The Jerusalem Post ePaper

Canada’s long failure to hold resident Nazis accountable

• By PER RUDLING and EFRAIM ZUROFF Per A. Rudling is an associate professor at Lund University and a Wallenberg Academy fellow. Dr. Efraim Zuroff is chief Nazi-hunter of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and director of the SWC’s Israel Office and Eastern Euro

Historical failures have a nasty habit of coming back to haunt the leaders of the countries in which they occurred. A good example would be the extremely embarrassing debacle, which took place this past September 22, in the Canadian House of Commons, which hosted Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who came to Canada to express his appreciation for the country’s support for Ukraine during the ongoing conflict with Russia.

One of the guests in the gallery was Yaroslav Hunka, a 98-year-old Ukrainian World War II veteran, who had immigrated to Canada after the war, and was living in the district that was represented by the speaker of the Parliament Anthony Rota. Rota acknowledged his presence in the gallery, and described him as a “Ukrainian hero” and “a Canadian hero.” In response, Hunka was given two rousing standing ovations to honor his service.

What most of the audience initially failed to realize, however, was that Hunka fought in the ranks of the Ukrainian 14th Waffen-SS Division Galicia. As such, he hardly fit the bill of a “freedom fighter.”

As a result, there were numerous protests from Jewish groups (including the Wiesenthal Center’s Canadian affiliate), as well as others, who were horrified that an individual who volunteered to pledge an oath of allegiance to Adolf Hitler and fought for a victory of the Third Reich, could be honored in the Canadian Parliament. As a result of this mishap, Rota resigned as speaker of the House of Commons, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau issued a public apology.

As shocking as this incident was for Canadians and many others, historians who have dealt with issues regarding immigration to Canada, and the country’s failed efforts to bring Holocaust perpetrators resident in Canada to justice, realize that what happened in Parliament was hardly surprising. A list of the milestones and factors that caused these failures explains the sources of the recent debacle.

In the immediate aftermath of World War II, all the Anglo-Saxon democracies were afraid that they would admit Eastern European Communists fleeing dictatorships, and those who collaborated with the Nazis had proven their anti-Communist credentials. In fact, it was easier for a war criminal to enter Canada than for a Holocaust survivor.

Thus, for example, in 1950, Canada let in 2,000 veterans of the Waffen-SS Galizien, following a cursory screening limited to 219 people, or 2.5% of the Ukrainian Waffen-SS veterans it admitted. Irving Abella, a history professor at York University, and the former president of the Canadian Jewish Congress, related that some of the prospective immigrants to Canada would show the immigration officials their SS tattoo and would be admitted on that basis.

Another important factor was the size of the Ukrainian minority already in Canada. As one of the country’s largest ethnic communities, it was much larger than the Jewish community at that time, and its political influence could not be ignored. Abella cited a conversation with Pierre Trudeau in which he was told by the former prime minister that Canada did not pursue Axis war criminals because “they were afraid of exacerbating relationships between Jews and Eastern European ethnic communities. So he didn’t do anything, and he admitted it quite openly.”

When the Canadian government finally established the Deschênes Commission in 1985, it was hampered by limitations instituted by the government that, for example, did not allow the names of the more than 20 cases in which prima facie evidence of war crimes was discovered to be made public.

To this day, the section chronicling this, known as the Rodal report, remains classified, and the Rimini List, listing 7,100 WaffenSS Galizien volunteers, remains off limits to scholars. It was thus never seriously vetted, neither by the Americans nor the British.

Another serious flaw in the work of the commission was its decision against consulting materials from Eastern Europe, at that point one-party Communist dictatorships. It also concluded that membership in the Ukrainian WaffenSS unit did not by itself constitute a crime and that the unit as a whole could not be guilty of war crimes. The names and identities of the people associated with war crimes remain beyond the limits of researchers.

Another flaw in the research of the Deschênes Commission was that it assumed that the Nazis who had been allowed to enter Canada were Germans and/or Austrians, but the overwhelming majority were Eastern European collaborators – Ukrainians, Lithuanians, Latvians, Estonians, and so on.

