History of Canada and the Holocaust

While Canada did not directly experience the Holocaust, it was impacted in many ways by the tragedy. Canada's restrictive immigration policies at the time largely closed the door on Jews who were desperately seeking safety and refuge from persecution at the hands of the Nazis.  This included more than 900 Jewish passengers of the M.S. St. Louis, who were refused entry into Canada, and were forced to return to Europe. Subsequently, when the Nazis invaded Belgium, France, and the Netherlands in 1940, more than 250 of the passengers who were denied entry were murdered in the Holocaust. Additionally, many Canadians lost relatives, loved ones and friends in Nazi death camps.

As a result of Canada's wartime policies, nearly 2,300 men were interned as "enemy aliens" in camps across the country between 1940 and 1943. These were mostly Jewish refugees from Austria and Germany.

The Canadian experience of the Holocaust was also one of resilience and hope. In April 1945, Canadian forces liberated the Westerbork Transit Camp in the Netherlands, including 900 Dutch Jews who were still interned there.

As a nation, Canada has also been profoundly shaped by approximately 40,000 Holocaust survivors, who resettled across the country after the war. Today, Canadians remember the Holocaust, commemorate its victims, and renew the commitment to fight against racism, discrimination and antisemitism.

In 1985, the Government of Canada named Mr. Raoul Wallenberg as Canada’s first honorary citizen – and in 2001, January 17th was designated as Raoul Wallenberg Day, in honour of his heroism and courage. Mr. Wallenberg was a Swedish diplomat who the United Nations characterized as “the greatest humanitarian of the 20th century”.  In 1944, he saved approximately 100,000 Jews in six months in Hungary through the granting of “Schutzpasses” – diplomatic passports conferring protective immunity on their recipients.

In 2009, Canada became a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) and undertook Chairmanship of the IHRA in 2013. Throughout this Chairmanship, Canada initiated the ‘National Award for Excellence in Holocaust Education’, set forth a research guide regarding National Library and Archives materials and provided funding to support and preserve Canadian Holocaust survivor testimonies.

In 2010, Canada led the development of the Ottawa Protocol on Combating Antisemitism and became the first country to sign the Protocol in 2011. This international action plan will help nations measure their progress in the fight against antisemitism.

In 2020, Canada took a historic step and appointed its inaugural Special Envoy on Preserving Holocaust Remembrance and Combatting Antisemitism. In 2022, the Government of Canada committed to making the role of the Special Envoy a permanent position.

To continue the government’s work on combatting antisemitism, on July 21, 2021, the Government of Canada hosted the National Summit on Antisemitism. This summit helped legislators, policymakers, and program administrators better understand the pervasiveness of antisemitism in Canada and identify actions the Government of Canada can take to address key issues facing Jewish communities.

To push back against religious discrimination, hateful rhetoric and racism at home and abroad, the Government of Canada’s Budget 2022 proposes to provide $5.6 million over five years, with $1.2 million ongoing to support the Special Envoy on Preserving Holocaust Remembrance and Combatting Antisemitism. In addition, the Government of Canada has committed $20 million in 2022-23 to support the construction of the new Holocaust Museum in Montréal and an investment of $2.5 million for the Sarah and Chaim Neuberger Holocaust Education Centre.

Canada is committed to preserving the memory of the Holocaust and combatting antisemitism. In June 2022 at the IHRA plenary meeting in Stockholm, Sweden, Canada announced that it will double its annual contribution to the IHRA.

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