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Comprehensive Insight: Unraveling the Journey of Former Nazis to Canada

Canadian members of Parliament gave a standing ovation in the House of Commons for a former member of the Waffen SS, a Nazi division accused of war crimes during World War II.

On Sept. 22, Canadian members of Parliament gave a standing ovation in the House of Commons for a former member of the Waffen SS, a Nazi division accused of war crimes during World War II.

The incident, which has now taken centre stage in Canadian politics, happened during Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s visit to Parliament as Russia’s war against Ukraine rages on. The man in question, Ukrainian-Canadian Yaroslav Hunka, was called “a Canadian hero” by Speaker of the House Anthony Rota and was also thanked for his military service.

Mr. Rota apologized following the incident on Sept. 24, saying the decision to recognize Mr. Hunka was “entirely my own” and extended his “deepest apologies to Jewish communities in Canada and around the world.” Mr. Rota added that before recognizing the man in Parliament, he had not been aware of his connections to the Nazi regime.

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MPs from all parties have subsequently said Mr. Hunka should not have been honoured in Parliament. Many in the Conservative Party are questioning how a former member of the Waffen SS member was able to slip past the vetting process and receive roaring applause from Canadian politicians.

But the incident raises the question of how a democracy like Canada, which fought alongside the allies against the Nazi regime, could have allowed former Nazis to immigrate to the country?

4th Waffen Grenadier Division

From 1932 to 1933, Ukraine’s population was decimated by a famine that was exacerbated by policies implemented by the Soviet Union. The Communist Party’s decision to collectivize agriculture led to a drop in food production in Ukraine, leading to the deaths of up to 5 million Ukrainians in a famine known as the Holomodor.

When Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, they were greeted as liberators by some Ukrainians, who believed the fascist country would be a natural ally in Ukraine’s quest for independence. While the Ukrainians’ new occupiers continued to brutalize them, by 1943 the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists had organized a multinational force to fight on behalf of the retreating Nazi army.

Flight Lt. Panchuck, who helped over 30,000 Ukrainian refugees come to Canada after the war’s end, put forth a “positive narrative” that portrayed the unit as victims who had been forced to fight against the Soviets against their will, according to Espirt de Corps. The Royal Canadian Air Force officer made no mention of the group’s connections with the SS.

While being held in a camp in Italy in the last days of the war, the 14th Waffen SS Division Galicia had also changed its name to the First Division Ukrainian National Army in order to hide its Nazi past.

While the Canadian government did not look deeply into the unit’s background, many in the British government knew members of the unit had connections to the Nazis. A report from Britain’s Under-Secretary of State noted that because the unit was an SS division, technically, “all of its officers and senior NCOs are liable for trial as war criminals.” One British bureaucrat said in 1948 that the country was hoping to “get rid of the less desirable” Ukrainian prisoners of war by sending them either to Germany or Canada.

Some members of the Canadian-Ukrainian community were also aware of the unit’s past, and the Association of United Ukrainians in Canada put forth a campaign to stop the former Nazi collaborators from arriving in Canada.

“Ukrainian Division (Galicia) was part and parcel of the Hitler army. It was against them that our Canadian boys fought on the battlefields of Italy. Many a Canadian son remained over there, shot by the VERY ONES that Mr. Panchuk would wish your Department to bring to Canada,” the association wrote to Canadian immigration officials, according to Esprit de Corps.

Ultimately, Lt. Panchuck’s campaign was successful and 2,000 members of the 14th SS Division Galicia arrived and settled

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