National Post | Mar. 05, 2004 | Adrian Humphreys

Ontario man accused of Nazi past

83-year-old denies he was in unit that massacred Jews

The government has moved to strip Canadian citizenship from an elderly Ontario resident for allegedly lying about his Nazi past as an armed SS guard at forced labour and concentration camps during the Second World War when he came to Canada in 1952.

Jura Skomatchuk, 83, of St. Catharines, is accused in documents filed in the Federal Court of Canada of being a member of the Trawniki guard, a unit involved in more than 200 anti-Jewish operations including ghetto clearings, mass shootings and the notorious "Harvest Festival" massacre that saw the execution of 40,000 Jewish inmates in three camps.

Mr. Skomatchuk obtained his Canadian citizenship by false representation or fraud or by knowingly concealing important details from his past by not informing authorities of his membership and involvement in a unit of the Nazi concentration camp system, the government alleges.

If the court supports the government's allegation, he would be stripped of his citizenship and deported.

"I never was in labour camp," Mr. Skomatchuk said when contacted by the National Post at his home yesterday. "I did nothing wrong in this country. I never was in a concentration camp," he said in a series of brief conversations.

"I never was there. Don't try to scare me. I've got rights to defend myself. That's it. Stop bothering me. I have a lawyer in Ottawa. People will find out later," he said, declining to give his lawyer's name.

Mr. Skomatchuk is the 21st man that the Canadian government has moved against over allegations of war crimes during the Second World War. "The government is pleased to be able to commence another action to demonstrate its resolve in this very important area," said Terry Beitner, director and general counsel of the Department of Justice's War Crimes Unit.

Mr. Skomatchuk was born in 1921 in Schabje, a community that at the time was part of Poland but now sits in the south-west corner of Ukraine, where the borders of Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Romania meet it.

He has had various spellings of his name over the years. The government's action is listed under the spelling Skomatchuk but his property records for his modest, detached home in St. Catharines show a different spelling and the phone book uses yet a third.

In 1943, Mr. Skomatchuk worked as an armed guard at the Trawniki SS training camp and the Poniatowa SS labour camp in Nazi-occupied Poland and then at the Sachsenhausen concentration camp near Berlin and the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria, the government alleges in court papers served this week.

"He held the rank of SS Wachman and guarded, amongst others, Jewish prisoners and workers," according to allegations.

"He served as a guard within the Nazi concentration camp system throughout the rest of 1943 until the close of the war," the government says.

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The Trawniki SS training camp was built in 1941 on the grounds of an abandoned sugar factory outside the Polish town of Trawniki, in the district of Lublin, two years after the invasion by Adolf Hitler that sparked the Second World War.

The camp was conceived by Odilo Globocnik, the Shutzstaffel-und-Polizefuhrer (or protective unit and police leader) of Lublin. He wanted a facility for training pro-German members of the local population to act as an auxiliary police force to free up his under-staffed occupation force.

He recruited SS Captain Karl Streibel to command the camp.

Streibel combed prisoner of war camps in Poland and the Ukraine for pro-Nazi, anti-Communist, anti-Semitic or nationalist prisoners deemed appropriate for training; within the year he assembled about 2,500 men who would form the Trawniki guard unit.

The Trawniki guard performed some of the policing tasks it was originally created for, guarding lines of communication, warehouses and military bases, including the SS headquarters in Lublin.

Globocnik was a confidante of Heinrich Himmler, Nazi Germany's second-in-command and chief of the German police. It was a powerful connection but one that also came with a difficult responsibility -- Himmler placed Globocnik in charge of implementing the Nazi "Final Solution" in the territory of Lublin, the government says.

The fortunes of the Trawniki guard were tied to its creator, and as Globocnik's job changed so did the role of his unit.

Its primary role became assisting the SS in carrying out the mass killing of Jews in the Lublin district from 1942 to 1943, the government alleges.

The actions were code-named Operation Reinhard.

"Trawniki guards took part in more than 200 anti-Jewish operations, including ghetto clearings and mass shootings in the Lublin district during 1942-43. In addition, the Trawniki guards were used as escorts on deportation transports, guard detachments at Operation Reinhard killing centres, and security details during the confiscation and registration of Jewish property and valuables," the government alleges.

"The participation of the Trawniki guards in the extermination of the Jewish population ... continued until November 1943," it says.

"Globocnik supervised the construction of killing centres at Belzec, Treblinka and Sobibor, where the systemic physical extermination of Jewish people would be carried out. He ensured that sufficient manpower was available for the smooth functioning and completion of this enterprise," the document says.

By the fall of 1942, as German priorities shifted to the mounting losses on the Eastern front, the Nazi authorities launched another recruitment campaign in western Ukraine; another 2,500 civilian recruits joined the Trawniki guard unit, the government says.

In early April, 1943, a group of new recruits arrived at Trawniki, where they were given a medical examination, photographed, thumb-printed and processed.

Among them, the government alleges, was 22-year-old Jura Skomatchuk.

The processing of Trawniki recruits included the drafting of a personnel sheet outlining the recruits' biographical information. They signed a declaration attesting to their "Aryan" lineage -- that they had no Jewish ancestors -- and their political reliability -- that they had never been a member of the Communist Party or its youth organization.

They pledged to serve for the duration of the war and were assigned a Trawniki identification number that was to remain with them for the remainder of their service.

