TORONTO (JTA) — Jewish groups are calling on Canada to strip Canadian citizenship from a 92-year-old man who was once a member of a Nazi death squad.
In a letter to Citizenship Minister John McCallum, the groups say it’s time to conclude to what has been a 20-year battle to deport Helmut Oberlander.
“As has been clearly established, Mr. Oberlander was a member of one of the most savage Nazi killing units, responsible for the murder of more than 90,000 Jewish men, women, and children during the Holocaust,” states the March 9 letter. “He is here illegally, was associated with a horrific and murderous enterprise for which he has neither demonstrated nor expressed any remorse, and he ought to have his Canadian citizenship revoked immediately,” it adds.
Born in Ukraine, Oberlander immigrated to Canada in 1954 and became a citizen in 1960. Ottawa began trying to strip him of his citizenship in 1995, prompting a protracted court battle.
In 2000, a judge ruled that Oberlander had lied about his wartime service in order to gain citizenship. The Canadian Cabinet stripped him of citizenship three times. Twice it was restored by court rulings.
Oberlander won another reprieve last month when the Federal Court of Appeal sent the matter back to Cabinet, asking it to review its third revocation.
Oberlander, of Waterloo, Ontario, was a member of a mobile death squad in the Soviet Union during World War II. He claims to have been a low-level interpreter who was conscripted under duress. He also claims that he never took part in killings, and that he would have been shot had he tried to escape.
The Jewish groups, including Canadian Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Descendants, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs and B’nai Brith Canada, want him stripped of his Canadian nationality and deported from the country.
“It is particularly stressful for members of our survivor community, who are law-abiding and responsible citizens, to know that a member of the vicious killing unit Einsatzkommando 10a remains in Canada illegally,” they write. “It is well past time for him to leave.”
In an interview with the Canadian Press, Oberlander’s lawyer, Ronald Poulton, said the letter was “irresponsible” because it suggests “that anyone who fights injustice is abusing a system because he never gives up.”
An online petition at cija.ca calling on Ottawa to revoke Oberlander’s citizenship has to date garnered more than 1,000 signatures.