A message from Jewish Federation of Edmonton: On the recognition of Yaroslav Hunka

by Steve Shafir and Adam Zepp 

(Edmonton, AB) – Following the developments of the recognition of Yaroslav Hunka in Parliament last week, the Jewish Federation of Edmonton is addressing the situation as it pertains to our local community.

We would like to thank the University of Alberta for its unequivocal and swift action to dispose of an endowment in Hunka’s name at the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies. We are encouraged by the commitment of university leadership to address antisemitism and in reviewing naming policies and procedures. We look forward to continued conversations about these issues.

Yaroslav Hunka was a member of the Nazi Waffen Schutzstaffel (SS) 14th Galicia Division. He fought for Nazi Germany in a unit that was implicated in the murder of thousands of Jews as well as others. Edmonton has a sordid past and present when it comes to the glorification of this division as well as other Ukrainians who fought with the Nazis and murdered Jews and Poles.

There is a memorial to the Ukrainian members of the Nazi Waffen SS 14th Galicia Division at St. Michael’s Cemetery in Edmonton. A statue of Roman Shukhevych’s bust is on display outside the Ukrainian Youth Unity Complex in north Edmonton.  It has been there since the 1970s, with little mention publicly. Shukhevych was a leader in the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists’ (OUN) Nachtigall Battalion, which later became the Schutzmannschaft Battalion 201. This battalion has been implicated in numerous pogroms in eastern Poland and mass shootings of Jews in June and July 1941.

Honouring these individuals and glorifying them as heroes completely whitewashes the atrocities that they have committed. In the strongest possible terms, we urge that these monuments be taken down, or placed in a museum or elsewhere so that they can be used for educational purposes with the appropriate context setting out the crimes that the individuals portrayed or mentioned have committed. The presence of these statues as currently situated is offensive to members of our community, to the victims and survivors of the Holocaust and their families and to the victims of the atrocities committed.

What we’ve witnessed over the past week in Parliament, together with the discovery of an endowment in the name of a Nazi at the University of Alberta and the presence of statues glorifying Nazis in Edmonton is sickening to our community. It is an affront to Canadian values.  It proves that there remains a great deal to learn about the Holocaust and World War II. We call upon the Government of Alberta to mandate Holocaust education in the core curriculum. This way, we can ensure that the Holocaust will not happen again and we can make sure that we are honouring those who stood on the right side of history.

We thank our advocacy partner, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) for all their efforts in conveying the concerns that our community has had over the last week surrounding the recognition of Hunka in Parliament. We echo every statement made by CIJA in this regard as it pertains to the national situation.

Steve Shafir and Adam Zepp are Co-chairs of the Community Relations Committee, Jewish Federation of Edmonton.

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