OTTAWA - A memorial commemorating the fateful voyage of the MS St. Louis, a ship of Jewish refugees that Canada and other nations turned away during the Second World War, is in storage awaiting a new home.
The Wheel of Conscience, designed by renowned architect Daniel Libeskind, himself a child of Holocaust survivors, was unveiled just three years ago at the Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 in Halifax.
The moving monument — featuring gears meant to symbolize both a ship and the machinations of a government that decided, infamously, “none is too many” when it came to how many Jews fleeing the Holocaust could enter Canada — will no longer be there when the museum reopens after renovations are finished next year.
The museum and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs are working together to find a new home for the monument, which is currently housed in a warehouse in Toronto after being sent out for repairs this summer.
“We want as many people as possible to see it, so we are going to work together to find a place where the most people can see it, and see it work, because it really does need to work,” Marie Chapman, CEO of the Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 said Monday.
Chapman noted the St. Louis tragedy is still featured in the new design for the museum.
Canadian Heritage Minister Shelly Glover said through a spokeswoman she is pleased work is being done “to have this very important memorial back on display as soon as possible”.
Several people involved in the original decision to create a monument to the St. Louis — which was rejected by Canada on June 7, 1939 when it was about two days away from Halifax after being turned away by Cuba and the United States — were upset to learn last week it has been sitting in storage since being repaired by Toronto-based builders Soheil Mosun in June.
Sidney Zoltak, co-president of the Canadian Association of Holocaust Survivors and Descendants, said he and his organization feels very strongly the monument should remain at Pier 21.
“If it is not there, then it doesn’t have any kind of impact. It doesn’t have a story and there is no reason for it to be anywhere else. You might as well take it and throw it out,” Zoltak said Monday.
In his remarks at the unveiling of the monument, Jason Kenney, who was then federal immigration minister, captured the symbolic importance of locating the monument at Pier 21 in his speech at the time.
“Had Canada . . . opened its doors of refuge to those passengers fleeing the violent anti-Semitism of the Nazi regime, it is probable that those 620 children, women and men would have walked down the gangplank right here and passed through these halls . . . .” Kenney said January 20, 2011.
But both Chapman and Shimon Fogel, CEO of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, said that despite the Libeskind design being chosen democratically by a selection committee, the museum location might never have been ideal.
They note the original space chosen to display it meant the back part of the monument — where the names of ship passengers are inscribed — was inaccessible to the public, that it has needed repairs more than once and that it had to be unplugged when it started producing a foul-smelling black substance.
“Where the process failed was in ensuring that some feasibility (study) was done about this kind of an exhibit, given the parameters or the constraints of the geographic location that it was proposed for,” Fogel said.
Fogel said possible locations include the newly opened Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg and the site of the future National Holocaust Monument in Ottawa.
Builder Darius Mosun, who said his company wants to be left out of the controversy, confirmed Monday the monument has been “continuously running up until now with no problems whatsoever” since it was repaired this summer and added that no one has come to inspect it.