Andriy Semotiuk, NP-UN Director.
The presence of Yaroslav Hunka, a veteran of the Galicia Waffen-SS Division that fought in World War II, in Canada’s House of Commons at the invitation of the then Speaker for a special address given by Ukraine’s President, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, renewed claims that Canada allowed Nazi war criminals to enter the country following World War II and have caused a great deal of public angst. Despite ongoing denunciations of veterans of the Division by those who allege that the country has inappropriately dealt with them, numerous prior independent government reviews of the allegations have established that they are unfounded. This is particularly so because at the root of the controversy is Moscow’s long-standing strategy of creating discord and animosity between Ukrainians and Jewish people, most recently to deflect attention from its invasion of Ukraine and its support of the enemies of Israel. What is more, Moscow seeks to bury the fact that the USSR collaborated with Nazi Germany by deflecting attention away from its role in the initial stages of World War II.
No rational person today will deny that during World War II six million Jewish people perished in the Holocaust at the hands of Hitler and the Nazis. No reasonable person would deny that any war criminal from that era or since should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law in Canada, the United States or elsewhere in the Western World. We all have a stake in the pursuit of World War II war criminals. That much is beyond dispute.
It is a matter of indisputable fact that the demarcation line between good and evil does not run along ethnic or national lines. Measured against a standard of perfection all nationalities that were drawn into World War II included members that came up short. There were Nazi collaborators who acted inhumanely among all the countries that were allied with Nazi Germany during the war and among most other nationalities in Europe including Ukrainians and Russians. World War II required millions of people to make unspeakably hard life-and-death decisions. Indeed, anyone who reads the book The Escape Artist by Jonathan Freedland, or other authoritative books on the Holocaust, will have to admit that albeit for good strategic reasons, even some Jewish people had to work with the Nazis while in Judenrats or as kapos in Nazi death camps. The point is that all of us need to view the actions of people in the context of that war properly. All nationalities involved could have done better.
Now let us turn to the allegations being levelled against the Galicia Division and Canada’s history of dealing with claims of Nazi war criminals and collaborators being allowed into the country.
When Discussing War Criminals Context Is Essential
Any review of the political events and the actors that took part in World War II, in this case the Galicia Division, needs to start with the signing of the Molotov Ribbentrop Pact between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union on August 23rd, 1939. In that pact, the Soviet Union allied itself with Nazi Germany agreeing to carve up Poland and together occupy other countries in Central Europe. On September 1st, 1939, Nazi Germany invaded Poland. Not even two weeks later, the Soviet Union followed suit also invading Poland from the east. That was the beginning of World War II. The two powers remained allied for the next two years during which time Hitler led the German army on a rampage across Western Europe. Meanwhile Stalin, his ally, invaded Finland and the Baltic States and it must be emphasized, supported Hitler with massive shipments of natural resources, grain, other vital foodstuffs, and military supplies.
A further key to putting events in World War II into context was that in the years that followed 1939, nine other countries allied with Nazi Germany. These included Fascist Italy on June 10th, 1940, Vichy France on July 10th, 1940, and Imperial Japan on September 27th,1940. Other countries followed. Hungary joined the Axis alliance on November 20th,1940. Romania joined the Axis on November 23rd, 1940. Slovakia followed suit and joined the Axis alliance on November 24th, 1940. Bulgaria joined the Axis on March 1st,1941. Yugoslavia joined the Axis on March 25th, 1941. The Independent State of Croatia joined the Axis on June 15th, 1941. By June 1941 no fewer than nine states were allied and collaborating with Nazi Germany—the Soviet Union leading all of them.
Hitler Betrays Its Ally The Soviet Union
On June 22nd, 1941, Nazi Germany attacked the Soviet Union, and their two-year alliance was broken. In the years that followed Nazi Germany pushed back the Red Army to Stalingrad. In those years, because of the demands of the war Germany began experiencing a shortage in manpower. Between 1943 and 1945, 24 non-German divisions were formed in various Nazi-occupied European countries due to this shortage of German manpower. Among them were Russia (with three divisions bearing the flags and symbols of today’s Russia), Holland, Denmark, Belgium, Italy, France, Norway, India, Hungary, Croatia, Latvia, Ukraine, and others. All these military units were designated as Waffen-SS divisions.
