A new travelling exhibition, St. Louis – Ship of Fate, tells the story of 900 Jewish refugees who fled Nazi Germany in 1939 seeking refuge across the ocean. Denied entry to Cuba, their original destination, the United States and, finally, even Canada, the refugees were forced to return to Europe where nearly one-third of them perished.
The exhibition, produced by the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, a part of the Nova Scotia Museum, in collaboration with the Atlantic Jewish Council and Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, opened on March 20 at the Canadian War Museum where it will remain until April 29. A collection of historical photographs, postcards, archival documents and audiovisual presentations depicts the ill-fated journey.
“Museums have a moral obligation to tell these stories,” said Mark O’Neill, the president and CEO of the Canadian War Museum and Canadian Museum of History. “For me, the ultimate message is the constant, even urgent need to be ever vigilant against incidents of hatred, of discrimination, and anti-Semitism.”
Gerry Lunn, curator of exhibits at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, introduced the exhibition at a preview on March 20. “We felt the story really needed to be shared with a larger audience – not only in Nova Scotia, but ideally across Canada,” he said. “We (The Maritime Museum of the Atlantic) are relatively modest in size, but we are extremely proud to have created this exhibit.”
Irving Abella, historian and professor emeritus at York University, and author of None is too Many, described the circuitous route and tragic ending of the voyage, and Canada’s shameful role in the fate of the passengers.
“Canada arguably had the worst record of any western nation in accepting Jews attempting to escape the Nazis,” he said. “The St. Louis symbolizes in its essence the story of the largely unrecognized Canada of the first half of the 20th century. It was a Canada whose immigration policy was racist and exclusionary. Anti-Semitism was rife. Anti-Jewish bigotry had permeated the upper levels of the Canadian government where decisions were made to keep the Jews out of Canada.”
On a more optimistic note, Abella stated that “today’s Canada is different. Multiculturalism is now a part of Canadian policy and tolerance is encouraged. The lesson of this era is that never again, for anyone, should none be too many.”
In conjunction with the exhibition, several public programs will be held at the Canadian War Museum. On April 12, at 7:30 p.m. a public lecture will be held entitled “The St. Louis and the Refugee Crisis”, presented by Diane Afoumado of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
On April 26, 2018 at 7:00 p.m., a video presentation of the story of Czech-born Holocaust survivor David Moskovic will be screened, followed by a question and answer session with Moskovic and Prof. Jennifer Evans.