During an emergency debate in the House of Commons on Trump’s temporary travel ban, Housefather said that there were times in history where the US has been more welcoming to refugees than Canada, and that Canadians should not congratulate themselves on being better than everyone else.
He reminded the House that there was a time when the Chinese and other Asians, as well as Eastern Europeans, were denied the right to immigrate to Canada.
“I come from the Jewish community”, Housefather said. “And we all remember that when the Jewish community needed Canada the most, in the 1930’s when Hitler was in power, the doors of Canada were closed to Jewish refugees”.
He invoked the phrase “none is too many”, a response given by a high-level government official when asked how many Jews should be accepted into the country during the time of the Nazi persecution. The phrase described the immigration policies of the Canadian government which shut its doors to Jewish refugees who were fleeing the Holocaust.
“I hope that one day the government of Canada will apologize for what happened with the St. Louis”, Housefather said.
On May 15, 1939, nine hundred and seven desperate German Jews set sail from Hamburg on the SS St. Louis with nothing more than an entrance visa to Cuba. When the boat reached Havana on May 30, the Cuban government refused to recognize their entrance visas and none of the passengers were allowed to disembark. Within two days all the countries of Latin America had rejected the pleas to allow these Jews to land. The last hope was Canada or the United States, and the latter, not bothering to reply to an appeal, sent a gunboat to shadow the ship as it made its way north.
Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie King, who feared that riots would break out if Canada agreed to a policy that admitted a small number of Jews, felt that this was not a “Canadian problem”. The ship was forced to return to Hamburg and many of the passengers perished during the Holocaust.
While many Allied countries admitted tens of thousands of Jewish refugees in an attempt to save them from the Holocaust, fewer than 5000 Jews were allowed to enter Canada during the 12-year period of the German Nazi regime.
In the past three decades, Canadian government has offered several historic apologies, most notably to Japanese Canadians who were interned during the Second World War, to former students of Indian Residential Schools, and to the Chinese-Canadian community in British Columbia for historical policies that once targeted immigrants.
Ilana Shneider is the co-editor of CIJnews and the founding executive director of Canada-Israel Friendship Association, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting the mutually beneficial, long-standing diplomatic, economic and cultural ties between Canada and Israel. She can be reached at [email protected]