MONTREAL — The death of an alleged Nazi war criminal whom Jewish groups long sought to have brought to justice has underlined their frustration with what they see as Canada’s not pursuing this issue aggressively enough over the decades.
Vladimir Katriuk, a Ukrainian who served in a Ukrainian battalion of the Waffen SS during World War II, died at his home in Ormstown, Que., on or about May 22 at age 93, having eluded demands over many years by Canadian Jewish Congress, B’nai Brith Canada and Friends of the Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies (FSWC) for his deportation.
Since the Harper cabinet decided not to revoke Katriuk’s Canadian citizenship in 2007, little had been heard about the beekeeper until earlier this month, when Russia demanded his extradition.
The Russians said they had opened a criminal investigation against Katriuk and believed they had sufficient evidence to prosecute him for war crimes. The Harper government did not respond to the request, which many observers viewed as retaliation for Canada’s imposition of sanctions against Russia for its aggression in Ukraine.
Over the years, the Jewish groups have provided evidence linking Katriuk, who immigrated to Canada in 1951, to numerous atrocities, including the deaths of thousands of Jews and other civilians in Byelorussia from 1941 to 1943.
Katriuk always denied the allegations. After his death, his longtime lawyer Orest Rudzik, said his former client was the victim of unfair persecution.
Unaware of Katriuk’s death, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) on May 28 called on the Canadian government to review his case.
“While we are supportive of Canada’s position on the integrity of Ukraine and the need to oppose challenges to Ukraine’s sovereignty, this must be separated out from the imperative to ensure justice is served with respect to Nazi atrocities perpetrated against Jews and others during World War II,” said CEO Shimon Fogel.
“We call on the government of Canada to review this case and take the necessary steps to ensure that, if guilty, Katriuk be held accountable for war crimes committed in collaboration with the Nazi regime.”
On May 29, CIJA spokesperson Martin Sampson said: “The death of Katriuk closes another chapter in the story of inadequate response to Nazi-era war criminals and their enablers in our midst.”
In 1999, the Federal Court ruled that Katriuk obtained Canadian citizenship under false pretenses, because he didn’t reveal his collaboration with the Nazis, but the court found no evidence he committed atrocities. Sampson said Katriuk could have had his citizenship stripped at that time on the basis that he lied.
In 2012, scholarly research by a Swedish professor, which was presented to the Harper government, uncovered new evidence Katriuk was an active participant in a massacre in Khatyn in 1943. “We don’t know if that was reviewed, but there was obviously no action taken,” Sampson said.
There is little doubt on the part of B’nai Brith and the FSWC about Katriuk’s guilt.
“Sadly, Katriuk’s death in Canada points out the exact concern that we repeatedly raised” – that time is running out, said B’nai Brith senior legal counsel David Matas in a statement.
For more than 30 years, B’nai Brith petitioned for his expulsion from Canada. It’s now renewing pressure on the government to act against another very elderly alleged Nazi war criminal.
“While Germany is belatedly prosecuting Nazi war criminals, Canada is still dragging its feet in case of Helmut Oberlander, another Canadian Nazi whose deportation proceedings should be expedited.”
Oberlander, 91, of Kitchener-Waterloo, Ont., was stripped of his citizenship in 2012 after being found to have concealed his participation in the Einsatzkommando, a Nazi death squad, during the war. He continues to fight deportation.
Avi Benlolo, president and CEO of the FSWC, said Katriuk was high on his group’s most-wanted list of Nazi war criminals. “It’s very disheartening that this case was not dealt with appropriately by the government. We are very disappointed, but Katriuk had a strong lobby behind him.”
Asked if he was referring to the Ukrainian community, Benlolo declined to be more precise. The Ukrainian Canadian Congress had said that Canada should ignore Russia’s request that Katriuk be handed over.
Its executive director, Taras Zalusky, called it “an obvious attempt to distract attention away from Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea, invasion of and war against Ukraine, and sow discord among ethnic communities in Canada.”
Russia is also not pleased Katriuk never faced justice. “Sadly, the Canadian government ignored numerous appeals by Canadian Jewish organizations and efforts by the Russian authorities to ensure that justice was served,” said embassy press secretary Kirill Kalinin.