Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, right, share a moment with Holocaust survivor Nate Leipciger, left, after delivering remarks at the March of Living 30th anniversary gala in Toronto on Tuesday, May 8, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

Canada to apologize for turning away Nazi-era ship of Jews

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Canada will apologize for turning away a Nazi-era ship of Jews

Canada will formally apologize for turning away a boat full of Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Germany in 1939, resulting in scores of them dying, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Tuesday.

In a well-received speech to a sold-out Jewish fundraising event, Trudeau said the decision by Canada to force the German ocean liner ”MS St. Louis” to return to Europe was a blight on our collective past.

“An apology in the House of Commons will not rewrite this shameful chapter of our history,” Trudeau said. “It will not bring back those who perished or repair the lives shattered by tragedy. But it is our hope that this long overdue apology will bring awareness to our failings, as we vow to never let history repeat itself.”

In the run-up to the Second World War and the ensuing Holocaust, the Canadian government heeded anti-Semitic sentiment by severely restricting Jewish immigration. From 1933 to 1945, only about 5,000 Jewish refugees were accepted due to what Trudeau called “our discriminatory ‘none is too many’ immigration policy” in place at the time.

He called the turning away of the ship a “most egregious” example of the misguided policy.

The “St. Louis” was carrying 907 German Jews fleeing Nazi persecution. Its captain, Gustav Schröder, tried in vain to find homes for his passengers. In addition to Cuba, the United States also turned away the refugees.

Forced to return to Europe, 254 of those aboard eventually died in the slaughter that became the Holocaust.

“We cannot turn away from this uncomfortable truth, and Canada’s part in it,” Trudeau said. “We must learn from this story, and let its lessons guide our actions going forward.”

Related: Vancouver’s Chinese community receives apology for historical discrimination

The March of the Living program has seen thousands of Holocaust survivors and others travel to Poland to honour the memory of the six million Jews murdered by the Nazis in concentration camps.

Trudeau spoke eloquently of his own pilgrimage to Auschwitz, the infamous concentration camp in Nazi-occupied Poland.

“We stared at the barbed wire fences that once separated the enslaved from their captors. We marched along the railways that delivered so many Jews to their deaths,” Trudeau said.

“My visit to Auschwitz will forever stay with me and guide my time — as prime minister, but also as a father, husband, son, brother and citizen.”

In a statement, the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre applauded Trudeau’s announcement as a “meaningful step” toward acknowledging the shameful chapter.

“While an apology can never change the past, it can awaken the national conscience to ensure such grave mistakes are never repeated in the future,” centre president Avi Benlolo said.

Trudeau also said recent figures indicate 17 per cent of all hate crimes in Canada target Jewish people. He said it pained him that Jews “more than any other religious group” are the victims of hate crimes.

“We need to do more, as a society, to end xenophobic and anti-Semitic attitudes that still take root in our communities, in our schools, and in our places of work,” the prime minister said.

The Toronto-based Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs also applauded Trudeau’s announcement.

“A formal apology will be a powerful statement to Holocaust survivors and their families, including St. Louis passengers who live in Canada today, said CIJA CEO Shimon Koffler Fogel in a statement.

“It will also affirm Canada’s continued vigilance in the ongoing fight against antisemitism.”

Trudeau said he looked forward to offering the apology himself on the floor of the House of Commons, but he gave no date. The audience applauded loudly at the announcement.

Tuesday was the first official recognition of May as Jewish Heritage Month, a designation passed by the Commons earlier this year.

The fundraiser raised more than $1.1 million.

Related: LGBTQ advocates want military, RCMP to take part in apology

Related: MPs vote to call on Pope, again, for residential schools apology

Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Editorial: Looking back at windstorm helps us prepare for next time

BC Hydro says it was the most destructive storm in its history

VIDEO: Mattress fire at Cowichan Hospital under investigation

The Cowichan District Hospital was locked down on Tuesday afternoon due to… Continue reading

VIDEO: Cowichan Secondary starts two-week run of ‘The Addams Family’ Jan. 16

The Cow High cast is ready, the stage is set: all they need is you so make tracks to see this show

Razor burn: Gillette ad stirs online uproar

A Gillette ad for men invoking the #MeToo movement is sparking intense online backlash

Feds poised to bolster RCMP accountability with external committee

Long-anticipated move is the latest attempt at rebuilding the force following years of sagging morale

Canada needs a digital ID system, bankers association says

The Department of Finance last week officially launched its public consultation on the merits of open banking

Second fatal crash occurs in Alberni Valley

Traffic on Highway 4 is being re-routed as investigators are en route

Indigenous energy summit includes session on pipeline ownership options

Steven Saddleback of the Indian Resource Council says a session will feature presentations on financing models

Japanese grand champion Kisenosato retires from sumo

The 32-year-old Kisenosato was the first Japanese-born wrestler in 19 years to gain promotion to sumo’s highest rank

UPDATE: Accused B.C. high school killer found fit to stand trial

Gabriel Klein is accused in the 2016 stabbing death of Letisha Reimer at Abbotsford Senior Secondary

Right-wing, neo-Nazi, white supremacist groups an increasing concern: Goodale

Ten people died in April 2018 when Alek Minassian allegedly drove a rental van down the busy stretch in Toronto

Most Read