Edmonton Journal | Mar. 20, 2004 | Dan Lazin

Ottawa confident man hid Nazi past

But wartime records unreliable, lawyer says

EDMONTON - A federal war-crimes official says the government wouldn't try to strip citizenship from a suspected former Nazi unless investigators were confident they have the right man.

Josef Furman has been accused of hiding his past as a Nazi concentration camp guard when he immigrated to Canada in 1949.

The elderly Edmonton man insists he was not a guard but a Russian soldier and later a prisoner in German work camps.

Furman said this week he was born two years earlier than the government claims, and that he did not change his last name from Furmanchuk, as Justice Canada alleges.

Without referring to Furman in particular, a Justice Department official said the government wouldn't make allegations if there was doubt about identity.

"You have to be pretty certain that you're starting the case against the right person," said Lynn Lovett, deputy director of the federal Justice Department's war crimes section.

"We conduct investigations overseas. We have historians who work here with us to help us gather evidence. They go to archives overseas and in World War II matters they'll be looking through German records and Soviet records of what happened during the war in order to get background on the case."

Furman could lose his Canadian citizenship and be deported.

His daughter-in-law said the family doesn't know where the government's allegations originated.

"We're waiting ourselves to find out more," Maryann Furman said.

"My in-laws are elderly. They're frail. They're senile."

She said it was difficult for family members to respond on an issue they know nothing about. Josef Furman does not yet have a lawyer.

Given the nature of wartime record-keeping, it's possible the government has the wrong man, said a prominent Vancouver immigration lawyer.

"I followed those (accused Nazi) files for a considerable period and the thing is this: They have to make sure it's the right guy. Every system of human activity has an error component," said Richard Kurland.

Alternately, it's possible that both the government and Furman are right, said Kurland. Because of errors in translating old documents from Eastern Europe, Furman might well be older than the government says he is and may have been born with his current name, yet could still be the right individual. "A few letters of a last name is not going to make or break a legal proceeding of this nature."

Cases were dismissed against three of the 21 other men the Justice Department has accused of complicity in Nazi crimes, but not because investigators were looking for the wrong person.

Lovett said the three proved they did not enter the country using false information. Essentially, the men told no lies but were not caught by the screening process.

The government paid more than $1.7 million for their legal costs, according to documents Kurland obtained in 2001.

Only one man, Jacob Luitjens, has been deported from Canada as a Nazi collaborator. Some cases are still in court, some men have been convicted but not yet deported, and some died before proceedings against them were completed.

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Others in Canada accused of atrocities

Josef Furman -- is the 22nd man accused by the Canadian government of complicity in Nazi crimes and other atrocities. The others include:

Jura Skomatchuk -- Also accused of being an SS guard at forced labour and concentration camps during the Second World War; the federal government began proceedings earlier this month to revoke his citizenship.

Michael Baumgartner -- In 2001, he was found to have been a Waffen SS member and concentration camp guard; deportation proceedings continue.

Wasily Bogutin -- Found to have collaborated with the Nazis in the Ukraine and involved in rounding up young people for forced labour in Germany; he claimed refugee status and died prior to a decision.

Ladislaus Csatary -- After being accused of collaborating with the Nazis in Hungary and helping to round up thousands of Jews, he left Canada. His citizenship was revoked in 1997.

Johann Dueck -- In 1998, the government's case against him was dismissed.

Jacob Fast -- Awaiting decision on his case after a court found he lied when coming to Canada but found no evidence he committed war crimes.

Conrad Kalejs -- A visitor to Canada, he was accused of being an officer with the auxiliary security police force in Latvia; deported in 1997 to Australia, where he died.

Vladimir Katriuk -- In 1999, found to have been a member of a battalion that fought enemy partisans in the Ukraine. His appeal to the Supreme Court was dismissed in 2000; deportation proceedings continue.

Antanas Kenstavicius -- Died on the first day of his immigration hearing in 1997. He was accused of being the chief of the District Police in Svencionys, Lithuania, where he committed atrocities against the Jewish population.

Serge Kisluk -- Found to have collaborated with the Nazis in Poland and been a member of the auxiliary police under Nazi command in the Ukraine, where he killed a young Jewish woman; died prior to deportation in 2001.

Jacob Luitjens -- Stripped of his citizenship after allegations of nazi collaboration; deported to Holland where he was jailed.

Mamertas Maciukas -- Accused of being a member of a battalion that murdered tens of thousands of Jews and Soviet prisoners in Minsk, he left Canada on his own; citizenship revoked in 1998.

Ludwig Nebel -- Accused in 1998 of being a Nazi party member and holding various positions in both the SS and the Gendarmerie unit; died in 2000 prior to hearing.

Josef Nemsila -- Accused of involvement in the arrest, detention, interrogation and execution of civilians in Slovakia; died in 1997 before deportation.

Helmut Oberlander -- Found to have lied about his Nazi past with a Nazi unit, his citizenship was revoked. He continues to argue his case before the courts.

Walter Obodzinsky -- Found last year to have been a guard at SS forced labour camps; awaiting decision on deportation.

Wasyl Odynsky -- Found to have lied about his role as a Nazi guard; deportation proceedings continue.

Eduards Podins -- The government's case against him was dismissed in 1999.

Michael Seifert -- Faces extradition to Italy, where he was found guilty of war crimes including murder and torture. He continues to argue his case in the courts.

Erichs Tobiass -- Accused of participation in the execution of Latvian civilians and membership in the Waffen SS; died in 1997 before court proceedings concluded.

Peteris Vitols -- In 1998, the government's case against him was dismissed.