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War Criminals Old and New


 

All things considered, Helmut Oberlander, the 84-year-old veteran of a Second World War Nazi killing squad who has just been stripped of his Canadian citizenship and ordered deported, is extraordinarily lucky to have lived this long.

As a child, he first survived Stalin’s state-manufactured famine that killed more than two million Ukrainians in 1932 and 1933. Ethnic Germans such as Oberlander living in the Soviet Union were targeted during Stalin’s purges of 1937 and 1938, but Oberlander survived these as well. The odds against his long life grew even longer the moment Germany invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941. Stalin deported hundreds of thousands of ethnic Germans to Kazakhstan and Siberia, where many were worked to death. Oberlander avoided this. He also avoided the fate of the more than 25 million Soviet soldiers and civilians who died fighting the invading Germans, or under their devastating occupation. Instead, he was drafted by the German army in 1941 and put to work as an interpreter for an Einsatzkommando mobile killing squad, a subgroup of the Einsatzgruppen task forces that 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.

How much choice the 17-year-old Oberlander had in his assignment is debatable. Many Ukrainians willingly collaborated with and fought for the Germans, whom they initially saw as liberators from a regime that had intentionally starved so many of them to death. More fought against them, recognizing Nazi Germany as a regime of unmatched genocidal brutality. There is no evidence that Oberlander ever killed anyone himself. The Federal Court judge who upheld his deportation order concluded that hiding his past involvement in a Nazi death squad deprived Oberlander of the right to Canadian citizenship.

It is possible if not probable that Oberlander would have died had he refused orders to join the Einsatzkommando unit, swallowed by the yawning furnace that was the Eastern Front. And maybe there are times when dying is the only honourable thing to do, although others might pause to contemplate how they would react in similar circumstances. Perhaps, 65 years later, Oberlander if finally facing something approximating the justice he deserves. Still, I can’t think about Oberlander without considering the fate of another alleged war criminal living in Canada.

Since writing last year about Charles Taylor, the former Liberian warlord and president who is now on trial in The Hague for war crimes and crimes against humanity, I’ve been looking into the lives of several associates of Taylor who are now in Canada. One, whom I’m not yet in a position to name, stands out. He was one of Taylor’s regional commanders in the early 1990s and controlled much of Taylor’s illegal timber exports from the port city of Buchanan. He earned a particularly infamous reputation for sadism.

“This man killed a thousand. He used to nail people to lumber,” a reliable source who knew him at the time told me. “It was the normal thing they’d do: they’d see a girl and a guy, and they’d take the girl and kill the guy.”

The commander left Liberia in the 1990s and eventually arrived in Canada by way of Burkina Faso and Germany. He now lives, apparently unmolested by authorities, in Toronto. A Liberian woman living in Canada who was told that this commander was also in the country physically shook when she heard the news, according to my source. The commander had allegedly killed most of her family with a knife.

It is possible that 50 years from now justice will come looking for this man, as it has for Helmut Oberlander. West African mass murderers were never as careful record keepers as the Nazis, but maybe someone will be able to compile a case against him just the same. In the meantime, the former warlord is settling down. He recently got married to a Caribbean woman in a bustling evangelical church. He says he has found Christ and is born again.


 

War Criminals Old and New

  1. The Federal Court judge who upheld his deportation order concluded that hiding his past involvement in a Nazi death squad deprived Oberlander of the right to Canadian citizenship.

    This is an absolutely idiotic reason to deport an 84 year old man. The judge needs to have his head examined.

  2. I disagree. I think being a Canadian should mean certain things. “Not participating in death squads” rank highly among those.

  3. I think it’s pretty clear that Robert needs his head examined. Would it be idiotic to deport a 34 year-old man who hid his Nazi past? How many Jews should you have to kill to be deported? He is only 84 because he is a good sneak. The sooner we can get rid of him the better. I have no pity for him just because he managed to hide from justice this long.

  4. His participation in the death squad wasn’t the reason for ordering his deportation though. It was simply that he hid his past. Hiding the past should not be sufficient grounds to deport an 84 year old man who has probably been living here for 5 or 6 decades.

  5. It all seems kinda random to me. Come down hard on pensioner who lied about his shady past while younger guy with extensive ties to State sponsored terrorism is left alone to live in peace.

    And than we have Morgentaler, responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths, and getting the OofC for his efforts.

    Would love to know how these things are decided.

  6. JWL, it’s offensive to equate legal abortion with death squads particulary when the person you’ve smeared is himself a survivor of said camps.

  7. comment by jwl on Friday, October 31, 2008 at 12:11 pm:

    It all seems kinda random to me. Come down hard on pensioner who lied about his shady past while younger guy with extensive ties to State sponsored terrorism is left alone to live in peace.

    And than we have Morgentaler, responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths, and getting the OofC for his efforts.

