TORONTO – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was in Parliament on Wednesday and apologized for Canada's decision to send away an oil tanker full of Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Germany on the eve of the Holocaust 79 years ago, saying it reflected years of unpleasant anti-Semitic foreign policy.
At the time, the Canadian government, run by the same Liberal party led by Trudeau, refused to allow the steamship, St. Louis, to land in June 1939 after being blocked from docking at its original destination. # 39; Havana. The ship was filled with over 900 passengers, most of the Jews who had escaped from Germany four months before the start of the Second World War.
"We apologize to mothers and fathers whose children we did not save, to daughters and children whose parents we did not help," Trudeau said.
The United States also rejected the desperate asylum requests of the captain, as well as Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and Panama. In the end, the boat is back in Europe, but not in Germany. Jewish organizations secured their visas for Great Britain, the Netherlands, Belgium and France. But while Germany expanded its territory, about 254 were captured and killed in Nazi death camps.
"We refused to help them when we could have … We helped to seal the cruel fate of too many in places like Auschwitz, Treblinka and Belzec, we failed them, and that's why we're sorry," said Trudeau, wearing a red poppy on the cuff of the suit as it is Canadian tradition in November to celebrate the Day of Remembrance.
Since he was elected three years ago, Trudeau has apologized a regular ritual, even by Canadian standards. The excuses, in large part, reflect the continual struggle of the country to expiate its colonial and racist past, particularly when it comes to the treatment reserved to the populations of the First Nations.
While some have begun to roll their eyes, other Canadians claim to be proud of the fact that the country is reckoning.
Today, Canadians tend to think of their country as compassionate and tolerant. But his position on Jewish refugees before, during and after the war was infamously articulated by a government official of the era: no one is too many.
Britain accepted 70,000 Jewish refugees between the rise of Hitler in Germany in 1933 and the end of the war in 1945. The United States took 200,000. The vast and underpopulated Canada accepted 5,000.
Mr. Trudeau's apologies came less than two weeks later from an armed man opened fire in a Pittsburgh synagogue, killing 11 worshipers and at a time when anti-Semitism is increasing throughout North America. It was not lost on many that was delivered the day after an American election campaign marked by attacks by refugees.
"The rhetoric we are hearing across the border is very similar to the rhetoric we have heard over the years – the denigration of the other, the denigration of the press – it is really scary," said Danny Gruner, who attended Wednesday's apology with his mother, Ana Maria Gordon, the only survivor of St. Louis living in Canada today.
Mrs. Gordon, who met Mr Trudeau in private, he was surrounded by many of his great-grandchildren and nephews.
Last week, Mr. Trudeau apologized to a first nation in British Columbia for treasoning the government by inviting the leaders of Tsilhqot to discuss peace 150 years ago. Instead of speaking, the government arrested them, put them on trial and hanged them.
He also apologized to Omar Khadr, the only Canadian detainee at the US military base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. He apologized emotionally with gay members of the army, the police and public service that they have been persecuted – some even imprisoned – because of their sexual orientation.
And crying he apologized to the natives of the province of Terranova and Labrador, where for most of the twentieth century the indigenous children were torn from their families and forced to attend colleges, where many were abused.
"You will not remove the guilt from the authors of the horror," said Gruner. "But at least you can deal with what was the country at that time, and try to understand where we are at this particular moment and where we want to be".
Judith Steel, an eighty-year-old grandmother from Queens, went to Ottawa to watch Mr. Trudeau's apology. He was 14 months old when he embarked in St. Louis with his parents.
They ended up in France, where it was hidden for the duration of the war. Both his parents were sent to Auschwitz in occupied Poland and murdered.
"I felt the prime minister's heart was so open and honest," said Ms. Steel, who cried throughout the ceremony on Wednesday.
"Excuses are a very important part of my life," said Ms. Steel, who emigrated to the United States after the war for being raised by her aunt and uncle. "What eats you is the anger, the fear and all the emotions that accompany the loss.We must forgive – not for them, but for ourselves".
On Wednesday, Trudeau mentioned the growing anti-Semitism that exploded in Canada, as in the United States, and promised to eliminate it.
"Canada and all Canadians must oppose xenophobic and anti-Semitic attitudes that still exist in our community, in our schools and in our workplaces," he said.
Canada's policy toward Jews during and after World War II was exposed by two university professors, first on an academic journal and later in the 1982 book, "None Is Too Many: Canada and the Jews of Europe." Their findings have had a profound effect on the country's psyche and have directly influenced the Canadian government's decision to open its arms to Vietnamese refugees, accepting some 60,000 people fleeing the Communist government.
That legacy continued as the country accepted about 58,000 refugees fleeing the Syrian war in the last three years.
But after Mr. Trudeau tweeted that refugees were welcome in Canada, "regardless of your faith", and asylum seekers have begun to flood across the border from the US to Canada, the subject of immigration has become politically acclaimed again in the country .