Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has formally apologised for his country’s refusal to provide shelter to a ship carrying more than 900 Jewish refugees almost 80 years ago.
In May 1939, German ocean liner MS St Louis left Hamburg with more than 900 Jews fleeing the horrors of Nazi persecution in search of a safe haven for themselves and their families.
When Cuba, the United States and Canada turned the ship away, it returned to Europe where several countries took the refugees in and, according to historians and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), 255 of them were later killed in World War II, most of them in concentration camps.
“We apologise to the 907 German Jews on board the St Louis as well as their families,” Trudeau said in a parliamentary sitting on Wednesday.
“We are sorry for the callousness of Canada’s response. We are sorry for not apologising sooner.
“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 or our shame.”
The apology came following the October 27 Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, where 11 people were killed, including a Canadian woman.
Trudeau admitted that Jewish Canadians “are understandably feeling unwelcome and uncomfortable” and shared that 17 percent of all Canadian hate crimes target Jewish people and “discrimination and violence against Jewish people in Canada and around the world continues at an alarming rate”.
“And I pledge to you all now, we will do more,” he said.
Shimon Koffler Fogel, head of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), applauded Trudeau’s “historic apology” and his pledge to expand security measures for Jewish institutions.
“Acknowledging moments in our history when Canada failed our ideals will help us remain vigilant in upholding those values today,” CIJA said in a press release.
Trudeau, a Liberal, has made a number of apologies for Canada’s historical failings.
Last week the prime minister visited hundreds of indigenous people in British Columbia to apologise for the hanging of six chiefs 150 years ago.