The story of the MS St. Louis is at once filled with hope, drama, dashed dreams and in the end tragedy. It is the story set within the backdrop of the modern era's most catastrophic genocide, the Holocaust. As we approach International Holocaust Remembrance Day the Story of the St. Louis should challenge us all. And the story of those who helped memorialize the tragedy should give us hope.
From the onset of Adolph Hitler's ascension to power in Germany in 1933 to the end of World War 2 six million Jewish men, women and children were murdered by the Nazis. Few survived the inferno; indeed two out of every three European Jews were massacred.
There were attempts to flee and one of the most dramatic of these is encapsulated in the story of the MS St. Louis. On May 27 1939, 937 German Jews purchased tickets onboard the MS St. Louis. Understanding Hitler's ultimate plan for European Jews these families, mothers, fathers, children, left their home in order to escape to the safety of Cuba.
With valid visas in hand they arrived in Havana a week later only to be refused entry. No amount of pleading with Cuban authorities helped. Entreaties to both the governments of the United States and Canada also failed. The ship was forced to return to Europe. Arrangements were made by the UK, France and Holland to take the passengers so that they would not have to return to Hitler's clutches.
When war erupted a few months later only those who were given refuge in Britain survived. Fully one third of the other passengers perished in Nazi death camps.
More than seventy years after this deplorable event the Canadian government engaged the Canadian Jewish Congress to help develop a memorial that would be both befitting to the tragedy and a reminder of the need to treat our fellow human being with respect.
So was born "The Wheel of Conscience" and the building of this unique monument is in itself a story that is truly Canadian.
Renowned architect and designer, Daniel Libeskind was chosen amongst the myriad of artists by an independent jury. His concept was unique. The monument was designed in the shape of a ship's wheel. Libeskind wanted to express universal values and lessons. As he explained;
"The words HATRED-RACISM-XENOPHOBIA-ANTISEMITISM are applied in relief to the face of the gears. The large wheel is moved first, by the smallest and fastest rotating gear of HATRED. This small gear transfers its force to the next larger gear of RACISM which moves a little slower. Then the force of RACISM turns the yet larger gear of XENOPHOBIA which moves yet even slower. Finally, the 3 gears combined, move the largest and most prominent gear of ANTISEMITISM. The rotating gears fracture and reassemble the image of the ship at set intervals."
It was to be the "canary in the mine" for future generations. And the choice by Libeskind as to whom best to build his lesson of history speaks volumes of who we are as Canadians. Of all the stylists who undertake such work world-wide Libeskind settled on a small, relatively unknown but brilliant Canadian company; Soheil Mosun LTD.
A custom architectural manufacturer located in Toronto, they are one of the world's most distinguished. If you have ever visited the observation deck at our Parliament Building in Ottawa's Peace Tower you may not know that it was Soheil Mosun which manufactured it along with the window system. Also in Ottawa it was Soheil Mosun who won the bid amongst world competitors to participate in the remediation project and patination of the exterior copper of the Bank of Canada.
And there is more, much more
• Soheil Mosun fabricated Canada's Walk of Fame Appreciation Awards
• The elevator cabs in First Canadian Place all developed and installed by Soheil Mosun
• Battery Park Conservancy Kiosks in Manhattan
• The large aluminum sculpture depicting wind currents for Pearson International Airport
• The bronze windows in Ottawa's Library of Parliament
These are just a few amongst the numerous projects undertaken by this company here in Canada and around the world.
It's an immigrant success story that began in 1973 when Soheil and Brigette Mosun arrived from Europe to resettle in Canada. With a small workshop and table saw purchased from Eaton's, they set up their first studio in their little Toronto apartment. Today their children Darius and Cyrus have built on this dream to establishing one of the world's most called upon architectural design and manufacturing firms.
Providing employment for dozens of tool-makers, machinists, welders, cabinetmakers, artists and industrial designers it is a true gem within Canada's manufacturing community.
Given its family background and immigrant success story Soheil Mosun stood as the perfect symbol in being chosen to build the "Wheel of Conscience". Indeed how many potential "Soheil Mosuns" could have been amongst the hundreds aboard the MS St. Louis that were murdered by Hitler's hordes? Their collaboration with Daniel Libeskind in producing this anti-racist lesson of history will stand as a true reminder of human fallibility.