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Feds to fund education program on Canada's 1939 rejection of Jewish refugee ship
Via email newsletter from Eric H
OTTAWA — The Canadian government has set aside money for an education program and monument memorializing the shameful rejection of the Jewish refugee ship St. Louis in 1939.
No official apology is in the works for the incident, which epitomized a period of anti-Semitic Canadian immigration policy in the 1930s and '40s.
But Canada's Jewish lobby has been campaigning since the late 1980s to have the story of the St. Louis memorialized, and a government official is confirming that's about to happen.
A spokesman for Conservative MP Jason Kenney, the secretary of state for multiculturalism, told The Canadian Press on Tuesday that Kenney's weekend announcement on historical recognition programs will include a St. Louis memorial.
Kenney announced in Vancouver that an official apology is coming from Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government regarding the 1914 Komagata Maru incident, when 376 mostly Sikh immigrants were barred from landing in Vancouver and eventually ordered to sail away.
The settlement to the Indo-Canadian community could also involve as much as $2.5 million.
The St. Louis commemoration is more modest - likely in the neighbourhood of $300,000 - although the incident has wider historical echoes than the Komagata Maru.
Bernie Farber of the Canadian Jewish Congress applauded the Conservative government's decision.
"The idea is that when governments begin to understand the follies of what they did in the past, they will ensure it's not done in the future," said Farber.
"It's certainly not too late. We're talking 65 years later - that's a drop in the bucket of history."
The 907 Jewish refugees aboard the steamship St. Louis fled Nazi Germany in May 1939, sailing for Cuba where they were turned away. No other Latin American country would accept them, and the United States and Canada refused the ship entry.
The plight of the passengers was well chronicled in European and North American media at the time and the St. Louis came to symbolize the world's indifference to Nazi Germany's escalating violence against Jews.
The ship finally returned to Europe and landed at Antwerp, Belgium, after more than a month at sea - and less than three months before the Second World War erupted.
"Refuge Denied," a book published in 2006, painstakingly tracked the St. Louis passengers after they left the ship and found that about a third died in Western Europe at the hands of German occupiers.
The Canadian government's historical attitude toward Jewish immigrants was exposed in 1982 by Irving Abella's book "None is Too Many."
Abella found correspondence in the archives from Frederick Charles Blair, the bureaucrat in charge of immigration, that exposed the depth of official anti-Semitism at the time of the St. Louis incident.
"The attempt of Jews to get into Canada reminds me a good deal of what I have seen on the farm at hog-feeding time when they are all trying to get their feet into the trough at the same time," Blair wrote a fellow official at External Affairs in May 1941.