Like all the men who served in the regular German army, the members of the Waffen SS Divisons also had to swear an oath of allegiance to Hitler. As history professor Robert Magocsi of the University of Toronto pointed out, that alone did not turn them into Nazis just like swearing allegiance to the King does not turn Canadian soldiers into monarchists. These Waffen-SS divisions participated in military operations only, and not in police actions. While they were subordinated to Himmler who was Reichsführer-SS, they were not part of the Einsatzgruppen, the paramilitary death squads, or the Gestapo, nor those who were camp guards or in the police who did the killing of civilians nor were they assistants to these groups. What is more, as University of Manitoba history Professor Myroslav Shkandrij, who wrote In the Maelstrom, a book on the Galicia Division pointed out, Himmler issued a specific direction to the effect that Ukrainians could not be members of the true SS or be referred to as such.
Ukrainians Did Not Have a State To Support Them During the War
It must be noted that during the war, Ukrainians did not have a state of their own to look out for their interests and to coordinate national resistance to Nazi and Soviet occupations. During the war, Ukrainian lands were under occupation by various foreign powers: Poland, the USSR, Romania and Nazi Germany. From the very outset of the Nazi invasion of Ukraine, over two million Ukrainians were taken into German custody and sent west to serve as Ostarbeiters, essentially slave workers on farms and in factories.
Millions of families lost loved ones, many young men and women in their teens, were torn from their homes by German soldiers never to see their families again. Ukrainians in Galicia also witnessed Jewish people being rounded up on the streets destined for death camps and those who attempted escape were shot. They saw the hanging of Ukrainians in street squares for helping Jewish people, they learned of the execution of their friends for any sign of protest or for employing Jewish workers. They witnessed the mass arrests of Ukrainian nationalists by the Gestapo within days of the proclamation of Ukraine’s independence on June 30, 1941 and their incarceration in Nazi concentration camps. They observed how Ukrainians were beaten for trying to ride in a train carriage marked “Nur für Deutsche,” that is, “Only for Germans.”
By the time of the formation of the Galicia Division, the Shoa was essentially over in Galicia and evidence of Germany’s imminent defeat was apparent by the westward flow of German soldiers from the east. In the case of Ukraine, after much debate, in April 1943 the Ukrainian Central Committee located in Krakow, Poland acceded to the German “proposal” of forming a Ukrainian division to be officially called “14 Waffen Grenadier Division der SS, Galizische Nr. 1” – or the “Galicia Division.” It was formally created on April 28th,1943 joining the other 23 Waffen-SS Divisions fighting in the German ranks. It was defeated in the Battle of Brody by the Red Army and an attempt to reformat it started in August 1944 to get it combat ready for January 1945. But it saw little action thereafter until the war ended in May of that year.
Anything to Defeat the USSR
The motivation behind forming a Ukrainian military unit within Germany’s armed forces was greatly influenced by the experience of Ukrainians in World War I. At the beginning of World War I, Ukrainians living in western Ukrainian provinces under the Austrian Empire were able to form their own regiment, the Sich Riflemen (Sichovi Striltsi), within the Austro-Hungarian armed forces. The war in the east ended with the front lines in Ukraine, and soldiers and officers of the Sichovi Striltsi soon formed the core of the nascent army of the newly declared Ukrainian National Republic (UNR) in 1917. These experienced and disciplined soldiers helped the UNR Army to fight off the invading Soviet Russian and Polish armies for three years (1918-1920) despite a total lack of support from the West. Ukrainians were hoping to replicate the experience of the Sich Riflemen at the end of World War II and thereby create a new Ukrainian state.
As World War II was ending, as Timothy Snyder in his book The Bloodlands points out, Ukrainians in Galicia faced some impossible choices. Overtures from Ukrainian political leaders for help from Western Allies had fallen on deaf ears. Indeed, no government showed any interest in supporting Ukrainian aspirations to establish an independent Ukrainian state nor to come to their aid in any other way. Choices were limited for Ukrainians who sought a free independent Ukrainian state. As the war ground on in 1943 the choices were grim. One could do nothing and await arrest or forced recruitment into the army or police forces of Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union. One could join the Red Army and serve with the 7 million Ukrainians who did that primarily in Eastern Ukraine. One could join the underground partisan army without arms, weapons or training and try to fight both the Nazis and the Soviets without help from the Allies or anyone else. Or one could join the German army and try to get the arms, weapons, and military training necessary to prepare for a moment when a new Ukrainian state could emerge.
