Sheldon Kirshner
Sheldon Kirshner

Canada’s last known Nazi war criminal

Helmut Oberlander’s Canadian citizenship has been revoked no less than four times by the government of Canada, yet the last known Nazi war criminal is still here, reminding us all that something is terribly amiss.

Most recently, the Federal Court of Canada convened a hearing on his motion to end all deportation proceedings against him. Several days ago, Justice Denis Gascon issued a ruling that the high court “should not entertain (his) request.” Gascon also wrote that Oberlander’s appeal was “premature” rather than unfounded, leaving the door open to yet more legal wrangling and thereby perpetuating the status quo regarding this long-running removal case.

What this really means is abysmally clear. Oberlander, 97, is manifestly free to live out the rest of his life in Canada without having to pay a price for his complicity in unprecedented crimes. To decent-minded Canadians and the last remaining Holocaust survivors in Canada, justice delayed is justice denied.

Oberlander is an ethnic German who was born in southeastern Ukraine. Fluent in German, Ukrainian and Russian, he became an interpreter in Einsatzkommando 10a — a unit of a German mobile killing squad — in 1941. With Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union in June of that year, Einsatzgruppen death squads roamed Ukraine at will, murdering huge numbers of Jews and Soviet officials.

Oberlander’s family claims he was forcibly conscripted, was not a Nazi, never subscribed to Nazism and never killed anyone. His daughter, Irene, believes he should not be held responsible for Germany’s crimes against humanity during the Holocaust.

He and his wife immigrated to Canada in 1954, settling in the Ontario town of Waterloo, where he built a successful real estate development company. In 1960, they were granted Canadian citizenship.

Questioned by German officials in Toronto in 1970, Oberlander told them he did not know his unit’s name or that it had engaged in the systematic murder of Jews.

In 2000, Justice Andrew MacKay of the Federal Court of Canada ruled there was no evidence he had been a participant in atrocities. MacKay, however, thought it was “implausible” that Oberlander was unaware of his unit’s name. Further, MacKay said that Oberlander had obtained Canadian citizenship by “false representation or by knowingly concealing material circumstances.”

The federal cabinet revoked his citizenship in 2001, 2007, 2012 and yet again in 2017, but Oberlander’s appeals succeeded in overturning these decisions.

But in 2018, Justice Michael Phalen of the Federal Court of Canada issued a verdict that effectively weakened Oberlander’s argument. “The applicant’s work as an interpreter facilitated the screening process for executions and served as an important step toward the realization of EK 10a’s criminal purpose,” he wrote in a damning indictment.

In the following year, the Federal Court of Canada refused to hear Oberlander’s appeal concerning the revocation of his citizenship, saying he had entered Canada fraudulently after World War II.

By way of response, his family released a statement claiming he “has been unjustly persecuted,” has “never been charged with a crime,” and is “too frail … to be able to present a proper defence.”

Canada’s ineffectual efforts to deport Oberlander underscores its mediocre record of bringing Nazi war criminals to justice. “The Oberlander case must be seen against the backdrop of a failed policy,” says Irwin Cotler, the former minister of justice and the chairman of the Raoul Wallenberg Center for Human Rights in Montreal.

The then Canadian prime minister, Brian Mulroney, formed a special commission in the mid-1980s to investigate claims that Canada was a haven for Nazi war criminals. Jules Deschenes, its chairman, dismissed the allegation that thousands of such criminals had slipped into Canada. Yet he acknowledged that Canada, like many Western nations, had “devoted not the slightest energy” to either finding or prosecuting them.

Canada has exerted considerable time and resources in dealing with the vexing Oberlander case. But this miscarriage of justice must now be resolved once and for all.

Oberlander was a cog in the Nazi machinery of death, which claimed the lives of six million Jews, and he lied on his immigration form when he applied for Canadian citizenship. He is definitely a liability, and Canada — a nation of liberal values that champions ethnic, national and religious diversity — should deport him as soon as possible.

Oberlander does not deserve to be a citizen of this great country.

About the Author
Sheldon Kirshner is a journalist in Toronto. He writes at his online journal, SheldonKirshner.com
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