Jewish refugees aboard the MS St. Louis attempt to communicate with friends and relatives in Cuba, who were permitted to approach the docked vessel in small boats on June 3, 1939. The ship was denied permission to dock in Canada. On Thursday Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Ottawa will issue a formal apology on Nov. 7. (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum/National Archives and Records)

Trudeau sets the date for Canada’s MS St. Louis apology


The Liberal government will issue an apology On Nov. 7 for Canada’s 1939 decision to turn away the MS St. Louis, a ship carrying 907 Jewish passengers fleeing Nazi persecution in Europe.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made the announcement on a conference call with with Canadian rabbis on Thursday.

Refugees aboard the St. Louis as they arrive in Belgium, 1939 (COURTESY AMERICAN JEWISH JOINT DISTRIBUTION COMMITTEE)

“The St. Louis was carrying German Jews looking for refuge in Canada but they were turned away under the ‘None is Too Many’ policy of the time, Trudeau said later Thursday in a tweet. “254 ended up being killed.”

“This was an absolute failure on the part of the government, and though of course an apology can’t bring the victims back, we’re committed to doing what we can to right this wrong,” the prime minister added in a separate tweet.

Thursday’s announcement comes almost a year after reports surfaced that an apology was coming and might be made at the inauguration of the National Holocaust Monument in Ottawa.

Trudeau confirmed the reports this past May at a Jewish fund-raising event, saying the apology was for “the shameful chapter in our history.”

MS St. Louis in Hamburg, Germany, prior to departure for Cuba in May 1939. (Courtesy of the U. S. Holocaust Memorial Museum/Canadian Press)

“It will not bring back those who perished or repair the lives shattered by tragedy. But it is our hope that this long overdue apology will bring awareness to our failings, as we vow to never let history repeat itself,” Trudeau said.

The MS. St. Louis was turned away from Cuba and the United States before a group of Canadians tried to convince the government of MacKenzie King to allow it to dock in Halifax.

Ottawa refused and the ship returned to Europe where passengers dispersed to Belgium, France, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom

As the Nazis overran Europe, many of the refugees fell into harm’s way. 

Many survived the atrocities of the Second World War war, but many others were sent to concentration camps where 254 of the passengers perished.

A memorial monument, The Wheel of Conscience, was created by the celebrated Polish-born American architect Daniel Libeskind and unveiled at Pier 21, Canada’s national immigration museum in Halifax in 2011.

With files from CP, CBC, RCI, Toronto Star

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