Reprinted from Bracing Views with the author’s permission.
In 1985, President Ronald Reagan was attacked for visiting a German military cemetery in Bitburg, West Germany, because that cemetery included forty graves of members of the Waffen-SS, the combat branch of the Schutzstaffel led by the infamous Heinrich Himmler. Reagan’s intent was to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the ending of World War II in Europe, not to celebrate those forty graves among the 2000 in that cemetery. Nevertheless, he was deeply criticized for laying a memorial wreath at Bitburg, as the photo below shows.
Fast forward nearly 40 years to 2023 and we recently witnessed the spectacle of the Canadian Parliament giving two sustained standing ovations to a living (former) member of the Waffen-SS, a Ukrainian (Yaroslav Hunka) who’d joined the Nazis to fight against the Soviet Union in World War II.
No one it seems in the Canadian Parliament thought it odd to applaud a soldier who’d fought on the side of the Nazis during World War II against an ally of Canada. And, yes, the Soviet Union was an ally of Canada and the U.S., and more than any other country was responsible for defeating Hitler and his murderously racist regime, whose most fanatical followers were members of the SS.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s apology, meanwhile, was done in two parts. He blamed the House Speaker (who resigned) for this colossal blunder even as he attacked Russia for seeking to exploit the mistake for political advantage. Meanwhile, Poland is seeking to extradite the former member of the Waffen-SS for possible war crimes committed during World War II.
How could such a colossal blunder have occurred, and just before Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar?
Knowledge of history was simply cast aside, I think, because the Canadian political “elite” were so eager to showcase a Ukrainian who’d killed Russians, even if he’d done so as a member of the murderous SS. Of course, President Zelensky was present at this debacle, applauding along. It was all about showing support for Ukraine in its allegedly righteous war against Russia, with Canada naturally being on the side of the righteous.
In a recent podcast featuring Matt Taibbi and Walter Kirn, Kirn noted astutely that the Canadian Parliament, apparently to a person ignorant of World War II and Nazi history, was more than anything applauding itself, celebrating their own rectitude, in saluting an old soldier who’d killed Russians. What did it matter that he’d served Heinrich Himmler, who oversaw the “Final Solution” and the Holocaust? What mattered was showing you stood in solidarity today with Zelensky against Putin.
If America was “ashamed” of Ronald Reagan in 1985 merely for visiting a cemetery to commemorate war dead where two percent of the graves were Waffen-SS members, how should Canadians feel about their political elite standing as one to stormily applaud a living, breathing, former member of Waffen-SS and saluting him as a hero for killing Russians?
“Ashamed” doesn’t begin to capture the depth of this crime against history.
William J. Astore is a retired lieutenant colonel (USAF). He taught history for fifteen years at military and civilian schools. He writes at Bracing Views.