War Crimes, the Ukrainian Nationalists and the Canadian State

– Peggy Morton –

The International Military Tribunal, which presided over the war crimes trials at Nuremberg, expressly declared the Waffen-SS, the armed wing of the Nazi Party, to be a criminal organization. Until 1943 there were no non-German units of the Schutzstaffel (SS), a paramilitary police force; however, after losing the Battle of Stalingrad, an increasingly desperate Nazi Germany organized collaborators into Waffen SS Divisions (military divisions of the SS) in all the occupied countries.

The SS Galizien Division is founded
in the spring of 1943.

The United Nations War Crimes Commission (UN WCC), which began its work in 1943, ascribed war criminal status to members of organizations it determined to be criminal organizations. Membership in or knowledge of the criminal nature of the organization determined war criminal status. Only those who had not voluntarily joined but had been forcibly conscripted were excluded from criminal status.

In October 1947, the Polish representative on the UN WCC put forward specific charges against the members of the Ukrainian SS Galizien and the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA). These included the wanton devastation and destruction of property; complicity in deportation; systematic terrorism; putting hostages to death; complicity in mass murder.

The Short Statement of Facts transmitted by the Polish representative on the UN WCC states:

"The above listed persons took part in organizing -- according to the instructions issued by the Hitlerite authorities -- of UPA (Ukrainska Powstanesa Armia -- Ukrainian Insurgent Army) and SS -- Schutzstaffel -- Galizien, later called 'Halyczyn.' Both were used for deportation of civilian Polish population, for destruction of whole villages and for murdering their inhabitants.

"A letter dated November 3, 1947 to the Main Commission for the Investigation of War Crimes in Poland states that the investigation had been suspended by the United Nations War Crimes Commission in London until specific information is provided regarding the position, the level of authority, and the time span office of the following major figures accused of committing crimes against the Polish people in several regions..." The names of seven individuals follow.[1]

Surviving members of the SS Division Galizien surrendered to the British and were interned in Rimini, Italy, an area controlled by Polish II Corps forces (part of the British army). Although they had changed their name to First Ukrainian Division of the Ukrainian National Army, their identity as an SS unit was well known. Through the intervention of the Vatican, the SS members were not deported to the Soviet Union as required under the Yalta Agreement. Instead their status was changed from prisoners of war to surrendered enemy personnel. In 1947 they were allowed to emigrate to Britain and later to Canada. Their names have never been released, but about 7,100 members of the SS Galizien emigrated to Britain.

According to Roman Serbyn, a "historian" of the "Holomodor" or "Ukrainian famine" whose family immigrated from Galicia in 1948, the Ukrainian Canadian Committee (UCC) was instrumental in the decision by the Canadian government in 1950 to allow immigration of members of the SS Galizien.

Serbyn tells the following story:

"After having surrendered on 8 May 1945 to the British near Radstadt, Austria, as 'Surrendered Enemy Personnel' (SEP), the 1st Ukrainian Division was interned in a SEP camp near Rimini, Italy. There the soldiers were subjected to screening by the British and Soviet authorities; both cleared the division of any war crimes. In spring 1947 the process of transferring the division to the United Kingdom began. The Ukrainian Canadian Committee and its affiliated organizations made efforts to encourage the Canadian government to allow individual members of the division to immigrate to Canada. On 31 May 1950 the federal cabinet sanctioned their immigration after carefully ascertaining that no war criminals were among those wishing to come to Canada. However, the Canadian Jewish Congress claimed to have evidence of the division's involvement in war crimes. The cabinet then asked the British Foreign Office and the RCMP for further clarification of the division's history and membership. By 25 September 1950, convinced of the correctness of its previous decision, the cabinet reaffirmed that former division members would be allowed to immigrate to Canada. Thus, after many screenings and much vetting of the division's history and membership, former division members came to Canada legally. For a detailed history of the division's immigration to Canada, see Myron Momryk, 'Ukrainian Displaced Persons and the Canadian Government, 1946-1952' (unpublished paper). See also Gordon B. Panchuk, Heroes of Their Day (Toronto, 1983). Documents relating to the division, its screening, and immigration to Canada can be found in part 3 of this volume."[2]

