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Canada’s Closed Doors

As the search for refuge grew increasingly desperate, Chaim Weizmann (President of the World Zionist Organization and later the first President of the State of Israel) observed that the world was divided into two: places where Jews could not live and places where they could not enter. Canada’s immigration policy was among the most antisemitic of all Western nations.

After 1923, Jews were only admitted to Canada if they were British or American, if they had close family in Canada, or if they could muster the political influence necessary to get a rarely issued entry permit.

In response to the rise of Nazism, the Canadian Jewish community, which constituted less than 1.5 percent of the population, lobbied for the admission of European Jews. The Canadian Jewish Congress, dormant since 1920, was revived in 1934, mostly in response to mounting antisemitism at home and abroad.

In July 1938, American President Franklin D. Roosevelt initiated an international conference on refugees in Evian, France. Canada sent representatives to the conference, only to ensure that it would not be put forward as a haven for Jews. With the exception of the tiny Dominican Republic, none of the 32 countries in attendance offered Jewish refugees from Germany and Austria any hope of sanctuary.

A dossier of images about Canada’s closed doors. Dossier

A collection of images relating to Canada’s closed doors.

“We Had to Leave”
in the classroom


Leaving Europe
Students learn about the rise of Nazism in Germany and Austria by engaging with the prewar photographs of former internees, and with internee video testimony about how life changed after the Nazis’ rise to power in 1933.


The Life That Was


Dossier: The Life That Was


Nazism in Germany & Austria

Complete Teachers’ Guide to Enemy Aliens
PDF 7.8 MB

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