Making Present the Past: Canada’s St. Louis Apology and Canadian Jewry’s Pursuit of Refugee Justice
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The six million Jews killed during the Holocaust include many who fled Nazi Germany in 1939 on the MS St. Louis. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s 2018 apology for Canada’s failure of conscience in denying the MS St. Louis safe haven was a symbolic moment. Never again would Canada close its doors to all legitimate refugees and immigrants. Written against the backdrop of this historic apology, this article examines the evolution of Canadian Jewry’s relationship to immigration and international refugee crises. Two years after liberation, under international pressure and shifts in popular attitudes, Canada resettled 35,000 Jewish Holocaust survivors. Solidifying their position as an important ethnoreligious minority, Canadian Jews became humanitarian leaders. After the April 1975 fall of Saigon, Jewish leadership contributed to a private refugee sponsorship program that resettled more than 50,000 Indochinese “boat people” from Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia (1979–1980). More recently, Canadian Jewish individuals, groups, and synagogues sponsored more than 40,000 Syrian refugees, 1200 Yazidis, and hundreds of Armenian Christians. Has this humanitarianism been a specific response to the Holocaust? In what ways does the generous support toward non-Jewish refugees constitute a historic signpost in Canadian Jewry’s growing confidence, agency, and sense of security as Canadians?
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