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National Post | 24Apr2012 | Stewart Bell

Canadian participated in 1943 massacre in Nazi-occupied village: documents

A Canadian now in his nineties participated in a 1943 massacre of villagers by Nazi collaborators in what is now Belarus, according to a newly published academic paper based partly on declassified Soviet documents.

The paper in the latest edition of Holocaust and Genocide Studies has prompted Jewish organizations to ask Ottawa to reopen the case of Vladimir Katriuk, who arrived in Canada in 1951 and now lives southwest of Montreal.

“Canada should immediately revoke his citizenship and deport him to Belarus or Germany,” Dr. Efraim Zuroff, coordinator of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Nazi war crimes research project, told the National Post on Tuesday.

Written by historian Per Anders Rudling, a postdoctoral fellow at Lund University in Sweden, the paper says Soviet testimony unsealed in 2008 identifies Mr. Katriuk as having opened fire on civilians.

On March 22, 1943, villagers of German-occupied Khatyn were herded into a barn to be burned alive, the paper says. Mr. Katriuk “reportedly lay behind the stationary machine gun, firing rounds at anyone attempting to escape the flames.”

In an email Tuesday, the author cautioned that Soviet archival materials had to be treated “carefully and critically.” But he said other sources also pointed to Mr. Katriuk’s involvement in the massacre, which wiped out the entire village population.

“Katriuk’s participation in the Khatyn massacre is confirmed by multiple testimonies, and in some detail,” said Mr. Rudling, a citizen of the U.S. and Sweden who did his PhD at the University of Alberta.

“The testimonies are consistent in identifying Katriuk as a machine gunner at Khatyn, and indeed in other atrocities. Together, the material produces a compelling evidence that Katriuk was indeed an active participant in the massacre.”

Mr. Katriuk said he was unaware of Mr. Rudling’s paper. Carole Saindon, a Department of Justice spokeswoman, said the war crimes program reviews new evidence when relevant but declined to comment on specific cases.

The paper is the latest twist in a long-running and controversial war-crimes case. In 1999, the Federal Court ruled that Mr. Katriuk had concealed his past as a Nazi collaborator when he entered Canada but found there was no evidence he had participated in atrocities.

“Now that argument is wrong because there is substantial evidence he was a hands-on perpetrator,” said David Matas, senior legal counsel at B’nai Brith Canada. He wants the federal Cabinet to revisit its 2007 decision to not revoke Mr. Katriuk’s citizenship.

B’nai Brith is scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Thursday and may raise the issue then, said Mr. Matas. The Jewish advocacy group also sent a letter to the Prime Minister last year citing Mr. Rudling’s research.

“These records clearly document that Vladimir Katriuk was a commander of a platoon in the battalion which perpetrated the massacre and that he personally opened fire with a machine gun on defenceless villagers,” the letter said. “There is no justification for continuing to give him a haven in Canada.”

During the Second World War, Mr. Katriuk was in charge of a unit of Battalion 118, which was under the command of German officers. He testified he had not joined voluntarily and while he had protected villagers and livestock from partisans, he did not participate in German operations.

He was later part of the Waffen-SS before defecting to the French resistance and fighting against the Germans. In 1951, using a false name, he took a ship to Quebec. He subsequently reverted to his real name and was granted citizenship in 1958.

But he eventually became a target of war crimes investigators and the government took him to court in 1996, successfully arguing he had intentionally concealed his collaboration with the Nazi regime. However, the decision to revoke citizenship rests with Cabinet, which declined to do so in Mr. Katriuk’s case.

Bernie Farber, former CEO of the Canadian Jewish Congress, said it remained vital to bring Nazi war criminals to justice. “Yes, they are old and feeble, but we ought not think of them as they are today but remember them as they were when carrying out their horrendous work, young, strong brutish thugs. They lived to a ripe old age while denying their victims their right to life.”

National Post
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