Canadian scholar and historian of Ukraine during the Soviet era discusses the Kremlin’s “Operation Payback” propaganda campaign accusing Canada and the US of harboring Nazis after World War II.
by Jason Jay Smart
September 29, 2023
Following President Zelensky’s visit to the Canadian House of Commons, where a former Ukrainian member of the Galicia Division of the Waffen SS received a standing ovation, a firestorm began that caused the Speaker of the Commons to resign. Now, eyes have again turned toward Canada: How much truth is there that Canada accepted “thousands” of “Ukrainian Nazis”?
Lubomyr Luciuk is a professor of political geography at the Royal Military College of Canada and a Fellow of the Chair of Ukrainian Studies at the University of Toronto. Prof. Luciuk regularly contributes to Kyiv Post.
He spoke with Kyiv Post earlier this year about the Soviet “Operation Payback” propaganda campaign to discredit Ukrainian-Canadians, in order to increase social tensions in Canada, through allegations of prior Nazi involvement.
Many believe that Canada allowed Ukrainian war criminals to enter after the Second World War. Did thousands of Ukrainian Nazis not emigrate to Canada?
Absolutely not true. Although various individuals and organizations bandied about various figures about supposed “Nazis” hiding in North America the Commission of Inquiry on War Criminals, headed by Mr. Justice Jules Deschenes, found that those estimates were “grossly exaggerated.”
There have been stories for 70 years that tons of Ukrainian Nazi war criminals had moved to Canada: Where did that come from?
In the mid-late 1970s and into the early 1980s the KGB orchestrated “Operation Payback,” hoping to provoke discord between the Jewish and Ukrainian diasporas over the alleged presence of “thousands” of “Nazi war criminals” across North America.
By planting what we would today call “fake news” stories in the media they were quite successful in stoking up tensions between these communities, playing off stereotypes and prejudices on both sides, to their mutual detriment.
Thankfully, in today’s democratic Ukraine all the country’s citizens, regardless of their ethnic, racial, or religious heritage or origins are fighting together against the common foe – Russian fascism.
But it has SS in the name – who were these guys? What was the Galicia Division?
The Galicia Division was a unit of the Waffen SS (Armed SS). They were organized in mid-1943 to help defend western Ukraine against a second Soviet occupation. Deployed into battle near Brody in the mid-summer of 1944, the Division was encircled and decimated, despite a valiant defense.
The remnants regrouped and eventually retreated west, surrendering to the British in northeastern Italy, where they were interned near Rimini. While in those POW camps they were screened by the British, Canadians, Americans and even Soviet investigators but no evidence of wartime criminality was brought forward. Repatriated to the UK they were held in labor camps there until civilianized following which many emigrated across the Free World.
Before some of them came to Canada the government asked the High Commissioner for Canada to Great Britain to review whether the soldiers of this formation had been involved in war crimes, given the legitimate concerns raised over just this issue by the Canadian Jewish Congress. The High Commissioner investigated and reported that such stories were nothing but “Communist propaganda.”
Should war criminals be found in Canada: Would the Ukrainian-Canadian community oppose their prosecution?
Not at all.
The Ukrainian Canadian position was, and remains, that if any person is found in Canada against whom there is credible evidence of war criminality, regardless of his or her nationality, faith group, race, or political beliefs, then that information should be tabled with the proper authorities who can then determine whether to prosecute this individual in a Canadian criminal court of law.
No war criminals should ever find a haven in Canada.
How many war criminals, from Ukraine, have been prosecuted in Canada? Of how many total that have been found?
How did the Commission that you served on verify that these immigrants were not Nazi war criminals?
By extensive research, through expert testimony, by allowing various intervenors to present detailed briefs and by considering the appropriate jurisprudence, particularly with respect to rules of evidence. The Commission of Inquiry on War Criminals operated from 1984 to April 1987 and produced a public report, in English and French, available online.
What should be done now?
We should focus our efforts on helping Ukrainians resist the genocidal agenda of the KGB man in the Kremlin and his confederates rather than allowing ourselves to be distracted by an unfortunate and regrettable incident that occurred in Canada’s House of Commons but one that, fundamentally, is irrelevant to the prosecution of Ukraine’s just war of self-defense against the Russian invaders.
Professor Luciuk additionally notes:
Members of the “Galicia Division” were interned after the end of the Second World War near Rimini, Italy. There they were screened by the British, Americans, Canadians, and even the Soviets, with no evidence of wartime criminality uncovered. Later relocated to the UK they were kept working for several more years before being “civilianized,” following which a number emigrated to other countries.
Concerns expressed when veterans of this Division were finally granted permission to come to Canada, in 1950, were investigated by the High Commissioner of Canada to the United Kingdom. He dismissed these accusations as nothing more than “Communist propaganda.”
Starting in the late 1970s the KGB successfully orchestrated a disinformation campaign, Operation Payback, deliberately stoking tensions between the Jewish and Ukrainian diasporas over the alleged presence of “thousands” of “Nazi war criminals” in Canada and the US.
These charges were thoroughly examined in 1984-1987 by the Commission of Inquiry on War Criminals headed by Mr Justice Jules Deschênes. He concluded that reports about “thousands of Nazi war criminals in Canada” were “grossly exaggerated” and noted how there was no evidence of wartime wrongdoing on the part of the veterans of the “Galicia Division.”
Jason Jay Smart, Ph.D., is a political adviser who has lived and worked in Ukraine, Moldova, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Latin America. Due to his work with the democratic opposition to Pres. Vladimir Putin, Smart was persona non grata, for life, by Russia in 2010. His websites can be found at www.JasonJaySmart.com / www.AmericanPoliticalServices.com / fb.com/jasonjaysmart / Twitter: @OfficeJJSmart