Alleged War Criminals, the Canadian Media, and the Ukrainian Community

Roman Serbyn

In response to the recent widespread allegations and attacks against Ukrainians outside Ukraine, as well as the biased handling of Ukrainian topics by the Canadian media, a media watch group was formed in Montreal, the Information and Anti-Defamation Commission (IADC) of the Ukrainian Canadian Committee.1  The following analysis of the treatment of Ukrainian issues by the Canadian media is based on material gathered by the IADC and on its experience in public relations.

On 7 February the Hon. John Crosbie, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, announced the establishment of "an independent commission of inquiry ... to conduct ... investigations regarding war criminals in Canada," to be headed by Mr. Justice Jules Desch?nes.2The document outlining the commission's terms of reference consists of two parts: a preamble of three paragraphs, and instructions concerning the prerogatives and the functioning of the commission, elaborated in eleven points.3The first two paragraphs refer specifically to Nazi crimes; there is mention of Josef Mengele and of "the activities of Nazi Germany."4  The third paragraph speaks of bringing to justice "any such criminal currently residing in Canada."  This paragraph can be interpreted to include all war criminals, both Nazis and others.  The rest of the document, which defines the commission's mandate, is couched in general terms, without specific reference to Nazi crimes.

This author's reading of the document is that the present inquiry into the presence in Canada of alleged war criminals was brought about by the efforts of the Jewish community to flush out Nazi war criminals.  Since almost all the crimes against the Jewish people committed during World War II were perpetrated under the aegis of the Nazi regime, it is understandable that the Jewish community would tend to identify "war crimes" with "Nazi crimes."  However, war crimes were committed not only under the authority of Nazi Germany.  Countless atrocities against the civilian population were also committed by Communists and by criminal collaborators in the service of the Soviet Union.  Limiting the work of the Desch?nes Commission only to Nazi criminals is selective and incomplete justice, and it cannot be the intention of the Canadian government.  That is why the rest of the terms of reference of the Desch?nes Commission should refer to all war crimes and war criminals.

Various members of both the Ukrainian and Jewish communities have stressed the necessity of bringing all war criminals to justice. In a recent publication, Mr. David Matas, senior counsel for and former chairman of the League for Human Rights of B'nai B'rith, wrote: "Though this report looks at the particular problem of bringing Nazi war criminals to justice, the author, of course, believes that all war criminals, all criminals against humanity, should be brought to justice."5  Although this author agrees fully with his statement, and wishes to emphasize that each ethnocultural community may rightly be preoccupied with the crimes committed against its members, a Canadian commission must not discriminate in pursuit of justice.  It must deal with all alleged war criminals, irrespective of the regime on whose behalf the crimes were committed.  Unfortunately, the media has taken a narrower view of the problem.

The day after Mr. Crosbie announced the formation of the Desch?nes Commission, news about it began to appear in Canadian newspapers.  On 8 February, 1985 the Globe and Mail carried a story from Ottawa with the headline, "Ottawa Sets Up Commission to Pursue Nazi War Criminals."  The opening paragraph made it clear that the commission was to deal only with Nazi war criminals.  Other newspapers took the same approach, mentioning only Nazi war crimes and Nazi war criminals.  That same day, the Winnipeg Free Press printed allegations by Simon Wiesenthal, head of the Documentation Center in Vienna, and Sol Littman, a Canadian journalist, to the effect that there were still 2,000 Nazi wartime collaborators alive in Canada of the 3,000 who originally came to this country. Ukrainians figure prominently in the article, as they do in the list of alleged criminals prepared by Mr. Wiesenthal and the Soviet Embassy.6

However, the news item that most upset the Ukrainian community was an Israeli radio interview with Mr. Wiesenthal carried by all the Canadian media. The first report, published on 10 February by the Toronto Star, noted: "The Israeli radio quoted Mr. Wiesenthal as saying he believes 218 former Ukrainian officers of Hitler's SS (elite guard), which ran death camps in Eastern Europe, are living in Canada."7  This quotation, in one form or another, appeared in newspaper, radio, and television reports across Canada.  It encompassed all the elements of sensationalism: "SS," "Hitler," "elite guard," "death camps," and, of course, "Ukrainians."  It was also false and defamatory.

