A Feb. 9 op-ed in the Toronto-based National Post has drawn condemnation from the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies for glorifying Nazi sympathizers.
Lubomyr Luciuk, a Royal Military College of Canada political science professor, wrote in the piece, excerpted from his new book written along with Volodymyr Viatrovych, that Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed waging war against Ukraine would lead to the “de-Nazification” of the latter, particularly of those who were “members of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) headed by Stepan Bandera.”
“While Soviet-era propaganda routinely portrayed members of this Ukrainian nationalist movement as war criminals, Nazi collaborators, fascists and so on, a trope regurgitated regularly by the Russian Federation from the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 to the present, we certainly did not anticipate this overworked disinformation being deployed as an excuse for starting a large-scale war in 21st-century Europe,” Luciuk wrote.
Bandera assisted the Nazis, establishing two Ukrainian intelligence battalions in the German army and organizing units to help Germany set up a local government and police in Ukraine, according to the Yad Vashem website. “Bandera and his people considered the Soviets and the Jews their main enemies,” it states.
A 2014 NPR story stated that Bandera’s legacy is undergoing a “tug-of-war,” while also reporting, “Bandera’s Order of Ukrainian Nationalists also did some violent things in pursuit of sovereignty. Jews and Polish people were massacred.”
“Among Poles, the mere mention of the name ‘Bandera’ invariably brings curses and imprecations,” according to a declassified CIA document from August 1945. The document quotes a source who claimed Bandera and his followers burned one village, killing more than 50 people and about 500 head of cattle.
A 1951 CIA document, now declassified, added that “Bandera proceeded with great zeal to carry out Hitler’s assignments.” That same document noted it is difficult to estimate how many Poles Bandera and his followers killed, but “some data” suggested a single operation killed “over 10,000 Jews.”
“Altogether, during the five weeks of its existence, the Bandera ‘state’ destroyed over 5,000 Ukrainians, 15,000 Jews and several thousand Poles,” it stated.
The National Post shared the pro-Bandera op-ed on Twitter with its 1 million followers, and on Facebook, where it has 460,000 followers. Chris Alexander, a former Canadian Parliament member and former ambassador to Afghanistan, tweeted it to his 145,500 followers.
In 2010, Ukraine awarded Bandera posthumously the title of “Hero of Ukraine,” that nation’s highest honor, which the Wiesenthal Center condemned. A court revoked the honor the following year, but did so because Bandera did not hold Ukrainian citizenship, having been assassinated in 1959, well before Ukrainian independence in 1991.
In a testimony on the website of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, Holocaust survivor Marcel Drimer, a volunteer at the museum, wrote about surviving the war hiding in secret bunkers in the ghetto in his Polish town, Drohobycz, and then being hidden in a Ukrainian family’s home.
“There is a great need to educate the Ukrainian public about their national heroes and their treatment of the Jews,” he wrote, noting that Bandera, “a Ukrainian nationalist and Nazi sympathizer, who helped the Germans fight the Russians and kill Jews and Poles during World War II,” is regarded as a hero.
There are monuments to Bandera in every Ukrainian city and town, streets and car washes are named after him, as are restaurant dishes such as the Bandera sausage. “In order for Ukraine to look objectively at the history of the Holocaust, the Ukrainians will have to find different heroes,” Drimer wrote.
The Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center release noted that the Ottawa Citizen—owned by Postmedia Network, the same parent company as the Toronto paper—published a Dec. 19, 2022, op-ed by Luciuk, which stated that Ottawa’s National Holocaust Monument “must include Ukrainians.”
“Certainly, Ukrainians weren’t the Holocaust’s only victims. Millions of Jews died,” Luciuk wrote in the piece. He noted the monument did not mention Jews at first, but the inscription was changed to refer to the 6 million Jews murdered in the Holocaust. “As it stands today, the National Holocaust Monument intentionally ignores the suffering of millions of people,” he wrote.
Eight days later, the Citizen published a response by Daniel Panneton, director of allyship and community engagement at Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center, and a colleague. “Holocaust distortion is not a harmless matter of perspective or misunderstanding,” they wrote.
“It’s unfortunate that some individuals would opportunistically exploit international sympathy in service of whitewashing well-documented histories of collaboration,” Panneton added in a press release. “The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance correctly emphasizes that Holocaust distortion is corrosive to democracy, and it’s disappointing to see news outlets with national reach repeatedly legitimize such toxic disinformation.”
The National Post agreed on Friday to allow the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center to write a rebuttal to the recent op-ed.
“We are disappointed and troubled by this blind spot at Postmedia, who have once again provided space to Lubomyr Luciuk who continues to spread Holocaust distortion and disinformation,” Panneton told JNS.
“Their editorial staff need to be far more careful when handling subjects related to the Second World War and avoid publishing pieces that distort the facts about the Holocaust,” he added. “We are hopeful that this will be the last such lapse in judgment.”
Luciuk told JNS that “the so-called ‘Friends of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’ should read the book. They obviously haven’t.
“These folks seem to have pre-judged a manuscript they certainly haven’t even read. They haven’t studied the actual documentary evidence,” he said.
Luciuk added that his mother was “enslaved by the Nazis,” and that he knew several concentration camp survivors growing up. “Allegations that I somehow ‘distorted’ the Holocaust are absurd and indeed offensive,” he said.
Rob Roberts, editor-in-chief of the National Post, told JNS the paper ran an excerpt from a book, which McGill-Queen’s University Press published, that criticized Vladimir Putin’s justification for invading Ukraine, that the country needed “de-Nazification.”
“The excerpt included a paragraph disputing the view that the Second World War era Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists were Nazi collaborators. However, we recognize that this collaboration has been established by prior scholarship,” he said. “We will give critics of the piece a chance to reply, and learn from this episode in considering future pieces on this era of history.”
Roberts added that Post has been “explicitly pro-Israel in its editorial stance since its founding in 1998 by Conrad Black,” demonstrated in part by its current series Israel at 75.