Between 1850 and 1914 Jewish immigrants to Canada faced few difficulties in gaining admission. But restrictions tightened after World War I and throughout the Depression years, at the very time when upheavals in Europe made Jews more desperate than ever to leave, especially from Russia, Poland, Austria-Hungary, Romania and the Baltic states. Virulent anti-Semitism drove many Jews from their homeland, while thousands who stayed were massacred or victimized by disease and starvation(11).
Even with the rise of Hitler and the Nazi regime in the mid 1930's, refuge for Jewish immigrants was shamefully hard to find. Traditional countries of immigration, Canada among them, imposed restrictions against Jewish immigrants, leaving them at the mercy of their homeland(12). Condemned Jews in Auschwitz had a poignant vision of what Canada represented. They named one of the barracks "Canada." It was the place where food, clothes and confiscated belongings such as jewellery were stored--it was regarded as a place of luxury and salvation. But it was completely sealed off, as was Canada in the years between 1933 and 1945(13).
In 1939, Canadian Jews could only watch with helplessness and horror as the St. Louis, a ship full of more than 900 Jewish refugees, sailed from port to port off the coasts of the United States and Latin America, searching for a place to land its human cargo. Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King responded to urgent pleas for refuge by saying that it was not a Canadian problem. And with that, the Jews of the St. Louis headed back to Europe, many of them to their death. During the war period, between 1939 and 1945, Canada accepted a total of only 500 refugees(14).
Jews already in Canada were the brunt of anti-Semitism and nativism during the Second World War. Discrimination took many forms: Canadian Jews were restricted from admissions to universities and professional schools. More subtle forms of prejudice included a xenophobic fear of the growing number of Jews in Canada and a whispering, or at times blatant, campaign impugning their character(15).
These subtle forms of hatred have subsided over the last forty years(16). Human rights legislation, which was first introduced in Canada in the late 1940s, has helped eliminate some forms of racism. The introduction of the federal policy of multiculturalism in 1971 has brought to public attention the necessity and legitimacy of cultural pluralism and the need for tolerance within the Canadian mosaic(17).
13,14 - A Coat of Many
Colours, Two Centuries of Jewish Life in Canada 16 - The Canadian Encyclopedia,
James H. Marsh, ed. (Edmonton: Hertig Publishers, 1988)
13,14 - A Coat of Many
Colours, Two Centuries of Jewish Life in Canada
16 - The Canadian Encyclopedia, James H. Marsh, ed. (Edmonton: Hertig Publishers, 1988)
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