The Ukrainian man sitting in the gallery of Canada’s House of Commons was a “hero,” the speaker of Canada’s House of Representatives said Friday, drawing applause from lawmakers, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who had just addressed the chamber during the meeting. His first visit to Ottawa since the Russian invasion of his country.
But several Jewish groups responded angrily, saying the man, Jaroslaw Honka, 98, served in a Nazi unit known as the 14th SS Waffen Grenadier Division, which fought alongside Germany during World War II and pledged allegiance to Adolf Hitler.
On Sunday, Anthony Rota, Speaker of Canada’s House of Commons, issued a written apology, saying he had “subsequently become aware of further information” and took “full responsibility for my actions.”
In remarks after Mr. Zelensky addressed the Canadian Parliament on Friday, Mr. Rutte introduced Mr. Hunka as a resident of his district who fought for Ukraine’s independence from Russia and later immigrated to Canada.
“He is a Ukrainian hero, a Canadian hero, and we thank him for all his service,” Mr. Rutte said, drawing applause from lawmakers and a fist bump from Zelensky.
He said Sunday that no other Canadian lawmakers, nor members of Mr. Zelensky’s visiting Ukrainian delegation, were aware of Mr. Rutte’s comments before he made them.
“I especially want to extend my deepest apologies to the Jewish communities in Canada and around the world,” Mr. Rota said. Mr. Trudeau’s office said in a statement that the apology was “the right thing to do,” adding that no advance notice had been given to the Canadian Prime Minister or Mr. Zelensky about Mr. Honka’s invitation.
Jewish groups in Canada described the incident that occurred on Friday as painful and horrific, and demanded an explanation as to why Mr. Honka was allowed into the exhibition.
“It is infuriating that Parliament would honor a former member of a Nazi unit in this way.” Michael Mostyn saidCEO of B’nai B’rith Canada, a Jewish human rights group.
The 14th Waffen SS was made up of volunteers from the Galicia region, which extended across parts of what is now southeastern Poland and western Ukraine. After the Soviet occupation of western Ukraine in 1939, the creation of the unit in 1943 attracted Ukrainians eager to fight for their independence, said Dominic Arel, chair of Ukrainian studies at the University of Ottawa.
“Having been trained by SS officers, you can imagine the kind of political indoctrination they received,” he said. Even if their goals were independence, Mr. Arel said the unit “fought for the Nazis and were trained by them.” There’s no doubt about that.”
Regarding the Parliament incident, he said: “It is clear that the optics are disastrous.”
B’nai Brith Canada said the partition was created by Ukrainian ultra-nationalist ideologues who “dreamed of an ethnically homogeneous Ukrainian state and supported the idea of ethnic cleansing.”
The Friends of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, a Canada-based group dedicated to teaching about the Holocaust and combating anti-Semitism, called this moment “Incredibly annoyingHe said in a statement that the 14th Waffen SS Battalion “was responsible for the mass murder of innocent civilians with a level of brutality and malice that is unimaginable.”
Mr. Arel said the unit suffered heavy losses during the 1944 Soviet offensive against Ukraine and Poland, which were under German occupation. He added that although some members of the unit were linked to a massacre of Polish citizens in 1944, the evidence that they attacked civilians was ultimately not “very sophisticated.”
For decades, critics in Canada have accused the Canadian government of being too lenient in its prosecution of people accused of being Nazi war criminals or collaborators.
a National Committee The 1985 commission found that there were former members of the 14th Waffen SS living in Canada, but said serving in the unit did not constitute a war crime.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, without providing evidence, accused the Ukrainian government and Mr. Zelensky, who is Jewish, of being “neo-Nazis.” On Monday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry S. Peskov, Canada, saying on the messaging app Telegram that “such neglect towards memory is outrageous.”
Mr. Zelensky, who visited Ottawa to thank Canada for its support in the war against Russia, did not comment on the incident.
Valeria Safronova Contributed to reports.
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