Canada will formally apologize for refusing entry to a Jewish refugee ship fleeing Nazi Germany in 1939, an episode that caused many of them to return to Europe and died in camps on Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said.
In a well-received speech at a fundraising event on a Jewish educational program in Toronto, Trudeau said the MS Saint Louis decision was a “shameful chapter” in Canadian collective history.
“These excuses can not bring back those whose lives have been stolen, nor repair the lives broken by this tragedy. However, we have a shared responsibility to recognize this difficult reality, to learn from it, and to continue to stand up against anti-Semitism every day. This is how we will give meaning to the solemn vow: “Never again,” said the Prime Minister.
In the moments leading up to the Second World War and during the Holocaust, the Canadian government responded to anti-Semitic sentiment by severely restricting Jewish immigration. From 1933 to 1945, only about 5,000 Jewish refugees were accepted because of what Mr. Trudeau called the “discriminatory immigration policy” one, it is still too much “in force at the time”.
The Prime Minister spoke of the MS Saint Louis case as the “most flagrant” example of this misguided policy.
The MS Saint Louis was carrying 907 Jewish Germans seeking refuge to escape the persecution. The captain of the ship, Gustav Schröder, tried in vain to find places to stay for his passengers. In addition to Cuba, the United States has also denied entry to these refugees.
Forced to return to Europe, 254 of these passengers were eventually murdered during the Holocaust.
“We can not turn our backs on this uncomfortable truth, and the role Canada has played,” Trudeau said on the sidelines of the March of the Living event. March of the Living is an annual educational program that allows students to visit the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration and extermination camp.
Mr. Trudeau said he was anxious to offer Canada’s apology on the floor of the House of Commons, without specifying when they could be made.