Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Wednesday apologized in the name of his country for turning away a ship full of Jewish refugees who fleeing Nazi Germany in 1939.
The MS St. Louis was a German ocean liner which set sail from Hamburg to Cuba on May 13, 1939 with 907 Jewish German refugees. The ship was denied entry to Cuba, the United States, and Canada and the Jewish refugees were eventually accepted in Belgium, the Netherlands, the UK, and France. Many of them were later captured by the invading Nazis in their new shelters and it is estimated that 250 of them perished in death camps during World War II.
Trudeau told the Canadian parliament that Hitler “watched on as we refused their visas, ignored their letters and denied them entry.”
“There is little doubt that our silence permitted the Nazis to come up with their own, ‘final solution’ to the so-called Jewish problem,” the PM said, noting: “We let anti-Semitism take hold in our communities and become our official policy. To harbor such hatred and indifference toward the refugees was to share in the moral responsibility for their deaths.”
Earlier on Wednesday, Trudeau met with St. Louis passenger Ana Maria Gordon, who now lives in Canada. They discussed ways Canada should fight anti-Semitism.
After St. Louis was turned away from the United States, Canadian academics and clergy appealed to Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King to provide sanctuary to the passengers. But an anti-Semitic Canadian immigration official named Frederick Blair persuaded the PM to ignore the pleas. In 2000, Blair’s nephew apologized to the Jewish people for his uncle’s action.