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Canada: Prime Minister Trudeau to apologize for turning away Jewish refugees before WWII

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will formally apologize for turning away Jewish refugees who were fleeing Nazi Germany before the start of World War II. (Lars Hagberg/AFP/Getty Images)

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Wednesday that he would apologize for his country's refusal to accept Jewish refugees who were fleeing Nazi Germany shortly before the start of World War II, CTV News reported.

The MS St. Louis, a German ocean liner carrying more than 900 German Jews, was turned away in 1939 and forced to return to Europe. Cuba and the U.S. also refused to accept the asylum seekers. After returning to Europe, 254 of the ship's passengers died in the Holocaust.

"We cannot turn away from this uncomfortable truth, and Canada's part in it," Trudeau said. "We must learn from this story, and let its lessons guide our actions going forward."

Trudeau announced the apology during his remarks on Tuesday at the March of the Living 30th Anniversary Gala, which supports Holocaust education trips.

What did Trudeau say?

Trudeau said while history couldn't be rewritten, Canada must acknowledge its wrongs and never allow it to happen again.

“When Canada denied asylum to the 907 German Jews on board the MS St. Louis, we failed not only those passengers, but also their descendants and community. An apology in the House of Commons will not rewrite this shameful chapter of our history. It will not bring back those who perished or repair the lives shattered by tragedy. But it is our collective responsibility to acknowledge this difficult truth, learn from this story, and continue to fight against anti-Semitism every day, as we give meaning to the solemn vow: ‘Never again.’ I look forward to offering this apology on the floor of the House,” Trudeau said in a statement Tuesday.

The prime minister said he had traveled to Auschwitz, the infamous concentration camp in Nazi-occupied Poland, and it made a lasting impact on him.

"We stared at the barbed wire fences that once separated the enslaved from their captors. We marched along the railways that delivered so many Jews to their deaths," he said. "My visit to Auschwitz will forever stay with me and guide my time — as prime minister, but also as a father, husband, son, brother and citizen."

What else?

Recent crime data in Canada shows 17 percent of all hate crimes in the country target Jewish people, more than any other religious group, according to Trudeau.

"We need to do more, as a society, to end xenophobic and anti-Semitic attitudes that still take root in our communities, in our schools, and in our places of work," Trudeau said.

No date has been set for the apology.

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