Besides the admission of significant numbers of former members of the SS Galizien, the UCC was instrumental in the admission of leading members of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) and the UPA. As will be discussed later, there is indisputable evidence of the war crimes, crimes against humanity and crimes against the peace committed by these three organizations and their closely-associated and overlapping memberships.

Part Two: Canadian Commission of Inquiry on War Crimes
(Deschenes Commission)

The Deschenes Commission was established in February 1985 following allegations that the notorious Nazi Dr. Josef Mengele had applied to immigrate to Canada and that Canada was aware of his whereabouts. Its report was released in December 1986. The most important inquiry which such a commission needed to carry out was to establish how the Canadian government established who was a war criminal, and what stand it had taken towards suspected or confirmed war criminals. This would also involve determining what kind of investigations were made, the role of individuals and organizations such as the UCC in lobbying for admission of Nazi collaborators, and whether the government had acted in contempt of its own immigration law.

The Deschenes Commission did not conduct an inquiry into any of these important questions. Established at a turning point when no force could act in the old way, the Deschenes Commission showed the utter refusal of the ruling circles to provide modern definitions and their drive to reverse the verdict of the peoples that democracy could not permit the existence of fascism following the anti-fascist victory. Instead it used the occasion to further fascize the state.

1. Canadian Government in Contempt of Its Own Laws

The Commission summarized the state of immigration law as follows: "Until 1949, Canada had no criteria for rejecting as immigrants either Nazis or the German military. The prohibition then introduced included past members of the Nazi party, the SS (Schutz Staffel, an élite Nazi police force), Waffen SS (an equally heinous military version of the SS), the German Wehrmacht or regular armed forces, and collaborators. The Nazi prohibition was dropped in 1950. Non-Germans conscripted into the Waffen SS after 1942 were exempted in 1951 as were, in 1953, Waffen SS German nationals under the age of 18 at the time of conscription and ethnic Germans (the Volksdeutsche) conscripted under duress. The more general ban on veterans of all German military and SS units was relaxed in 1956 in cases of exceptional merit or where these veterans had close relatives in Canada. Specific exclusions were removed altogether in 1962. There remained only the loose catch-all exclusion of those 'implicated in the taking of life or engaged in activities connected with forced labour and concentration camps.'"

It should be noted that immigration did not resume until late in 1947, and there was little immigration from the "displaced persons" camps before restrictions were put in place in 1949.

According to the Commission, the members of the Waffen SS were ineligible to enter Canada in 1950 when they were permitted to immigrate. This fact did not trouble the Commission. It did not even directly address the legality of admitting members of the OUN/UPA or the Nazi police units except to remark in general terms: "No serious attempt ever seems to have been made to define 'collaborator' in the relatively brief period of time these exclusions were in effect and may have been enforced. For example, membership in the various Nazi-organized police auxiliaries which had been raised among local populations and used to keep order, to round up and sometimes to execute those suspected of being Jews, partisans, etc., was not a specific reason for exclusion."[3]

These statements are indicative of the utter refusal of the Commission to inquire into any matter, for example the statement "in the relatively brief period of time these exclusions were in effect and may have been enforced." (Emphasis added.)

The Commission reported that "non-Germans conscripted into the Waffen SS after 1942 were declared exempt in 1951." The 1951 date coincides with the U.S. decision to lift the prohibited status from the OUN. What is not explained is how in 1950, one year before this decision was taken, all the surviving members of the Waffen SS Galizien were cleared for immigration to Canada. Even if the entire Division had been conscripted, which is irrefutably not the case, they would have been ineligible to enter Canada in 1950. In fact the organizations of veterans of the SS Galizien never for a moment claimed that they were forcibly conscripted. Far from it, they proudly boast that they were "fighting for their country" by joining the SS in order to fight alongside the German army to establish a new fascist order in Europe.

