Trudeau to apologize Nov. 7 for 1939 decision to turn away Jewish refugees fleeing Nazis

On November 7 the Liberal government will officially apologize for the 1939 decision to turn away the MS St. Louis carrying 907 German Jews fleeing the Nazi regime.

'This was an absolute moral failure on the part of the government'

Jewish refugees aboard the MS St. Louis attempt to communicate with friends and relatives in Cuba, who were permitted to approach the docked vessel in small boats, June 3, 1939. (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum/National Archives and Records)

On November 7, the Liberal government will officially apologize for the 1939 decision to turn away the MS St. Louis, a ship carrying 907 German Jews fleeing the Nazi regime.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made the announcement on a conference call with Canadian rabbis earlier Thursday, and then later took to Twitter to spread the message.

"The St. Louis was carrying German Jews looking for refuge in Canada, but they were turned away under the 'None is Too Many' policy of the time," Trudeau said in a tweet. "254 ended up being killed."

While the date of the apology is news, Trudeau announced in May that his government would be making it.

"This was an absolute moral failure on the part of the government, and though of course an apology can't bring the victims back, we're committed to doing what we can to right this wrong," Trudeau said in a separate tweet Thursday.

In 1939, the MS St. Louis left Germany carrying 907 Jewish passengers fleeing persecution by the Nazi regime. The ship was turned away from Cuba and the United States before a group of Canadians tried to convince Prime Minister Mackenzie King's government to let it dock in Halifax.

The Canadian government heeded the anti-Semitic sentiment abroad at the time by severely restricting Jewish immigration. From 1933 to 1945, only about 5,000 Jewish refugees were accepted because of what Trudeau called "our discriminatory, 'none is too many' immigration policy."

When Ottawa refused to let the MS St. Louis passengers disembark, the ship returned to Europe.

About half the passengers were taken in by the U.K., the Netherlands, France and Belgium. About 500 of them ended up back in Germany, where 254 were killed in concentration and internment camps.

Since the last election, Trudeau has personally apologized to gay men and women targeted by the authorities for their sexuality. He apologized for Canada's 1914 decision to turn away the Komagata Maru ship that was carrying 376 migrants, mostly Sikhs, and he exonerated six Tsilhqot'in chiefs who were hanged in 1864 for their role in the killing of six white colonists.

With files from the Canadian Press


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?