For thousands of young Ukrainians in Galicia in particular, the thought of allowing the Red Army to return there was simply unbearable. That was because they had witnessed the slaughter of some 20,000 of their leaders and intellectuals by the Soviet NKVD secret police two years earlier in the war. In addition, they had learned from Ukrainian Red Army soldiers about the magnitude, harshness and methods employed in Stalin’s forced famine in 1932-1933 later known as the Holodomor in which over 4 million Ukrainians perished less than ten years earlier. Even before the appearance of the USSR, Tsarist Russian authoritarian rule had subjugated and plundered Eastern Ukraine for over three centuries. To them the only viable option appeared to be to join the retreating German army until the German Third Reich collapsed and then to form a Ukrainian army to defend a new emerging and independent Ukrainian state.
Forming a Future Ukrainian Core Army
The Ukrainian Central Committee in Krakow therefore surmised if World War II ended with Allied forces of the West engaging the Soviet Union, then a highly trained, well-equipped fighting force would be an effective partner to fight with the Allies to create an independent Ukrainian state. Indeed, the most important motivation for Ukrainian youth to join the Division was the memory of USSR atrocities in Soviet occupied Ukraine between September 1939 and the beginning of July 1941. By 1943 when the Nazi German army was retreating from the Red Army, Ukrainians had suffered tremendous losses during their occupation under both. By the war’s end some eight million Ukrainians would perish. That was more than the combined total military deaths of the U.S., Canada, other countries in the British Commonwealth, France, Italy, and Germany.
Nazis were members of the National Socialist German Workers Party (Nazis) that advocated totalitarian government, German territorial expansion, antisemitism, and Aryan supremacy. Is it reasonable to contend that Ukrainian veterans of the Galicia Division, who were regarded by Nazi Germany as Untermenschen, (i.e. Sub humans who were to serve Nazi Germany as beasts of burden tilling the soil for their overlords) volunteered to join the Waffen-SS because they were Nazis? Clearly not. Their motivation was a free, sovereign and democratic Ukraine. The patriotic young Ukrainian men who volunteered to take up arms against the hated Red Army and solely against the Red Army, even if it meant joining a German military formation to do so, were anything but Nazis. In hindsight, the Galician Division may not have been the best option for Ukrainians to take. But it was agreed that the Ukrainian Division was to be deployed for service only on the Eastern Front against the Soviets. Also, they were to have their own priests as chaplains shielding them from the worst of the Nazi propaganda. The Ukrainian Central Committee also had hopes that this enterprise might help improve the treatment of Ukrainians under Nazi occupation who as was already pointed out were treated as Untermenschen.
However, Nazi Germany did not improve the treatment of Ukrainians due to the creation of the Galician Division nor did the hoped-for war against the Soviet Union at the end of World War II come about. There is evidence that soldiers from the Galicia Division stole weapons from its arsenal and passed them on to partisans fighting against Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. It is important to note that before the end of World War II, the Division became the core of what was then termed the Ukrainian National Army, commanded by General Pavlo Shandruk, a highly decorated military man and hero in Poland. It is worth asking in this regard, if the Division were actually filled with Nazis and war criminals, how is it possible that Poland, which is well aware of the Division’s genesis and activities during WWII, would celebrate a Ukrainian General and Division Commander, as a national war hero?
Internment of the Galicia Division and Post War Developments
The Galicia Division eventually surrendered to the British and Americans on May 8-11, 1945. Members of the Galicia Division were then interned at the end of the Second World War near Rimini, Italy. Records show they were screened there by the British, Americans, Canadians, and even the Soviets. No war crimes were uncovered, nor any suggestion, intimation, or any claim was ever made of any wartime criminality. All of which, it must be emphasized, took place when events were still recent, memories were fresh, and living witnesses were available in large numbers to recount all they had endured with respect to actual war crimes committed against them or those close to them. Later the veterans of the Division were relocated to the UK, where they were monitored for several more years before being cleared to live in the UK or to emigrate to other countries. Concerns were raised when veterans of this Division were seeking permission to come to Canada in 1950. According to a history collected by Isajiw, Boshyk, and Senkus about the Division and published in 1992 by the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies at the University of Alberta, the Division members were then investigated by L.D. Wilgress, the High Commissioner of Canada to the United Kingdom. The Canadian government afforded an opportunity to the Canadian Jewish Congress to provide a list of names of any members they found objectionable and arranged to screen each member of the Division. The Congress offered up a list of 94 names that were checked against the list of Division members and all were then cleared as groundless and unsubstantiated.