Mr. Wiesenthal's interview begs several questions.  First, for the historical record, most Ukrainians who served in the SS did so in the Galician Division, which was not an "elite guard" but a Waffen or combat unit.  It was used once on the Eastern front against the Soviet forces; it was never used to guard concentration camps.  Moreover, both Soviet and British screening teams cleared the division of any participation in war crimes. The immigration to Canada of individual division members was sanctioned by the federal cabinet after considerable deliberation and further investigation by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.8  Second, it was grossly unfair of the Canadian media to give such prominence to Mr. Wiesenthal's radio interview in Israel, containing questionable information that damaged the Ukrainian image, while failing to cover a press conference organized a few days later by the Ukrainian community in order to refute some of the allegations. There was nothing about the press conference on the Canadian Press (CP) wire service, nor did the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) have anything to say on the "National," an evening news feature program, or during its morning radio show the next day.9

Moreover, there is a discrepancy between the reported Israeli radio interview and the article on the same topic in Mr. Wiesenthal's Bulletin of Information.  The following passage from the Bulletin throws a very different light on the issue:

Shortly before the parliamentary elections in Canada, the Documentation Center submitted a list of 218 SS officers who had been volunteers of the Ukrainian SS-division and of general SS formations, to Canada's Solicitor General, Robert Kaplan.

Out of these 218 SS officers, none had been registered dead after the end of war nor was anyone, to the Documentation Center's knowledge, in Europe by that time. Since Canada happens to be the most favoured immigration country of Ukrainians, there is a possibility that at least some of these former SS officers may have emigrated there.  Up till 1953, former SS men were barred from entering Canada by Canadian law.  We presume, however, that many Ukrainians managed to bypass this restriction by withholding information about their wartime past from the Canadian immigration authorities. This is particularly likely to have been the case during the Cold War period.10  [emphasis added by Roman Serbyn]

Whatever the merits of the list of 218 officers, Mr. Wiesenthal's statement in the Bulletin is quite different from that reported in the Israeli radio interview.  Why had this discrepancy not been pointed out to the media by the office of the Solicitor General?

The allegations by Mr. Wiesenthal, Mr. Littman, and the Soviet Embassy provoked a lively response from the Ukrainian community.  "In Edmonton," wrote the Montreal Gazette, "Ukrainian-Canadian academics Bohdan Krawchenko and Myroslav Yurkevich demanded that Nazi-hunter Sol Littman prove his allegation that Alberta is a haven for Ukrainian war criminals. The allegation is historically doubtful and a slur on all Ukrainian-Canadians, they said."11  It is of some interest to note that the CP wire service was the source for this short item.  The Montreal Gazette used it, but the Toronto Globe and Mail, Canada's national newspaper, ignored it. Protests came from other centres as well, and some were reported by the media.12

When all the pieces of the unfolding saga of alleged war criminals in Canada are put together, a pattern emerges.  There is a shift in emphasis and focus.  "War criminals" are reduced to "Nazi war criminals," and "Nazi criminals" become strongly identified with "Ukrainians."  The Galician Division's identity as a combat unit (Waffen SS) is ignored, and a false identity as Hitler's elite guard is forged.  The distinction between "war criminals" and "alleged war criminals" is completely blurred, and the two terms are used interchangeably.  Ukrainians are never mentioned as having suffered either from Communist or Nazi oppression.  They are rarely credited with saving Jews from extermination, and never is it mentioned that many Ukrainians lost their lives for giving shelter to Jews.  In this way the Canadian media contributes to the emergence of a new image of Ukrainian Canadians.  Gone are the men in sheepskin coats, and a new breed of sinister, criminal collaborators with the Nazis begins to appear.  Is it any wonder that the Ukrainian community feels insulted, trapped, and on the way to becoming a scapegoat for a new witch hunt?

