House Speaker Anthony Rota has issued an apology to Jewish communities for honoring an elderly Ukrainian war veteran who served in a German Nazi unit during World War II. The incident occurred during a ceremony in the Canadian House of Commons in the presence of Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky.
The Prime Minister’s office distanced itself from the controversy, stating that Justin Trudeau was unaware of the veteran’s allegiance when he joined the celebration. However, this response has not been well-received by Jewish organizations, who argue that the unit’s record of atrocities should not be ignored.
The 98-year-old Ukrainian-Canadian man, Yaroslav Hunka, was celebrated as a guest of honor in the House of Commons after speeches by Trudeau and Zelensky. The audience gave him multiple standing ovations. Speaker Rota praised Hunka as a Ukrainian and Canadian hero, expressing gratitude for his service in the fight for Ukrainian independence against the Russians.
However, it was soon revealed that Hunka had served in the 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS, a unit created by the Nazis from Ukrainian volunteers during their occupation of the USSR. The unit’s involvement in war crimes and atrocities has been widely recognized. Even though Rota did not mention the Nazi unit when introducing Hunka, the former soldier’s involvement was not a secret, as it was captioned in an Associated Press photo and published by the unit’s veterans association.
The celebration of a former Nazi soldier in the House of Commons has sparked outrage from Jewish organizations, including the Toronto-based Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center. They argue that there should be no confusion about the unit’s responsibility for the mass murder of innocent civilians. The organization has called on Speaker Rota to issue an apology to Holocaust survivors and World War II veterans who fought against the Nazis.
Speaker Rota has since issued an apology, without explicitly naming Hunka or explaining the nature of the controversy. He took sole responsibility for honoring the veteran, stating that no one, including fellow parliamentarians and the Ukrainian delegation, knew about his intention or remarks. The Prime Minister’s office has supported Rota’s apology, emphasizing that neither Trudeau nor Zelensky’s delegation had advance notice of the planned celebration.
The incident has garnered attention from Poland and Russia, two countries with opposing views on the Ukraine conflict. The Polish ambassador in Ottawa condemned the honoring of the former SS soldier, highlighting the unit’s responsibility for the murder of thousands of Poles and Jews. The Russian government has criticized the Trudeau government, describing it as the epitome of neo-liberal fascism and denouncing the incident as outrageous negligence.
This controversy sheds light on the complex and sensitive issues surrounding the legacy of World War II and the collaboration of certain Ukrainian nationalists with the Nazis. It highlights the importance of understanding and acknowledging historical atrocities while also recognizing the contributions of individuals in the fight for freedom and independence.