The Deschenes Commission
In the 1970s the Jewish and Ukrainian diaspora communities in North America started working together to support Soviet political prisoners and the emigration of Jewish people from the USSR to Israel. In response to these efforts, in the late 1970s the KGB successfully orchestrated a disinformation campaign deliberately stoking tensions between the Jewish and Ukrainian diasporas by alleging the presence of “thousands” of “Nazi war criminals” in Canada and the USA. Details of this Soviet campaign were recently revealed in Professor Lubomyr Luciuk’s book Operation Payback based on newly researched Soviet and KGB archival materials. These allegations of Nazi war criminals in Canada were thoroughly examined in 1984-1987 by the Commission of Inquiry on War Criminals headed by Mr. Justice Jules Deschênes. The Commission concluded that reports about “thousands of Nazi war criminals in Canada” were “grossly exaggerated” and noted how there was no evidence of wartime wrongdoing on the part of the veterans of the Galicia Division.
The Deschenes Commission Report which is openly available to anybody who cares to find it online lists more than 30 occasions over the course of 15 years from 1971 to 1986 in which allegations of the existence of war criminals and war collaborators in Canada were made. In four instances the allegations were made by Sol Littman. In two instances each, the allegations were made by Simon Wiesenthal, Robert Kaplan, and Irwin Cotler. On 10 of those 30 occasions the Toronto Star carried news reports about the allegations. On five occasions it was the Globe and Mail. These allegations were repeatedly made even though the Galicia Division had already been cleared 1) by the Joint Allied review in Italy, 2) the UK review in Great Britain, 3) the Canadian review by its Consular officer in the UK before the members were allowed to come to Canada, as well as 4) each individual’s record was reviewed by immigration officials on entry to Canada. Despite all these reviews that resulted in clearances, the continuing allegations and publicity against the members of the Galicia Division resulted in another investigation by the Commission of Inquiry on War Criminals headed by Mr. Justice Jules Deschênes appointed by the federal government of Prime Minister Brian Mulroney.
In its final report the Commission of Inquiry on War Criminals stated:
“The Commission accordingly FINDS that:
54- Between 1971 and 1986, public statements by outside interveners concerning alleged war criminals residing in Canada have spread increasingly large and grossly exaggerated figures as to their estimated number.”
Later, the Commission reports:
“The Commission accordingly FINDS that:
• 56- The Galicia Division (14.Waffengrenadierdivision der SS [gal. Nr. 11) should not be indicted as a group.
• 57- The members of the Galicia Division were individually screened for security purposes before admission to Canada.
• 58- Charges of war crimes against members of the Galicia Division have never been substantiated, either in 1950 when they were first preferred, or in 1984 when they were renewed, or before this Commission.
• 59- Further, in the absence of evidence of participation in or knowledge of specific war crimes, mere membership in the Galicia Division is insufficient to justify prosecution.
• 60- No case can be made against members of the Galicia Division for revocation of citizenship or deportation since the Canadian authorities were fully aware of the relevant facts in 1950 and admission to Canada was not granted them because of any false representation, or fraud, or concealment of material circumstances.
• 61- In any event, of the 217 officers of the Galicia Division denounced by Mr. Simon Wiesenthal to the Canadian government, 187 (i.e., 86 per cent of the list)never set foot in Canada, 11 have died in Canada, 2 have left for another country, no prima facie case has been established against 16 and the last one could not be located.”
Given these findings of the Commission, the recent accusations made again against members of the Galicia Division, in some instances by the same individuals mentioned earlier, should be considered defamatory since they have been determined to be unfounded, unsubstantiated and not supported by any evidence from the accusers when they were given the opportunity before the Commission to provide such evidence and they failed to do so.
