The luxury liner MS St. Louis was first turned away by Cuba, then the United States and finally Canada before returning to Europe just before the outbreak of war.
Of the 900 German Jews aboard, almost a third died in the Holocaust.
The sculpture by Daniel Libeskind, called the Wheel of Conscience and unveiled in Halifax, Nova Scotia, is the centerpiece of a $476,000 national project aimed at educating Canadians.
"It tells the story of a tragedy, a dark period of Canadian history, where anti-Semitism and anti-immigration policies led to the murder of hundreds of people and the suffering of hundreds of others," said Libeskind.
The large memorial is a steel cylinder tipped on its side, with four spinning gears on its face.
The words hatred, racism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism appear on each gear. A map showing the voyage of the ship is etched on the edge of the cylinder.
The Halifax sculpture was commissioned by the Canadian Jewish Congress.
"We are here to speak for those whose voices were lost, and for those thousands of survivors who came to Canada after the war ... who wore their agony as undergarments beneath their everyday attire and helped to build this country," said Bernie Farber, head of the Canadian Jewish Congress.
Both Libeskind and Farber are children of Holocaust survivors.
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