An update has been added at the end of this article.
Earlier this month, there was a storm of outrage from Israel, its lobby and sponsors in the West over comments by Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas appearing to blame Jews for their own murders by the German government headed by Adolf Hitler in the 1940s.
One of the most forceful denunciations came from Canada, whose representatives in Ramallah asserted that Abbas’ “remarks distort the historical truth of the Holocaust and promote classic and contemporary tropes of Jew-hatred.”One might think that the members of this chorus truly care about preserving the memory of the victims of the Nazis, and even take seriously their regular invocation of such slogans as “Never Again.”
But that would be a mistake.
On Friday, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky was received as a hero in Ottawa, where he addressed the Canadian parliament.
Following Zelensky’s speech, Anthony Rota, the speaker of the Canadian House of Commons, paid tribute to another man from Ukraine.
“We have here in the chamber today … a Ukrainian Canadian war veteran from the Second World War who fought for Ukrainian independence against the Russians, and continues to support the troops today, even at his age of 98,” Rota said to raucous hoots and a standing ovation.
Rota added that he was “very proud” that the man, Yaroslav Hunka, lived in his own Ontario electoral district.
“He’s a Ukrainian hero, a Canadian hero, and we thank him for all his service,” the speaker added to more boisterous applause.In fact, Hunka is a veteran of the 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS – part of Hitler’s notorious Schutzstaffel, the elite troops who perpetrated some of the worst genocidal crimes of World War II.
As an article in The Forward points out, “this is the same unit that is honored by controversial monuments in Canada, Australia, and, as the Forward recently exposed, the suburbs of Philadelphia and Detroit. Jewish groups have called for their removal.”
Formed in 1943 from recruits in Western Ukraine, the The Forward explains that the Galician Waffen SS unit was “armed and trained by the Nazis and commanded by German officers. In 1944, the division was visited by SS head Heinrich Himmler, who spoke of the soldiers’ willingness to slaughter Poles.”
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum holds a number of artifacts about the division, including this newsreel film showing a lavish Nazi ceremony bidding a fond farewell to the Waffen SS Galicia division as its soldiers are sent off from the city of Lviv to receive training, before joining Hitler’s war effort.
After the war, thousands of Waffen SS Galicia veterans were allowed to resettle in the West, with several thousand going to Canada, The Forward notes.
In a sense, Friday’s horrifying spectacle in the Canadian parliament is the culmination of decades of whitewashing of the Ukrainian Waffen SS unit by members of the Ukrainian Canadian diaspora and other Nazi apologists.
Ivan Katchanovski – a Ukrainian Canadian political scientist at the University of Ottawa who adamantly refuses to whitewash Ukrainian ultranationalism and its role in bringing his homeland to its present disaster – wondered, “Did anyone in parliament or Zelensky realize that [Hunka] served in Waffen SS division?”It’s likely many of those clapping had no idea or didn’t care, but there’s little reason to believe that Canadian leaders, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, did not know. And there’s no reason to think they would care either.
Instead of embracing historical truth about her grandfather’s role in recruiting for the SS and spreading anti-Semitic propaganda on behalf of the Hitler regime, Freeland has tried to whitewash his role.
And in 2018, when there was a public outcry about monuments in Canada honoring the Ukrainian Nazis, Trudeau’s office went to work to deflect attention from the matter.
Using freedom of information requests, a Canadian journalist discovered that “government officials were under a lot of pressure” from the prime minister’s office “to counter the news about the monuments to Nazi collaborators,” as The Ottawa Citizen reported.
While many Ukrainian nationalists always kept a flame burning for the Waffen SS Galicia unit, its rehabilitation really took off following the 2014 US-backed coup in Ukraine that brought the current clique of ultranationalists to power.
As recently as 2021, Ukrainians held the first parade honoring the Waffen SS Galicia division in the capital Kiev, prompting protests from Israel and even from President Zelensky.
But things change quickly.
Now much of the Western media and establishment, including Israel and its lobby groups such as the Anti-Defamation League, have been willing to whitewash Ukrainian nationalists who helped Hitler exterminate Jews and Poles, because that suits the politics of the West’s current proxy war – using Ukrainians as cannon fodder – against Russia.It is common to hear apologists for Hitler’s Ukrainian volunteers claiming that the men of the Waffen SS Galicia division are remembered positively today despite their association with the Nazis, because their true motivation was fighting for Ukrainian independence, against the Soviet Union.
