Canada regrets turning away Jewish refugees on St Louis ship in 1939

Trudeau actually announced the pending apology back in May.

October 24, 2018 18:49
1 minute read.
Canada regrets turning away Jewish refugees on St Louis ship in 1939

The MS St. Louis at the port of Hamburg, Germany . (photo credit: PUBLIC DOMAIN)


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Canadian ambassador to Israel Deborah Lyons announced on Wednesday that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will formally apologize next month for the decision in 1939 by then Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King refusing to grant asylum to the more than 900 Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany.

Speaking at the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America in Tel Aviv, Lyons said that Trudeau will apologize for failing to admit the refugees, of whom 254 were eventually murdered during the Holocaust, according to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Trudeau actually announced the pending apology back in May.

“When Canada denied asylum to the 907 German Jews on board the M.S. St. Louis, we failed not only those passengers, but also their descendants and community," Trudeau said at the time.

"An apology in the House of Commons will not rewrite this shameful chapter of our history," said the Canadian prime minister. "It will not bring back those who perished or repair the lives shattered by tragedy. But it is our collective responsibility to acknowledge this difficult truth, learn from this story, and continue to fight against antisemitism every day, as we give meaning to the solemn vow: ‘Never again.’ I look forward to offering this apology on the floor of the House.”

Carrying over 900 Jewish-German refugees fleeing Nazi persecution, the boat was turned away by Cuba, the refugees' first destination, the United States and, finally, Canada. Forced to return to Europe, 254 of the passengers on board were killed during the Holocaust.

The ship's refugees were accepted by the United Kingdom, France, Belgium and the Netherlands but many faced renewed danger in 1940 as Germany advanced through Western Europe.

The captain of the M.S. St. Louis, Gustav Schröder, was awarded the German Order of Merit after the war.

In 1993, Schröder was posthumously recognized as Righteous Among The Nations by Israel's Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial for his "courage and determination not to abandon his Jewish passengers" that allowed many to survive.

In September 2012, the US State Department publicly apologized for shunning the M.S. St. Louis, presenting proclamations of gratitude to ambassadors of the four countries that accepted the ship's passengers.

Jeremy Sharon contributed to this article

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