On May 15th, 1939 the ocean liner MS St. Louis departed Germany and crossed the Atlantic with 907 German Jews aboard, desperate for refuge from persecution.
The passengers were barred from disembarking at Cuba, and then denied entry in the United States and Canada due to the discriminatory immigration policies of the time.
Forced to return to Europe, many were sent to concentration camps, and 254
died in the Holocaust.
Their emotional journey would later inspire the 1974 book “Voyage of the
Damned” and a movie of the same title.
“While decades have passed since we turned our backs on Jewish refugees,
time has by no means absolved Canada of its guilt or lessened the weight of
its shame,” Trudeau said in a speech.
“Today, I rise in this House to issue a long overdue apology to the Jewish
refugees Canada turned away,” he said.
“We are sorry for the callousness of Canada's response,” he said. “We
refused to help them when we could have. We contributed to sealing the cruel
fates of far too many at places like Auschwitz, Treblinka, and Belzec.”
A need to continue fighting anti-Semitism
Earlier the prime minister sat down in his office with one of the survivors
of that tragic voyage, Ana Maria Gordon, and her family to discuss the need to
continue fighting anti-Semitism.
“We had a tragic reminder just a few weeks ago that we need to continue to
work together,” Trudeau told reporters, alluding to the massacre of 11 people
at a synagogue in the US city of Pittsburgh on October 27th.
The attack was believed to be the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in recent
In Canada, incidents of anti-Semitism — including harassment, vandalism
and violence — reached a record high in 2017, doubling from the previous year
to 1,752, according to the Jewish advocacy organization B'nai B'rith.
In parliament, Trudeau called on all Canadians to “stand up against
xenophobic and anti-Semitic attitudes that still exist in our communities, in
our schools, and in our places of work.”
“Holocaust deniers still exist. Anti-Semitism is still far too present,” he
said. “Discrimination and violence against Jewish people in Canada and around the world continues at an alarming rate.
“Sadly, these evils did not end with the Second World War.”