Canada Whitewashing the SS: The Attempt to Re-Write the History of Hitler’s Collaborators

David Pugliese
SS Oberfuhrer Fritz Freitag (left), a fanatical Nazi who was directly involved in the mass murder of Jews, takes a salute from the newly formed 14th SS Division Galicia. Supporters of the 14th SS falsely claim that division members never supported t…SS Oberfuhrer Fritz Freitag (left), a fanatical Nazi who was directly involved in the mass murder of Jews, takes a salute from the newly formed 14th SS Division Galicia. Supporters of the 14th SS falsely claim that division members never supported the Nazis.

Over the years some Ukrainian Canadians have staunchly defended the 14th SS Division Galicia. They have falsely claimed that Ukrainians who served in the division were conscripted, when in reality 80,000 volunteered and 13,000 were selected. Other apologists argue that the division fought only to protect Ukrainian territory. This too is false.

Then there are the claims that reports about 14th SS Division Galicia are the result of Russian disinformation or propaganda. Marcus Kolga, an Estonian activist with the right-wing Macdonald Laurier Institute in Ottawa, falsely claimed that articles linking the division to the SS and wartime criminal activity have “parroted the Kremlin’s tailored narratives.”

But the most common method that Nazi apologists use to defend the 14th SS Division Galicia is to cite the 1986 Commission of Inquiry on War Criminals in Canada, often referred to as the Deschênes commission after its chairman, judge Jules Deschênes.

Supporters of 14th SS say the Deschênes commission cleared the division and all its members of any involvement in war crimes. “Charges of war crimes of Galicia Division have never been substantiated, either in 1950 when they were first preferred, or in 1984 when they were renewed, or before this Commission,” Deschênes concluded. “Further, in the absence of evidence of participation or knowledge of specific war crimes, mere membership in the Galicia Division is insufficient to justify prosecution.”

At the time critics labelled the commission’s report as a whitewash. The decades since have further reinforced that view as additional information about the 14th SS Division Galicia’s war crimes have emerged.

Deschênes either ignored or appeared to be unaware the Waffen SS – which the Galician Division was part of – had been declared a criminal organization by the International Military Tribunal during the Nuremberg Trials. This omission is particularly incredible as Canada participated as one of the allied nations in the prosecution of war criminals at the Nuremberg Trials and Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King actually visited the court and attended some of the trials.

Even a cursory glance at SS Galicia reveals its links to the Nazi campaign of destruction against the Jews and murder of civilians. Its commander was Oberfuhrer Fritz Freitag, a fanatical Nazi, who was directly involved in the mass murder of Jews.

Among the commanding officers of SS Galicia was Ukrainian-born SS Hauptsturmfuhrer Heinrich Wiens, who served with the Einsatzgruppen D murder squad and personally took part in mass executions of Jews. Another division officer, SS Obersturm-bannfuhrer Franz Magall, was also a seasoned killer of Jews.

SS Galicia worked alongside SS-Sonderbattalion Dirlewanger, a unit that contained rapists, murders and the criminally insane and the two organizations, at times, transferred officers between each unit, noted Per Anders Rudling, a historian of Eastern European history and Associate Professor at the Department of History at Lund University, Sweden.

In addition, SS Galicia had officers and NCOs who came from the Nachtigall battalion, a Ukrainian collaboration organization that had taken part in the mass killings of Jews in the summer of 1941, added Rudling, who has extensively studied the division.

In 2003 a Polish government commission into Nazi war crimes concluded the 14th SS Galicia was responsible for the massacre of women and children in the village of Huta Pieniacka. Based on eye witness accounts, the Polish Institute of National Remembrance, pointed out that members of the 14th division, entered the village and began executing civilians.

In 2005 the Institute of History at the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences arrived at the same conclusion. The main difference between its investigation and the earlier Polish government investigation was the number of civilians murdered, added Rudling.

The Ukrainian investigation estimated around 500 people were killed. The Polish commission put the number of those murdered at 700 to 1,500.

Deschênes and his commission stayed in Canada, never travelling to Europe to interview those who suffered atrocities at the hands of 14th SS Galicia and the Nazis. Even a cursory examination of British government archives would have revealed the report the Polish underground sent to the Polish government-in-exile in London about the massacre at Huta Pieniacka. “The 14th Division of the Ukrainian SS surrounded the village Huta Pieniacka from three sides,” the report to Poland’s government- in-exile explained. “The people were gathered in the church or shot in the houses. Those gathered in the church – men, women and children – were taken outside in groups, children killed in front of their parents. Some men and women were shot in the cemetery, others were gathered in barns where they were shot.”

The 14th SS Galicia is also implicated in other atrocities in four other Polish villages, according to historians.

During part of 1944 the unit was stationed in Slovakia where it was involved in fighting partisans and took part in crushing the Slovak National Uprising. The division then moved to Slovenia in early 1945 where it continued fighting anti-Nazi partisans. These actions undercut claims by some in the Ukrainian-Canadian community that the SS Galicia Division only defended its Ukraine homeland. The division’s operations hunting down partisans, killing civilians, and burning down villages clearly show their actions were part of the greater Nazi war machine.

More concerning is the fact that Deschênes concealed a report prepared for his commission that concluded, “At least some persons who served with the Nazi-sponsored Ukrainian police/militia units that participated in killing actions (of Jews) in 1941-1943 would have found their way into the ranks of the (Galician) Division.” The commission kept that report secret and it was only years later that a heavily censored copy was released through the Access to Information law.

Some have defended Justice Deschênes, stating he was under pressure from the Canadian government to clear the division and appease the Ukrainian Canadian community.

But over the decades as Holocaust historians publish more details about the atrocities of those who served in the SS Galicia Division, it has become clear to critics that the Deschênes commission was simply a whitewash of a military unit that subscribed to and served the ideology of Adolf Hitler and SS leader Heinrich Himmler.

Deschênes died in the year 2000. But his report lives on to be used by those who want to continue to whitewash the Nazi regime’s crimes and the eager collaborators who helped in those atrocities.

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