WATERLOO — Six months after another legal setback, the federal cabinet won't say if it will give up trying to strip Helmut Oberlander of his citizenship for serving in a Nazi death squad.
Oberlander, 92, has bested the government three times in court to retain his citizenship. The Supreme Court refused last summer to hear a government appeal, sending the faltering 22-year prosecution back to Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould.
"As this is a case that has been ongoing for many years, the government is considering what next steps, if any, will be taken following the court's most recent decision," the Department of Justice said Jan. 6 in a statement. Wilson-Raybould would not be interviewed.
Ernst Friedel says Canada should abandon its case against Oberlander after three legal defeats. "I think it's ridiculous that they would go against the legal system," said Friedel, a director with the German-Canadian Congress.
Friedel argues that prosecuting Oberlander is wrong in part because no evidence was presented to a court that he personally committed war crimes, and because his wartime role as a translator made him helpful.
"He facilitated communication between two groups to help both sides to make their point," he said.
Benjamin Ferencz, 97, says Canada should keep prosecuting the retired Waterloo developer despite legal setbacks, despite his age, and despite seven decades that have passed since the Second World War.
"I would continue to harass the hell out of him until he died," said Ferencz, who prosecuted Nazis who led the death squads at the landmark Nuremburg war crimes trials in 1947. "As long as the law allows you to continue doing that, I see no great evil as a result of doing that.
"Harassment is a lot better than just being murdered. So all you can do is to continue harassing him."
Ferencz understands that Oberlander held a low rank, that he's not personally accused of atrocities, and that it sounds cruel to prosecute a 92-year-old.
"You get a low-level guy and you're harassing him, it's symbolic. But you want to keep alive this symbol that genocide is a crime. So keep going," he said. "Everybody who was a member of these squads was in my carefully considered judgment complicit in mass murder."
Oberlander, an ethnic German born a Soviet citizen, says the Nazis conscripted him after overrunning his Ukrainian village. It's estimated the squad he served murdered more than 23,000 civilians between 1941 and 1943. Oberlander says he didn't kill anyone and denies lying to gain citizenship.
Otto Ohlendorf was among the Nazi leaders prosecuted by Ferencz at the Nuremburg trials. Ohlendorf oversaw five mobile death squads with 600 men including Oberlander. The Allies hanged Ohlendorf for helping to orchestrate the slaughter of more than a million people.
In 1947, Ferencz limited his prosecution to leaders. He is unfamiliar with most of the 3,000 men including Oberlander who served in mobile squads known as the Einsatzgruppen. Yet he sees all squad members as complicit, even cooks or translators.
"They all knew they were there to murder all the Jews they could get their hands on. And that's what they did, in one capacity or another," he said from his Florida home.
Oberlander immigrated to Canada after the war, lying about his service in the SS-led unit, a court later found. He became a successful Waterloo developer.
The federal cabinet argues it has the right to strip Oberlander's citizenship because he lied to get it. Courts have repeatedly told cabinet that it must also weigh other factors, such as Oberlander's level of complicity in the death squad.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said last April that his government is committed to prosecuting immigrants such as Oberlander who lie to become citizens. "That is at the core of this case I'm sure," Trudeau said.
Ferencz said: "I have no great sympathy for Mr. Oberlander if he is being harassed because he got in under false pretences, trying to conceal the fact that he was connected to a murder mob."
He understands that some have a different view. "What is the justification for trying a guy who is now in his 90s who has not committed any crimes in Canada presumably, and presumably will not commit any crimes in the future?" he said. "This is a matter of personal judgment, moral judgment."
When he weighs the "inhumanity" of prosecuting an elderly man against the feelings of Nazi victims and their kin, "my sympathies go with the victims rather than the perpetrators."