Canada apologizes for turning away Jews fleeing Nazi Germany

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau apologized in parliament on Wednesday for Canada's refusal to admit Jewish asylum seekers fleeing Nazi Germany just months before the outbreak of World War II.

Canada apologizes for turning away Jews fleeing Nazi Germany
Trudeau visits the Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin in February 2017. Photo: DPA

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 
American history.

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.”

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Halle anti-Semitic attack tributes defaced with swastikas

Graffiti tributes to mark one year since a deadly anti-Semitic attack in the German city of Halle have been sprayed over with swastikas, police said on Friday.

Halle anti-Semitic attack tributes defaced with swastikas
The Halle synagogue in Halle on Friday morning, one year after the attack. Photo: DPA

A left-wing group called Antifa Halle had sprayed stencil images with the names of the two victims of the October 2019 attack in various locations across the city on Sunday night, according to a report in the Bild daily.

But some of the images with the inscription “Never forget — Kevin and Jana” were smeared with red swastikas on Thursday night, the eve of the anniversary of the Halle attack, the report said.

An investigation has been launched and work has begun to remove the swastikas, police told AFP.

The attack targeting a synagogue in Halle on October 9th, 2019 came during Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, and was one of the worst acts of anti-Semitic violence in Germany's post-war history.

READ ALSO: What we know about the synagogue shooting in Halle

A neo-Nazi suspect, 28-year-old Stephan Balliet, is currently on trial for the attack and has told the court it was “not a mistake”.

The suspect had sought to storm the synagogue, but when the door failed to break down, he shot dead a female passer-by and a man at a kebab shop instead, named as Jana L. and Kevin S. by German media.

The Antifa Halle group said in a statement sent to media that its graffiti was intended to draw attention to the fact that nothing has changed a year on from the attack, according to Bild.

Anti-Semitic crimes have risen steadily in Germany in recent years, with 2,032 offences recorded in 2019, up 13 percent on the previous year.

They have sparked soul-searching in Germany, which has placed a huge emphasis on atoning for the murder of six million European Jews by Adolf Hitler's Nazi regime during World War II.

Just this week, a Jewish student was attacked outside a synagogue in Hamburg in a case that police are treating as attempted murder with anti-Semitic intent, condemned by Chancellor Angela Merkel as a “disgrace”.

READ ALSO: German police probe Jewish student attack as attempted murder