Appearance of Mr. Hunka in Canada’s Parliament
Yaroslav Hunka was introduced in Parliament when President Zelenskyy visited Ottawa on September 22nd, 2023. He appears to be one of the men who came to Canada as part of the Galicia Division. Like the other veterans of the Division, there is no evidence at this moment of any war crimes that he personally committed. A biographical essay published online about his World War II life, states Hunka joined the Division as a young man, 18 years of age, to fight for a free Ukraine. The biographical essay published his life story openly and publicly. It has been available for anyone to read.
Virtually everyone agrees pointing out Mr. Hunka’s presence in the public gallery in Parliament and portraying him as a war hero in World War II was a mistake.
Anthony Rota as Speaker of the House paid for this mistake by resigning. More than anything else, that event demonstrated that not only Mr. Rota but all of us could improve our knowledge of the complexities of World War II history. It was clear that introducing
Mr. Hunka was opening a door into a storm of controversy about World War II that was unnecessary on that occasion.
Following the appearance of Mr. Hunka in Canada’s Parliament some Polish leaders suggested that there was a war crime at Huta Pieniacka that involved the Galicia Division. In his comments about this event and in his book In the Maelstrom Dr. Myroslav Shkandriy, Professor Emeritus and former Head of the Department of German Studies and Slavic Studies, University of Manitoba discusses the issue of criminality that took place there. Professor Shkandriy’s research established that the Galicia Division was not involved in this matter. The relevant offenders were not under the Division’s control or command and had no Ukrainian officers. If Poland wants to commence legal proceedings arising out of the Huta Pieniacka events it needs to direct its efforts against those men and not against veterans of the Galicia Division.
Recently, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu announced that Russia will be seeking to extradite Mr. Hunka for war crimes. As mentioned earlier, it has already been established that Mr. Hunka, as a member of the Galicia Division was investigated four times and cleared of committing any war crimes. Mr. Shoigu’s announcement was particularly galling because of Russia’s long history of committing war crimes and lack of accountability for them both as the successor state of the Soviet Union and on its own.
Russia has never atoned for starting World War II by allying with Hitler and invading Poland. Russia has never answered for the two years it was Nazi Germany’s principal collaborator providing military aid and support for Hitler’s armies from 1939 to 1941. Russia has never answered for the Holodomor in 1932-1933 during which at least four million Ukrainians perished from a man-made artificial famine imposed on them by Stalin. Russia has never answered for the massacre at Katyn Forest where it killed 20,000 Polish officers and a few hundred Jewish leaders including the Chief Rabbi of Poland in the spring of 1940 claiming instead that Germany was responsible.
Furthermore, regarding the current Russian war in Ukraine, Russia has yet to answer for the genocidal acts and war crimes it committed in Bucha, Irpin, Mariupol and elsewhere. In short, Russia continually makes allegations against others, but refuses to take responsibility for its own crimes. It pretends to be a country that abides by the ‘rule of law’ but in fact is a country that is ruled by those in power who ‘rule by law.’
In short, it is ironic that Russia seeks to extradite Yaroslav Hunka on the pretext that he committed war crimes when as a member of the Galicia Division he has been cleared many times of those allegations when actually Russia deserves to be prosecuted for war crimes it has committed. Russia knows there is no treaty with Canada that could lead to a successful extradition. Shoigu’s announcement is pure Russian propaganda.
President Zelenskyy’s Take
It is true that President Zelenskyy of Ukraine has spoken out against the Galicia Division for joining in the war effort with Nazi Germany. The statement of the Ukrainian government on point is that, “There was no Ukrainian interest in the Nazis’ attempts to use people in occupied territories for their own purposes. The defeat of Nazism was a victory for our people. Ukrainians, along with other nations, fought for the right to live.” That is a legitimate viewpoint that can be held about its role in World War II. But that was only half the story.
As Timothy Snyder in his book Bloodlands and other historians point out, the Soviet Union also posed an existential threat to Ukrainians, as for example with the imposition of the Holodomor on Ukraine. As pointed out, those who support the Division argue that Ukrainians who joined it did so not to help the Nazis but to fight for a free Ukraine. Were Ukrainians who fought in the Red Army not also in a similar situation? No doubt they opposed Nazi Germany, but were they really dedicated communists committed to Moscow’s rule over Ukraine? That is an argument that can also legitimately be raised.
However, again, the key facts about the Division are that no war crimes were committed by any members of it and that those members who came to Canada were vetted and cleared on several occasions.
