Helmut Oberlander, a Ukrainian immigrant who served as an interpreter for the Nazis in a mobile killing unit during the Second World War, lost his appeal to retain his Canadian citizenship on Sept. 27.
In a statement, the Federal Court said the government’s finding that Oberlander had lied about his wartime activities when he arrived in Canada in 1954 was “justifiable,” opening the door to his deportation.
The federal government stripped the 94-year-old Waterloo, Ont., resident of his citizenship for the fourth time in July. The Federal Court decision upholds the validity of that revocation.
When he landed in Canada, Oberlander made no mention of his membership in Einsatzkommando 10a, a Nazi mobile killing squad that systematically murdered more than 90,000 Jews in the Soviet Union, after the German invasion. Oberlander is not accused of taking part in any of the killings.
But the Federal Court upheld the government’s conclusion that Oberlander “voluntarily made a knowing and significant contribution to the crimes and criminal purpose of this SS killing squad.”
Oberlander said he was conscripted because of his translating skills, but did not subscribe to the Nazi ideology.
“This is a very positive decision from the court,” said David Matas, a human rights lawyer and senior legal council for B’nai Brith Canada. “We are pleased that it appears the court picked up some of our arguments from this and other related interventions. The federal government must now take the next step towards removing Oberlander from Canada immediately.”
Michael Mostyn, CEO of B’nai Brith, echoed his sentiments, saying, “The League (of Human Rights of B’nai Brith Canada) intervened in this case to send out a message that justice, however delayed, must ultimately be served, and old age is not a ‘get out of jail free’ card.
“For decades, Canadians have been haunted by the knowledge that this Nazi found safe haven in our country by lying about his past. Helmut Oberlander has lived a long, peaceful and fulfilling life, something he helped rob from so many innocent victims as a member of a notorious mobile Nazi death squad.”
“Today’s ruling is an important step in ending Oberlander’s cynical abuse of Canada’s judicial system,” said Shimon Fogel, the CEO of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA). “He actively participated in genocide, lied about his past and has since done everything possible to avoid prosecution in Germany.
“In upholding the government’s revocation of his citizenship, today’s decision is a victory for anyone who cares about justice and human rights.”
Sidney Zoltak, the immediate past president of Canadian Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Descendants, an independent organization affiliated with CIJA, said, “For survivors, this issue remains an open wound. It is painful to think that Oberlander and others who perpetrated heinous crimes against our families have for so long concealed their past and taken advantage of welcoming countries like Canada. Today, we are heartened by the knowledge that the government and courts stand with us in pursuing justice.”
Today’s decision is a victory for anyone who cares about justice and human rights.
– Shimon Fogel
“Today’s court ruling brings us one step closer to justice,” Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center president and CEO Avi Benlolo said. “For years, Oberlander has remained in Canada, enjoying the freedoms given to him under false pretense. The accused should not enjoy the benefit of Canadian citizenship if he falsified his wartime past and there should be no statute of limitation on the matter of alleged war crimes.”
Born in Halbstadt, Ukraine, in 1924, Oberlander, an ethnic German, claims he was forcibly conscripted by the Nazis when he was 17.
He immigrated to Canada in 1954 and became a citizen in 1960. Ottawa began trying to strip him of his citizenship in 1995, prompting a protracted court battle.
In 2000, a Federal Court judge ruled that the retired developer had concealed, or lied, about his wartime service and that he had been a member of Einsatzkommando 10a.
The Canadian government stripped him of his citizenship in 2001, 2007 and 2012. But each time, it was reinstated by the Federal Court of Appeal, which said the government had not proven Oberlander’s complicity in war crimes.