A monument to commemorate the ill-fated MS St. Louis, a ship that carried Jewish passengers seeking refuge during World War II, has been unveiled in Halifax, Nova Scotia, more than 70 years after the ship was refused entry to Canada and the United States.
Canadian Citizenship, Immigration, and Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney traveled to Halifax for the unveiling of the Wheel of Conscience, which took place at Pier 21, Canada’s national immigration museum.
“The immigration restrictions experienced by some people of Jewish background mark a dark period in our nation’s history, and we are committed to recognizing the experience of all communities affected by such actions in our past,” Kenney said.
Captained by non-Jew Gustav Schroeder, the St. Louis fled Hitler’s Germany in 1939 with 937 Jewish refugees on board. The ship first docked in Havana, Cuba, where only 29 of the refugees managed to disembark.
The ship then headed for Florida where U.S. officials also refused the refugees entry on grounds that the United States could not legally issue them tourist visas without return addresses, according to the U.S. Coast Guard. On its website, the Coast Guard refutes statements made by historian Arthur D. Morse and Captain Schroeder that a Coast Guard ship followed the St. Louis to prevent it from landing, saying there is no official documentation to support the statements.
The Canadian government also decided not to accept the refugees on the grounds that it would open the floodgates to hundreds of thousands more Jews seeking a safe haven.
Out of options, Schroeder had no choice but to turn the ship back to Europe where Belgium, France, Holland, and England accepted the refugees. However, after Germany invaded Western Europe, and except for the 288 who escaped to England, the passengers found themselves again under Nazi rule.
It is estimated that nearly a third of those on board the St. Louis later died in the Holocaust.
Kenney said the Wheel of Conscience would be “a concrete, perpetual expression of regret on behalf of the government and the people of Canada.”
Designed by architect Daniel Libeskind and produced by the Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC), the Wheel of Conscience is a polished stainless steel drum that symbolizes the connection between hatred, racism, xenophobia, and anti-Semitism. It bears a picture of the ship and the names of those on board.
“The significance of the Wheel of Conscience rests not only in the spectacular statement it is already making in the world of art, but also in the important contribution it is going to make in helping to educate generations of young Canadians about issues of historical memory and social justice,” said Bernie Farber, chief executive officer of the CJC.
The monument is part of a larger project by the CJC titled “None Is Too Many,” which aims to educate and sensitize current and future generations about the importance of tolerance, understanding, and diversity.
Pier 21 Chief Executive Officer Bob Moody said he hopes the monument “will inspire reflection on past and current policies, and start many important conversations among Canadians.”