Most recently, Peter Savaryn, a long-time leader in Canadian politics and in its Ukrainian community was attacked in the media and elsewhere for being a “Nazi.” The heinous attack on his character merits special consideration for several reasons.
Firstly, Peter Savaryn passed away in 2017. He is no longer here to defend himself or his legacy.
Secondly, Peter Savaryn never hid the fact that he was a member of the Division. Like all the other members of the Division he was cleared of any war crimes. His conduct was never brought into question in Italy, in the UK, nor when he came to Canada. He was never challenged before the Deschenes Commission inquiry for his past. Indeed, he was never challenged or faced public derision for his wartime conduct throughout the 70 years that he lived in Canada.
Thirdly, since he was an accomplished citizen of Canada and was publicly recognized for his contributions by being awarded the highest honours attainable in the country, his memory deserved to have been treated with respect and decency. Any accusations about his alleged misconduct ought to have been made with surgical precision to avoid recklessness in slandering his legacy.
But that was not the way the attacks on his character were handled. Instead, he has been unfairly vilified and defamed by the Canadian news media and the office of the Governor General of Canada. They accepted the vilest defamatory slurs slung at his memory without verifying the facts or checking the record and thereby mistakenly and regrettably contending his hard-won national stature was undeserved.
The truth was quite different.
Peter Savaryn grew up in Galicia and was too young to join the Division until its latter years when, after its defeat by the Red Army, it was reconstituted in August 1944. It was only then that he was old enough to join the Division and even then, he never saw any serious combat. Shortly after he joined, the members of the Division were interned by the Allies in Italy.
Unlike Mr. Hunka who I do not know, I knew Peter Savaryn very well. I can say without reservation he was never a Nazi or a Fascist and never ideologically supported Nazi Germany nor the Fascists. He condemned Hitler and Stalin for their monstrous deeds and for being the war criminals they were. Indeed, as a lawyer he upheld the rule of law and worked tirelessly for those who supported democracy at home and abroad during his life in Canada.
Savaryn’s Massive Contribution to Canada and Ukraine
During his life, Peter Savaryn was recognized for his love for and dedication to both Canada and Ukraine. His work in building the University of Alberta through gathering contributions of millions of dollars, his work in establishing the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies and helping it become a world class educational institution, his help in establishing the bilingual school program in Alberta, his defense of dissidents persecuted by the Soviet Union, his championing the creation of the Canadian Foundation for Ukrainian Studies, his Presidency of the World Congress of Free Ukrainians, his Presidency of the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta during the Lougheed years, his becoming Chancellor of the University of Alberta and his Order of Canada award all reflected his tireless community work, his worthiness and his accomplishments.
His legacy has been smeared by the unfounded vicious attacks on his life that do not deserve the attention they have received. His accomplishments were discarded by Canadians who should have known better. Why did Canada’s news media jump on this bandwagon of condemnation? What happened to investigative journalism? Why did the Governor General condemn this man before asking the federal government for an assessment of him? Why was the federal government that, after all, approved the transfer of the Galicia Division veterans to Canada and was involved in the Deschenes hearings, not fully consulted? Where was the Department of Justice in considering what should be done? Why did the University of Alberta not consult with its own history department before condemning him?
Peter Savaryn’s legacy has been shredded to pieces by those who did not do their homework. Instead, they accepted and hastily acted on false information. It is too late to prevent the damage that was done, but there is a lesson to be learned for the future. At the very least, Peter Savaryn’s positive memory deserves to be reinstated.
Fighting the Past Instead of Focusing on Today’s War
In closing, let me add that virtually all the persons ostensibly of concern to those who are still searching for possible war criminals in Canada have long since passed away. By comparison, an actual genocide is taking place this very moment in Ukraine that merits our attention. Diverting our attention from the genocide taking place in Ukraine today is exactly what Moscow wants as it stokes negative emotions about these issues among people in Canada and elsewhere as it sows its misinformation worldwide.
Why Reopening Deschenes Files Makes No Sense
As for calls to open the Deschenes files, the entire report was published and is available to the public. What is being demanded is access to the raw data related to those individuals who were investigated but in whose cases the Deschenes Commission decided that there was insufficient evidence to recommend prosecution. For that reason, the Deschenes Commission recommended that the files be kept closed.
