The fallout continued with Parliament’s recognition last week of a man who fought for the Nazis – a decision some called the most embarra*sing international debacle in Canadian history – and now with calls to the removal of two monuments in Edmonton with links to the regime.
“We believe the two monuments in question are memorials to those complicit in the genocide of six million Jews and millions of other victims of the Nazi regime and their collaborators,” said Dan Panneton, director of alliances and community engagement of the Friends of the Simon Wiesenthal Holocaust Studies Center (FSWC).
The Toronto-based Jewish human rights organization has campaigned for decades for the removal of the monuments and after what happened in Ottawa last week, the FSWC is renewing its calls.
During an official visit by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Friday, House Speaker Anthony Rota singled out a guest in the gallery whom he identified as a war hero.
The parliamentarians and dignitaries present twice gave 98-year-old Ukrainian-Canadian veteran Yaroslav Hunka a standing ovation, without knowing or understanding that the unit he fought with had been formed by Nazi Germany to fight against the Union. Soviet.
John-Paul Himka, a professor at the University of Alberta, pointed out that no one seemed to immediately understand how Hunka’s military history implied that he would have fought alongside the Germans.
This is due to a great lack of understanding of history, even among elected MPs, he explained.
“I mean, this man was introduced as someone who fought the Russians in World War II. Who fought the Russians in World War II? It was the Germans,” he said.
One of Edmonton’s monuments honors the unit in which Hunka fought. It is located at St. Michael’s Cemetery in north Edmonton, just off 137th Avenue and 82nd Street.
It pays homage in part to the 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS, a Nazi German military formation of World War II composed primarily of volunteers of Ukrainian origin.
“It is unacceptable to have monuments dedicated to a unit affiliated with the SS because they were complicit in the Holocaust,” Panneton said.
The fact that the Waffen SS unit is made up mainly of Ukrainians is a moot point, he said.
“The Nazi war machine was not interested in Ukrainian independence. So when they fought under the auspices of the SS, they were fighting against German war objectives,” Panneton said.
“They weren’t fighting for Ukraine.”
But it’s not a black-and-white issue, said David Marples, a professor of Russian and Eastern European history at the University of Alberta, pointing out that Ukraine — and in fact, much of Europe – has a complicated political history.
“The 1930s were a very radical period, during which far-right groups were very popular in most of Europe, including even some of Britain, which of course was other side of the war. And Ukraine is no exception,” Marples said.
Additionally, in the era leading up to World War II, Ukraine was not an independent state and the war presented a prime opportunity to seize land that surrounding nations had appropriated for themselves.
“It’s certainly the heroic period when they were fighting against overwhelming forces, against the return of the Soviet regime.
“But the war period is a less savory time, where some really dark things happened.”
Marples noted that Ukrainians had endured brutality at the hands of the Soviet Union in the late 1930s and that as World War II dragged on, it became clear that the East posed a greater threat than the West.
“A lot of them were at the wrong time and the wrong place,” Marples said of those who fought under Nazi training.
“They didn’t have much choice because the Red Army was advancing from the east and within a year or so it would be in their territory and they wanted to fight to keep the Red Army from coming back because they remembered the Soviet regime in 39-41.
In 1943, the Germans withdrew from the Soviet Union. If aligning with the Nazis helped contain a greater threat, Marples said that was what some Ukrainians were willing to do to gain independence.
“To them, even at that stage of the war, the Red Army posed a greater danger than the Nazis,” Marples said.
“Therefore, in the long run they would no longer be the main enemy, it would be the Red Army.”
Edmonton’s other landmark is the bust of controversial Ukrainian nationalist Roman Shukhevych on display at the Ukrainian Youth Unity Complex near 153rd Avenue and 97th Street.
Shukhevych fought for Ukrainian independence, but also collaborated with the Nazis and is accused of ethnic cleansing of Polish people and Jews.
“The presence of monuments dedicated to individuals and groups who k**led Jews, Poles and other groups is a reminder in many ways that the memory of the Holocaust is not entirely resolved,” Panneton said.
In a statement to PKBNEWS, the Ukrainian Youth Unity Council said Shukhevych was a leader and hero of the Ukrainian nation’s resistance.
He notes that the statue is on private property – something Panneton acknowledged.
“We think they should be removed. They are a blight on the Canadian landscape,” he said. “Their removal depends on the owners of these monuments and memorials.”
Marples sees both sides of the coin.
“It seems to me that it would be reasonable to suggest to the Ukrainians that they stop this operation, because it offends so many people. On the other hand, it must be recognized that for some Ukrainians he is a real hero,” the professor said.
Marples likens the issue to recent calls to take down memorials to those who helped colonize Canada.
“It’s no big deal to change or remove monuments.
“You know, monuments reflect a certain period.”
President Rota, who said he did not know Hunka’s background, apologized for making a big mistake in inviting him to Parliament. He announced Tuesday that he would resign from his position.
On Wednesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau apologized on behalf of Canada and all parliamentarians for this debacle.
“I think this week a lot of Canadians are learning about these monuments for the first time and are frankly shocked by what they’re learning,” Panneton said, noting that in the post-war period Canada had accepted about 2 000 people who be in unity.
“Unfortunately, this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to remembering and celebrating members of the Waffen SS here in Canada.”
— With files from Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press
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