We recently commemorated Yom ha-Shoah – the day we set aside to remember when Hitler’s forces of evil engineered a plan to commit genocide against the Jewish people. With the help of a world that turned a blind eye, his plan almost succeeded: six million Jews were murdered by gas, starvation, forced labour and firing squad.
Today, we know the survivors are true heroes. Despite the pain that consumed them, despite their broken hearts, they moved forward and built new lives, created new realities and, most importantly, did what our sages told us must always be done: “choosing life.”
Even 73 years after the Shoah, memories have not faded. How could they when those who enabled the genocide of the Jews still walk among us?
They were the cogs in the Nazi wheel of mass murder who greased the engines of genocide. Some were brought to justice, though after the war, perhaps thousands of these men and women who enabled murder escaped and snuck their way into Canada. Many have died natural deaths, but even one Holocaust enabler walking our streets is one too many.
Not more than a 90-minute drive from my comfortable home in Toronto lives Helmut Oberlander. Today, he is a frail 94-year-old man. Oberlander lied to Canadian authorities about his work as a translator for a Nazi death squad known as Einsatzkommando 10a. After entering the country, like many Holocaust survivors, he built a new life for himself in Kitchener, Ont.
However, unlike the few survivors of the Shoah, Oberlander was a strong young man when he came here, as he was well looked after by the killing unit he served in.
The Canadian government has tried to strip Oberlander of his citizenship on multiple occasions, but he’s successfully appealed it each time.
In an article I wrote last year for iPolitics, I referenced Jeff Outhit of the Kitchener Waterloo Record, who diligently documented the history of Einsatzkommando 10a.
In an article, Outhit quoted a 1972 German court verdict on another member of the unit. The story it tells is heart-wrenching:
“The afternoon is fading. A six-tonne van clatters into the courtyard of the children’s home in Jeissk, occupied Ukraine.
“It’s Friday, Oct. 9, 1942, nearly 16 months after the German invasion of the Soviet Union. The asylum on the outskirts of town is home to disabled and bedridden children, aged three to 17. Some healthy children live there also.
“The truck has false windows painted on its sides to present a more cheery look. Inside, a hose redirects exhaust fumes into its sealed cargo hold. Members of a German police unit surround the building to prevent children from escaping. Asylum officials are told the children are being taken to Krasnodar for medical treatment.
They were the cogs in the Nazi wheel of mass murder who greased the engines of genocide.
“The children are assembled in the courtyard. The smallest ones and those who cannot walk are carried out of the building. Nurses cry. Asylum workers, suspecting the worst, try in vain to prevent the children from being transferred.
“Some children climb into the van themselves. There are no seats in the cargo hold. Others try to run away but are caught, beaten and thrown inside.
“Volodia Goncharov tries to flee. Two men grab the child by his legs, his head toward the ground. They drag him out of the building and into the van.
“The van doors are closed, sealing the crying children into the tin-lined cargo hold. The engine is fired up.
“All the children perish inside the truck, killed by poisonous fumes, a Munich court later finds. A second gassing the same day kills more children.
“Such was a day’s work for Einsatzkommando 10a, a Nazi killing unit tasked with slaughtering civilians.
“The death squad will murder 214 children from the Jeissk asylum.”
On this Yom ha-Shoah, let us double our efforts to bring even the last of the Nazi enablers to justice.