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Righting Canada's Wrongs: Anti-Semitism and the MS St. Louis
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Righting Canada's Wrongs: Anti-Semitism and the MS St. Louis

Canada's Anti-Semitic Policies in the Twentieth Century

By Rona Arato

$34.95 Hardback
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Series: Righting Canada's Wrongs

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Prior to the Second World War, Canada's Jewish community was well established in many cities, including Toronto, Montreal and Winnipeg. As war grew closer, anti-Semitism across Europe was increasing. Hitler's Nazis were spreading hatred and violence towards Jews across Germany. At first, Jews were allowed to leave Germany and thousands escaped to save themselves and their families. Then countries around the world closed their doors to Jewish refugees. In 1939, the MS St. Louis sailed for Cuba with nearly a thousand Jewish men, women, and children looking for safety. They were turned away by Cuba, then the US. The ship sailed on to Canada.

Despite pleas from the Canadian Jewish community, the government refused to allow the passengers to land in Canada. After war broke out, Canada continued to refuse Jewish refugees entry. When Britain forced Canada to take some refugees in, Canada imprisoned them in internment camps — alongside Nazis. Some of these Jewish refugees were only teenagers.

Three years after the war ended and after the horrors of the Holocaust were universally known, Canada finally changed immigration policies and begin to accept Jews equally with other immigrants.

Canada's long history of anti-Semitic immigration policies was deemed shameful. In November 2018, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made an official apology to the Jewish community for Canada's refusal to accept the passengers of the MS St. Louis, as well as for its historical anti-Semitic policies.

Jewish people have been persecuted since Biblical times and have had to continuously seek safer places to live. Canada became one of those places for European Jews beginning in the mid-eighteenth century. Waves of Jewish immigration led to thriving Jewish neighbourhoods in Canadian cities and smaller farming, mining and other settlements across the country. But Canadian society was not always welcoming to Jewish immigrants or their descendants.

During the 1920s and 30s, Canadian society became increasingly hostile towards Jews and other immigrants as competition for jobs increased. Anti-Semitism, prejudice against Jews, rose in Canada and was fueled by the rise of Hitler and Nazism in Germany. By 1939, conditions for Jews in Germany were life-threatening. Over nine hundred Jewish refugees boarded the MS St. Louis, a ship that would take them from Hamburg, Germany, to safety in Cuba. But the Cuban government refused to accept the refugees. After being denied entry into the United States, the ship then appealed to the Canadian government for admittance. Canada refused to accept the refugee ship and it returned to Europe where hundreds of passengers were later killed in the Holocaust.

"The St. Louis Affair" is one incident in a long history of anti-Semitic policies and attitudes in Canada, which also included laws restricting Jewish immigrants, internment camps for Jewish refugees and anti-Semitic riots and demonstrations. Jewish organizations and communities in Canada have fought long and hard for acceptance and justice for those wronged by Canada's anti-Semitic policies. In 2018, the Canadian government apologized to the survivors of the MS St. Louis for its role in the tragedy, as well as to the Canadian Jewish population for the discrimination the community has faced in Canada.

"A wonderful series [Righting Canada's Wrongs] of beautiful books."

- Times Colonist

"This story and the others in the “Righting Canada’s Wrongs” series should be essential teaching in Canadian classrooms at all grades."

- CM: Canadian Review of Materials

RONA ARATO is a former teacher and an award-winning author who writes about human rights and the Holocaust. From 1994-1998, she interviewed Holocaust survivors for Steven Spielberg's Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation. Her book, The Last Train, won numerous awards, including the Norma Fleck Award for best Canadian children's non-fiction book of 2014. Her book, The Ship to Nowhere, about the refugee ship Exodus 1947, was designated a Sydney Taylor Notable Book for Older Children by the Association of Jewish Libraries. Rona is a frequent speaker at schools and community organizations. She lives in Toronto, Ontario.

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Publication Details:

Binding: Hardback, 88 pages
Publication Date: 19th January 2021
ISBN: 9781459415669
Format: 11in x 9in
300 colour and b&w photos

BISAC Code:, YAN025050, YAN025130, YAN038050, YAN051090, YAN051180, YAN052040
Imprint: Lorimer

Interest age: From 13 To 18
Fry Reading Level [grade]: 7.8


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Series Website

Series features

  • Voices and stories of those who were affected
  • Geared to support history and civics curriculums
  • Full-colour images of period artifacts, maps, documents and historic photographs
  • Teachers Resource Guide prepared by the Critical Thinking Consortium
"As indicated by its name, this series is hopeful. It is not about opening old wounds; it's about remembering the past, understanding it and moving forward." Nikkei Voice

Righting Canada's Wrongs is a series devoted to the exploration of the Canadian government's actions that violated the rights of groups of Canadian citizens, the subsequent fight for acknowledgement and justice, and the eventual apologies and restitution by governments.