify the use of stereotypes and the reference to the unspeakable horrors suffered by the Jewish community before and during the Second World War to make adverse comments intended as jokes. The word ‘distasteful’ does not suffice. It is in my opinion utterly disgusting.”
Hearing any Canadian Armed Forces member make such comments “should make a reasonable member cringe and worry about belonging to the same organization as the perpetrator,” Pelletier wrote, noting that Bluemke’s role as a course instructor at the time made the comments “particularly problematic.”
Bluemke, who admitted to making the comments as part of his guilty plea, was promoted to sergeant in 2017. He has served twice overseas, including seven months in Afghanistan in 2010 and four months in Ukraine from 2017 to 2018.