Jewish Groups Condemn Parliamentary Ovation for Ex-Nazi Unit Personnel

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Several influential Jewish advocacy groups have voiced their condemnation of parliamentarians who stood in support of a man whose history bore the indelible impression of active duty in a Nazi unit during the Second World War. On Sunday, the matter took center stage in Canada’s House of Commons, triggering an avalanche of criticism and regrets.

Last Friday, upon the visit of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to Ottawa, 98-year-old Yaroslav Hunka, former personnel of the First Ukrainian Division, received a standing ovation from the parliamentary members. Speaker of the House, Anthony Rota, who issued the invitation, proudly introduced Hunka, claiming him as a hero both of Ukrainian and Canadian descent.

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The enthusiasm of MPs and President Zelenskyy’s fist pump in acknowledgment of Hunka’s ceremonious salute attracted considerable attention, as did the double standing ovation. However, the nature of Hunka’s military past raised concerns across Jewish advocacy groups. The First Ukrainian Division, also known as the Waffen-SS Galicia Division, was a volunteer unit that fought under Nazi command.

In response to these developments, the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies shared a public statement on Sunday, shedding light on the extensive atrocities the division was responsible for. The organization demanded an apology for every veteran and Holocaust survivor who waged a war against the Nazis.

Following the outcry, Speaker Rota issued a regretful statement on Sunday afternoon, clarifying that his actions were not premised on full awareness of Hunka’s past. He further apologized to Jewish communities worldwide, without providing explicit reasons or specific details about the regrettable incident.

As a response, B’nai Brith Canada CEO Michael Mostyn brought to light the issue of Ukrainian ultra-nationalist ideologues who endorsed ideals of ethnic cleansing and dreamed of an ethnically homogenous Ukrainian state. He demanded a detailed explanation, stating the Parliament owed an apology to Canadians for such a disgraceful incident.

Additionally, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, a representative assembly of Jewish federations across Canada, expressed deep concern over the incident and refuting any attempts to gloss over the crimes committed by Ukrainians during the Holocaust.

Nevertheless, it seems as though scant awareness was brought to Hunka’s history on the day of the ceremony. As various party spokespeople claimed, they were ignorant of his past, fuelling further blame on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for lack of a pre-emptive vetting process. Rota reaffirmed his independent decision in inviting Hunka, void of any influence from the Prime Minister’s office.

The controversy surrounding the honoring of individuals linked to the First Ukrainian Division is not new nor isolated. Similar issues have arisen before, raising broad questions about the acceptance of former Waffen-SS Galicia Division members into Canada after the Second World War.

The turbulent past being revisited has served to remind Canadians everywhere about the importance of remaining informed, vigilant and respectful of historical truths. It also highlights the role institutions, organisations, and individuals have in facilitating dialogue, seeking understanding and fostering unity.

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