Jewish advocacy groups condemned the honoring of Hunka as disturbing and beyond outrageous, and that Conservative opposition leader Pierre Poilievre blamed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for the appalling error of judgment.
Canada is known for its multiculturalism and tolerance, but a recent incident involving a Nazi-linked veteran has tarnished its image and sparked a wave of criticism and condemnation. During the visit of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to Canada, a 98-year-old veteran who fought with a Nazi division in WWII was honored by the Canadian parliament and the Ukrainian leader². The veteran, Yaroslav Hunka, received a standing ovation from the MPs and a handshake from Zelenskyy, who praised him as a "hero" and a "legend". The shocking gesture was captured on video and went viral on social media, triggering outrage and disbelief among many Canadians and Jewish groups.
A CONTROVERSIAL PAST
Hunka was a member of the 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS, also known as the Galicia Division, which was composed of Ukrainian volunteers who fought alongside Nazi Germany against the Soviet Union. The division was accused of participating in atrocities against Jews and Poles during the Holocaust, although Hunka denied any involvement in war crimes. He immigrated to Canada in 1950 and became a prominent figure in the Ukrainian-Canadian community. He also served as a president of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, an umbrella organization that represents over 1.4 million Canadians of Ukrainian descent.
A QUESTIONABLE HONOR
The decision to honor Hunka was made by the House Speaker Anthony Rota, who said he was unaware of Hunka's controversial past and acted on a request from a fellow MP. Rota apologized for his "lapse in judgment" and said that no one else was aware of his intention or his remarks. He also expressed his "profound regret" to the Jewish community and all Canadians who were offended by his action. However, his apology was not enough to quell the anger and disappointment of many who saw his gesture as an insult to the victims of Nazism and a betrayal of Canadian values.
Jewish advocacy groups condemned the honoring of Hunka as disturbing and beyond outrageous, and called for an investigation into how such a mistake could happen. They also demanded that Zelenskyy retract his praise for Hunka and denounce his Nazi affiliation. The Conservative opposition leader Pierre Poilievre blamed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for the appalling error of judgment, saying that he should have vetted the guest list and prevented such an embarrassment. Trudeau said he was "deeply disappointed" by the incident and reaffirmed his commitment to fighting antisemitism and racism.
A JEWISH PERSPECTIVE
From a Jewish perspective, the honoring of Hunka is not only offensive and insensitive, but also dangerous and irresponsible. It sends a message that Nazi collaborators can be celebrated as heroes, while ignoring their role in the genocide of millions of Jews and other innocent people. It also undermines the efforts to educate future generations about the horrors of the Holocaust and the lessons of history. As Jews, we are commanded to remember what Amalek did to us when we left Egypt, how he attacked us from behind and killed the weak and weary among us (Deuteronomy 25:17-19). We are also instructed to blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven, and not to forget (Deuteronomy 25:19).
The Nazis were the modern-day Amalekites, who sought to annihilate us from existence. Their collaborators were their accomplices, who aided and abetted them in their evil plans. To honor them is to dishonor their victims, to erase their memory, and to forget their suffering. It is also to defy G-d's will, who promised to wage war against Amalek throughout the generations (Exodus 17:16). As Jews, we have a duty to stand up against any attempt to glorify or whitewash Nazism or its allies. We have a responsibility to speak out against any form of antisemitism or racism that threatens our dignity and security as human beings created in G-d's image.
We also have a hope that one day soon, G-d will fulfill His promise to bring Moshiach, who will usher in an era of peace and harmony for all mankind. Moshiach will judge the nations with righteousness and justice, and will vindicate the oppressed and persecuted (Isaiah 11:3-4). He will also gather the exiled Jews from all corners of the earth, and bring them back to their homeland, the Land of Israel (Isaiah 11:11-12). He will rebuild the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, and restore the divine service and the sacrificial offerings, including the offering of Amalek, which will mark the final and complete eradication of evil from the world (Numbers 24:20). He will also reveal the secrets of the Torah and the wisdom of G-d, and enlighten the nations with His knowledge and glory (Isaiah 11:9).
We pray that G-d will hasten the coming of Moshiach, and that we will merit to see him in our days. We also pray that G-d will forgive us for our sins and shortcomings, and that He will grant us a good and sweet new year, filled with blessings and joy. May we all be inscribed and sealed for a good life in the Book of Life. Shana Tova!