Canadian clergy apologize to 'Voyage of the Damned' survivors

Herbert Karliner remembers how the mood aboard the SS St. Louis changed when port officials in Cuba turned away the 937 people on board.

They had visas to get into the Caribbean country, but that meant little for a shipload of Jews trying to escape Nazi Germany, leaving Hamburg in May 1939.

"We knew what would happen if we returned to Germany," Karliner said.

And after being turned away at the United States and Canada, the St. Louis did sail back to its country of origin, and to most of its passengers' demise.

On Sunday, Canada's religious community apologized to the survivors of what became known as the "Voyage of the Damned."

In an Ottawa hotel, 25 of the survivors gathered to hear an apology from members of the Canadian clergy.

One of those clergymen was Doug Blair, a Baptist minister whose great uncle Fred Blair was an architect of Canadian immigration policies that systematically kept Jews out of the country.

"I'm sorry," Blair told the survivors, some of whom were too young at the time of the actual voyage to remember it, but who lost entire families in the Holocaust. "Will you forgive me?"

Marcel Gervais, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Ottawa, said remembering what happened to the passengers of the St. Louis will help Christians make sure it doesn't happen again.