Editorial: Oberlander Must Go

Oct. 28, 2020

On Feb. 28, 2000, Federal Court judge Andrew Mackay delivered his decision in the matter of Helmut Oberlander, and many of us felt that the case was now settled, that justice would finally be served, even if delayed, and in miserly portion. After all, the decision made it clear that on a balance of probabilities, Oberlander had lied about or misrepresented his wartime activities in order to fraudulently gain entry to Canada and then citizenship. Last week, he lost his bid to convince the Immigration and Refugee Board that it lacked jurisdiction to hear his case. The next step is a deportation hearing.

To recap, Oberlander served as a young translator in Einsatzgruppe D, a subunit Ek 10a, a mobile Nazi death squad. Einsatzgruppe D was responsible for the killing of more than 90,000 innocent civilians – part of the Holocaust by bullets that murdered more than one million Jewish men, women and children throughout the bloodlands of Eastern Europe and Ukraine.

Oberlander denied his membership in the unit and certainly denied any knowledge of the activities of the Einsatzgruppen, but Justice Mackay did not find his denials to be credible.

And 20 years later, Oberlander remains.

In the months that followed the initial decision, Oberlander’s lawyer claimed that the process was unfair, that his client had no means of appeal.

And 20 years later, Oberlander remains.

Oberlander’s cause was picked up by those who claimed that the process was a sham, and that he had been found guilty because of lobbying by Jewish advocacy groups 

And 20 years later, Oberlander remains.

His presence in Canada is an affront to the Holocaust survivors who are still with us. But more, it is an affront to all Canadians whose family trees have been brutally trimmed by genocide: the First Nations of Canada, Armenians, Ukrainians, Rwandans, Bosnians, Cambodians, Guatemalans, Sudanese, Darfurians.

But more it is – or should be – an affront to Canadians who believe that this country should be a sanctuary to the oppressed and not a haven for the oppressor.

In the two decades that have passed since that February 2000 decision, Oberlander’s defenders have pointed to his sterling behaviour in Canada, his contributions as a businessman; his deep roots in the Kitchener community.

It’s irrelevant – all of it. Not because we think so, but because, in successive judicial decisions, the courts have said so. Oberlander’s lawyers said that we should consider his spotless Canadian reputation? We have. And he lied to enter Canada.

His lawyers said that we should consider his family situation? Now we have. And he lied to enter Canada.

We should consider that his participation in Ek10a should be seen as the result of coercion? We did that as well. And he lied to enter Canada.

In each case, Oberlander has been afforded the full scope of all that Canadian law permits. Appeals were filed, heard, and rejected – on the facts – one after another.

What remains? Oberlander’s current legal representation (he outlived his initial lawyer) may simply be attempting to run out the clock. Their client is 96 years old. Perhaps they can keep the legal merry-go-round turning until their client shuffles off his mortal coil and faces a judge who is more certain and less tractable?

Perhaps. But it didn’t have to be this way. Like Edmund in King Lear, Oberlander could have said, “I pant for life. Some good I mean to do, despite of mine own nature.” He could have confessed. He could have said, “I was young and frightened and I gave in. Forgive me.” He could have offered a model of repentance and provided lessons – so incredibly important – for a generation in which history is optional both as an academic subject and as an intellectual compass. Instead, he remains obdurate.

Oberlander may still ask the courts to review his loss at the IRB. But Canada should not await his next legal somersault. Let him go now. Let him appeal his case from Germany. His continued presence in our country defiles all we should be as a nation.

He must go. 

Great Nixon’s Ghost! Donald Trump and the Jews

Oct. 26, 2020 

By ANDREW COHEN

In the last days of his embattled presidency, facing impeachment and removal from office, Richard Milhous Nixon was alone. He had been undone by Watergate, a byword for a regime of skullduggery, deception and criminality.

As he prepared to resign on Aug. 9, 1974, Nixon could rely on one unflagging loyalist. His name was Rabbi Baruch Korff, an émigré from Ukraine who had seen his mother murdered in a pogrom and had a history of incendiary behaviour.

Korff defended Nixon fiercely that summer. Claiming Nixon was a victim of a “carefully staged circus of hate,” Korff founded the National Citizens Committee for Fairness to the Presidency. Nixon called Korff “my rabbi.”

Oh, the cynicism. Audio recordings from the Oval Office released in 1999 and 2013 reveal the depth of Nixon’s antisemitism. His conversations illustrate a vulgar disdain for Jews, soaked in resentment and a sense of betrayal.

I recall the rabbi’s veneration of Nixon when I hear American Jews, a generation later, rush to the defence of Donald Trump. Like Korff, they rationalize the re-election of another corrupt Republican guilty of “high crimes and misdemeanors” – and a country club bigot, too.

One of Trump’s fervent apologists is Lauri B. Regan, who served on the Board of the National Women’s Committee of the Republican Jewish Coalition. In Hadassah Magazine, she calls Trump “the most pro-Israel president America has ever had.” She cheers the United States moving its embassy to Jerusalem, recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, and withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal – all dear to conservative Jewry.

