Ukrainian born Helmut Oberlander, 88, has once again been stripped of the Canadian citizenship he acquired in 1960, over allegations of his membership in the Nazi Einsatzkommando killing squad, according to Canadian news sources. He now faces possible deportation proceedings.
Back in 1995, Canadian authorities first revoked Oberlander’s citizenship, accusing him of concealing information about his participation in punitive task force operations while serving in the German army during World War II. In 2009, however, Canada’s Court of Appeals returned citizenship rights to Oberlander, who claimed that he’d been compelled to join the punitive group and that all he was responsible for were translation services. Over 23,000 Soviet citizens were murdered in the kind of operation that Oberlander was accused of taking part in.
In late December, the Canadian government filed an order in council at Federal Court in Toronto quietly stripping Oberlander, an ethnic German, of his citizenship. As it now stands, the only obstacle to his deportation would be the possibility of yet another judicial review.
Having first arrived in Canada in 1954 with his wife, Oberlander, a retired real estate developer who settled in Waterloo, Ontario, has consistently maintained that he was conscripted into a Nazi death squad — the EK10A, which operated behind the German army’s front line in the eastern occupied territories during World War II — under duress. When applying for Canadian citizenship, Oberlander did not disclose his wartime experience. His family says he wasn’t a Nazi and has never been charged with any war crime by Ottawa. He has insisted that he served only as a translator in the unit and never participated in any killings.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center has listed Oberlander as one of the top ten most wanted Nazi war crimes suspects in the world and said that he was one of 2,000 Nazi war criminals who slipped into Canada without revealing their Nazi past. In addition to Oberlander, the Friends of the Simon Wiesenthal Center have also called for the deportation of Vladimir Katriuk, a beekeeper in Quebec who was a member of a battalion responsible for a massacre in the village of Khatyn, in what is now Belarus.
Oberlander was drafted into the Einsatzkommando mobile killing squad in 1941, at the age of 17. The squad reportedly “murdered hundreds of thousands of thousands of Jews, Gypsies, and Soviet political commissars – usually by shooting the victims into mass graves. Oberlander’s unit was also issued a poison gas van.”
Bernie Farber, the former chief executive of the Canadian Jewish Congress has said that Oberlander’s case has been in the spotlight of the Jewish community, “He is the only person ever who we know of is a member of an SS killing unit to actually be in North America,” said Farber.
Shimon Fogel, chief executive of the Center for Israel and Jewish Affairs, said his organization appreciates the Canadian government’s determination in pursuing the case.“We think it speaks to a fundamental issue of justice,” he said.
The fact Oberlander is elderly does not mitigate the need for him to account for his past said Fogel. He added that the maelstrom of publicity surrounding Oberlander serves to bring the Holocaust back into the public’s consciousness. “Bringing this front and center again maybe has the pedagogic value of reminding Canadians of this terrible and singular horror,” Fogel declared.
In the past three years, more than 60 Nazi criminals have been ordered out of Canada.
Nancy Karon, a spokeswoman for the Canadian Citizenship and Immigration Bureau confirmed the review is now complete and “the government is standing by its decision to revoke Mr. Oberlander’s citizenship.” Speaking to a Canadian television network, she said that the federal government “committed to identifying and deporting from Canada people involved in war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. This includes Nazis who perpetrated reprehensible crimes during the Holocaust, as these criminals must face justice for their horrific crimes.”
In response, Avi Benlolo, President and CEO of the Friends of the Simon Wiesenthal Center said, “As a human rights advocacy organization grounded in the lessons of the Holocaust, we are so pleased to see the Canadian government taking steps to deport one of the few remaining Nazis in Canada – there is no statute of limitations for those who participated in genocide.”
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