A very recent furor over a Ukrainian Galician SS member being recognized by the Canadian Parliament reminded me of an incident back when I was away at school. I “roomed,” that is I rented a single room from a family for sleeping and studying. Food was acquired at cafeterias and restaurants. One of the places where I roomed was in a home owned by former Estonians. Estonia existed as a Duchy in the middle 1200s; it experienced strife off and on for the next few hundred years. In the early 1700s, it came under Russian domination. In the middle 1800s, an Estonian national identity began to be promoted; however, the area was also suffered from Russification After the Russian Revolution, Estonia gained independence which lasted until it was part of the spoils from the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact where Estonia again came under strong Russian (Soviet – now USSR) influence. That rule was oppressive. Many Estonians became anti Soviet guerillas. Germany broke that Pact in 1941 and attacked Russia. But again, in early 1944, when the Soviet army, as part of their pushbike of the Germans, invaded Estonia, my landlord became a soldier fighting for Nazi Germany. From what he related, the Estonians were basically front line canon fodder, but he survived. When the furor over the Ukrainian Galician SS member blew up, I remembered my landlord. I do not in any way defend the German efforts in WW2. However, I do understand how a Ukrainian might join anyone who would fight against the Russians. Holodomor. Ukraine has had a very checkered time with Russia. During the Great Depression, the Soviets, under Stalin, drastically changed how farms were managed and when food became scarcer, confiscated from the Ukraine. The result was starvation (called the Holodomor). Possibly five million (1 in 10) Ukrainians died of starvation in the early 1930s. I doubt that there was much love left for the Stalin led Russians/Soviets. The Galician SS was formed in 1943 to fight on the Eastern Front (ie against the Soviets). Their members were allowed to emigrate to Canada after 1948
“ The Canadian Deschênes Commission
The Canadian Commission of Inquiry on War Crimes of October 1986, by the Honourable Justice Jules Deschênes, concluded that in relation to membership in the Galicia Division:
The Galicia Division (14. Waffen grenadier division der SS [gal. #1]) should not be indicted as a group. The members of Galicia Division were individually screened for security purposes before admission to Canada. Charges of war crimes of Galicia Division have never been substantiated, either in 1950 when they were first preferred, or in 1984 when they were renewed, or before this Commission. Further, in the absence of evidence of participation or knowledge of specific war crimes, mere membership in the Galicia Division is insufficient to justify prosecution.
The commission considered the International Military Tribunal’s verdict at the Nuremberg Trials, at which the entire Waffen-SS organisation was declared a “criminal organization” guilty of war crimes. Also, in its conclusion, the Deschênes Commission only referred to the division as 14. Waffen-Grenadier-Division der SS (Galizische Nr.1), but rejected such a principle. “
Things are not always black and white. You cannot condone what the Germans did in WW2. However, peoples occupying border areas (especially those who have been ruled by one or more of their neighbours) often have reasonable motives for doing things those of us from a different time or place consider very wrong. My former landlord was a decent person. He didn’t spout any “party” line; he was fair and provided what was promised and more. Is it possible that this former Galician SS soldier who was brought to Parliament was also put into an impossible situation and chose what he considered the lesser of two evils, which was to oppose those who starved and brutalized his people? Time and location can lead us into some interesting and controversial decisions.