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Scandal builds at University of Alberta over Nazi endowments

World War II revisionism in Canada runs far deeper than Yaroslav Hunka

Canadian PoliticsEuropeWar Zones

Ukrainian-born Canadian lawyer Peter Savaryn. During World War II, he belonged to the Waffen-SS Galician Division. Photo courtesy the University of Alberta.

The fallout from the Canadian Parliament’s decision to honour a Ukrainian Nazi veteran continues to expand.

Anthony Rota, the former speaker of the House of Commons and the designated ‘fall guy,’ resigned from his position at the end of September. However, one would have to be quite credulous to place the blame for Hunka’s honouring solely on Rota.

The entire House of Commons applauded a man who was introduced as having fought against the Russians during the Second World War. Pleading ignorance is not good enough. We can expect our MPs to have a basic familiarity with 20th century history. Ordinary Canadians do. That is why the scandal has provoked such indignance from the Canadian public.

Furthermore, the argument that the Prime Minister’s Office would not vet a guest of honour during a foreign president’s visit—especially a guest who was applauded twice—is not compelling, to say the least.

Many understand that the House of Commons’ decision to honour Yaroslav Hunka should not be treated as a one-off lapse in judgement. Rather, it was a shocking public exposure of the deep-rootedness of World War II revisionism in Canada, which is far more widespread than one official’s ill-advised invite to an old man in his riding.

Several subsequent events have confirmed this reality. Many of them centre around the University of Alberta’s Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies (CIUS).

Earlier this month, the Governor General’s office apologized for granting the Order of Canada, one of Canada’s highest civilian honours, to a veteran of the Ukrainian SS Galicia Division (the same Nazi unit for which Hunka fought). It is a Nazi division which continues to be honoured in monuments and memorials throughout Canada.

The Nazi in question was named Peter Savaryn. Savaryn was the chancellor of the University of Alberta from 1982 to 1986 and the head of the World Congress of Free Ukrainians (now called the Ukrainian World Congress) from 1983 to 1988.

More than that, Savaryn was deeply involved in provincial politics, serving as president of the Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta and vice president of the Alberta wing of the national Progressive Conservative Party of Canada.

According to professor Per Anders Rudling, Savaryn expressed “pride” over his service in the Nazi SS, “but noted that Savaryn was careful not to discuss his past with colleagues, and that his SS connection was not mentioned in his biographical entry in the English-language Encyclopedia of Ukraine.”

Upon his death in 2017, the Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC) honoured Savaryn. UCC President Paul Grod described him as “a great leader in the Ukrainian Canadian community.” The UCC’s obituary for Savaryn also claimed that the Nazi veteran, who fought for an SS division that massacred hundreds of Poles at Huta Pieniacka in 1944, was “a great believer in the strength of Canadian diversity.” Meanwhile, an obituary on the University of Alberta’s website says that Savaryn moved to Canada after “after growing up in Ukraine and enduring the hardships of Russian occupation.”

Neither obituary mentions the fact that Savaryn was a volunteer in Adolf Hitler’s war machine. For its part, the university is choosing not to comment on Savaryn’s past.

In the Forward, Lev Golinkin notes that the governor general’s office awarded further honours to Savaryn in the 2000s:

Responding to an inquiry from the Forward, the statement from Governor General Mary Simon expressed “deep regret” about Savaryn’s appointment. A spokesperson said the office is also now reviewing two other honors it gave Savaryn: the Golden Jubilee (awarded in 2002) and Diamond Jubilee (awarded in 2012) medals.

The governor general’s office has apologized for honouring Savaryn. But as with the Hunka scandal, Canadian officials are not interrogating the more important questions. Why was this Nazi fighter allowed to live openly in Canada without fear of prosecution? Why was he allowed to serve as chancellor at a major Canadian university? Moreover, why was an unrepentant Nazi granted some of the most senior positions in the province’s Progressive Conservative party?

Amidst the Hunka scandal, the University of Alberta has come under scrutiny for offering a $30,000 endowment in Hunka’s name. The university said that it would return the endowment, but as the fallout from “NaziGate” continues, many are wondering why Hunka’s endowment is being returned while several other endowments named for Nazis are being left untouched.

Indeed, the University of Alberta offers hundreds of thousands of dollars in endowments named after Ukrainian Nazis.

One of them, an endowment of $430,000, is named in honour of Volodymyr Kubijovych, a devoted follower of Hitler’s ideology and one of the founders of the SS Galicia Division in which Hunka and Savaryn fought. Kubijovych also headed the Ukrainian Central Committee in Krakow, whose unofficial newspaper Krakivs’ki visti was edited by Chrystia Freeland’s maternal grandfather.

In a since-deleted tweet, Freeland described her grandfather as someone who “worked hard to bring freedom and democracy to Ukraine.”

Other Ukrainian Nazis who have endowments named for them at the University of Alberta are Levko Babij and Roman Kolisnyk. Babij volunteered for the SS Galicia Division in World War II and later served in the 5th SS Panzer Division Wiking, a unit that perpetrated many war crimes during the Holocaust. He may have known Hunka, as Hunka claims to have met a “Lev Babii” in a prisoner-of-war camp in Italy after the war.

As Taylor C. Noakes writes in The Maple, Babij has been honoured by right-wing Ukrainian-Canadian groups:

Babij was later the Canadian national president of the Brotherhood of Veterans of the First Ukrainian Division of the Ukrainian National Army, from 1986 until his death in 2010. He received the Shevchenko Medal from the Ukrainian Canadian Congress in 1995.
The Babij endowment fund was established to support “programs and grants related to the study of twentieth-century Ukrainian history, especially Ukraine in World War II.”

Roman Kolisnyk, meanwhile, was reportedly a second lieutenant in the SS Galicia Division. According to Rudling, Kolisnyk was “an officer with the rank of untersturmführer in the Galicia Waffen-SS division, and editor of the journal of the Ukrainian Waffen-SS veterans. After the war he settled in Toronto.”

The ongoing scandal of Nazi endowments at the University of Alberta shows that World War II revisionism in Canada runs far deeper than Yaroslav Hunka. This is a reality all Canadians must contend with.

Owen Schalk is a writer from rural Manitoba. He is the author of Canada in Afghanistan: A story of military, diplomatic, political and media failure, 2003-2023.


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