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Canada: Justin Trudeau apologises for his country’s refusal to allow in Jewish refugees in 1939

Lars Hagberg/AFP

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Wednesday formally apologised for his country’s role in turning away a ship in 1939 carrying over 900 Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Germany just a month before the outbreak of World War II, BBC reported.

On May 15, 1939, German ocean liner MS St Louis with 907 Jews on board sailed to Havana in Cuba, however, they were were denied entry there. The United States and Canada, among other nations, also refused the passengers entry. The passengers were forced to return to Europe and over 250 later died in the Holocaust.

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“We are sorry for the callousness of Canada’s response. We are sorry for not apologising sooner,” Trudeau said in the House of Commons. “The government chose to turn its back on these innocent victims of Hitler’s regime.”

The Canadian prime minister said the Liberal government of the day was then “unmoved by the plight” of the refugees. “We let anti-Semitism take hold in our communities and become our official policy,” Trudeau said. “To harbour such hatred and indifference toward the refugees was to share in the moral responsibility for their deaths.”

Noting that around 17% of all Canadian hate crimes target the Jews, Trudeau pledged that the country will do more for their safety. Trudeau called on all Canadians to fight xenophobic and anti-Semitic attitudes. “Holocaust deniers still exist. Anti-Semitism is still far too present,” he said in the parliament. “Discrimination and violence against Jewish people in Canada and around the world continues at an alarming rate. Sadly, these evils did not end with the Second World War.”

Ahead of the parliament session, Trudeau met Ana Maria Gordon, the only surviving Canadian passenger from the ship. The prime minister’s apology comes weeks after 11 people were killed at a synagogue in the US’ Pittsburgh. “We had a tragic reminder just a few weeks ago that we need to continue to work together,” he told reporters.

The ship had arrived in Canada more than six months after the Nazis in Germany killed at least 91 people, attacked Jewish homes, and business, and burned 250 synagogues, on a night that came to be known as Kristallnacht, The Night of Broken Glass.

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