Those who made allegations that there were war criminals in Canada were invited to present their evidence to the Commission. They demurred. No evidence was proffered by the Wiesenthal Center, by Mr. Littman, by Mr. Kaplan nor by Mr. Cotler to back up their allegations. But now some of these same men complain that the Commission was flawed. However, even IF there was reason to believe the Commission erred, it is virtually inevitable that any prosecution would go nowhere.
There was no prima facie case to be prosecuted in each instance. In short, re-opening previously investigated files based on the same allegations made by the same people who were previously found to have exaggerated their claims and who were unable to provide the evidence needed to support their claims after being invited to do so, would be senseless and harmful.
The problem is that virtually all the relevant individuals who were investigated are now dead or not capable of withstanding a trial. However, the descendants of the relevant individuals would have their names publicly revealed and besmirched and they would face public opprobrium over their relationship to alleged former “suspected Nazis.” Children and grandchildren should not be punished for the alleged or suspected conduct of their forefathers. That is a price too high to pay to allow the closed files of the Deschenes Commission to be reopened.
One might well ask just how many times do the same allegations from the same people reported by the same news sources have to be retried before we can finally dismiss them as utterly groundless?
Why the Silence About All The Others
In slinging their allegations against the Galicia Division war veterans, the accusers speak of them as the “Nazi” Galician Division, even though, as has been pointed out already, foreigners were not allowed to join the German army nor the Nazi party since they were not Germans nor of the Aryan race. They speak of “Hitler’s” Galician Division as if none of the 14 million other soldiers who fought for Nazi Germany swore an oath to Hitler and only as if soldiers of the Galicia Division did. The truth was all the soldiers did. They speak of the Galicia Waffen-SS Division as if it was not a military unit but rather a part of the Nazi SS Blackshirt police units who led the persecution of Jewish people and others in Nazi Germany. The opposite was the case, since the Galicia Division served only on the war front principally against the Red Army and never as a police unit.
In condemning the veterans of the Galicia Division, the accusers appear to be unaware that life during World War II required unspeakable compromises by even the most principled actors out of a desire to do what was best for their people. What is worse, based on this ongoing controversy some right-wing fanatics have begun gathering around monuments built to honour Galicia veterans. They wrongly suppose that the accusations being made against the Division have credence and, in some way, correspond to the vile views that such fringe groups hold.
For those who denounce the members of the Galicia Division today, we might ask why they are silent about others who demonstrably, categorically and without reservation supported Nazi Germany? Where are their denunciations of the Soviet Union for helping Hitler rampage all over Western Europe? Where are their voices denouncing the support of Fascist Italy and its alliance with Nazi Germany? Where are their voices regarding the conduct of Imperial Japan or Vichy France? There were some 500,000 soldiers in the Waffen-SS divisions in addition to some 13 million Wehrmacht soldiers that served Germany during World War II. Why are their voices silent about them? The reason is these allegations against the Galicia Division are fabricated by the Soviet Union as Operation Payback and now continue to be advanced by Russia and promoted through social media and Russia’s supporters to detract attention from Russia’s war on Ukraine.
In short, the presence of the veterans of the Galicia Division in Canada was a Canadian problem and it merited a Canadian solution. That solution was the Deschenes Commission. It reviewed the problem in the context of Canadian values and in the context of all the nationalities that were involved in World War II. It dismissed the allegations levelled against the Division members. In view of that decision and the multiple and extensive reviews of the problem that have been conducted in Canada and abroad, there is no reason to repeat that exercise again. Today we face new genocides being played out in Ukraine by Russia and in Israel by Russian-backed Hamas terrorists there. It is time to start focusing on these atrocities being committed now.
Andriy J. Semotiuk is a Canadian and U.S. immigration lawyer. He has practiced law in Toronto and Edmonton in Canada, and in Los Angeles and New York in the United States. Mr. Semotiuk is a former United Nations correspondent. He has written articles on human rights, immigration, Canada, and Ukraine that have been read by several million readers. He is a published author and two of his books focused on family events in Western Ukraine during World War II. For many years Mr. Semotiuk worked as Secretary and Board Member of the Canadian Foundation for Ukrainian Studies that raised millions of dollars for the University of Alberta. He is President of the Centre for Eastern European Democracy, and formerly sat on the Tribunal Panel of the Canadian Human Rights Commission.