Prior to the Second World War, Canada's Jewish community was well established in many cities, including Toronto, Montreal and Winnipeg. As war grew closer, anti-Semitism across Europe was increasing. Hitler's Nazis were spreading hatred and violence towards Jews across Germany. At first, Jews were allowed to leave Germany and thousands escaped to save themselves and their families. Then countries around the world closed their doors to Jewish refugees. In 1939, the MS St. Louis sailed for Cuba with nearly a thousand Jewish men, women, and children looking for safety. They were turned away by Cuba, then the US. The ship sailed on to Canada.
Despite pleas from the Canadian Jewish community, the government refused to allow the passengers to land in Canada. After war broke out, Canada continued to refuse Jewish refugees entry. When Britain forced Canada to take some refugees in, Canada imprisoned them in internment camps — alongside Nazis. Some of these Jewish refugees were only teenagers.
Three years after the war ended and after the horrors of the Holocaust were universally known, Canada finally changed immigration policies and begin to accept Jews equally with other immigrants.
Canada's long history of anti-Semitic immigration policies was deemed shameful. In November 2018, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made an official apology to the Jewish community for Canada's refusal to accept the passengers of the MS St. Louis, as well as for its historical anti-Semitic policies.
RONA ARATO is a former teacher and an award-winning author who writes about human rights and the Holocaust. From 1994-1998, she interviewed Holocaust survivors for Steven Spielberg's Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation. Her book, The Last Train, won numerous awards, including the Norma Fleck Award for best Canadian children's non-fiction book of 2014. Her book, The Ship to Nowhere, about the refugee ship Exodus 1947, was designated a Sydney Taylor Notable Book for Older Children by the Association of Jewish Libraries. Rona is a frequent speaker at schools and community organizations. She lives in Toronto, Ontario.
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