The Nazi past haunts 97-year-old Helmut Oberlander, as well as Canada. The American country fought Adolf Hitler’s regime in World War II and received thousands of people who survived the barbarism, but it also became a refuge for some Nazi executioners and collaborators. Oberlander is one of them; at the moment, he is the last living known in the country for his long battle to avoid deportation. Although he has never been formally charged with a crime, he is appointed by the authorities for his participation in a Nazi death squad that killed at least 20,000 people. Seven decades later, in a late and erratic justice process, the Canadian Immigration and Refuge Commission must now decide on his possible deportation after his citizenship was revoked in 2018.
Helmut Oberlander (1924, Halbstadt, Ukraine) arrived in Canada with his wife Margret in 1954 and obtained Canadian citizenship in 1960. The couple has two daughters and settled in Waterloo (Ontario), where they managed to achieve a loose economic situation thanks to activities in the real estate sector. But his placid life was interrupted in 1995, when the Royal Canadian Mounted Police opened an investigation into Oberlander’s affiliation between 1941 and 1943 to a Einsatzkommando, a Nazi unit made up of members of the SS and Gestapo who operated in areas of the former Soviet Union and murdered thousands of civilians.
After decades of silence, Helmut Oberlander said that he was forced to join the unit at the age of 17 and that, if he defected, he would have been executed. He also stated that he performed non-violent tasks, mainly as a translator. He was not prosecuted, but Canadian authorities tried to withdraw his citizenship because he concealed that he belonged to a death squad. A 2018 Federal Court document states: “In 1943 and 1944, Oberlander became an infantryman in the German Army.”
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As early as 2000, in a first attempt by Canada to revoke his citizenship, Judge Andrew MacKay stated that there was no evidence of his participation in the massacres, but that he had hidden his past and, although he knew the brutality of the Task forces, was an accomplice for his tasks in the unit. “My father has been a responsible and respectful citizen of this country’s laws. It created many jobs and contributed to the community, ”said Irene Rooney, one of her daughters, at a meeting with the parliamentary citizenship and immigration committee in April 2005. Oberlander’s lawyers managed to have the decision overturned three times, but the judge Michael Phelan rendered a final decision in September 2018.
Oberlander and his lawyers tried to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada. But the request was denied in December 2019, opening the door to deportation (authorities have not officially said which country it would be in, as Oberlander lost German nationality when he acquired the Canadian one). Since then, the defense has sought to curb his expulsion on the grounds that his old age and reduced mental faculties represent “abuse in procedure”. In a new chapter of this plot, the defense obtained in February this year the temporary suspension of an order that expired on March 19. Ron Poulton, Oberlander’s principal lawyer, requested the day before the procedure to be permanently annulled. “We discovered evidence that had been in the hands of the Government for years and which we did not have access to despite being our right,” he said.
Poulton in statements to the CBC channel, although without going into details. A new hearing is scheduled for next Tuesday.
For Michael Levitt, president of the Friends of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Oberlander “abused” the legal system and “avoided justice for too long”. Levitt considers that the case is “shameful and disrespectful to the memory of those who suffered and lost their lives at the hands of the Nazis”. For his part, the co-chairman of the Jewish and Israeli Relations Advisory Center, Pinchas Gutter, asked the Government of Canada to carry out the deportation. “It saddens us enormously that Nazi war criminals continue to evade justice by hiding their past. Oberlander served in a Nazi death squad and lied to obtain Canadian citizenship, ”he said in a statement.
According to calculations by the historian Howard Margolian, about 2,000 criminals and Nazi collaborators arrived in Canada between 1946 and 1956, the majority coming from Ukraine, Lithuania and Hungary. In 1987, the Government of Brian Mulroney modified the Penal Code so that Canada could prosecute war crimes and crimes against humanity committed abroad, after the country was criticized for not making an effort to prosecute these cases. In 2000, Canada adopted the law on war crimes and against humanity, after ratifying the Rome Statute.
So far, only two processes have been carried out based on this standard, both related to the Rwandan genocide. As for the Nazis’ cases, Michael Seifert, a former SS member who arrived in Canada in 1951, was extradited to Germany in 2007, and László Csatáry, a member of the Hungarian police who participated in the transfer of some 15,000 Jews to Auschwitz, lost his citizenship Canadian in 1997; died in Budapest in 2013.
Other cases show the reverse of the medal. Vladimir Katriuk, former SS, died in 2015 at the age of 93 in Ormstown (Quebec). He never appeared before a judge. Wasyl Odynsky, a former guard at the concentration camp
Trawniki (Poland), died in 2014 in Scarborough (Ontario) at the age of 90. A Canadian court in 2009 rejected a request to withdraw his citizenship. According to the Ministry of Justice, the case of Helmut Oberlander is the only one related to World War II that remains open. The end is not yet known.
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