Mr. Skomatchuk was assigned identification number 3321, the government says.

He trained at Trawniki for about six weeks, according to the document.

The recruits were taught rudimentary military drills, given basic German language training for understanding orders and schooled in the proper handling of rifles. They were also trained in moving large numbers of prisoners from one place to another.

"The presence of several thousand Jewish prisoners at the adjacent labour camp afforded the opportunity for hands-on training for this aspect of guard duty," the government says.

"The duties of an SS Wachman, such as the defendant, were divided into three basic categories: (1) guarding the camp; (2) escorting labour details to and from work and guarding them at the work site; and (3) escorting transports of prisoners. Guarding the camp involved manning watchtowers and standing sentry around the exterior of the camp," the government says.

"Whether a guard on the watchtower or in the sentry chain, every guard had standing orders to shoot at any prisoner attempting to escape."

After training, the recruits signed another declaration acknowledging they fell under the jurisdiction of the SS and police courts.

In late May, 1943, Mr. Skomatchuk was part of a contingent of Trawniki guards transferred to the Poniatowa forced labour camp, the government alleges.

The Polish town of Poniatowa was known for its old telephone and telegraph exchange until it became home to a camp for Soviet prisoners of war.

The Poniatowa SS labour camp started housing Jewish civilians in 1942 when survivors of ghetto liquidations were brought there. In 1943, the operations of the Toebbens textile firm, utilizing a 10,000 person workforce, much of it forced labour, was moved to the Poniatowa camp.

When additional forces were needed to guard this influx in the Jewish inmate population, which rose to about 15,000 in 1943, they sent in a contingent of the Trawniki guard.

Among them was Mr. Skomatchuk, the government says.

"Around the second half of October 1943, Himmler ordered the SS and police forces in the General Government to execute all Jewish people in the camps of Trawniki, Poniatowa and Majdanek, an event which was code-named Aktion Erntefest -- 'Operation Harvest Festival,'" the government says.

"During the so-called 'Harvest Festival' massacres, the 40,000 Jewish inmates of the labour camps at Poniatowa, Majdanek, and Trawniki were executed. While the role of the Trawniki guards in the actual executions is subject to historical debate, these guards are known to have participated in the 'clean-up' operations thereafter," the government says.

The government believes the executions were prompted by an uprising by Jewish prisoners at the Sobibor camp in mid-October, 1943.

After the massacre, the government says, much of the Trawniki guard was redeployed. Some remained in eastern Poland to combat the growing partisan threat while others were placed under the command of the SS office supervising all aspects of the Nazi concentration camp system and moved to older and more established concentration and forced labour camps in the German Reich.

Accordingly, Mr. Skomatchuk was transferred back to Trawniki near the end of November, 1943, and then, within days, moved to the concentration camp of Sachsenhausen, near Berlin, the government says.

He worked as part of the SS Wachmannschaften der Konzentrationslager, or the SS guard units of concentration camps, the government alleges.

Mr. Skomatchuk last served at the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria -- where they sorted and repaired property plundered from the Jewish population -- and its satellite camps, including Gusen camp, until the conclusion of the war, the government says.

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When the war ended, Mr. Skomatchuk's service to the German Reich finished. A single man, he remained in Austria and found work as a farm helper.

In January, 1948, he left for Britain and spent three years in Britain and Northern Ireland before applying for immigration to Canada. On Jan. 23, 1952, he was issued British travel documents in London and three months later he was granted a Canadian visa, issued in Liverpool.

He boarded the passenger ship Columbia at the port of Southampton, destined for Quebec City. There he applied for permanent residency on May 26, 1952, according to government records.

"The defendant did not disclose to Canadian authorities, during the process of his application for a visa to enter Canada nor at the port of entry, his wartime collaboration as a forced labour camp guard with the German Nazi regime and/or his service to the enemy," the government alleges.

"He did not disclose to Canadian authorities his duties as an SS Wachman. The defendant's collaboration with the enemy and/or status as an SS Wachman made him ineligible for the grant of a Canadian visa and proscribed his entry into Canada," it says.

"No Canadian visa would have been granted to him had he disclosed the truth about his wartime activities and service to the enemy."

On Oct. 19, 1957, at a court session before Judge A. St. Aubin in Sudbury, Ont., Mr. Skomatchuk was deemed "qualified for Canadian citizenship." Judge St. Aubin found he satisfied the necessary requirements, including that of being of good character.

"At all material times the defendant was not a person of good character," the government says.

The government has been criticized for not moving quickly enough against suspected Nazis in Canada.

The government is expected to move against another suspected Nazi war criminal shortly, the National Post has learned.

In January, Irwin Cotler, the Justice Minister, said one of his main priorities is to push for suspected Nazi war criminals and those suspected of committing atrocities in recent conflicts who are living in Canada to be brought to justice.

"If the 20th century was known as the age of atrocity because of the horrific criminality, it was also the age of impunity, few of the perpetrators were brought to justice," he told reporters.

"We want to ensure we are going to take a leadership role internationally and domestically in the struggle against impunity," he said.

Among the 21 accused of Nazi war crimes by Ottawa are, clockwise from left: Mamertas Maciukas, Vladimir Katriuk, Jacob Fast, Michael Seifert, on the left, and his lawyer Doug Christie, and Helmut Oberlander, with his wife, Margret.
� National Post 2004