The controversy surrounding the presence on Friday in the House of Commons of Yaroslav Hunka, a veteran who was part of an SS unit during World War II, raises the question: how did SS soldiers get to Canada?
In the years following the Allies’ victory in World War II, the question of the fate of the thousands of soldiers who fought in Hitler’s ranks arose.
Among them are 14 soldierse grenadier division of the Waffen-SS (1re Galicia Division), made up of Ukrainian soldiers who fought alongside Nazi Germany, mainly against Russian troops. The Waffen-SS was declared a “criminal organization” at the Nuremberg Trials.
“Those who serve the 14e Waffen-SS division in Galicia swore to Hitler and trained in Nazi doctrine, military review study notes Esprit de corps. Ukrainian officers were trained in SS facilities at the Dachau concentration camp. In fact, some members of the division noted in their memoirs that concentration camp prisoners had to remove their hats as a sign of respect for the Ukrainian SS. Members of the unit received SS tattoos under their left arms indicating their blood type. The leadership of the division included figures directly involved in the Holocaust. »
On May 31, 1950, the Canadian government adopted an order accepting men who had served in the Waffen-SS, following requests from the British government in this regard.
The question of the presence of war criminals in Canada led in 1986 to the creation of the Deschênes commission.
In its report, the commission of inquiry concluded that the number of war criminals who may be living in Canada is not a few thousand, as was usually reported in the media at the time, but between 400 and 600.
The commission of inquiry also concluded that “the members of the Galicia division were subjected to a security check before their admission to Canada”, and that “no evidence came to support the accusations of war crimes » brought against of division members.
In 2005, new documents released by the British government shed light on the identity of military prisoners the United Kingdom wanted to send abroad after the war.
“What little we know of their war records is poor,” wrote the British Home Office in 1948. “We still hope to get rid of the less desirable prisoners of war in the Ukraine by sending them to Germany or Canada ,” reports said. Esprit de corps.
Dominique Arel, chair of Ukrainian studies at the University of Ottawa, says the symbolism of having a soldier from an SS unit honored in Ottawa is “detrimental” for the Ukrainian cause.
It was a mistake. The Canadian government has no idea, but Ukrainian organizations should know.
Dominique Arel, chair of Ukrainian studies at the University of Ottawa
“In their minds, he (the man in Ottawa) is fighting Soviet aggression, but in the wrong uniform. When you see an SS logo, especially in a context where Putin calls Ukrainians Nazis and waged his war to de-Nazify Ukraine, it doesn’t help the cause, that’s clear. »
Mr. Arel added, however, to make a difference between these soldiers and the Nazi troops who exterminated more than 6 million Jews.
“One has the impression that if you serve in an SS unit, then you are a Nazi of the same type as a concentration camp guard… That is not correct. These men, who were very young, joined in this unit because they want to get military experience and want to get weapons to fight for the independence of Ukraine. And the independence against whom? Against the Soviet Union that occupied their region in 1939. Talking we are part of the region that has never been part of Russia. And the Soviet forces and the police and everyone did all kinds of atrocities, deportations and so on. They experienced the Soviet fear for two years. »
This unit could not deal with the Holocaust because the Holocaust was over in Galicia at the time they were operating, he said.
“They arrived in 1944 and there were no more Jews. Everything has been done before. (…) Even from a legal point of view, you cannot say that they are war criminals just because they are part of an organization that has committed atrocities in the past or almost anywhere in Europe. We need to see what this individual and his unit are doing.