Debate over war crimes gets heated
Monday, April 25, 2005

MONTREAL -- Joseph Riwash's partisan outfit wasted little time on Ukrainian villagers who were reluctant to join them in battle against Nazi occupying forces during the Second World War.

Resisters were "shot then and there," the Montreal man wrote in 1991 in a privately published memoir. "Such was the justice practised among the partisans in those days."

Elsewhere in Ukraine, another Montreal man -- Nahun Kohn -- was fighting for much of the war with a partisan group who routinely killed anti-Soviet Ukrainians or those thought to have harmed Jewish civilians.

In one such attack, "bullets were flying hot and thick, and one of our bullets set the hut on fire," Mr. Kohn wrote in a memoir. "We watched it burn, and we made sure that nobody escaped from the flames."

Mr. Kohn also described an incident in which the group captured a factory owner alleged to have worked many Jews to death. They buried him alive in a bunker, and then camped outside for 11 or 12 days to ensure he died a slow death.

It was war, and partisans like Mr. Riwash and Mr. Kohn made no bones about it. They did what was necessary to help their Soviet Red Army commanders or secret-police advisers defeat the Nazis.

But now, well into their 80s and suffering poor health, the two Jewish men have been caught up in a war of another kind, one that pits two of Canada's biggest ethnic communities against each other.

The Ukrainian Civil Liberties Association is demanding an investigation into whether Mr. Riwash, Mr. Kohn and other Soviet collaborators lied about their wartime conduct to get into Canada.

The group wants Canadian authorities to treat them the same way they've dealt with a long line of alleged Nazi collaborators -- by asking the courts to strip them of their citizenship and deport them. Last fall, it sent a letter to the RCMP urging that Mr. Kohn, Mr. Riwash and two others be investigated for war crimes.

But this has put the Ukrainian association on a collision course with the Canadian Jewish Congress, which views its campaign as tantamount to anti-Semitism.

A guerrilla war between the Ukrainian and Jewish communities heated up in the mid-1980s, when each made strong representations to a war-crimes commission headed by Mr. Justice Jules Desch?nes. Instead of deportation actions, the million-strong Ukrainian-Canadian community lobbied for full war-crimes prosecutions to take place in Canada under strict rules of evidence.

Jewish groups -- representing about 600,000 Canadians -- were generally in favour of domestic prosecutions, but willing to support a process that would see suspects stripped of their citizenship and deported.

The denaturalization and deportation program began in 1994, after the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that evidence of Second World War crimes was too weak to support criminal prosecutions in Canada.

The government declared anyone belonging to a group appearing on a postwar exclusion list must have lied to immigration officials to gain entry. They would lose their citizenship, and be deported. Nazi collaborators, common criminals, Mafia members and Trotskyites were on the list. So were Communists, and those who had operated on behalf of Russian police.

Ottawa ultimately put a concerted effort into 26 cases involving suspected Nazi war criminals.
But the federal war-crimes policy has angered some Eastern Europeans. They say it targeted members of their communities who, they argue, were conscripted into playing minor roles in the Nazi Holocaust. At the same time, they complain, the war-crimes unit has ignored a Stalinist slaughter that cost many millions of Eastern Europeans their lives.

"You can't suddenly say that we are going to look at this group but not this group," said Lubomyr Luciuk, research director for the Ukrainian association. "Fools deny that there were collaborators on one side, but no collaborators on the other. There were collaborators in every single European country and in every group -- some more voluntary than others."

Bernie Farber, executive director of the Canadian Jewish Congress, objects to the campaign. "What Lubomyr Luciuk and others are doing is trying to take the focus away from the incredible tragedy of the Jews."

The real aim of the Ukrainian campaign can only be to harm Jewish efforts to bring Nazi war criminals and collaborators to justice, and to "invite divisions between communities," Mr. Farber said in an interview.