Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau formally apologized on Wednesday for the country’s 1939 refusal to take in a ship carrying more than 900 Jewish refugees, adding that the country would do more to protect Canadian Jews from violence.
The St. Louis left Hamburg in May 1939 in a desperate search for a safe haven from persecution by Nazi Germany. After it was rebuffed by Canada and other nations, it returned to Europe, where historians have estimated that more than 250 of the passengers were murdered in Nazi death camps.
“We apologize to the 907 German Jews aboard the St. Louis, as well as their families,” Trudeau told the House of Commons. “We are sorry for the callousness of Canada’s response. We are sorry for not apologizing sooner.”
The apology came less than two weeks after a gunman shot dead 11 people, including a Canadian woman, at a synagogue in Pittsburgh. Vigils were held across Canada in the aftermath of the attack.
Jewish Canadians “are understandably feeling vulnerable” and there have been calls “to protect synagogues and other places that are at risk of hate-motivated crimes,” Trudeau said during his parliamentary address.
Shimon Koffler Fogel, head of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, applauded Trudeau’s “historic apology” and his pledge to expand security measures for Jewish institutions.
Earlier, Trudeau met with Ana Maria Gordon, the only surviving Canadian passenger from the ship.