2. Anglo-American Imperialist Refusal to Prosecute War Criminals

Using the argument that the prosecution of lower level war criminals would serve no purpose, the report completely covers up the fact that the leaders of the collaborationist forces were helped to escape justice and brought to Canada, the U.S. and Britain.

As the 1985 Deschenes Commission reported, war crimes trials were shut down by the British and Americans as an integral part of Cold War policy. The Report quoted a 1948 memo from the British government explaining that it would no longer prosecute war criminals on the basis of the Cold War logic that "it was now necessary to dispose of the past as soon as possible."

The Parliamentary Summary states: "Faced with the reality of a new and dangerous enemy, the western powers became reluctant to pursue the remnants of the old. Their limited security resources were re-deployed to uncover suspected Soviet agents and Communists, rather than to identify and track down Nazi war criminals. In Canadian immigration policy, which was rapidly liberalized after the war, the restrictions against the entry of ex-enemy aliens were systematically relaxed."

In this way world reaction, led by U.S. imperialism, declared its refusal to accept the verdict of the world's people that a new definition of democracy had come into being which did not permit the existence of fascism. It was a negation of the demand for new arrangements on the international scale to establish that aggression was the supreme international crime and to bring to justice those guilty of war crimes, crimes against the peace and crimes against humanity.

Even this justification about not pursuing "remnants of the old" is disinformation. The western powers were doing nothing so passive as showing reluctance to "pursue the remnants of the old." In fact, U.S. imperialism in particular was actively pursuing and recruiting the "remnants of the old" – that is, leading Nazis, collaborators from the countries occupied by the Nazis and war criminals. But it was not to bring them to justice, but to secretly arrange their escape and safe passage to the U.S. and to incorporate them into the state apparatus, especially the military and intelligence services.

The declaration that the members of the Waffen-SS Galizien were "cleared" of charges of being war criminals was part of this entire operation, and Canada was playing its role. Further, the UCC, which the Mackenzie King government had organized after it arrested the leaders of the Ukrainian Labour Farmer Temple Association and declared the association illegal, was actively organizing to bring these criminals to Canada.

From the time that the tide turned with the defeat of Germany at Stalingrad, the hopes of the imperialist powers that Nazi Germany would crush the Soviet Union and its nation-building project were dashed. The Cold War signalled not the emergence of a "new and dangerous enemy" but the same agenda to smash the new which had arisen with the Great October Revolution. U.S. imperialism now assumed the mantle of Nazi Germany, incorporating top Nazi scientists, military intelligence and others into its war machine, with the aim of accomplishing what Nazi Germany had been unable to do.

3. The "Screening" and "Clearing" of War Criminals

The Deschenes Commission did not inquire as to how the Canadian government determined that members of an organization deemed a criminal organization and therefore considered war criminals under the Nuremberg code had been "cleared" and declared not to be war criminals. It did not even acknowledge this difficulty, much less that the UCC which had been formed and nurtured through direct state intervention was actively demanding that war criminals from the OUN/UPA as well as the Waffen-SS Galizien be given preferential immigration status. Nor does it even make any cursory examination of how these forces who betrayed their own people and were responsible for countless civilian deaths and the deaths of anti-Nazi partisans had been "cleared" of war criminal status.

