Edmonton Journal | Mar. 18, 2004 | Janice Tibbetts

Edmonton man hid Nazi past, government alleges

Janice Tibbetts
CanWest News Service; With files from The Edmonton Journal
Thursday, March 18, 2004

OTTAWA - The federal government took court action Wednesday to strip an elderly Edmonton man of his citizenship for allegedly hiding his Nazi past when he immigrated to Canada.

The Justice Department accuses 83-year-old Josef Furman of being a Nazi concentration camp guard during the Second World War and a member of a squad that participated in hundreds of atrocities, including mass shootings and clearing out Jewish ghettos.

Furman lives in a small, tidy bungalow in the Kensington neighbourhood. He politely refused a request for an interview Thursday night.

In a document filed in the Federal Court of Canada, the government says that the Ukrainian-born Furman, formerly Josef Furmanchuk, trained as a volunteer armed guard at the Trawniki SS training camp in 1942, becoming a member of a squad known as the Trawniki men.

"Trawniki guards took part in more than 200 anti-Jewish operations," says the federal statement of claim.

Furman participated in the clearing of the Warsaw and Bialystok ghettos in 1943, when many Jews were killed or sent to concentration camps, the government alleges.

"The Trawniki men were involved in all aspects of the cleansing operation," says the statement of claim.

Furman was then transferred to the Flossenburg concentration camp in Germany, where his guard duties included "a standing order to shoot any prisoner attempting to escape."

Furman arrived in Canada in July 1949 and became a Canadian citizen in 1957.

"The defendant knowingly concealed his true identity," says the statement of claim.

"The defendant would not have been admitted to Canada or been issued a visa if his activities during the war had been known."

Furman is the 22nd Nazi suspect that the Justice Department has tried to remove from Canada, said Lynn Lovett, deputy director of the federal war crimes unit.

The government filed court action two weeks ago against Jura Skomatchuk of St. Catharines, Ont., who is also accused of hiding his wartime deeds as a Nazi concentration camp guard.

In a recent interview, Justice Minister Irwin Cotler told CanWest News Service that he wants to "put the world on notice" that one of his main priorities is to push for war criminals to be brought to justice at home and abroad, including suspected Nazi war criminals who are now living in Canada.

A report from a 1987 inquiry estimated there were hundreds of suspected Nazi collaborators living in Canada. Seventeen years later, only one -- Jacob Luitjens -- has been successfully deported, and that happened 12 years ago.

The Ukrainian Canadian Congress wants the government to take another crack at criminal trials for suspects, saying it is more fair than the current system of allowing people to be deported even when it hasn't been proven that they did anything wrong.

Taras Podilsky, director of the Edmonton office of the Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association, said he has never heard of Furman. But in general, he said, he objects to the manner in which Canadian authorities are prosecuting citizens suspected of having Nazi pasts.

"If they have evidence against this person of war criminality, then by all means he should be charged in a criminal court in Canada," Podilsky said.

"But the system has been made so they can fast-track it, by looking at the possibility of the person not revealing something -- that's assuming they were asked all the right questions at the border -- and on that basis, this alleged 'war criminal,' if he is a war criminal or not, will be deported.

"This process will continue for this man until he dies, and he will either be deported, or he will die broke fighting the government, or he will give up and go."

Neighbours described Furman as a quiet man who sometimes uses a sawed-off hockey stick as a cane.

He is visited by a nurse in the mornings, and spends afternoons visiting his wife, who lives in an extended-care facility, they said.

Leo Cunningham, who lives a few doors away, said he sees Furman once or twice a week.

"When I'm shovelling my walk, he's shovelling his," Cunningham said. They say hello to each other but not much else, he said.

A month ago he saw Furman pushing his wife down the street in a wheelchair.

The Edmonton Journal 2004