Monument to the 14th Waffen SS, which fought alongside Nazis, removed from Oakville cemetery

The monument to the SS Waffen-Galicia division, erected in 1988, was removed from the private cemetery in Oakville, Ont. on March 7, according to Rabbi Stephen Wise. (Credit: Luke McDowell)

A monument to a Ukrainian military unit that fought with the Nazis is no longer on display at a private cemetery in Oakville, Ont. after it was removed on March 7, following years of controversy.

The monument to the 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS, sometimes called SS Galizien and SS Galichina or Galicia, was erected in 1988 at West Oak Memorial Gardens, an Oakville property owned and managed by St. Volodymyr Ukrainian Cemetery. The cenotaph bears the division’s lion and crown insignia. 

The Waffen SS was founded by Heinrich Himmler in 1943, and soldiers swore an oath to Hitler.

Signs in the monument’s place, on a pedestal between two flagpoles in the memorial garden, say it has been removed for repair.

Jewish advocacy groups who had called for the monument’s removal, including Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre (FSWC), praised the removal of the statue in a media release. 

“After actively advocating for the removal of this monument for many years, we greatly welcome its elimination, albeit overdue,” said director of allyship and community engagement Dan Panneton.

“This memorial honoured and glorified individuals who served in a Nazi military unit and were complicit in war crimes committed during the Holocaust, ultimately distorting Holocaust history. We are grateful to the Jewish and Ukrainian communities in Oakville that worked together to close the chapter on this painful and divisive issue.”

Rabbi Stephen Wise and B’nai Brith CEO Michael Mostyn in front of the monument to the Waffen SS in an Oakville, Ont. cemetery.

Days after the monument’s removal, social media posts claiming to show emails from West Oak and a March 11 National Post article imply the monument’s “repairs” were a temporary status and that it might return to the cemetery.

According to Rabbi Stephen Wise of Oakville’s Shaarei-Beth El Congregation, who participated in a series of conversations and negotiations around the removal of the monument, that’s not likely to happen.

Rabbi Wise says he received a call on March 8 confirming the monument’s removal the day before. He said that a group of descendants of the Waffen SS soldiers were involved in those discussions.

Rabbi Wise says he is certain the monument will not return, despite not knowing its immediate status beyond the removal.

“It is not clear [where the monument is now or what happens next] … it’s just not going to go back up in Oakville, and so the sort of line is that it’s been removed for repairs, which is possible. I don’t think they’re actually going to repair it. But even if they do, it’s not going back up in the cemetery.”

The Post report says the cemetery confirms the removal and quoted emails from a West Oak Memorial Gardens spokesperson, which said in part that “recently [the monument] was more seriously damaged by vandals.”

Rabbi Wise, who first learned about the monument when it was vandalized in 2020 with the phrase “Nazi War Monument,” told The CJN in an interview that he is not aware of any more recent vandalism.

“It’s a very sensationalist story to sort of make up a rumour that when something’s taken down, it could get put back up,” he said.

Until it’s proven otherwise, he says, the monument’s removal is a done deal.

“This has been a long time coming … a long negotiation period,” he said. “The fact is it was taken down, and it’s been removed. Anything else is just conjecture.”

He says part of the lengthy process involved legal determinations over removing a monument, but because there are no remains interred below the monument, the descendants had concluded they could legally move it.

Rabbi Wise says it’s important to recognize the productive discussions that led to moving the monument.

“There was a process here that did not go into vilification and protests and counter protests,” he said.

“You’re seeing in the world today, especially with the Israel-Gaza stuff, the constant social media battle and confrontation. This is the opposite.

“This was a very difficult, thorny issue where we sat together and actually talked through, and it took a long time,” he said of the discussions.

“There wasn’t an easy solution, but we did find a way to do it in a peaceful and productive way. I hope that is a good example for Canadians across the country.”

There are two additional monuments in Edmonton that honour the Waffen division, and Nazi collaborator Roman Shukhevych, respectively. According to FSWC, Shukhevych was “a Ukrainian nationalist and military leader who collaborated with the Nazis and has been accused of complicity in massacres committed against Poles and Jews.” The organization is continuing to work to have those monuments removed.

Rabbi Wise says he hopes the Oakville monument’s removal will help bring a similar outcome in Edmonton.

“I hope that this is a cause and effect… maybe seeing that this has been taken down [shows] that it’s possible to do it, that it’s possible to address our past in a productive way. I hope Alberta will follow suit.”

Rabbi Wise suggested that both West Oak Memorial Gardens and St. Volodymyr Ukrainian Cemetery are likely overwhelmed with media inquiries, and emphasized that decisions about the monument are handled by a St. Volodymyr senior staffer named Peter Bayrachny, not by West Oak.

Rabbi Wise says Bayrachny called him personally on March 8, to tell him of the monument’s removal. Bayrachny also called Oakville Mayor Rob Burton, one of the elected officials who was involved in the campaign to remove the monument. 

The CJN was not able to reach Bayrachny by press time, nor the cemetery, or Mayor Burton’s office.

Calls to remove the SS Waffen-Galicia cenotaph had gained momentum in recent months after photo evidence emerged in September 2023 that showed racist admirers visited the monument. The Globe and Mail first reported that neo-Nazis had visited the Oakville site. A photo shared on social media showed four men, whose faces were obscured, laying flowers at the monument. The logo of Active Club Canada, a white supremacy group, appears in the corner of the photo.

The attention on the cenotaph intensified in late September, when the House of Commons honoured Yaroslav Hunka, a 98-year-old veteran of the division, during a visit of Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky.

The Speaker of the House of Commons at the time, Anthony Rota, had spearheaded the standing ovation and quickly resigned from the Speaker position over the incident. Members of Parliament said that at the time they were unaware of Hunka’s history. 

Rabbi Wise confirmed that the September incident and media attention, along with the Hunka debacle, added to the urgency of the conversations about the cenotaph that had been ongoing.