Only surviving Canadian passenger of MS St. Louis welcomes Trudeau's apology
Published Wednesday, November 7, 2018 10:45PM AST
Last Updated Thursday, November 8, 2018 8:05AM AST
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made good on a pledge Wednesday as he apologized to the passengers on board the ill-fated ship MS St. Louis.
The luxury liner carrying nearly 1,000 Jews hoping to escape Nazi persecution was refused permission to dock in Halifax in 1939.
Ana Maria Gordon is the only surviving Canadian passenger of the MS St. Louis.
She was only four at the time and an aging photograph shows her and her mother on-board the ill-fated ship.
“She had a book to learn the first words of Spanish so when they arrived (in Cuba), she could manage and you know, everybody was hopeful,” Gordon said.
The hope was misplaced. About 900 who fled aboard the St. Louis were stunned when Cuba reneged on the visas it had sold them.
The U.S., too, closed the door. The last hope was Canada.
“She was not bound for Canada or for Halifax during this voyage of May and June of 1939, but there were Canadian advocates who looked for the ship to be admitted,” said Steve Schwinghamer, a historian with the Canadian Museum of Immigration in Halifax.
Facing pressure from advisors, and a petition with more than 130,000 names opposed to letting refugees in, Prime Minister Mackenzie King turned down the request.
In the end, 254 passengers would die in the Holocaust.
Amonument to the ship -- the “Wheel of Conscience” -- greets visitors at the Canadian Museum of Immigration.
“The ship came right outside Halifax harbour!” said Jon Goldberg, former executive director of the Atlantic Jewish Council.
Goldberg says the formal apology is nice, but actions will speak louder than words for future governments, who should focus on social justice for all.
“I think that would be a much more positive step for those generations coming after us,” Goldberg said.
Trudeau’s words are no doubt appreciated by Gordon, even 80 years after the fact.
“Many, many years have passed,” she said. “You can't blame the present for the past.”
And while that past is now recognized by the Prime Minister of Canada, it will never be forgotten by descendants of those on the ill-fated ship.
With files from CTV Atlantic’s Bruce Frisko.