'Deeply hurtful': Polish ambassador condemns Nazi veteran's invitation to Canada's Parliament
Days after members of Parliament gave a standing ovation to a man who fought for a Nazi division in the Second World War, House Speaker Anthony Rota has issued a public apology – but it doesn’t go far enough to address atrocities this division performed on Polish citizens during the war, the Polish ambassador to Canada says.
Witold Dzielski told CTV National News on Monday that it was “deeply hurtful” to see a veteran who fought for the Nazis applauded in Canada’s House of Commons, and that statements by both Rota and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau don’t go far enough.
It’s “wrong” that Poland has been left out of these apologies considering the Nazi division in question committed mass killings of Polish citizens, he said.
“It’s important that allies working together need to have their facts right. In some of the commentary from the leaders, from the Canadian leaders, including the recent comment on the side of Prime Minister Trudeau, the Poles were omitted from the equation,” Dzielski said.
On Friday, during Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s Friday address to Parliament, Rota called attention to 98-year-old Yaroslav Hunka and led the room in applause for him, identifying him as a “Ukrainian Canadian war veteran from the Second World War who fought for Ukrainian independence against the Russians.”
Hunka had fought for the First Ukrainian Division, also known as the Waffen-SS Galicia Division or the 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS, which was a division made up of volunteers under the command of the Nazis.
“This is a person who participated in an organization that was targeting Poles, was committing mass murders of Poles, not only the military personnel but also civilians,” Dzielski said. “For me, such people should not be present in public life and probably should be prosecuted.”
Rota issued a statement earlier Monday apologizing to the Jewish community and explaining that neither the Ukrainian delegation nor the rest of the House of Commons were aware that he was planning to recognize Hunka on Sunday.
Trudeau has called it a “profoundly embarrassing” situation and said he is thinking about the impact on Jewish parliamentarians. The NDP and Bloc are calling for Rota to step down.
“The apology and the explanation of what happened is very important and this is something we very much appreciate. But again, the people that were targeted by SS Galicia were Poles – this word did not appear anywhere,” Dzielski said. “It’s very important and it’s appropriate … that the Jewish community was presented (in the apology), but again, these were also Polish citizens.
“Remember that during the Second World War, six million Poles were murdered. Six million Poles died. Half of that group, three million, were Polish Jews.”
Dzielski said he has met with Rota to discuss the incident, and received a personal apology from him.
“We’ve worked extensively with him, so I, (on a) personal level, I feel sorry about the whole situation,” he said. He believes that it was a mistake on Rota’s part, but said that doesn’t mean it can be excused.
“If you come from a society that not so long ago, six million people were killed, then this is an element of your identity. And again, any kind of distortion in that area is deeply hurtful. So ... it's my strong request to our very important ally, Canada, to have the facts right.”
Hunka should never have been invited to the House of Commons in the first place, he said.
“That person should not have appeared in any public place, to tell you the truth, due to his history in SS Galicia,” Dzielski said, adding that he should “face prosecution for what his unit was doing.”
The Galicia Division was originally created under Nazi command from Ukrainian volunteers from the Galicia region of Western Ukraine.
Ivan Katchanovski, a professor of political science at the University of Ottawa who researches conflicts in Ukraine, told CTVNews.ca on Sunday that the division fought the Soviet Union in Galacia region but also took part in suppressing uprisings against the Nazis in Yugoslavia and Slovakia.
“Members of this division were involved in mass murder of Jews, Poles and Ukranians during World War Two,” he said.
“This division, or members of this division, were involved in the massacre of almost 1000 Polish civilians in the village of Huta Pieniacka in Galicia region in Ukraine.”
Dzielski said that acknowledging the impact that this situation has had on the Polish community is important because we need to “get the facts right” when we condemn the fact that a man who fought for the Nazis was honoured in parliament.
“For the Polish communities in Poland and Canada, which is one million people, this is omitting Poles, omitting Poland, and that tragic history is deeply hurtful,” he said.
He is concerned about the way that Russia is already leveraging this incident as fuel to support their war efforts in Ukraine, as they’ve previously used the false claim that Ukraine is a Nazi state to justify their invasion.
“If you go on Twitter or any other social media, you have Russian trolls using it and politicians and many others using it to their benefit,” Dzielski said. “And this is something we will not be able to stop, but we can, again, get our facts right, stand together and continue the thing which is most important, which is support for Ukrainians fighting for freedom, for democracy.”
He said he “cannot imagine” that Zelenskyy understood who he was applauding on Friday.
“For me, this is not possible,” he said.
The incident in the House of Commons on Friday is one more complication in Poland’s relations with Ukraine. Poland, which has been a major supporter of Ukraine during the conflict with Russia, is currently in a trade dispute with Ukraine related to Ukrainian grain flooding the markets.
With files from CTV National News Ottawa Correspondent Judy Trinh and CTVNews.ca Digital Writer-Producer Tom Yun