Canada’s disgraceful history of covering for and even feting Nazi war criminals is finally receiving the attention it deserves. Yet some mainstream figures are still parroting far-right nationalist propaganda under the guise of resisting “disinformation.”

Sculpture of Ukrainian Nazi collaborator Roman Shukhevych in Edmonton, Canada, on August 23, 2023. (Artur Widak / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

When word initially broke that the Canadian Parliament had offered a standing ovation for a ninety-eight-year old veteran of the Waffen-SS, it was disappointingly easy to imagine the story coming and going in a matter of days.

For one thing, previous reporting on monuments honoring veterans of the 14th Waffen Grenadier (or 1st Galician) Division had somehow failed to elicit any significant national outcry. After it was revealed in 2017 that Chrystia Freeland, then Canada’s foreign minister and now its minister of finance, knew of her grandfather’s past as the editor of a Nazi newspaper in occupied Poland, the story mostly seemed to fall on deaf ears — despite her having previously paid tribute to him.

And when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invoked the specter of “Russian disinformation” in the wake of the recent episode in Parliament, it was eerily plausible to imagine that the same might happen again. The grotesque spectacle of mainstream pundits prevaricating on the question of whether volunteering for the SS and swearing an oath of allegiance to Adolf Hitler technically made someone a Nazi only appeared to confirm the worst.

Whatever else can be said about the media discourse that has followed, however, the issue absolutely hasn’t gone away. In fact, Parliament’s feting of Yaroslav Hunka — who willingly joined a military unit that carried out war crimes and has continued to celebrate his membership in the SS into old age — seems to have punctured the silence. As Jeremy Appel speculated last month: “Perhaps the Hunka affair will serve as a catalyst for a long-overdue reckoning with how Canadian officials, in the name of anti-Communism, turned a blind eye to Nazi sympathies among eastern European nationalist émigrés . . .”

Thanks to the important work of Appel and a number of other journalists, details have continued to emerge about the appalling extent that expat Ukrainian Nazi collaborators insinuated themselves into Canada’s cultural and political life after the war. Hunka, as it turned out, actually had an endowment named for him at a major Alberta university. Since that was reported, nearly $1.5 million worth of similar endowments and donations have been identified. Peter Savaryn, who was fairly open about his past in the Waffen-SS, even served as chancellor of the University of Alberta in the 1980s and vice president of what was then the country’s national governing party. Upon retirement in 1987, he was awarded the Order of Canada, the country’s highest civilian honor. (This week, Canada’s current governor general Mary Simon issued an apology for the award.)

Jewish groups, meanwhile, are renewing calls for the removal of monuments to Ukrainians who fought for the Nazis currently standing in both Edmonton, Alberta, and Oakville, Ontario. Calls have also grown louder for the release of an unredacted version of the Deschenes Commission report — released following a flawed 1980s inquiry into the presence of Nazi war criminals in Canada, albeit with the names of alleged former Nazis kept secret.

Encouraging as these developments are, they have yet to stymie the steady flow of historical revisionism that has disgracefully followed the Hunka affair. Given the current geopolitical context, some appear to believe that the aggression of Vladimir Putin’s Russia against present-day Ukraine somehow justifies equivocation about the history of the Holocaust and criminality of Nazi-aligned Ukrainian collaborationists in the 1940s. Appalling pieces like this one, published by no less than Politico, have gone even further in suggesting that the demonology of the Waffen-SS — which was officially declared a criminal organization by the International Military Tribunal during the Nuremberg Trials — is somehow misplaced.

It’s alarming that this even needs to be said, but it’s beyond sinister to see people parroting far-right nationalist propaganda under the guise of resisting “disinformation.” It moreover does a deep disservice, not only to history, but also to the heroic efforts of the millions of Ukrainians in the Red Army who helped defeat Nazi Germany and to all those in Canada’s Ukrainian diaspora who reject the nationalist right’s attempts to rewrite it.

Whatever ultimately comes out of it, the disgraceful Hunka episode has helped expose something deeply ugly in Canada’s history, and the extent that some are willing to go to bend the past around their preferred contemporary narrative. With any luck, however, this is only the beginning. The statues must come down. The endowments must be identified and terminated. The records must be opened up. And the veil of ignorance some have tried to place over the history of the twentieth century must be lifted for good.

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