Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau issued on Wednesday a formal apology on behalf of the country for its refusal to accept 907 Jewish refugees who, fleeing Nazi Germany, arrived on its shores in 1939.
The German liner MS St. Louis was carrying German Jews fleeing Nazi persecution and had previously been rejected by Cuba and the United States. After being turned away by Canada, the passengers were forced to return to Europe and more than 250 later died in the Holocaust.
Standing in the Canadian parliament chamber, Trudeau spoke in both English and French as he apologized.
“In 1939, Canada turned its back on 907 Jewish refugees, deeming them unworthy of a home, and undeserving of our help,” the prime minister said. “Today, I issue an official apology on behalf of the Government of Canada to the passengers of the MS St. Louis and their families for this injustice.”
“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 our shame,” he said.
Trudeau first announced in May that the country would formally apologize over the incident. He said then that the decision to turn away the St. Louis was a blight on Canada’s past.
In the run-up to World War II and the ensuing Holocaust, the Canadian government heeded anti-Semitic sentiment and severely restricted Jewish immigration. From 1933 to 1945, only about 5,000 Jewish refugees were accepted.
“We used our laws to mask our anti-Semitism, our antipathy, our resentment. We are sorry for the callousness of Canada’s response. We are sorry for not apologizing sooner,” Trudeau said on Wednesday.
“We also apologize to others who paid the price of our inaction who we doomed to the ultimate horror of the death camps,” he added. “And finally, we apologize to the members of Canada’s Jewish community whose voices were ignored, whose calls went unanswered. We were quick to forget the ways they helped build this country since its inception.”
The US State Department apologized for the incident in 2012 at a ceremony attended by then deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns and 14 survivors from the ship.