Prime Minister Justin Trudeau listens to a question after giving a keynote address to the Vancouver Board of Trade, in Vancouver, on Thursday November 1, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Trudeau apologizes for Canada’s 1939 refusal of ship of Jewish refugees

Trudeau isssued an official government apology today for what he will call the country’s moral failure when Canada closed its doors to Jewish refugees during the Holocaust.

Survivors and families of 900 German Jews whose pleas for asylum Canada ignored during the Holocaust received an official federal apology Wednesday, as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau vowed more federal help to combat anti-Semitic acts.

It was 79 years ago that the government of William Lyon Mackenzie King rejected an asylum request from an ocean liner carrying German Jews as it neared Halifax, forcing it back to Europe.

Most of the passengers scattered across the continent and more than 250 of them died in the Holocaust.

The decision to turn the country’s back on European Jews was “unacceptable then and it is unacceptable now,” Trudeau said in his speech on the week marking the 80th anniversary of what is known as “Kristallnacht” and the start of the Holocaust.

Trudeau said Holocaust deniers still exist and anti-Semitism remains prevalent in Canada — the latest numbers from Statistics Canada show Jews are the most frequent target of religiously motivated hate crimes — and North America, shadowed by the shooting deaths of 11 worshippers inside a Pittsburgh synagogue almost two weeks ago.

The ensuing days have seen countrywide vigils and, Trudeau said, calls for the government do to more through a federal program that funds security improvements at places at risk of hate-motivated crimes, such as synagogues.

Trudeau pledged to listen to the request, but didn’t provide further details.

Read more: Holocaust survivor Philip Riteman dies at 96: ‘Better to love than hate’

Read more: Canadian Holocaust denier guilty of inciting hatred in German court

Before the apology, Trudeau met with Ana Maria Gordon, a St. Louis passenger who lives in Canada, to talk about how the country could fight anti-Semitism.

“The whole premise of the St. Louis was the culmination of bigotry and hatred that is rearing its ugly head again and I think this is a very poignant part of this,” said Eva Wiener, 80.

The St. Louis departed Germany in May 1939 with more than 900 Jews aboard, hoping to find refuge from Adolf Hitler’s Nazis and the policies that stripped them of their rights and fuelled violence against them and their businesses.

They first went to Cuba and, when the passengers weren’t allowed to disembark there, the United States. The ship came within sight of Miami but the U.S. coast guard turned the ship away.

A group of Canadians tried to convince the government of William Lyon Mackenzie King to accept their asylum plea but federal officials rejected the request.

Four European countries offered to take in the asylum-seekers, but 254 died in the Holocaust, including Judith Steel’s parents at the notorious Auschwitz death camp.

Steel’s last memory of her father was holding his hand, being told to look off in the distance, and feeling someone else take her hand — saving her from the train the next day that took her parents to Auschwitz.

The apology ”takes some of that heaviness away from me and I certainly appreciate that,” Steel said.

Between 1933 and 1945, Canada admitted the fewest Jews of any Allied country, Trudeau said. Of those Canada did let in, some 7,000 Jews were held as prisoners of war and jailed alongside Germans captured on battlefields, he said.

The story of the St. Louis gained renewed interest last year when pictures and stories of the victims circulated on social media in response to U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to ban immigration and refugee settlement from certain countries.

“We 900 immigrants looking for safe haven were denied that and fortunately there are countries such as Canada who are willing to take those truly looking for safe haven and looking for a place to reside without being persecuted,” Wiener said.

The Liberals’ new immigration plan calls for accepting up to 16,500 protected persons in 2019, a category that includes refugees, growing to 20,000 in 2021. Critics say the figures are far too low while debate rages about “irregular” border crossers walking over from the United States.

Jordan Press, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

North Okanagan-Shuswap MP tables bill on RCMP Day in Canada

Mel Arnold throws support behind Vernon-based campaign for national initiative recognizing RCMP

Ways to get money back suggested in wake of Waterway Houseboats shutdown

Shuswap Tourism and Consumer Protection BC weigh in on options for reimbursement

Okanagan-Shuswap weather: rain expected

Showers are expected to end by tomorrow

Shuswap author tells First Nations family’s story of resilience, leadership

Chase resident will hold book signing in Salmon Arm June 22, in Kelowna June 23 and Vernon June 29.

Sicamous welcomes new doctor

Dr. Carol Connick opened her practice on June 18

Snow falls on Okanagan resort, in June

SilverStar gets snow day before summer season starts

B.C.-born Carey Price brings young fan to tears at NHL Awards banquet

Anderson Whitehead first met his hockey idol after his mother died of cancer

Licence issue delays boozing while cruising on BC Ferries

Planned June launch for alcohol sales delayed

B.C. school mourns after 13-year-old killed by fallen tree on field trip

Teenager died after being struck and pinned by tree while on a field trip near Sooke

Column: MLA says forest industry in crisis, government must act

From the Legislature/Shuswap MLA Greg Kyllo

Civil suit brought against Kelowna RCMP officer after ‘abhorrent’ interrogation

The woman involved in the 2012 interrogation is suing the officer and B.C.’s Minister of Justice

Penticton family honours loved one with acts of kindness, free coffee

The family of Kathy Castle want to ensure she is remembered by the community

B.C. temporarily halts resource development to protect caribou

The caribou population in northeastern B.C. has dwindled over the last two decades

Most Read