The flags of Israel and Canada.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
An elderly Canadian citizen accused of committing war crimes during World War Two died last week in the midst of a very public and acrimonious spat between Ottawa and Moscow over his fate.
Vladimir Katriuk, a ninety three year old former beekeeper of Ukrainian origin, served in a German organized Schutzmannschaft Battalion and is alleged to have participated in a 1943 Belarusian massacre in which the entire population of the village of Khatyn was wiped out.
He passed away last week “after years of unwarranted harassment,” his attorney told the Globe and Mail on Thursday.
The news of Katriuk’s passing broke only hours after the Simon Wiesenthal Center harshly criticized the Canadian government over a BBC report that it had declined Russian demands to extradite him to Moscow to stand trial.
Following Moscow’s demand that Katriuk be arrested and sent to Russia earlier this month, Canada attacked the Kremlin for its 2014 annexation of the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine. Canada is home to a significant Ukrainian population and relations between the two states have become strained due to Russian intervention in Ukraine.
“Just a reminder: Nazi collaborator Vladimir Katriuk (killed innocent ppl in Khatyn in 1943) still lives in Quebec,” the Russian embassy in Canada tweeted on its official account.
“It is an extremely sad situation when contemporary politics prevent the prosecution and punishment of Nazi war criminals,” Dr. Efraim Zuroff, the center’s chief Nazi hunter, told the Jerusalem Post
“Vladimir Katriuk should have been denaturalized and deported from Canada years ago, and every day that elapses without that happening, only brings him closer to successfully eluding justice.”
While a Canadian court determined in 1999 that Katriuk had falsified information in order to immigrate to Canada following the war, it did not find that he had personally committed war crimes. Eight years ago the Canadian government decided to allow him to retain his citizenship. A 2012 announcement that the government would reconsider his case seems not to have borne any fruit.
The organized Canadian Jewish community also reacted negatively to Ottowa’s decision, with Shimon Koffler Fogel, CEO of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, stating that “while we are supportive of Canada's position on the integrity of Ukraine and the need to oppose challenges to Ukraine's sovereignty, this must be separated out from the imperative to ensure justice is served with respect to Nazi atrocities perpetrated against Jews and others during WWII.”
Fogel called for the government to review the case and “take the necessary steps to ensure that, if guilty, Katriuk be held accountable for war crimes committed in collaboration with the Nazi regime.”
Ukrainian Chief Rabbi Yaakov Dov Bleich was less supportive of this position, however, stating that he didn’t understand Russia’s interest in the case as “the crime took place in Belarus and the alleged criminal is Ukrainian.”
“I think that Russia is looking for easy PR stunts to pretend that they are Nazi fighters. At the same time, it has been proven beyond doubt that Russian soldiers are guilty of war crimes, land grabbing, and killing Ukrainian civilians…If they want to be a part of the civilized world which has beaten Nazism and fascism, then they must stop with their aggression and illegal land grabbing. They must begin to respect the sovereignty of other countries,” he said.
Bleich pointed out that Russian President Vladimir Putin had slammed Washington over its decision to arrest and try senior members of Fédération Internationale de Football Association on corruption charges because the crimes had not occurred on American soil, calling it an attempt to extend American authority internationally.