Canadian President Justin Trudeau on Wednesday in parliament apologized on behalf of his country for its refusal to grant asylum to Jewish people fleeing the Holocaust in the 1930s.
“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 our shame,” Trudeau said in a speech.
“Today, I rise in this House of Commons to issue a long overdue apology to the Jewish refugees Canada turned away,” he explained.
“We are sorry for the callousness of Canada’s response,” he said. “We are sorry for not helping them sooner.”
“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. We failed them, for that we are sorry.”
In 1939, Canada turned away the MS St. Louis and the 907 Jewish refugees on board.
“The liberal government of Mackenzie King was unmoved by the plight of these refugees,” Trudeau explained. “Despite the desperate pleas of the Canadian Jewish community. Despite the repeated calls by the government’s two Jewish caucus members … The government chose to turn its back on these innocent victims of Adolf Hitler’s regime.”
The ship was initially set to travel to Cuba, where all the passengers had visas to go, but the Cuban government turned them away.
They then sought asylum in other countries including Argentina, Uruguay and the United States before ultimately seeking refuge in Canada. Ultimately the Jewish passengers were granted asylum in Europe, but many then suffered during World War II.