Edmonton Journal | Mar. 19, 2004 | David Howell, Bob Weber


Alleged Nazi insists he fought against Germans

City man denies serving at concentration camp

David Howell, The Edmonton Journal, Bob Weber, The Canadian Press, With files from Ryan Cormier and Chris Purdy
The Edmonton Journal; The Canadian Press
Friday, March 19, 2004

EDMONTON - A frail, elderly man accused of being a Nazi concentration camp guard says he was actually a Soviet soldier during the Second World War and claims he was later captured and forced to work in German labour camps.

"I was a prisoner," Josef Furman told Global TV on Thursday. "Russian prisoner in Germany. That's all."

Asked if he ever worked as a camp guard, the 83-year-old told Global TV: "I never was. I never speak German. Just little bit. I can't guard or something ... in Germany. I never speak German."

Furman lives alone in a north Edmonton bungalow. His living room is decorated with Ukrainian memorabilia and photos of family and friends.

On Thursday morning, a Ukrainian newspaper lay on his kitchen table.

"No! I never did that! No!" Furman said when asked by The Canadian Press about the allegations against him.

"Why could I be a concentration camp guard or something when I don't understand German?" he asked in heavily accented English. "How could I have trained with the SS?

I against Germany was fighting.

"A Russian soldier I was. I was prisoner in Germany. I was in a concentration camp, like prisoner."

The federal government alleges that Furman and Jura Skomatchuk, 83, of St. Catharines, Ont., were both members of the Trawniki guard, who were trained at a camp of the same name near the Polish community of Lublin.

Trainees were photographed, registered and assigned identification numbers. They later helped clear ghettos, escort Jewish prisoners under transport, and guard concentration camps. Some took part in the ruthless quashing of the 1943 uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto.

Thousands of Jews were rounded up, guarded, delivered to death camps and executed with help from men trained at Trawniki.

Later transferred to the German concentration camp Flossenburg, Furman worked there as a guard in 1943 and 1944, the government alleges.

When Furman came to Canada in 1949 he carefully concealed his true identity and falsely represented himself to immigration officials, the federal government says in its case against him.

"The defendant would not have been admitted to Canada or been issued a visa if his activities during the war had been known to the (security officer), the visa officer and all other immigration officers," the claim says.

He used the name Josef Furman -- not his real name, Josef Leontievich Furmanchuk -- when he immigrated, Justice Canada says.

The government recently moved to strip Skomatchuk of his citizenship. On Wednesday it began action to revoke Furman's citizenship for allegedly hiding his Nazi past when he arrived in Canada and again when he became a citizen in 1957.

"The defendant would not have been granted Canadian citizenship if he had disclosed his activities during the war," the statement of claim says.

Furman said Thursday he was born in 1919 -- not in 1921 as the government claims -- in the Ukrainian village of Chudniv, under the name Furman, not Furmanchuk.

The Nazis invaded what is now the Ukraine in June 1941. Sometime in 1942, Furman said, he and many of his friends joined the Soviet Red Army to fight the Germans.

Not long afterwards, he was captured by the Germans in the Crimea, he said, and for the rest of the war was shuttled from city to city as part of a labour crew. "I was working," he said. "Hard working."

Furman said he has no memorabilia from his time in the Russian military. "It's a long time ago," he said.

He has no lawyer. Neighbours say his command of English has declined in recent years.

After coming to Canada he worked as a pipefitter and at a hospital. He and his wife raised two sons and have six grandchildren. He visits his wife daily in a nursing home.

"That's what he lives for, taking care of his wife," said one neighbour. "When she goes, he'll go soon after."

Deputy Prime Minister Anne McLellan would not comment directly on Furman's case, but said Canada is not lenient on anyone suspected of having involvement in war atrocities.

"We have been very clear as a country that we will not be a haven for war criminals," McLellan said.

"The government of Canada has for many, many years had a war crimes program dealing with both historic and modern war crimes. There's very clearly a process, and everyone is accorded due process."

Furman was served with the statement of claim on Thursday. He has 30 days to prepare a statement of defence. His case could come to trial in Edmonton within six months, said Lynn Lovett, deputy director of the crimes against humanity and war crimes section at Justice Canada.

Lovett said she could not discuss how Furman came to the attention of Justice Canada.

People facing deportation can be sent to their country of birth, a country in which they hold citizenship or to the last country they lived in before coming to Canada, she said.

Despite his age and poor health, Furman must be punished if he is guilty, said Shoshana Szlachter, western regional director of B'nai Brith Canada.

"Men, women, children and elderly people perished in the Holocaust. They were put in the gas chambers or they were shot, irrespective of their frailty or medical conditions."

Jacob Luitjens, a 72-year-old botany instructor at the University of British Columbia, was deported to Holland in 1992 and jailed for 28 months for Nazi collaboration.

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� The Edmonton Journal 2004