Toronto Sun ([email protected])
Saturday, April 28, 2001
Calgary Sun ([email protected])
Sunday Opinion | Comment. p. 8 | April 29, 2001

Cogs in the murder-machine

| Bernie Farber

On March 2, 2001 the Federal Court of Canada ruled Wasyl Odynsky, a former guard at the Trawniki labour camp in Poland, had lied about his wartime activities in order to gain entry to Canada.

This decision paved the way for the Immigration Review Board to decide if he should be deported.

On Feb. 28, 2000 a similar finding was made in the Federal Court of Canada pertaining to Helmut Oberlander, who was found to be a former interpreter with a Nazi murder squad known as einsatzkommando 10A.

In this case, since Oberlander is a naturalized Canadian citizen, we continue to await the decision of the federal cabinet as to whether or not he will be stripped of his citizenship.

Sadly, there are those who have responded to these decisions with variations on the theme: "If there is no proof that they committed atrocities, then Odynsky and Oberlander should be permitted to stay."

While no evidence was brought forward to indicate that either man was directly involved in the commission of war crimes, it is indisputable they were members of a criminal organization.

The Trawniki labour camp where Odynsky was a guard, was under direct control of the SS Economic Main Office.

The camp was used to train guards who went on to perform special duties for the Nazis. These guards kidnapped innocent men, women and children from their homes and forced them into camps such as Trawniki, Poniatowa and Budzyn.

Many of those kidnapped were used as slaves and when their usefulness was exhausted they were simply murdered.

Some 15,000 prisoners were slaughtered at Poniatowa in one day in November, 1943.

Odynsky was a guard at Poniatowa.

While there was no evidence at his hearing he was directly involved in this massacre, court documents indicate he patrolled and guarded specific areas of that camp.

As for Oberlander, while it does not in and of itself point to his guilt, Jeff Outhit, a journalist with the Kitchener-Waterloo Record, who helped research a special investigative piece on him entitled, "Oberlander The endless war," noted: "The death squad that Helmut Oberlander served could not have killed so efficiently without its interpreters."

And efficient it was. According to the Nazis' own records, einsatzkommando 10A murdered 90,000 innocent Jews.

As Nuremberg war crimes prosecutor Benjamin Ferencz noted, such men were "all sailing on a pirate ship, and all members of the crew."

Men such as Odynsky and Oberlander were enablers of the greatest crimes in recorded history. And they were accessories who had a choice.

Historians Christopher Browning and Daniel Goldhagen researched this era and found not a single case where an SS soldier, a member of the Order Police or an Auxiliary was executed or disciplined for failing to carry out orders relating to the murder of Jews.

Yet the question remains: Where does one draw the line at complicity? Is it acceptable to say, as some do, that people like Odynsky and Oberlander were not complicit simply because they were not "important cogs" in Nazi machinery of death or by virtue of the fact no witnesses saw them commiit atrocities? The answer is a resounding "no."

There were no unimportant cogs within the murder machine that the Nazis constructed to liquidate European Jewry.

And what of the calls for these people to he tried in criminal courts? Unfortunately, the Nazis did too good a job. There are no witnesses from death camps or murder units left to testify at procedures. Surely, Canada's decision to utilize the immigration judicial route will at least bring a measure of overdue justice.

If we allow people like Odynsky and Oberlander to stay in Canada because they were unimportant in the Nazi hierarchy of murder, what do we say to the likes of an Adolf Eichmann, who pulled no triggers, dropped no gas pellets, burned no synagogues, but merely ensured the trains ran on time?

Farber is executive director, Canadian Jewish Congress, Ontario Region