Ukrainian guard wasn't a Nazi

By PETER WORTHINGTON -- Toronto Sun, April 5, 2001

The Toronto Star headline blared "Ex-Nazi lied to live here, judge rules," while the Sun's was more explicit: "Feds set to boot 77-year-old Nazi SS guard during WW II."

Either way, not much sympathy for Wasyl Odynsky who came to Canada in 1949 from European refugee camps, worked on a farm near Listowel, repaid the cost of his passage and moved to Toronto. The girl he married in a displaced persons' camp at age 21 came over a year later; in 1955 they became Canadian citizens.

They had three kids, lived, worked and eventually retired.

Their world changed abruptly in August, 1997, when the RCMP arrived at their door and asked questions that last month resulted in a court supporting the Immigration Department's bid to revoke Odynsky's citizenship and deport him.

However, Odynsky was never a "Nazi." He was, in 1943, a 19-year-old farm boy with a Grade 5 education living in German-occupied Ukraine. In 1943, the Germans rounded up the youths of his village (Beleluja) and offered two choices: be conscripted into German auxiliary forces under SS control, or be shot.

Odynsky and his pals refused to report and hid, were caught, and told if they ran away again, not only would they be shot, their parents would be sent to a labour camp.

In his reasons for judgment, Federal Court Justice Andrew MacKay noted that Odynsky didn't voluntarily join the SS auxiliary, where he was a guard on the perimeter, half a mile from Poniatowa concentration [labour] camp.

He was never directly involved with prisoners or linked with wrongful or brutal behaviour. Odynsky's role was to guard against attack by partisans.

Judge MacKay noted that in 50-plus years in Canada, there was no evidence of any wrongdoing by Odynsky. His character was unsullied. The judge said while the above factors "may be relevant to any discretion the minister ... may exercise (regarding Odynsky's future) they are not relevant in this proceeding."

He ruled that Odynsky didn't tell immigration or RCMP screening officers at the DP camps in 1949 that he'd been forcibly conscripted by the Germans. If he had, it's unlikely he'd have been admitted to Canada.

Therefore, Odynsky was found to "have acquired citizenship by false representation."

In other words, the way is now clear to deport him. If that happens, it will be a callous example of injustice. What choice did this 19-year-old have in 1943-44? His village had been given to the Soviets in 1939, then occupied by the Nazis in 1941. Like most Ukrainians, Odynsky despised both Communists and Nazis.

Can he really be faulted if, in 1949, he didn't tell of his forced conscription as a guard?

Despite Crown lawyers depicting him as a "collaborator," Mr. Justice MacKay rejected this out of hand. The Nazis viewed Ukrainians rather as they regarded Jews - as subhuman. They used Ukrainians for forced labour. (Maria Odynsky was sent to Germany for slave labour.) Yes, some Ukrainians in SS uniforms sought to be more Nazi than the Nazis in order to curry favour. Odynsky was not one of them. He was briefly imprisoned in Kolyma, a notorious Soviet labour camp.

Odynsky was lucky he wasn't forcibly repatriated to the Soviet Union, as many were, to be sent to Siberia or killed by Stalin, who considered being taken prisoner a form of treason. It's wrong that Odynsky's family should be torn apart after 50 years here. Nothing about his life in Canada suggests the sort of man the "Nazi" headlines imply: he is not a white supremacist, not a neo-Nazi.

There are Nobel Peace laureates with more violent records than Odynsky's. Who to blame? I don't fault Holocaust survivors or their kin for what appears a vendetta, though I do find the Canadian Jewish Congress' apparent relish at his deportation unbecoming.

Wasyl Odynsky is not the enemy. Real Nazi war criminals, whatever their age, should never feel secure from discovery or vengeance. Trouble is, most big-name Nazis are dead. With no Mengeles, Eichmanns or Bormanns left, it demeans Holocaust victims to target someone who was a Ukrainian teenager when he was also victimized into wearing a hated German uniform, or be shot.

Immigration Minister Elinor Caplan should review Judge MacKay's 134-page finding and realize that Odynsky is not the sort of person the system is after. Let him remain in Canada, where he and his Canadian family belong.

[W.Z. The letters in red above denote corrections of errors which appeared in the original.]