Crafted from steel and carved in a never-ending circle, a monument to be built by world-renowned architect Daniel Libeskind will be the first Canadian tribute to the MS St. Louis, a ship carrying Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany that the Canadian government turned away in 1939.
The ship's journey is a black mark for Canada, because a third of its 900 occupants later died in Nazi concentration camps. A lack of public awareness about the incident led the Canadian Jewish Congress to hold a contest to design a monument that would convey the pain of the experience and the lessons to be learned, said the CJC's chief executive officer, Bernie Farber.
The winner was Mr. Libeskind's Wheel of Conscience, which turns electrically and has four gears meant to resemble both a ship's engine and the "gears of the cynical bureaucracy," the project presentation reads. On the gears are the words Hatred, Racism, Xenophobia and Antisemitism in crimson type, from smallest to largest. The story of the ship rims the exterior.
It stood out from the other two dozen or so submissions offered by top-calibre designers since last December, Mr. Farber said.
"[Mr. Libeskind]understands this viscerally," he said. "When he presented before the jury [in July] that came out so clearly. His passion around this project was so there, it was so present."
The memorial is one of the smallest design projects spearheaded by Mr. Libeskind - who is the mastermind of the massive, jagged-edged Jewish Museum in Berlin and the Royal Ontario Museum's Michael Lee-Chin Crystal - but it's one of the most important, the architect told Mr. Farber.
Mr. Libeskind is the son of Holocaust survivors, as is Mr. Farber, who said he wanted to mark the story of the MS St. Louis because he feels it is all but absent from the public consciousness in Canada.
The CJC, as part of a national project about the ship called None is Too Many, after a quote from one of the Canadian politicians who decided to turn the St. Louis away, sought federal funding and received $500,000 from Ottawa.
The federal government hasn't apologized for refusing to allow the passengers on the St. Louis to land and the Jewish community won't ask for one because it's improper in the Jewish tradition, Mr. Farber said.
The grant and help with the project is an act of t'shuva, which translates from the Hebrew as showing a form of repentance.
"That can come in many ways," Mr. Farber said. "It can come by way of exactly this, the government acting to memorialize and demonstrate what happened then and [acknowledge]that the government was at fault."
The Wheel of Conscience will have a permanent home in the Rudolph P. Bratty Permanent Exhibition at Pier 21, Canada's Immigration Museum, in Halifax, where the ship would have docked had it been allowed to do so.
While the monument will be built to travel, there are no immediate plans to bring it to other cities, Mr. Farber said.
It will be finished by the end of this year or early next, he said.