Montreal Gazette | Tuesday, July 02, 2002 | Lubomyr Luciuk

A War Crime Is a War Crime

It's time Canada started treating Soviet and Nazis offenders with equal harshness

Canada got her from Russia, just six years ago. Some 55 years earlier she was a young physician, trained in Kiev in the Ukraine. That was at the start of the "Great Patriotic War," which is what the Soviets called the segment of World War II when they stopped being Hitler's friends, and became ours. Before June 22, 1941, when Hitler surprised "Uncle Joe" Stalin by invading Russia, the Soviet empire had prospered at Hitler's side. Poland was dismembered, western Belarus and Ukraine were occupied, the Baltic States swallowed.

Natasha - I won't use her real name, since there's no proof she committed any crime - was then in her 20s, well-educated, a city girl. When the Germans attacked she retreated east. Eventually, when the Red Army forced the Nazis back to their well-deserved apocalypse in Berlin's ruins, Natasha was with them. She joined the Communist Party. She served in SMERSH.

SMERSH is an acronym for Smert Shpionam - Death to Spies. As the Red Army moved west, SMERSH battalions followed, killing soldiers deemed cowardly, hunting all those opposed to Soviet rule. At war's end, SMERSH screened the "victims of Yalta," Soviet citizens who had been repatriated forcibly by British, American, French and Canadian troops.

A Canadian Baptist professor, Watson Kirkconnell, protested to Prime Minister Mackenzie King that handing refugees over "to the Red Army and the NKVD is to murder them" and constituted Canadian participation in "crimes against humanity." He was ignored. Millions of former prisoners of war and displaced persons were transported to the Gulag, many executed. How many? No one knows, but, thanks to such celebrated Canadians as Montreal human-rights activist and Liberal MP Irwin Cotler, we know one victim's name: Raoul Wallenberg. A saviour of Hungarian Jews, this courageous Swedish diplomat was snatched by SMERSH in Budapest and later murdered.

What Natasha did for most of the war is unknown. Recently, however, in the Montreal Gazette of May 9, 2002, she recalled one of her chores - jumping into open graves to check if the shot were truly dead. What if someone was still alive? On a balance of probabilities, given SMERSH was in the murdering business, is it likely that she upheld the Hippocratic oath by tending to the wounded? Or did she do her Soviet duty, inviting an executioner in to finish the kill?

On Sept. 15, 2000, responding to an inquiry about alleged Communist war criminals in Canada, Terry Beitner, general-counsel of the federal Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Section, replied, skeptically: "Given the climate in Canada in the post-Second World War period (as the Cold War began), I doubt that immigration authorities would have knowingly permitted ex-KGB members into Canada." (The KGB was a successor to SMERSH.). However, he went on, if credible evidence of complicity in war crimes were ever uncovered, proceedings would be initiated. He also explained complicity: "A person is considered complicit if, while aware of the commission of war crimes or crimes against humanity the person contributes, directly or indirectly, to their occurrence ... . An example of complicity would be the act of guarding an execution site even if one had not personally acted as executioner. Additionally, a person may be considered complicit if he was a member of an organization during a time when activities included the carrying out of atrocities such as executing civilians."

Soon after Natasha arrived in Canada, de-naturalization and deportation proceedings began against Wasyl Odynsky. He was a 19-year-old farm boy with a sixth-grade education when the Nazis press-ganged him into being an auxiliary guard. Government lawyers admitted, and Judge Andrew MacKay found, no evidence that he participated in a war crime. He spent not a single day clambering into pits making sure the dying would die. The only negative finding was that he might have lied when screened, more than a half-century ago. Federal officials insisted he must have been asked what he did in the war. Under oath, Odynsky swore he was not asked. No documentary evidence refutes his testimony. Ottawa destroyed those files years ago. But, on a balance of probabilities, the judge ruled Odynsky secured citizenship under false pretences. He now faces exile, who knows where, regardless of the consequences for his wife and family.

I have no evidence of criminal wrongdoing by Natasha. Yet, comparing what she claims she did with what a judge found Wasyl did not, her record surely merits further investigation. Alas, the "Nazi-hunters" in the Justice Department apparently don't read The Gazette. Natasha remains serene. Perhaps they checked her story and decided she's just a babbling babushka with a vivid, if beastly, imagination. But perhaps they didn't check at all.

Certainly, Natasha is not the only ex-Red relaxing here. Joseph, a former NKVD Lieutenant, and Nahum, a onetime Communist partisan, both wrote books, in English, boasting of their roles in liquidating anti-Soviet Lithuanians and Ukrainians. Something they neglected to mention in screening?

Beitner's note helpfully confirms that post-war regulations were intended to ensure that neither Nazi nor Soviet collaborators got in, lest they befoul our fair Dominion. So, how to explain such people enjoying Canada Pension Plan benefits? Did they lie at our gates? If Odynsky has to go, why don't they? They're not hard to find. These two last-mentioned old Reds are listed in the Montreal telephone book.

There's a lobby that ceaselessly claims that there are "thousands of Nazis" hiding in Canada. In 1986, the Commission of Inquiry on War Criminals chided those who orchestrated this "grossly exaggerated" cacophony. But there is hardly any outcry from anyone demanding equal treatment for alleged Soviet war criminals. Such people should, in simple justice, face the same process as Odynsky. Surely we can't remember Raoul Wallenberg but then ignore who cut his throat?
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* Lubomyr Luciuk, PhD, director of research for the Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association, is preparing a manuscript on Soviet war crimes in Ukraine.
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[ W.Z. A slightly different version of this article titled Why does Canada ignore Red potential war criminals? appeared in the June 26 - July 23, 2002 issue of the Ukrainian News.]