    Would love to know how these things are decided.

    ***

    They are decided by using reason, and not by insane anaology.

  8. Robert: So you’re suggesting that if he’d hid the fact that he was a member of the German chapter of the Bach Appreciation Club he’d be deported as well? Get serious. It has everything to do with what group he hid his participation in.

    JWL: Were the system perfect, there’d be no crimes. It’s not, but that doesn’t mean the system is invalid. Hopefully this other person Michael mentions will be soon picked up and removed as well. Unfortunately, with limited resources (shrunk even further under the “Conservatives”) there’s only so much that immigration can do.

  9. This case has been going on way too long, indeed, throw this case out and leave Helmut Oberlander in peace. This is a vendetta born out of misdirected revenge, not justice.

    Mr.Oberlander, an ethnic German Mennonite, born and raised in Halbstadt, Ukraine, was forcibly conscripted into the German Army as a translator after being released from Soviet captivity (the Russians put many ethnic Germans into camps when the Germans invaded in 1941, much like the Canadian internment of Japanese) at the age of 17, a minor by Canadian standards, if I am not mistaken.

    A short of history of the trials and tribulations of Mr.Oberlander:

    In 2000, the federally appointed Judge, Andrew Mackay, clears Mr. Oberlander of all accusations. However, on the “balance of probability”, he rules that Oberlander did not tell the truth about his military service, when he was interviewed by immigration officials in 1953. Neither Judge Mackay (appointed by the prosecution), nor the Canadian Government (the prosecution) supplies any proof that this was the case. In fact, Questions about his military service were not asked and if it were to have been asked then rejection criteria, in the 1953 interview with decisions regarding who would be refused entry into Canada, would’ve exempted Mr.Oberlander as he was underage, joined under coercion and wasn’t even a naturalized German at the time. This was ignored and the ruling is simply based on an opinion by Judge Mackay.
    In 2001, Minister Elsnar Caplan recommends to a cabinet committee to revoke Mr.Oberlander’s Canadian citizenship, which was done. To get majority support for her recommendation, Caplan waited until most cabinet members were on their summer holidays. It is also noteworthy that the document, which was issued, was kept secret, when previous actions by the Government on this case, were announced through press releases.
    In 2004, the Federal Court of Appeal finds the Canadian Government acted improperly and restored Mr.Oberlander’s citizenship.
    Forward to May 2007, on the recommendation from the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Diane Finley, Mr.Oberlander’s citizenship is again revoked by the Governer in Council. Again, this was all done behind closed doors, by unnamed people, without allowing Mr.Oberlander any representation. By doing so, the Conservatives reversed their previous position on citizenship revocation. The Conservative Government is on record saying that citizenship revocation should only be done after a court establishes that a criminal act has been committed and should not be done by a small number of unknown people behind closed doors, but by the courts.
    Now we have the court, headed by Mr. Justice Michael Phelan, rejecting a review of the cabinet decision.
    This is a terrible violation of basic human rights. As citizens of a country that prides itself on its human rights record we all have the obligation to speak out, not only for Mr.Oberlander, but also for anyone whose human rights are violated in a similar manner.

    I reiterate, the fact that he was a minor, a Mennonite, and conscripted under coercion as a translator, always seems to be overlooked and ignored again and again over the years. I find that distressing and am so saddened by this constant negative bias in the media, in regards to Oberlander, that emphasizes “hearsay and conjecture”, yet minimizes the facts, and vilifies him when he clearly isn’t.

  10. So T. Thwim, are you suggesting the judge ruled this way only to punish this man for something they couldn’t prove in a court of law.

  11. he participated in genocide!
    it doesn’t get much clearer than that

  12. I don’t think there should be exceptions for Mennonites or ‘conscripted’ Nazis.

  13. Typical response.

    Forcibly consripted to work as an unpaid TRANSLATOR and UNDERAGE means nothing?

    Wow…

    But then again, I’m not surprised by all the biased reactions to kick him out, he is after all, only an ethnic german and is burdened by a societel collective guilt due to his ethnicity.

    Basic human rights for all except ethnic germans…what a surprise.

  14. Mr. Petrou’s comment that Mr. Obserlander may have been executied if he refused to comply requires some context. While we cannot hypothesize about what might have happened, it is worthy of note that there is no recorded incident of any member of the SS, einsatzgruppen, auxilary police or (for that matter) wehrmacht being executed for refusing to participate in the murder of Jews. Interested readers can find this discussed by Christopher Browning in “Ordinary Men” and in David Kitterman’s 1991 essay, “Those Who Said No.”

    While Oberlander was not found to have been *directly* involved in the murder of civilians by his unit, he was found to have been a member of that unit (a criminal unit with a single brutal purpose) for a period of more than 18 months and was found to have lied or misrepresented his war-time activities in order to gain entry to Canada.

