Trudeau apologises for voyage of the damned
OTTAWA: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau apologised in parliament yesterday for Canada’s refusal to admit Jewish asylum-seekers fleeing Nazi Germany just months before the outbreak of World War II.
On May 15, 1939, the ocean liner MS St Louis departed Germany and crossed the Atlantic with 907 German Jews aboard, desperate for refuge from persecution. The passengers were barred from disembarking at Cuba, then denied entry in the US and Canada because of discriminatory immigration policies of the time. Forced to return to Europe, many were sent to concentration camps, and 254 died in the Holocaust. Their emotional journey would later inspire the 1974 book Voyage of the Damned and a movie of the same title.
“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 its shame,” Mr Trudeau told parliament. “Today, I rise in this house to issue a long overdue apology to the Jewish refugees Canada turned away. We are sorry for the callousness of Canada’s response. We refused to help them when we could have. We contributed to sealing the cruel fates of far too many at places like Auschwitz, Treblinka, and Belzec.”
Earlier, Mr Trudeau met with one of the survivors of that voyage, Ana Maria Gordon, and her family to discuss the need to continue fighting anti-Semitism.
“We had a tragic reminder just a few weeks ago that we need to continue to work together,” Mr Trudeau told reporters, alluding to the massacre of 11 people at a synagogue in the US city of Pittsburgh on October 27. The attack was believed to be the deadliest anti-Semitic attack on US soil.
In Canada, incidents of antiSemitism — including harass- ment, vandalism and violence — reached a record in 2017, doubling from the previous year to 1752, according to Jewish advocacy organisation B’nai B’rith.
In parliament, Mr Trudeau called on all Canadians to “stand up against xenophobic and antiSemitic attitudes that still exist in our communities, in our schools, and in our places of work”.
“Holocaust deniers still exist. Anti-Semitism is still far too present,” he said. “Discrimination and violence against Jewish people in Canada and around the world continues at an alarming rate. Sadly, these evils did not end with World War II.”
Clockwise from main image: Justin Trudeau apologises in the House of Commons yesterday; meets survivor Ana Maria Gordon in his office; Ms Gordon as a four-year-old on the MS St Louis; the St Louis returns to Antwerp, Belgium, after being refused entry to Canada, the US and Cuba in 1939