The claim that the SS Galizien was "screened" is so transparent that it hardly bears further comment. But it does reveal that in reality, "screening" was more concerned with identifying the partisan fighters against fascism and in particular the communists who had fought in their front ranks. In fact, not only did the Department of Immigration concern itself with barring communists and anti-fascist partisans, it consciously favoured the immigration of those who would act as a reactionary, anti-communist force within the working class and in Canadian society. Whether they had committed war crimes was not of concern to the government or the RCMP, for whom "national security" had always meant opposing communism and considering fascism, as it was in fact, another variant of capitalist society which therefore posed no threat to the monopolies and to capitalism and therefore no threat to "national security." War criminals had only to make the claim that they were really fighting communism – in other words to repeat the Nazi propaganda lock, stock and barrel and they became preferred immigrants.

Instead the Commission was used to create a further diversion and disinformation that if there were war criminals in Canada they had somehow slipped in as individuals. This also covered up the fact that these war criminals became acknowledged by the state as the "leaders" of the Ukrainian community.

The Deschenes Commission did not even consider it necessary to inquire as to the actions of the Canadian government in admitting people who were war criminals as defined by the Nuremberg Military Tribunal. Nor did it recognize the International Military Tribunal's determination that the SS was a criminal organization. It conducted no inquiry into Canada's participation in U.S. covert admission of known war criminals in preparation for war with the Soviet Union, even though by 1985 the true scope of U.S. harbouring of Nazis war criminals and absorbing them into its military and security apparatus was well known.

Instead it proceeded to collect names of individuals, finally putting forward a handful of names of a few old men for possible prosecution. The reactionary organizations which had their origin in the state-mandated and created UCC were carefully protected. Not only were they protected, they were declared to speak for all people of Ukrainian origin in Canada. Their outrageous claim that an attack on Nazi war criminals and their organizations was an attack on all people of Ukrainian nationality in Canada was used to manufacture a drama that the Commission had created discord between the Jewish and Ukrainian communities.

The parliamentary summary on the Commission stated: "The public hearings of the Commission had many highlights, but the most emotional aspect of the hearings and public debate outside the hearings seemed to pit the Canadian Jewish community against the Canadian East European and Baltic communities. The latter were afraid that the inquiry would become a witch hunt against their members who had revolted against Soviet tyranny during the war to the point of allying themselves with the Nazis."

In 1986, John Sopinka, then legal counsel for the UCC and later a Supreme Court Justice, went before the Commission to state: "It is my submission that there is no evidence that Ukrainians were in any general way the allies of Nazi Germany during World War II. Far from being the allies of Nazi Germany, Ukrainians found themselves in the unenviable position of having to battle both Nazi and Soviet repression."

In Sopinka's world, the fact that an estimated 4.5-5 million Ukrainians fought in the Red Army while many more fought as partisans is not recognized. Nor is the fact that Ukraine suffered proportionally the most deaths at the hands of the Nazis of any nation. The undeniable fact is that in the face of this heroic resistance, the Ukrainian Nationalist organizations of Western Ukraine swore allegiance to Hitler, and proclaimed that their "independence" required the establishment of a new fascist order in Europe. Out of this he conjures his fantasy world in which the issue is whether "Ukrainians" were the allies of Nazi Germany. Just who was slandering Ukrainians!

4. Conclusions of the Deschenes Commission

Once the narrow limits of considering whether war crimes charges could be laid against a few individuals had been established, the Commission proceeded with this task in a manner guaranteed to avoid exposure of the reactionary Ukrainian organizations which had done such yeoman's service for the bourgeoisie and of the despicable role of Anglo-American imperialism and the Canadian state. The Commission held no hearings and collected no evidence outside Canada, i.e. where the crimes had been committed. Justice Deschenes established very narrow conditions for collection of evidence in the Soviet Union, and at the same time announced that he would not take part in the hearing of evidence abroad. The Soviet authorities were given an ultimatum as to how evidence would be collected in the Soviet Union. When the Soviet authorities took their time deciding how to respond to this request. Deschenes soon concluded that the response from the Soviet Union had "taken too long" and there was "no time" for hearing evidence abroad. Given these arbitrary decisions, it was not hard to eliminate the vast majority of suspected war criminals from the list. Everyone whose case required evidence to be collected outside of Canada was removed. All the members of the SS Galizien were summarily removed and it was declared that they had been cleared of war crimes at the time of their entry.

