The Canadian government’s attempt to strip a former Nazi mobile death squad member of his Canadian citizenship has taken 23 years and about $2.1 million so far, but Jewish groups say that it’s time and money well spent.
Helmut Oberlander, who turns 94 on Feb. 15, is accused of being a member of Einsatzkommando 10a (EK 10a), which operated in the Soviet Union during the Second World War.
Oberlander was never accused of participating in executions and has claimed that he was a low-level interpreter who was conscripted by the Nazis under duress when he was 17.
The unit he belonged to murdered an estimated 23,000 civilians, mostly Jews, during the war.
The Nazis made Oberlander a German citizen in 1944, before he immigrated to Canada in 1954, settled in Waterloo, Ont., and became a Canadian citizen in 1960.
Since 1995, the Canadian government has worked to strip Oberlander of his citizenship. In 2000, a judge ruled that he lied about his membership in the death squad before immigrating to Canada. The government stripped him of his citizenship in 2001, 2007 and 2012, but it was reinstated by the Federal Court of Appeal each time, because the prosecution was unable to prove Oberlander’s complicity in war crimes.
Oberlander is scheduled to return to court in March, to defend himself against the government’s fourth attempt to revoke his citizenship.
Through an Access to Information request, the Waterloo Region Record obtained documents showing that the government spent $2,089,734.29 on legal fees pertaining to the case between 1995 and 2017.
Ernst Friedel, former president of the German Canadian Congress, told the Waterloo Region Record that prosecuting Oberlander is a waste of money.
“I’m a taxpayer and I don’t want my money spent in a frivolous way. And secondly, I think it’s very unfair what they are doing to Mr. Oberlander,” Freidel said.
I’m a taxpayer and I don’t want my money spent in a frivolous way.
– Ernst Friedel
Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies president and CEO Avi Benlolo said in a statement that he supports Canada’s ongoing effort to prosecute the man who is on the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s list of most wanted Nazi war criminals.
Benlolo also criticized Freidel for defending Oberlander and asserting that the government is spending money frivolously.
“I find it outrageous,” Benlolo said, adding that age should not be a factor when it comes to war crime prosecutions.
B’nai Brith Canada’s senior legal counsel, David Matas, agreed that “old age is not a defence and the effluxion of time is not an escape.”
“You can’t lie and just get away with it. The wheels of justice grind slowly, but they grind inexorably and eventually they will catch up with the guilty,” Matas said, adding that when countries don’t do enough to bring Nazis to justice, it gives “license for future genocides.”
You can’t lie and just get away with it.
– David Matas
Matas said that every dollar spent on prosecuting Oberlander is money well spent.
“How can you place a cost on the mass loss of human life from these genocides?” he asked.
The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs’ communications director, Martin Sampson, said the fact that Oberlander lied about his membership in a Nazi death squad when he entered Canada is indisputable.
“And now, with the help of his legal team, Oberlander has been exploiting our judicial process to avoid prosecution and justice in Germany. This case is about Canadian values, and our government deserves credit for its tireless efforts in defence of those values, no matter the price,” Sampson said.