Toronto Star | 04Dec2009 | Bernie Farber
Age should not be a shield against justice
It is comforting that there are authorities in the world who still
pursue justice for Nazi war crimes.
The John Demjanjuk case, which began this week in Germany, will
probably be the last Nazi war criminal trial the world will see. For
that reason alone, its importance cannot be overstated.
Demjanjuk was originally charged as "Ivan the Terrible" -- the operator
of the gas chambers in the Treblinka death camp -- before being found
not guilty by the Israeli Supreme Court for lack of identifying
evidence. Thanks to the persistence of the American Office of Special
Investigations, evidence was subsequently uncovered suggesting that
Demjanjuk in fact assisted in the gas chamber murders of more than
250,000 Jews at the Sobibor death camp.
is disinformation. The OSI possessed this Danilchenko exculpatory
evidence that John Demjanjuk was never in Treblinka even before the
1981 denaturalization trial, but withheld it from the defense. But even
the OSI was skeptical as to its veracity.]
At 89 years of age, the aged and ailing appearance of Demjanjuk is sure
to evoke sympathy. Some ask why, decades after the murders, we pursue
men who are old and feeble. Why, they ask, can we simply not forget and
Age should be no shield against justice. The victims of Nazism were
never spared because of their age. Those who stand accused as Nazi
criminals or enablers performed their heinous acts as young and
vigorous men, and should not be rewarded for successfully evading
The Demjanjuk trial should also stand as a warning. At a time when
genocide has yet to be eradicated, when the murderers of Darfur,
Cambodia [, Israel?] and Rwanda follow in the footsteps of the Nazis, we must be
steadfast in our commitment to ensure that war criminals find no safe
haven in Canada or elsewhere.
Here, we may take pride in the commitment of the Conservative
government of Stephen Harper, which has prosecuted war criminals,
including modern day killers like Rwandan genocidaire Désiré Munyaneza.
But when it comes to Nazis, our courts have let us down.
[W.Z. "But when it comes to murderers of Palestinians, our courts have let us down."]
Consider the case of Helmut Oberlander. Just two weeks ago, the Federal
Court of Appeal once again extended his refuge in Canada. Oberlander
was a translator for a Nazi mobile killing unit, Einsatzgruppe D, which
was responsible for the murder of more than 90,000 Jews in
Nazi-occupied Ukraine. By his own admission, he served this group's
Einsatzkommando 10a unit from February 1942 to the summer of 1943.
A stirring series of articles in Oberlander's hometown newspaper, the
Kitchener Waterloo Record, chronicled Einsatzkommando 10a's actions
during the time that Oberlander served:
The afternoon is fading. A six-ton van clatters into the courtyard of
the children's home in Jeissk, occupied Ukraine.
It's Friday, Oct. 9, 1942, nearly 16 months after the German invasion
of the Soviet Union.
The asylum on the outskirts of town is home to disabled and bedridden
children, aged 3 to 17. Some healthy children live there also.
The truck has false windows painted on its sides to present a more
Inside, a hose redirects exhaust fumes into its sealed cargo hold.
Members of a German police unit surround the building to prevent
children from escaping.
Asylum officials are told the children are being taken to Krasnodar for
The children are assembled in the courtyard.
The smallest ones and those who cannot walk are carried out of the
Asylum workers, suspecting the worst, try in vain to prevent the
children from being transferred.
Some children climb into the van themselves. There are no seats in the
cargo hold. Others try to run away but are caught, beaten and thrown
Volodia Goncharov tries to flee. Two men grab the child by his legs,
his head toward the ground. They drag him out of the building and into
The van doors are closed, sealing the crying children into the
tin-lined cargo hold. The engine is fired up.
All the children perish inside the truck, killed by poisonous fumes, a
Munich court later finds.
A second gassing the same day kills more children.
Such was a day's work for Einsatzkommando 10a, a Nazi killing unit
tasked with slaughtering civilians.
When he applied for entry into Canada, Oberlander failed to disclose
his role in Einsatzkommando 10a. All Einsatzkommando members were
inadmissible to Canada. Ultimately, the Federal Court of Canada ruled
that Oberlander had fraudulently entered Canada and cheated to gain
precious Canadian citizenship. After more than a decade of appeals that
tested the limits of Canadian due process, the federal government
stripped Oberlander of his ill-gotten prize.
[W.Z. Judge Roger Salhany in his review of the judgment of Andrew MacKay concluded:
"In summary, it is my opinion that the finding of the learned judge is not
supported by the evidence and is unreasonable for the following reasons:
The finding that Oberlander was a member of Ek 10a in the face of the evidence
(2) There was no admissible and reliable evidence that
Oberlander was ever questioned about his wartime activities by a Visa Control
Officer and concealed them."]
Now, astonishingly, the Federal Court of Appeal has thrown this
principled move back to the cabinet for review on a nuanced matter of
hyper-technicality that Oberlander himself never raised in his own
It is these kinds of decisions -- "Oberlander justice" -- that lend
credence to the image of Canada as a soft touch for Nazi enablers and
perpetrators of war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity from
With each reprieve, today's war criminals -- hiding in Rwanda or Darfur
or elsewhere -- must take some solace. If Canada is so forgiving for the
enablers of the Holocaust, why should they not expect the same for
themselves? Meanwhile, the ghosts of the children of Jeissk wait for
their justice. We cannot allow them to wait in vain. [W.Z. The ghosts of the children of Palestine also wait for their justice.]
Bernie Farber is the son of a Holocaust survivor.
Farber, a charter member of the Holocaust Industry in Canada and chief
executive officer of the Canadian Jewish Congress, was at the forefront
at having the Deschenes Commission instituted, the creation of Canada's
War Crimes Unit and the replacement of the criminal process to deal
with war criminals with the lax denaturalization and deportation
process as utilized in the John Demjanjuk case in the United States.]