Aug. 10, 2020 – By BELLE JARNIEWSKI
As Canadians continue to confront the ongoing influence of colonialist monuments in our country, one memorial commemorating the 1st Ukrainian Division of the Ukrainian National Army, initially known as the Waffen-SS “Galicia” Division, was recently “vandalized.”
As reported on these pages, graffiti spray-painted on the memorial, located in a private cemetery in Oakville, Ont., read, “Nazi war monument,” which, of course, describes it accurately. The Division was, after all, part of the Nazi Waffen SS. Many of its members were from the region of Galicia and served in the Nazi killing machine under the direct control of SS Chief Heinrich Himmler.
In fact, in a speech to this unit in May 1944, Himmler issued a pep-talk to its members: “Your homeland has become more beautiful since you have lost – on our initiatives, I must say – the residents who were so often a dirty blemish on Galicia’s good name – namely the Jews. I know if I ordered you to liquidate the Poles, I would be giving you permission to do what you are eager to do anyway.”
In a bizarre move, Halton Regional Police initially announced it was investigating the vandalism as a hate-motivated offense. Police have since apologized and continue to investigate the event as an act of vandalism.
Another monument in Edmonton memorializes Roman Shukhevych, a Ukrainian nationalist who was one of the commanders of Nachtigall Battalion, and commander of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), which was responsible for the massacre of Jews and Poles. The bust of Shukhevych, which stands at the entrance of the Ukrainian Youth Unity Complex in North Edmonton, was funded in part by taxpayers through programs designed to promote multiculturalism.
As several have pondered, the bigger question is why such monuments exist on Canadian soil in the first place.
One argument presented in their defense is that they memorialize the fight against Communism. They portray individuals like Shukhevych as national heroes and play down their active and voluntary participation in the murder of Jews and others.
Journalists and scholars who have written articles critical of these monuments have found themselves accused of writing “pro-Kremlin propaganda” and subject to campaigns to discredit them.
For instance, in 2012, some Canadian Ukrainian organizations sent a letter of complaint to the vice-chancellor of Lund University in Sweden regarding Per Anders Rudling, now an assistant professor at the university. Rudling has been researching eastern European nationalism for the past 15 years and his research has been peer reviewed and published in prestigious academic journals.
However, Rudling came under attack for writing about the emerging cult of personality around Shukhevych, as well as pointing out his wartime crimes against Jews and Poles. A number of Ukrainian Canadian groups remain steadfast in their claims that Shukyvych should be remembered as a Ukrainian national hero, and they dismiss any accusations of Ukrainian complicity with the Nazis as “fake news” manufactured by the Kremlin.
In addition to Rudling’s scholarly work, journalists Scott Taylor and David Pugliese, among others, have written about the Nazi monuments, and articles on the subject have appeared on many sites, including Radio Canada International, the Ottawa Citizen, Esprit de Corps, and The Nation. Their assertions have been supported by eminent Canadian historian John-Paul Himka.
Oddly enough, voices from the Jewish community remained silent, for the most part, until the recent “vandalism” in Oakville. Until then, the loudest voices opposing the monuments came from outside the organized Jewish community.
The ongoing existence of these monuments is a clear example of Holocaust distortion. At the most recent plenary session of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) under the German presidency, a statement was issued “condemning all attempts to rehabilitate the reputations of persons who were complicit in the crimes of the Holocaust and the genocide of the Roma.”
These monuments are explicit attempts at doing just that, and they must be removed.
Belle Jarniewski of Winnipeg is Executive Director of the Jewish Heritage Centre of Western Canada. Since 2013, she has served on the federally appointed delegation to IHRA, as a member of its Academic Working Group and the Committee on Antisemitism and Holocaust Denial.
For more on this issue, read the latest update from Edmonton by Jeremy Appel in our News section.