Record (Kitchener-Waterloo) | Jul. 05, 2004 | Paul Tuerr
Second Opinion

Germans also suffered during the Second World War

In his bitter Second Opinion column, Remember The Tragedies, As Well As Victories, Of War, published on June 18, 2004, Joseph S. Bloch criticizes the Federal Court of Appeal's decision to restore Helmut Oberlander's citizenship. He accuses the judges and our local members of Parliament, who unanimously welcomed the court's decision, of not having learned the lesson of history.

I fully agree with Bloch's conclusion that "the challenge of history is to remember the bad with the good." However, rather than what Bloch suggests, we cannot be selective in our memory. Events which in his view may not "have significance" have changed the lives of many members of our local community forever.

We need to remember all those innocent victims of genocide who suffered and lost their lives because of the ideas of such racial fanatics as Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Pol Pot, Idi Amin, Josip Tito, Slobodan Milosevic and others.

In our community alone, there are tens of thousands of ethnic Germans who came to Canada through Stalin's "Red Hell." We, too, lost our families, our homes and our freedom. Those who could not flee were massacred or shipped to Stalin's concentration camps in those very same cattle cars used in the Holocaust.

To us, this deliberately neglected part of the tragic history of the 20th century is of as great significance as the Holocaust is to Bloch. My late wife spent almost three years in Stalin's concentration camps after she was picked up by Tito's partisans and shipped off to Russia at age 17 in 1944. Both my grandmothers were murdered and thrown into unidentified mass graves. There are numerous other who suffered such fates in our community, including Oberlander's wife, Margret, whose parents were picked up by the Communists in 1939, never to be heard from again.

Keeping up the memory of those who have perished is vitally important. And yet, it is not the courts' role to remember or, as Bloch suggests, to learn whatever lesson may be learned of history. The courts' exclusive role is to apply the law of the country in an unbiased manner.

In Oberlander's case, the Canadian government has tampered with citizenship laws and the fundamental tenets of our justice system, such as due process, Section 11 of our country's Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and the presumption of innocence unless proven guilty enshrined therein.

After nine years of wrongful persecution of Oberlander, the Federal Court of Appeal has put a definite end to this attempt that is unworthy of a society committed to the values of modern constitutionalism.

I am deeply disappointed by several of Bloch's statements and I strongly reject the continuous labelling of Oberlander as one of the villains of the Second World War. To set the facts straight, Oberlander has been cleared of any war crime allegations by Justice Andrew McKay's ruling of Feb. 28, 2000. He did not lose his Canadian citizenship as a war criminal, but as the result of a flawed administrative procedure that threatens the citizenship of all naturalized Canadians.

Through his relentless efforts, Kitchener-Waterloo MP Andrew Telegdi has been able to make both politicians and the public aware of the dangers of a political process in which the government has attempted to simply bypass the threshold of the judiciary and our country's charter of rights .

It is most unfortunate that almost 60 years after the end of the war, we now may face the polarization of Canada's German and Jewish communities over this issue.

I am seriously troubled with the possibility that our former constructive relationship is being reduced to each others' stand on the matter of Oberlander's citizenship.

Even more disturbing is the fact this polarization may define the parameters of our relations within the next generation of Canadians. We don't need more confrontation, but a new form of dialogue to build our common community on the solid foundations of tolerance, mutual respect and co-operation.

In its unconditional commitment to equal human rights to all Canadians, the Federal Court of Appeal's decision has defined the parameters of such a constructive dialogue.

Paul Tuerr is vice-president of the German-Canadian Remembrance Society. He has been living in this community since 1948. Second Opinion articles reflect the views of Record readers on a variety of subjects.