    Had he told the truth he never would have been permitted entry or citizenship. Better justice delayed than no justice at all.

  15. I bet there are a lot of ethnic Germans who would like to live in Canada who were not part of (unpaid!) Nazi death squads. Let them live here.

  16. …”Questions about his military service were not asked and if it were to have been asked then rejection criteria, in the 1953 interview [conducted by Visa Control Officers and RCMP] with decisions regarding who would be refused entry into Canada, would’ve EXEMPTED Mr.Oberlander as he was underage, joined under coercion and wasn’t even a naturalized German at the time.”…
    —–

    That always seems to be overlooked, or just ignored, by those adamant on deporting Oberlander. It is more about revenge than true justice.

    In regards to David Kitterman’s essay, as with any topic, their is a certain amount of bias and cherry-picking of statistics to confirm one’s belief. No doubt, it was still interesting to read, but as with everything I read these days, I take it with a grain of salt.

    Let’s not get off topic please.

  17. I find it amazing that you compare an 84 year-old former translator’s “guilt” with that of a (Liberian) man fresh from the killing fields, who literally had blood on his hands from the throats he personally slit. I am amazed that you can call Helmut Oberlander a “criminal,” since he committed no crime. He did not even lie on his immigration application, since there was no question on it regarding military service. What the government has found is that he “probably” lied to an oral question regarding his military service, but since there is no record of such an “oral” question ever having been asked, the conclusion that he “probably” lied is more or less grasped out of this air. It is much more “probable” that he was never asked, and had he been asked, his answer, “I was a translator” would have gained him entry into Canada anyway.

    Mr. Oberlander did no one harm, indeed, one government witness testified that his accurate translating saved his live.

    Mr Oberlander had his citizenship deprived of him once, and it was returned to him by order of the court, now, on the second go-round, it appears as if the government of Canada will have its way and force a productive man who lived an honest life, out of Canada. This use of double jeopardy is an outrage and a scandal for Canada.

    The Canadian government should be using its resources to find and deport potential terrorists or men like the Liberian you mention, not old, harmless, former translators, like Helmut Oberlander.

  18. The persecution of this man I find disgusting. The CJC lies and says on their recent posting that Oberlander committed horrific war crimes. This is such a lie, and they are behind him being persecuted. Our weaklings in Ottawa listen to the loudest voice and proceed. There is absolutely no evidence that shows that he even lied on his application to be admitted to Canada etc. It’s only a suggestion and an accusation.

  19. I find it incredible that no one has commented on the comparison with the Liberian war criminal! As Canadians, we seem to have a double standard when it comes to investigating war criminals.
    Over the past years there have been dozens of reports of African war criminals -with long and horrific genocidal records – living among us. Yet the government has done nothing to bring them to justice. Does the current Canadian government believe that Black African victims are less worthy of justice than others?
    What about ethnic Russians who participated in the violent ethnic cleansing of Ukraine, The Baltics, Eastern Germany, The Volga Region and most recently, Chechnya? There are thousands of ex-Russian soldiers living in the GTA. Have they been properly screened for war crimes and crimes against humanity? The Canadian government should root out all of the war criminals living in Canada – not just those that are politically convenient to pursue.

  20. In matters of citizenship and immigration, the time for Canada to do its due diligence is before people enter the country, not fifty years after the fact. Mr Oberlander became a legal resident of Canada in 1954 and a citizen in 1960. Given the political changes in eastern Europe since 1945, it is possible that he is now stateless and therefore cannot be deported. Even if another country is willing to accept him, who will care for him if he has no surviving family there? At his advanced age, deportation could amount to de facto capital punishment of a man who has never been convicted of any crime.

    This case is about politics, not law. Canada should be pursuing modern war criminals, not a man who at 84 is an easy target. And revocation of citizenship should be a judicial, not a political process.

  21. Walter Hendsbridge claims:

    “The CJC lies and says on their recent posting that Oberlander committed horrific war crimes. ”

    Really? I challenge you to find any such comments from the Canadian Jewish Congress..

  22. Walter Hendsbridge claims:

    “The CJC lies and says on their recent posting that Oberlander committed horrific war crimes. ”

    Really? I challenge you to find any such comments from the Canadian Jewish Congress..

    Yes Really. You should have looked when I published my post. The page that came up immediately (when you went onto their website) is now gone somewhere. Where, I don’t know. They make it very difficult to find a specific article. You can start looking if you like. I started, and realized that it would take hours to find.