The treatment by the media of the current accusations against Ukrainians is not surprising if one examines how the media has been manipulated in recent years.  Simon Wiesenthal's Documentation Center has contributed its share to the denigration of Ukrainians outside Ukraine.  In an interview given to the Jerusalem Post in 1979, and later reported in Canada, Mr. Wiesenthal blamed the Ukrainian community for the Canadian government's inaction on war criminals residing in this country.  According to the Suburban, "He [Mr. Wiesenthal] attributes the attitude of the Canadian government to the fact that Ukrainians, who make up most of the war criminals" in other interviews Mr. Wiesenthal puts the number of war criminals at 800 to 1,000 "are the second largest ethnic minority in Canada" (elsewhere he speaks of one million Ukrainians in Canada). "They have political clout and no party wants to alienate them."13  What kind of documentation and information centre makes such blunders in basic, easily verifiable data, and then uses this faulty information to construct outrageous accusations?  There are some 530,000 Ukrainians in Canada, not one million; they are not the second-largest ethnic group but come far behind German Canadians and Italian Canadians.  If any ethnic community has political "clout" in Ottawa, it certainly is not the Ukrainians.  Anyone who is the least knowledgeable about federal politics knows the relative weight of the lobbying powers of the Jewish and Ukrainian communities.  The Canadian government meets with representatives of the Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC) and communicates with the Ukrainian Canadian Committee (UCC).  The existence of the Canadian Parliamentarians' Group for Soviet Jewry and the establishment of the Desch?nes Commission speak for themselves.  Mr. Littman should brief the head office in Vienna more thoroughly.

Another example illustrates the unreliable character of Mr. Wiesenthal's testimony and accusations.  Last year Professor Taras Hunczak gave a lecture in Montreal on the topic of wartime collaboration, and then had an interview with the Gazette on the same subject.  The article provoked a full-scale debate on the pages of the Gazette, and Mr. Wiesenthal was one of the participants. He wrote, "The one million [sic] Ukrainians living in Canada can easily keep their distance from the few dozens [sic] or hundreds of persons who committed crimes against innocent people."14  Such disregard for precision when dealing with the grave accusation of war crimes is striking.  The letter does have a redeeming quality Mr. Wiesenthal's distinction between political and criminal collaboration: "The political collaboration of the Ukrainians with the Nazis is on another level and cannot be mixed with collaboration in crimes which lead to murder and mass murder of innocent people."  If only Mr. Wiesenthal would remember this distinction and apply it when making statements about Ukrainians.

One last point about Mr. Wiesenthal.  In 1979 the Soviets attacked him for Zionist propaganda. The article appeared in the Kiev newspaper Radianska Ukraina, but it is well known that decisions to publish attacks of that nature are not made locally, but in the centre of Soviet power.15  Mr. Wiesenthal is accused of nothing less than collaboration with the Nazis.  As proof, it is alleged that in 1941, forty Jewish intellectuals were arrested in Lviv, and among them was Mr. Wiesenthal; thirty-nine perished and only Mr. Wiesenthal was allowed to live.  The conclusion was obvious: Mr. Wiesenthal bought his life with service to the Nazis.  This author does not know if anyone has ever seriously invoked this "testimony" against Mr. Wiesenthal; it may be a partial or a complete fabrication by the Soviet authorities.  But the point is that if Mr. Wiesenthal, his followers, and other Nazi hunters are so eager to use Soviet information and sources then perhaps they could look into this allegation.

We have seen how the Canadian media have misled the public with biased reporting on the question of the alleged war criminals residing in Canada.  One would expect that readers of Ukrainian Canadian newspapers would be better served.  Unfortunately, this is not the case.  Ukrainian newspapers do not provide their readers with the necessary information to form a meaningful opinion.  News analysis is also inadequate if not completely lacking.  In this respect, the Canadian Jewish News (CJN) is much superior to the Ukrainian newspapers.  Ukrainian editors, journalists, and the Ukrainian community as a whole should take the CJN as a model of ethnic journalism and learn from it.  All of the news in the CJN is pertinent to the Jewish community, and all of the news that is pertinent to that community is reported by the CJN.  The material is up to date and the events are analyzed from a Jewish perspective.

In a recent lecture in Montreal, Lucy S. Dawidowicz elaborated the idea that Jews, especially educated Jews, often see themselves from a non-Jewish or even an anti-Jewish perspective.  She attributed this phenomenon to the fact that much of the literature dealing with Jews, even when it is written by Jews themselves, is composed in that vein.  Whether that observation is applicable to North American Jewry today, it is difficult to say; but if, mutatis mutandis, it was applied to Ukrainians outside Ukraine, it would prove quite useful.

