Mitigating shame


By Geoffrey Paul
January 20, 2011
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Daniel Liebeskind has designed one of his most poignant memorials, a miniature in scale when compared with his Berlin Jewish Museum or his plans for the rehabilitation of the site of the World Trade Centre in New York. The “Wheel of `Conscience” as he calls it is reminiscent of a ship’s steering wheel. At its centre is a mesh of revolving gears as would be found in an engine room, individually bearing the words hatred, xenophobia, racism and antisemitism. On the reverse are the names of more than 900 German Jews who sought refuge from the Nazis in 1939 aboard the liner St Louis. Men, women and children, they were waved away from ports in Cuba, the United States and Canada. The US had a patrol boat make sure none tried to swim ashore. Over 250 perished in the Holocaust, after their return to Europe.

What is as interesting as the monument itself is that it has been installed at Pier 21 in the port of Halifax, the Canadian harbour which, on the orders of the Ottawa government, following the example of President `Roosevelt in the United States, denied the asylum-seekers refuge. The Canadian immigration minister of the time wrote a note which spat “The attempt of Jews to get into Canada reminds me a great deal of what I have seen on the farm at hog-feeding time when they are all trying to get their feet into the trough at the same time.” The monument was commissioned by the Canadian Jewish Congress with a major grant from the Canadian department in charge of immigration. It goes some way to mitigating that department’s shame and reminding Canadians of something they would rather forget.

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