Despite all these problems, in 1987, Canada passed a law enabling criminal prosecution of Nazi war criminals resident in Canada. The first suspect put on trial was Imre Finta, a Hungarian gendarmerie officer, who was accused of deporting 8,617 Jews from the city of Szeged to Auschwitz.

He did not contest the prosecution’s claims regarding his role in the deportations, but he was acquitted by a jury that accepted his argument that he was merely following superior orders, a defense that had never ever been accepted in any court of law. Once his acquittal was upheld by the Canadian Supreme Court, the government had to abandon any effort to prosecute Holocaust perpetrators on criminal charges.

In 1994, the government changed its policy and decided to strip suspected Nazis of their Canadian citizenship and deport them from Canada. Ten former collaborators were stripped of their citizenship. Two left Canada voluntarily, and the eight others decided to fight against their deportation. Not a single one was deported. Helmut Oberlander, who served in Einsatzgruppe D, which murdered 90,000 Jews in Ukraine, was stripped of his citizenship four times but died in his home in 2021.

Efraim Zuroff personally submitted 252 names of suspects who immigrated to Canada, many of whom were hands-on murderers, only one of whom was indicted, but died on the day his trial was scheduled to start, more than 10 years after I submitted his name to the Canadian authorities.

The result of this is that only five people have ever been deported from Canada, and the country has, for many years, received a failing mark in the Wiesenthal Center’s annual reports. Like Helmut Oberlander, it is safe to assume that the 20, still classified names in the Rodal report, died peacefully in their homes, without facing legal consequences for war crimes committed.

All these episodes point at serious shortcomings in how Canada has dealt with this matter; the original screening as well as the Deschênes Commission. The Waffen-SS veterans, using the euphemism of the First Ukrainian Division of the Ukrainian National Army, a name they adopted in May 1945 were, for years, constituent members of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, an umbrella organization for Ukrainian nationalist organizations in Canada. In the community, they were regarded as heroes and were saluted on Remembrance


The youngest of these volunteers were born in 1927. Like Hunka, they are now in their late 90s so it’s safe to assume that none will face justice. Regarded as heroes in their communities, they seek social validation from Canadian society, spinning a narrative of a heroic legacy to pass on to future generations. Underfunded Canadian universities, not least institutions in the humanities, have discreetly obliged.

Waffen-SS volunteers have established numerous endowments in their own honor. At the University of Alberta, an endowment in honor of Yaroslav Hunka was launched in 2019, the latest addition to about a dozen other fellowships honoring Waffen-SS volunteers, administered by the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies (CIUS). In the wake of the Hunka scandal, the C$30,000 endowment fund in his honor was closed.

Verna Yiu, interim provost and vice president (academic) issued a statement in which her university ”recognizes and regrets the unintentional harm caused,” reaffirming its “commitment to address antisemitism in any of its manifestations, including in the ways the Holocaust continues to resonate in the present.”

Therefore, she declared, “The university is in the process of reviewing its general naming policies and procedures, including those for endowments, to ensure alignment with our values.” Some of the bequests honor far more senior Ukrainian collaborators, such as the very initiator of WaffenSS Galizien, Volodymyr Kubijovyc, whose endowment currently has a value of over C$436,000. To date, the university has not addressed the other, at least 11, endowments in honor of Waffen-SS veterans.

Almost 80 years after the Holocaust, there are very few war criminals left to face prosecution. Yet, the most recent scandal illustrates that even as few Waffen-SS veterans now remain, the conflict potential of Canada’s decision to open up its borders for Waffen-SS veterans has not been exhausted. What can be done to address this problematic legacy?

For starters, open the archives. Make the Rimini List available to researchers. Release the complete Rodal report and re-open the Deschênes Commission; address the issues that were inconclusively addressed in 1985-86. As the Communist regimes are long since gone, and Ukrainian, Polish, and Lithuanian archives are accessible, we are now in a position to honestly address a troubled past.

Removing publicly funded Canadian monuments to Nazi collaborators and stopping to venerate Waffen-SS volunteers at Canadian universities would be helpful first steps in this process; Canadian institutions of higher learning should not be used as platforms for Holocaust distortion.





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