Because the Ukrainian press is so inadequate and the Ukrainian Canadian community so passive, they have both contributed by sins of omission rather than commission to the emerging image of the "Ukrainian Nazi collaborator" in Canada.  The attitude of the Ukrainian Canadian community from its leaders in the UCC down to individual members is roughly this: the outrageous allegations against Ukrainians are so ridiculous that they discredit themselves and the best thing to do is to ignore them and they will soon be forgotten.  This attitude has proven damaging to our reputation. We can no longer afford to ignore such racist slurs as that of Larry Zolf, who accuses Canadians of Eastern European background of harbouring "quasi-fascist nationalism," even when he tries to pass this off as satire.16  The Ukrainian Canadian community did not effectively handle the Communist disinformation distributed in Winnipeg in the form of a pamphlet entitled "Winnipeg's Nazi Suspects."  That piece of despicable hate literature, claimed to be the work of a group of Jewish, Ukrainian, and native-born Canadians, was obviously meant to foment strife between the Ukrainian and Jewish communities.  On the back cover of the pamphlet there was even a passage in Hebrew so that Ukrainians would not fail to blame Jews for the propaganda.  The obvious thing for Ukrainians to do was to have the UCC contact the Canadian Jewish Congress, issue a joint condemnation of this hate literature, and then turn the matter over to the police for investigation and prosecution; but they did not.  Why not?

A word should also be said about the overzealous Nazi-hunters in Canada who do no honour to their ethnic community and whose tactics are unworthy of the cause they claim to serve.  The strong-arm tactics advocated by Edward Greenspan are not only surprising coming from a lawyer but seem to contravene the very basis of our judicial system. In February 1984, Mr. Greenspan advocated that "pictures of the war criminals should be published in a book listing all the allegations against them and widely distributed to bookstores, libraries and homes of their neighbours."17Still more recently, Greenspan maintained that the "ex-Nazis among us should not have a moment's peace."18  Milton Harris, president of the CJC, was rightfully indignant at such tactics; what is surprising, however, is that Mr. Harris seems to be concerned primarily with the threat of libel suits and not with the moral aspect of such a witch-hunt.

Many Ukrainians outside Ukraine felt that they are becoming scapegoats in the renewed hunt for Nazi war criminals.  The danger is very real.  Ukrainians are easy targets: they are economically weak, they have little political clout (Mr. Wiesenthal's opinion to the contrary notwithstanding), and their access to the media is limited.  While most other ethnic groups can get some help and backing from the country of their origin, Ukrainians cannot count on Ukraine or the government in Kiev to speak in their defence or in the defence of Ukraine itself, for that matter.  In fact, the expressed intention of the Soviet leaders in Moscow and their collaborators in Kiev is to undermine, defame, and ultimately destroy Ukrainians outside Ukraine.  It is these Soviet authorities, who have themselves shown so little zeal in bringing the real war criminals to justice (the notorious Erich Koch lives comfortably in prison in Poland), who are now eager to provide Western Jewish Nazi-hunters with lists of names.  This collaboration is most disturbing and cannot but be suspected and questioned by Ukrainians.

It is time for Ukrainian Canadians to stand up in defence of their rights, of their reputations, and of their image.  They must react to the distortions in the media and establish a better documentation base.  Most important, they must establish a meaningful dialogue with the Jewish community.  Had the lines of communication between the two communities been kept open, many of the present difficulties could have been avoided.  An excellent forum for Ukrainian-Jewish dialogue is the Canadian Council of Christians and Jews, since its raison d'?tre is to promote harmonious relations between Jews and Christians (in this case Ukrainians) and to eliminate animosity among Canadian ethnocultural communities.

Much has been said about the visible minorities in Canada.  Ukrainian Canadians are an invisible minority, but there is no reason for them to remain an inaudible minority as well.  They must speak up, shed whatever vestiges they still have of the fears and inferiority complexes imposed on them by history.  They must adjust to the North American way of life and take advantage of all the opportunities available to them.

The image of the Ukrainian community is closely linked to the public perception formed by the media.  Ukrainian Canadians must develop contacts with the media, on the level of the individual citizen and on the level of an organized community.  They must undertake affirmative action.  They need individual activists and organized groups to lobby by all possible means with the media and with the government.

