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Justin Trudeau Apologized for Canada Turning Away 900 Jewish Refugees in 1939


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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau formally apologized Wednesday for Canada rejecting a boat of more than 900 Jewish refugees fleeing the Nazi regime in Germany in 1939.

The prime minister said that his government would do more to combat anti-Semitism and protect all places of worship from violence, the Canadian Press reported.

The ocean liner, MS St. Louis, was rejected by William Lyon Mackenzie King’s federal government as it approached Halifax, on the east coast of Canada, carrying 907 Jewish passengers.

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These Jewish refugees had been denied entry by Cuba, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Panama, and the US, and after being sent away by Canada, they were forced back to Europe.

The MS St. Louis returned and its passengers were sent to the UK, Belgium, France, and Holland, Trudeau said.

Belgium, France, and Holland were later overcome by Nazis. More than 250 of these same Jewish people died in the Holocaust, according to CBC.

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“To harbour such hatred and indifference towards the refugees was to share in the moral responsibility for their deaths,” Trudeau told the House of Commons. 

Canada took in the fewest Jewish people of any Allied country between 1933 and 1945, Trudeau said.

He also added that as many as 7,000 Jewish people who were admitted to the country were held as prisoners of war and imprisoned with Nazis.

“[Hitler] watched on ... as we refused their visas, ignored their letters, and denied them entry,” Trudeau said. “There is little doubt that our silence permitted the Nazis to come up with their own final solution.”

By rejecting these Jewish refugees, Canada furthered the idea that they were unwanted. The Holocaust led to the murder of 6 million Jewish people.

“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,” Eva Wiener, who was a child aboard the St. Louis, told CP.

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Ana Maria Gordon was also on that ocean liner and she lived through a concentration camp.

“I firmly believe that to recognize an error publicly leads towards better understanding and healing,” she said at a reception after the apology, CP reported.

But she warned that people today are still discriminated against and fearing for their lives — and that Canada must not repeat their past mistakes.

“We all must, as individuals, communities and as a nation, help these people in every way we can,” she said.