The Speaker of Canada’s House of Commons on Sunday apologised for praising an individual at a parliamentary meeting who served in a Nazi unit during World War II.
By Pete Schroeder
WASHINGTON – The Speaker of Canada’s House of Commons on Sunday apologised for praising an individual at a parliamentary meeting who served in a Nazi unit during World War II.
Two days earlier, Speaker Anthony Rota had recognised 98-year old Yaroslav Hunka as a “Ukranian hero” before the Canadian Parliament. Hunka served in World War II as a member of the 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS, according to the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Jewish human rights group that demanded an apology.
Rota in a statement took responsibility for what was characterised as an oversight, calling the initiative “entirely my own.”
“I have subsequently become aware of more information which causes me to regret my decision,” he said, adding his “deepest apologies” to Jewish communities.
The recognition came following a visit by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who thanked Canada for its assistance in his country’s war against Russia.
Following Zelenskiy’s remarks, Rota acknowledged Hunka, who was seated in the gallery, praising him for fighting for Ukrainian independence against the Russians. Hunka received two standing ovations from those gathered.
“At a time of rising anti-Semitism and Holocaust distortion, it is incredibly disturbing to see Canada’s Parliament rise to applaud an individual who was a member of a unit in the Waffen-SS, a Nazi military branch responsible for the murder of Jews and others,” the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center said in a statement while demanding an apology earlier on Sunday.
“An explanation must be provided as to how this individual entered the hallowed halls of Canadian Parliament and received recognition from the Speaker of the House and a standing ovation,” the group added.
Rota added in his statement that no one, including fellow parliamentarians or the Ukrainian delegation, was aware of his plans or remarks beforehand.
Since their forces entered Ukraine, Russian officials have drawn parallels with the struggle against Nazism during World War II. Ukraine rejects such rhetoric.
The Kremlin said on Monday it was “outrageous” that a Ukrainian man who served in one of Adolf Hitler’s units had been presented to Canada’s parliament as a hero.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the episode showed a careless disregard for historical truth, and that the memory of Nazi crimes must be preserved.
“Such sloppiness of memory is outrageous,” Peskov told reporters. “Many Western countries, including Canada, have raised a young generation that does not know who fought whom or what happened during the Second World War. And they know nothing about the threat of fascism.”
During World War II, when Ukraine was a part of the Soviet Union, some Ukrainian nationalists joined Nazi units because they saw the Germans as liberators from Soviet oppression.
The episode plays into the narrative promoted by Russian President Vladimir Putin that he sent his army into Ukraine last year to “demilitarise and de-Nazify” the country, a European democracy whose Jewish president lost family members in the Holocaust.
At a televised meeting with historians this month, Putin stressed the part that “local nationalists and anti-Semites” had played in the murder of 1.5 million Jews in Ukraine during the Holocaust and said “this has a direct relation to the present day”.
Peskov told reporters that Russia was waging an “irreconcilable fight” against fascism that was “trying to find its feet in the centre of Europe, in Ukraine”.