Toronto Sun | April 29, 2001

Ukrainian teens were Nazi victims

By PETER WORTHINGTON -- Toronto Sun, April 29, 2001

A guest column in yesterday's Sun by Bernie Farber, executive director of the Canadian Jewish Congress, argued why his organization thinks two Ukrainian youths who were conscripted into German auxiliary forces in World War II should be deported, despite their 50-plus years of living peacefully in Canada.

Farber's article was prompted by an earlier column I wrote against deporting Wasyl Odynsky, who in 1943 at age 19 was conscripted into German auxiliary forces under SS control to guard the perimeter of a concentration camp.

Evidence indicated that young Odynsky faced death if he refused, and Nazi reprisals to his family if he deserted. Under no stretch of anyone's imagination was Odynsky a war criminal, a collaborator, or Nazi sympathizer. If anything, he was a victim of Germany's occupation of Eastern Ukraine - all of which Federal Court Justice Andrew MacKay acknowledged.

There was no suggestion Odynsky had direct contact with Jewish prisoners, much less that he abused them. What Justice MacKay did not believe was that Odynsky hadn't been asked about his wartime activities when, as a refugee in a displaced persons camp, he applied to come to Canada in 1949. Thus, Immigration Minister Elinor Caplan had a legal right to deport him.

Odynsky's wife, whom he married in the DP camp, spent the war at slave labour in Germany. She followed him to Canada and they raised three kids, now all mature Canadian citizens in Toronto, with no record of illegal or improper behaviour. It is a family now distraught and helpless.

Farber's article also mentioned Helmut Oberlander, a 17-year-old Ukrainian when the Nazis invaded, who was conscripted as an interpreter for the SS, and later transferred to the German infantry. Justice MacKay found Oberlander had not mentioned his wartime activities. According to Farber, "men such as Odynsky and Oberlander were enablers of the greatest crimes in recorded history ... accessories who had a choice." Thus, the CJC wants them deported.

In my view, that statement by Farber is so wrong, mistaken and out of line, that it inadvertently demeans the Holocaust.

Men like Odynsky and Oberlander were victims, too - first of Sovietism which seized their country, then of the Nazis and now of a misguided quest for justice without discretion.

When Justice MacKay ruled against Oberlander, his family and lawyer hired retired Ontario justice Roger Salhany to review the decision. (Despite efforts in Parliament, as yet there's no appeal process in these immigration verdicts.)

Salhany disagreed with the findings against Oberlander - including evidence he said had been ignored and indicated that, indeed, Oberlander might not have been asked about his wartime activities when he came to Canada.

In those days the Allies were anxious to clean out DP camps-- some 150,000 immigrants a year were slated for Canada, with a backlog of 10,000 awaiting processing.

In 1948, there were 11 RCMP officers (visa control officers) in Germany, screening applicants. Often, there were disagreements with Immigration officials who had the final word. Screening was more for communists than Nazis.

Salhany argued the ruling on Oberlander "ignored" an Immigration memo that there should be "no automatic rejection" of those who didn't join the SS voluntarily. He felt if an appeal was possible, the ruling against Oberlander might be considered "unreasonable." There was no "admissible and reliable evidence he was questioned about his wartime activities."

To argue that someone forced to do the bidding of an organization makes him a member of that organization (Farber's view) is unreasonable and wrong, said Salhany. This "would mean that the janitor at a police station is not a member of the police in a formal sense, but is still a member because he provides a service to the police."

Andre Telegdi, MP for Kitchener-Waterloo and Parliamentary Secretary to the minister of Immigration, was born in Hungary, where his father survived Soviet and Nazi labour camps. He says the law is flawed by the lack of an appeal process of deportation decisions affecting people such as Odynsky and Oberlander. Changes to the law to allow appeals were thwarted by the last election, but were supported by MPs from all parties and by B'nai Brith, but not the Canadian Jewish Congress. Many feel that depriving law-abiding naturalized Canadians of citizenship, without the safeguard of appeal, is disquietingly similar to what happened to Jews in Nazi Germany.

That said, is there not irony in seeking to deport a couple of aging Canadians with unblemished records for 50-plus years, yet keeping a man like Leon Mugesera, a former member of Rwanda's genocidal government and who made speeches inciting Hutus to massacre Tutsis in 1994?