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

Apples the star fruit of the Kelowna farmer’s market

The second annual Apple Festival was held this morning

UPDATED: Team Canada moves into gold finals at World Mixed Curling Championship

The curling championships are being held at the Kelowna Curling Club

Hiker injured on mountain near Peachland

A hiker was rescued this morning

Tommy Chong says cannabis legalization makes him proud to be a Canadian

Legendary marijuana advocate and comedian celebrates cultural milestone at Kelowna event

Watch it again: Kelowna mayoral candidates square off

Missing the LIVE Kelowna mayoral debate watch now

B.C. passenger caught smoking weed in a car issued $230 fine

Saanich police did a field sobriety test on the driver and deemed it safe for him to drive

Payette invites critics to ‘come and spend a few days’ with her

Governor General Julie Payette made her first official to B.C. back in March

Letter: Get the facts on homeless in Kelowna

During the Journey Home process, all task force members agreed the strategy must be evidence based

More pot stores expected in B.C. in coming ‘weeks and months’: attorney general

Attorney General David Eby and Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth visited the new BC Cannabis Store in the province’s Interior

Letter: Get the facts on cannabis legalization for our kids

“Safe kids” are necessarily safe when pot is legalized

Letter: Climate change responses should matter the most in voter’s decision

In Kelowna, candidates answered a climate change question from the Capital News

Telus launches charitable foundation to help vulnerable youth

The Telus Friendly Future Foundation complements other social initiatives by the company, including Mobility for Good

Most Read