For American Jews who put Israel first, her argument is predictable. If you’re a one-issue voter, Trump is your man, particularly if you think he’s more Zionist than David Ben-Gurion.

Trump’s policies won’t advance Israel’s peace or security, but that’s not the point. For blinkered Jews who also lionize Benjamin Netanyahu, Trump is the man on horseback, much as Stephen Harper was for Canadian Jews.

Had Regan declared herself a one-issue voter and left the rest of her valentine undrawn, she would be more credible. Or, if she’d admitted that she’s really voting for Trump, as many Jews are, because he’s made them richer.

But Regan goes further: She hails Trump as “one of the most patriotic presidents in recent memory.” It isn’t enough that Trump is the savior of Israel – let’s all chant Dayenu – now, he’s the saviour of the United States, too!

Regan fears rising anti-Jewish sentiment on campuses, in the Black Lives Matter movement, and in the Democratic Party. This threat should make Jews “prioritize protecting themselves, not the social issues that traditionally sway their votes,” she warns.

Doesn’t Trump stand up for the military and the police to protect us “in their synagogues” from the mob? Isn’t keeping America great keeping Jews “safe”?

Curiously, Regan sees antisemitism everywhere but in the presidency. She finds a bipartisan soul mate in Andrew Stein, former president of the New York City Council and founder of Democrats for Trump. Donald Trump an anti-Semite? No, says Stein. Didn’t Trump “welcome Judaism into his family” when Ivanka married Jared Kushner? Didn’t he combat hate crimes against Jews with an executive order?

Forget the torch-bearing brownshirts of Charlottesville; Trump’s indifference to those white supremacists was a “media distortion,” claims Regan. On Trump’s embrace of the Proud Boys and QAnon while he attacks the judiciary, the military, the media and other institutions, Regan and Stein are silent. While Republicans of conscience abandon Trump – see The Lincoln Project – and Americans prepare to repudiate Trump, this pair peddles a fantasy.

They would find their reflection in Rabbi Lionel Bengelsdorf of Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America. Smarter than everyone else, the wooly-minded Bengelsdorf fell so heavily for Charles Lindbergh that he missed the danger of Lindbergh’s antipathy toward Jews until it was too late. My late father called Bengelsdorf’s ilk “educated fools.”

Regan and Stein think nothing else matters to Jews but themselves, as if they are distinct or detached from society. To them, Jews ought not care – need not care – about the existential threat Trump poses to democracy, social justice, civil rights, and the rule of law.

Ironically, when he loses, Trump won’t appreciate the affections of Stein and Regan any more than he does the Vichy Republicans in Congress. Having privately ridiculed the evangelical Christians, he’ll reserve a scorn for Jews harsher than Nixon’s Jewish “bastards.” Eventually, we’ll know what he thought.

In the meantime, the charade unfolds. Rabbi Korff, meet Rabbi Regan and Rabbi Stein. They are your spiritual descendants and happy collaborators – as naive and embarrassing to their co-religionists today as you were then.


Andrew Cohen
Andrew Cohen

Andrew Cohen is a columnist for Postmedia News, professor at Carleton University’s School of Journalism, and author of Two Days in June: John F. Kennedy and the 48 Hours That Made History.

IRB Dismisses Oberlander’s Latest Legal Move

Oct. 21, 2020

The Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB) has turned down an application from Helmut Oberlander, removing yet another obstacle to the deportation of the 96-year-old alleged Nazi war criminal.

Helmut Oberlander in an undated Second World War-era photo (left) and in his 90s (right)

In a decision issued Oct. 20, the IRB’s Immigration Division denied Oberlander’s bid to dismiss his case based on his argument that the board lacked jurisdiction to remove him.

Oberlander has argued that his status as a Canadian citizen was never expunged, and that the IRB lacked jurisdiction to issue a deportation order against him. Doing so would be an “abuse of process.”

The IRB’s 67-page judgment counters that the Immigration Division has the jurisdiction to issue removal orders against Oberlander on the basis of reports before it.

When he exhausted his last possible appeal at the Supreme Court of Canada last December, it appeared the next logical step was his removal. Taking the case to the IRB was seen as a last-ditch effort by Oberlander to avoid deportation.

The former Nazi death squad member was admitted to Canada in 1954 and acquired Canadian citizenship in 1960. The federal cabinet revoked his citizenship in 2001, 2007, 2012 and 2017. On the first three occasions, the decisions were upheld by the Federal Court but sent back to cabinet for redetermination by the Federal Court of Appeal.

The government has said that Oberlander was admitted to Canada through false representation or by knowingly concealing his wartime service in the mobile Nazi death squad Einsatzkommando 10a, known as Ek10a, and thus never gained lawful entrance to this country.

Oberlander has always maintained that he was a low-level translator with Ek10a, which operated in Nazi-occupied Ukraine and slaughtered thousands of civilians, mostly Jews.

He served with the unit from 1941 to 1943, claiming he had been conscripted as a teenager under duress and that he never took part in atrocities.

The case can now be scheduled for an admissibility hearing to determine whether Oberlander should be removed from Canada, IRB spokesperson Anna Pape told The CJR. Recourse can be sought through a judicial review by the Federal Court, she added.

The CJR will monitor developments.