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.

[W.Z. This 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 move on?

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 justice.

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 cheery look.

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 medical treatment.

The children are assembled in the courtyard.

The smallest ones and those who cannot walk are carried out of the building.

Nurses cry.

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 inside.

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.

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:
(1) The finding that Oberlander was a member of Ek 10a in the face of the evidence was unreasonable;
(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 defence.

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 contemporary conflicts.

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.
[W.Z. Bernie 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.]