And so it went. In the end one person was denaturalized and returned to Holland, one trial led to an acquittal, and the Crown dropped the charges on the rest of the cases it had begun.

In removing all the members of the SS Galizien, the Commission declared:

"The members of Galicia Division were individually screened for security purposes before admission to Canada. Charges of war crimes of Galicia Division have never been substantiated, either in 1950 when they were first preferred, or in 1984 when they were renewed, or before this Commission. Further, in the absence of evidence of participation or knowledge of specific war crimes, mere membership in the Galicia Division is insufficient to justify prosecution."

The assertion that war crimes charges were first registered in 1950 is false, as can be seen from the documentation above, which shows that charges were first received in October 23, 1947. This is an important error, since in 1947, after being held for two years as prisoners of war, the status of members of the SS Galizien was changed to displaced persons, paving the way for their immigration to Britain and Canada.

This absurd claim that all Canadians of Ukrainian origin were under attack was the cover used to shield both the Canadian state and the reactionary Ukrainian "leaders" it had sponsored and to maintain the claim that they "represented" all Ukrainians. The UCC was in a sense the Canadian government's first experiment in elite accommodation. It was cobbled together by government fiat while at the same time the cultural, political and defence organizations established by the workers and farmers through their own efforts were criminalized, their leaders jailed without charges, their halls and printing presses not only seized but turned over to the made-in-Ottawa UCC. It was this state-sponsored and organized UCC which had been so insistent that the members of the SS Galizien and OUN leaders be permitted to immigrate to Canada in the face of strong protest at the time from both Jewish and Ukrainian organizations and many other Canadians. With its brutal Cold War logic, the Commission could completely ignore the fact that in terms of loss of life, Ukraine suffered from Nazi aggression more than any nation in World War II and that its people fought German fascism heroically and at tremendous cost. Instead those who had collaborated with the Nazis and themselves carried out the most heinous crimes became the "victims" of a "witch hunt."


The investigation of Nazi war criminals in Canada was an exercise in disinformation. It was not just a cover-up of the crimes committed by the Nazi collaborators, including those from Ukraine, the Baltic states and Yugoslavia. It was equally so as regards the role of the Canadian state not only in shielding war criminals from just punishment but in making common cause with them. Instead of conducting an objective inquiry into the actions of the Canadian government and state agencies, as well as the nature of the crimes committed by the Ukrainian collaborators, the Commission made recommendations to further assault the rights of the people and the right to conscience. Ostensibly to prevent the granting of citizenship to war criminals and/or to make its revocation easier, the Commission recommended amendments to the Citizenship Act and the Immigration Act. To the same end it also recommended that immigrant applicants be asked specific questions about their past military, paramilitary, political and civilian activities, and that a written, signed record of the applicant's answers be kept during her or his lifetime. All of this was to set the precedent that Canadian citizenship could be revoked and citizens deported. Such measures had been carried out previously in Canada but previously they had required the invoking of the War Measures Act such as at the time of the Winnipeg General Strike.


1. "Short Statement of Facts, United Nations War Crimes Commission charges against German war criminals of Ukrainian origin registered number: 6697/P/U/1124, case number 1124 received October 23, 1947," from Genocide and Rescue in Wolyn: Recollections of the Ukrainian Nationalist Ethnic Cleansing Campaign Against the Poles During World War II, Tadeusz Piotrowski editor, McFarland & Company (2000)

2. Serbyn, Roman, Alleged War Criminals, the Canadian Media and the Ukrainian Community, www.ukemonde.com

3. War Criminals: The Deschenes Commission, Prepared by: Grant Purves, Political and Social Affairs Division, Library of Parliament, Canada, Revised 16 October 1998

This article was published in
Volume 53 Number 8 - September 2023

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