The ill-fated voyage of the MS St. Louis, the Hamburg-based ocean liner intended to transport 907 mostly German Jewish refugees to Cuba in May 1939, has always played a central role in early Holocaust history, and not only because it unraveled, tragically, like a Hollywood drama. (Indeed, the story was made into a 1976 film called “Voyage of the Damned,” based on a book of the same name.) Rather, the episode exposed a peculiar unwillingness on the part of the United States and Canada to accept Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Germany, even though Hitler’s anti-Semitism was already well known. Turned away at Havana, the ship unsuccessfully sought safe harbor in Florida and Nova Scotia before returning to Europe. Many of the passengers eventually died in the Holocaust.
In Canada, the story of the country’s anti-Jewish immigration policies has been recorded in the seminal 1983 book “None Is Too Many: Canada and the Jews of Europe, 1933-1948” by Irving Abella and Harold Troper. Yet the public’s awareness of the Holocaust tends not to linger on that aspect of history. On January 20, however, Pier 21, Canada’s Immigration Museum in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in partnership with the Canadian Jewish Congress, unveiled an MS St. Louis monument designed by New York-based architect Daniel Libeskind. Pier 21 was the entry point for over one million European immigrants to Canada, from 1928 to 1971.