Last year, however, Ellen Germain, the US special envoy on Holocaust issues, called this kind of “rehabilitation” of Nazi collaborators a form of “Holocaust distortion.” She was right.
Cynicism and hypocrisy
All of this goes to show how cynical all the pious condemnations of Mahmoud Abbas have been.
As of this writing, the German ambassador in Tel Aviv, the US anti-Semitism envoy Deborah Lipstadt and her EU counterpart Katharina von Schnurbein, as well as Jonathan Greenblatt, the head of Anti-Defamation League – among the countless others who condemned Abbas – have said nothing about the celebration of Nazis by Canada’s entire political establishment.
Frankly, it would be surprising if any of them ever do.
Among Western governments and elites, the Holocaust is no longer – if it ever really was – treated as a historical crime with real victims whose memories deserve to be truly honored.
It is simply a political club to be hypocritically wielded on behalf of Israel and against official enemies when useful and convenient.
In this context of such utter bad faith, the Palestinian academics and activists who dutifully signed an open letter condemning Abbas’s comments should reflect on the futility – at best – of their gesture.Meanwhile, students and educators, writers and artists – anyone standing up for Palestine – are regularly falsely accused of anti-Semitism while living, breathing Nazis receive standing ovations from Israel’s closest friends.
It’s just disgusting.
Update: 25 September
On Sunday evening, Anthony Rota, the speaker of the Canadian House of Commons, issued a statement apologizing for his warm praise for Nazi SS veteran Yaroslav Hunka whom he had invited to attend Friday’s session at which Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky spoke.“I have subsequently become aware of more information which causes me to regret my decision,” Rota wrote.
The speaker took sole responsibility, asserting that “no one, including fellow parliamentarians and the Ukraine delegation, was aware of my intention or of my remarks before I delivered them.”
That’s definitely convenient for Canada’s political class who can now all pretend they had no idea how deeply entrenched veneration of the Waffen SS Galicia division is among many in Canada’s politically influential Ukrainian diaspora.
The speaker’s statement came after Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies, a staunchly pro-Israel group, demanded an explanation and apology for the standing ovation given to the Nazi veteran.
Michael Mostyn, the head of B’nai Brith Canada, another influential pro-Israel group, also condemned the hero’s welcome for the 98-year-old former Nazi soldier.From there the matter has spiraled into a political furor, and has made headlines across Canada and around the world.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who as noted above must be well aware of the deep Nazi connections in parts of the Ukrainian Canadian diaspora, is also cannily trying to distance himself from the embarrassing debacle.
“The independent speaker of the House has apologized and accepted full responsibility for issuing the invitation and for the recognition in Parliament. This was the right thing to do,” the prime minister’s office stated.
A government representative, Karin Gould, also denied that Trudeau met personally with Hunka, although images posted to social media apparently by one of Hunka’s relatives offer a hint that whether or not a meeting with Trudeau took place, one may have been planned or expected.Another photo, apparently posted and then deleted by Gould on Instagram, shows her posing with Hunka and Speaker Rota.
These images have circulated widely on social media, although The Electronic Intifada was not able to locate their original sources – their likely having been removed.No photos of Trudeau with Hunka have emerged as of yet.
Jagmeet Singh, leader of Canada’s nominally center-left New Democratic Party, also made excuses for his participation in the shameful spectacle of applauding a Nazi.All of these apologies will do little to alleviate concerns about Canada’s longstanding support for Nazis in Ukraine, not just with praise and applause, but with training and weapons going back years.
Historian Tarik Cyril Amar, an expert on Ukrainian ultranationalists, said the Canadian House of Commons’ speaker was engaging in “damage control kamikaze,” trying to shield Canada’s political class by taking sole responsibility.“But the thing is that this too is deeply dishonest. What Canada has is a deep, pervasive problem with its [politicians] sucking up to the organized far-right of the Ukrainian ‘diaspora’ and masking this despicable normalization as ‘multiculturalism’ and ‘tolerance,’” Amar added.
“The country needs a painful national debate and a serious course correction. Not one scapegoat, not even a volunteer scapegoat.”