However, every dark cloud has a silver lining, and the recent attack on Ukrainians is no exception.  The allegations, accusations, and slurs may prove to be a blessing in disguise.  Ukrainians outside Ukraine have not had a rallying issue since the freeing of Valentyn Moroz from Soviet prison.  The fiftieth anniversary of the great artificial famine in Ukraine aroused the community, but its impact was by no means as great as that of commemorations of the Holocaust by the Jewish community.  Now the Ukrainian community has a new issue which, it is hoped, will leave some permanent marks on its maturation as an ethnocultural group within Canada.

1 Besides monitoring and interacting with the media, the IADC provides background information on current issues of interest to the Ukrainian community.  To this end the IADC has put out a quarterly bulletin (two issues have appeared to date), and has established a dialogue with representatives of the Jewish community through the Canadian Council of Christians and Jews.
2 Commons Debates (Ottawa), 7 February 1985, 2113.
3 See Appendix B for the commission of inquiry's terms of reference. (Ed.)
4 Ministry of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, news release, 7 February 1985.
5 David Matas, Bringing Nazi War Criminals to Justice (Toronto, 1985), 98.
6 "Alleged War Criminals Believed in Winnipeg," Winnipeg Free Press, 8 February 1985.
7 "Nazi Hunter Wiesenthal Says Ottawa Ignored His Twenty-Eight Suspects," Toronto Star, 10 February 1985.
8 After having surrendered on 8 May 1945 to the British near Radstadt, Austria, as "Surrendered Enemy Personnel" (SEP), the 1st Ukrainian Division was interned in a SEP camp near Rimini, Italy.  There the soldiers were subjected to screening by the British and Soviet authorities; both cleared the division of any war crimes.  In spring 1947 the process of transferring the division to the United Kingdom began.  The Ukrainian Canadian Committee and its affiliated organizations made efforts to encourage the Canadian government to allow individual members of the division to immigrate to Canada.  On 31 May 1950 the federal cabinet sanctioned their immigration after carefully ascertaining that no war criminals were among those wishing to come to Canada.  However, the Canadian Jewish Congress claimed to have evidence of the division's involvement in war crimes.  The cabinet then asked the British Foreign Office and the RCMP for further clarification of the division's history and membership.  By 25 September 1950, convinced of the correctness of its previous decision, the cabinet reaffirmed that former division members would be allowed to immigrate to Canada.  Thus, after many screenings and much vetting of the division's history and membership, former division members came to Canada legally.  For a detailed history of the division's immigration to Canada, see Myron Momryk, "Ukrainian Displaced Persons and the Canadian Government, 1946-1952" (unpublished paper).  See also Gordon B. Panchuk, Heroes of Their Day (Toronto, 1983).  Documents relating to the division, its screening, and immigration to Canada can be found in part 3 of this volume.
9 A telegram was sent by the IADC to the CBC requesting an explanation of this attitude, but no answer was received.  A follow-up letter also went unanswered.
10 Bulletin of Information (Vienna), no. 25 (31 January 1985): 1.
11 Don MacPherson, "Anti-Semtic MPs Might Have Hurt Nazi-Hunt: Activist," The Gazette (Montreal), 12 February 1985.
12 "Ukrainian Community Incensed over War-Criminal Allegations," The Globe and Mail (Toronto), 14 February 1985; "Veterans Deny War Crime Allegations," Edmonton Journal, 14 February 1985; "Ukrainian Community Leaders Fear Effects of Nazi Reports," The Globe and Mail, 15 February 1985; "Ukrainian-Canadians 'Disturbed' by Nazi Accusations, Chief Says," The Gazette, 16 February 1985.
13 "Canada Shelters Ex-Nazis, Wiesenthal Says," The Suburban (Montreal), 31 October 1979.
14 The Gazette, 9 May 1984; emphasis added.
15 Radianska Ukraina (Kiev), 20 November 1979.
16 See the critique of Larry Zolf's book, Survival of the Fattest, in the IADC Bulletin (Montreal), 2, no. 1 (1985): 11-12.
17 "Greenspan Attacks Inaction on War Crimes," The Jewish Times (Toronto), 10-23 February 1984.
18 Canadian Jewish News (Toronto), 21 February 1985.