The Day We Doomed Jewish Refugees

This is a release from the Canadian War Museum:

A new travelling exhibition presented at the Canadian War Museum explores the plight of more than 900 Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Germany in the summer of 1939. Produced by the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic and its partners, St. Louis – Ship of Fate recounts the refugees’ journey, and the refusal of several countries — including Canada — to admit them.

“Anti-Semitism persists in Canada and in the world,” said Mark O’Neill, President and CEO of the Canadian War Museum and the Canadian Museum of History. “The ease with which Canada turned away a desperate people is one of the darker and lesser-known chapters in our history. St. Louis – Ship of Fate not only shares the tragic saga of the St. Louis and her passengers, but also reinforces the need for vigilance in the face of hatred and discrimination today.

When the luxury liner St. Louis set sail from Hamburg in May 1939, bound for Cuba, it carried hundreds of Jewish passengers hoping to escape the growing dangers posed by Germany’s Nazi regime. But Cuba turned them away, and the United States denied the ship entry. When no other nation in the Caribbean, South America or Central America would open its doors, Canada became the last option for the refugees before they would have to return across the Atlantic.

Despite the efforts of some concerned Canadians, the government of the day refused to take in the refugees, which forced the St. Louis to return to Europe. The refugees were accepted by Britain, Belgium, the Netherlands and France. Unfortunately, the three latter countries were overrun by Nazi Germany in 1940. Of the more than 900 Jewish passengers who returned to Europe, 254 were killed in the Holocaust.

Through historical photographs, postcards, archival documents, texts and audiovisual presentations, St. Louis – Ship of Fate traces the refugees’ desperate journey across the Atlantic and back again. By exploring the attitudes of the day, the exhibition encourages reflection on how far we’ve come in our approach to refugee crises.


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3 thoughts on “The Day We Doomed Jewish Refugees

  1. Another incredibly sad chapter in our country’s history.

    Given the treatment and actions taken against those of the Jewish faith today, and the lack of action or recognition of these actions by our governments. How much has really changed?


    1. Interesting observation, Anne Marie. No matter the advances we make in technology, science, feature-laden automobiles, etc, there are a number of recurring themes in the way we treat our fellow human beings that haven’t and likely never will change. Listen to the Peter Gabriel version of Paul Simon’s “The Boy in the Bubble” if you have a chance.


  2. This was not the day that Canada doomed Jewish refugees.
    That day was much earlier when the Liberal government of the time under Mackenzie King adopted a policy of “none is too many”.
    The St. Louis was just the culmination of Canada’s shameful anti-Semitic immigration policies of the ’30s. Canada just didn’t turn away the St. Louis, they had the most dreadful immigration record of any Western government. The United States took over 200,000 refugees and even China took about 25,000. Canada’s count was about 5,000.
    The Liberal party claims to be the party of immigrants, but there are some pretty shameful policies in their past. Given some of Europe’s best and brightest were murdered in the Holocaust, one can only imagine how much greater Canada would have been as a nation had it taken in more refugees.
    We only have to see the significant accomplishments to Canada by many of the few who were allowed in and what Jewish refugees in the U.S. contributed to areas such as science, the arts and business.


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