The Canadian government is under fire after giving a standing ovation to a 98-year-old Nazi soldier during Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s visit to Ottawa. On Friday, Canadian politicians, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, gathered to honor former SS fighter Yaroslav Hunka in the House of Commons.
Concerned citizens quickly noted that Hunka served in the First Ukrainian Division, which was also known as the Waffen-SS Galicia Division or the SS 14th Waffen Division. The voluntary unit was under the command of the Nazis during the height of the atrocities they committed during the Holocaust.
The unit primarily consisted of volunteer Ukrainian nationalists who were not under duress or forced to conscript. They pledged allegiance not only to Ukraine, but also to Adolf Hilter and Nazi Germany. The unit has been regarded as having been responsible for the slaughter of Jews, Poles, and Ukrainians during World War Two.
In May of 1944, Nazi leader Heinrich Himmler addressed the Ukrainian division with an infamous speech that was greeted by cheers.
“Your homeland has become more beautiful since you have lost – on our initiative, I must say – the residents who were so often a dirty blemish on Galicia’s good name – namely the Jews,” Himmler said. “I know that if I ordered you to liquidate the Poles, I would be giving you permission to do what you are eager to do anyway.”
The unit Hunka would have served in was confirmed responsible by the Polish government for the mass murder of “several hundred” Polish civilians living in Ukraine, including children.
Sources also state the unit was responsible for the murder of 200 Jews and political prisoners. The entire unit was declared a “criminal organization” at the Nuremberg Trials following the end of World War Two.
In a Ukrainian-language blog post from 2011, Hunka admitted that he voluntarily joined the unit in 1943, after which he received his military training in Germany.
Despite his collaboration with the Nazis, Hunka was introduced in the House of Commons by speaker Anthony Rota and given a standing ovation from the room, including from Prime Minister Trudeau and Zelenskyy.
“I am very proud to say that he is from North Bay and from my riding of Nipissing-Timiskaming,” Rota said during his introduction.
“He is a Ukrainian hero, a Canadian hero, and we thank him for all his service.”
Since news of Hunka’s official praise have gone viral on social media, Canadian Jewish groups have condemned the Government and have demanded an apology to Holocaust victims from the Members of Parliament in attendance.
The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) posted a statement to X (formerly Twitter) on Sunday noting that they were “deeply troubled & disturbed that a Ukrainian veteran of the infamous 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the Nazi SS – which actively participated in the genocide of Jews – was celebrated with a standing ovation in the Canadian Parliament.”
The Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies have similarly released a notice declaring that Hunka’s division “was responsible for the mass murder of innocent civilians with a level of brutality and malice that is unimaginable.”
The statement continued:
“The fact that a veteran who served in a Nazi military unit was invited to and given a standing ovation in Parliament is shocking. At a time of rising antisemitism and Holocaust distortion, it is incredibly disturbing to see Canada’s Parliament rise to applaud an individual who was a member of a unit in the Waffen-SS, a Nazi military branch responsible for the murder of Jews and others and that was declared a criminal organization during the Nuremberg Trials.”
The Center similarly demanded an apology to Holocaust survivors and veterans of World War Two.
“An explanation must be provided as to how this individual entered the hallowed halls of Canadian Parliament and received recognition from the Speaker of the House and a standing ovation.”
Canada has a long history of silence on the collaboration between the Nazis and Ukrainians, and a memorial for the Waffen-SS Galicia Division has long stood in a Canadian-Ukrainian cemetery in Toronto.
In 2020, the memorial was vandalized with the words “Nazi war monument.” Police originally labelled the vandalism a “hate crime,” but reclassified the crime as simple property damage after sustaining public backlash.