  23. Walter I did look. There was never any such comment. The fact you cannot find it says it all.

  24. Mordechai. I did eventually find the link. I posted it on this website below my last post. The next day I came back and looked to see if there were any responses. There were none. BUT!!! My post with the link had been removed. No explanation given. The fact that it was removed says it all. Now I must wonder just who you are. Feel free to send me your e-mail address and I’ll send the link to you; provided the CJC hasn’t removed it. Will this post be removed?
    You’ll have to publicly post your e-mail address. I sure as heck am not posting mine after what happened.
    Note the link is not difficult to find after you figure a few things out on the CJC website. I wonder if this post will be removed?

  25. Mordecai: OK. This is really weird. I went to the top of this page, and clicked on ’24 comments’. Behold, my posting with the link came back? Yes. Do that, and you may get to read something interesting. Something that you deny.
    {The World Desk – Written by Michael Petrou on Friday, October 31, 2008 11:25 – 24 Comments}
    This is where you must click at the top of the page. Click on the end of the statement – 24 Comments.
    That’s real weird.
    The posting should be right above your last one. At least that’s where it is now.

  26. Walter either you have proof or you don’t. I cannot find any such proof of CJC claiming that Oberlander committed ‘horrific war crimes”. I have found statements from CJC stating that the Eiszatzgruppen unit that Oberlander was a part having committed “horrific war crimes” and this is of course a historical fact that even you would not deny.

    So please feel free to cut and paste your proof. Still waiting.

  27. They took my post down again showing ‘proof’. I can’t help that. They keep censoring me here. Maybe at your request?
    So you have found proof that Oberlander was a part of having committed ‘horrific war crimes’? Well then that is a blatant lie. I won’t bother cutting and pasting. They’ll just take it down. I wonder who owns Maclean’s?

  28. It must be Jews that own MacLeans (god save us from people like walter). look Wally, Oberlander was part of a unit that mudered tens of thousands of people. Nuff said!!

  29. It is almost as if Oberlander is "guilty by association," as opposed to anything specific he, himself, did or did not do. He was a seventeen year old ethnic German acting as a translator under duress. In fact, a Canadian court found no evidence whatever, not even the famous "balance of probabilities" that he ever killed or murdered or did anything to anyone by way of a war crime.

    The whole legal basis of his attempted deportation is this single opinion of one judge, McKay, that on a balance of probabilities he lied about his German military service when asked, in the mid-1950's.

    Even this is suspect, as many other Germans who came to Canada at that time have stated that the only real concerns, by the mid-fifties where whether they could earn a living here and if they were or had been in any way connected with Communism.

  30. Laffin – "While Oberlander was not found to have been *directly* involved in the murder of civilians by his unit, he was found to have been a member of that unit (a criminal unit with a single brutal purpose) for a period of more than 18 months and was found to have lied or misrepresented his war-time activities in order to gain entry to Canada."

    Not quite. The court did not "find" anything of the sort. There is no record as to what exactly he was asked about his wartime service, nor is there any record of his response. Hence, all that the courts have to go on is his own recollection (anything that doesn't suit them is "not credible" and everything that does not surprisingly "is" credible). Since the court will not accept his recollections as "credible", despite having no way of refuting his recollections, they can still find him guilty. How convenient. It really makes you wonder about the legal system we have. Helmut grew up in the Soviet Union, and now it appears that he has been spending his golden years in a not-so-different kind of society. I agree war criminals should be prosecuted, but they should be actual war criminals, not guys who were 17 years old when they had to join a unit not of their choosing, and not just men who served for the Germans.

  31. I had no idea that Canada had so many Jew haters…But reading the comments here I can there are many.And so many coming up with fantasy excuses for this Einsatzkommando member who’s unit murdered of 28,000 Jewish men,women and children in brutal fashion.And you only have HIS word he was just a translator who killed no one…and you already know he is a liar who omitted his military record.A translator in Belarus for this Unit helped round up Jews for slaughter..direct them to the pits…to the wooded areas for executions..for families to strip…to line up over the edges of pits…or to be told nothing will happen to them…etc….A Translator for each Einsatzgruppen had the job of deceiving innocence…and directing innocents to their deaths…in a calming atmosphere due to the Germans not knowing the Slavic languages and many dialects…making him a great evil…without a gun.And no Ukrainian was forced to join the death squads…there were many other jobs for Ukrainians besides secret death squads.
    However..Mr.Petrou is a Leftist..Leftist are for the most part Anti-Semitic and very Anti-Israel..so this piece is no surprise…He is doing what all Leftists to…Deflect…but writing about the Poor Mr.Oberlander’s young life…something he has no real idea about…and by writing about another war criminal in Africa to deflect the story using both methods..Two wrongs never made a wrong…But Leftists never seem to have learned that from their Mothers it seems…No…The World Jewish Congress…The Simon Wiesenthal Center..and The U.S.A. have all come forward with plenty of evidence as to this man’s brutal SS crimes.And time should not…and never should be,an excuse to just forget it….The 26,000 murdered scream out for justice.

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