By Richard Sanders
"It takes a village to raise a Nazi" (old African proverb, slightly modified)
As is typical among many ultranationalist Ukrainians within the Canadian diaspora, any feelings of shame or dishonour that might reasonably be linked to their forebear's collaboration with Germany's war atrocities are deeply sublimated by either outright denials regarding Ukrainian complicity in Nazi horrors such as the Holocaust, or by rationalisations which claim that in the grand patriotic struggle for Ukrainian independence, their national heroes were merely fighting the evil Soviet Union, not aiding the Third Reich. This sublimation of the truth about Nazi collaboration involves both psychological and cultural processes.
Historical Amnesia and the Blinding Effects of Propaganda
Individuals are aided and abetted in the process of repressing, forgetting and justifying uncomfortable historical truths, by cultural institutions which construct the core narratives about history and contemporary events. The institution of family is of prime importance because of its role in creating a child's foundational beliefs and attitudes, and in establishing which social authorities they should place their confidence in throughout adult life. For some, the leaders of their national, ethnic or religious identities are the key sources of information in whom faith should be placed. For others, the mass media is seen as the most reliable source of facts. When messages received from all of these social institutions are virtually the same, and people's beliefs are reinforced from all angles, they develop an almost unshakable confidence in the presiding narrative. Even if one's cultural myths completely ignore basic historical realities and truths, it does not matter, they will be accepted as gospel and believed because people just don't know any better.
Freeland's grandfather, Michael Chomiak, contributed to Ukrainian ignorance about the war by spreading German war propaganda across Europe through a Ukrainian-language mass media network that was established by Nazi largesse. Of course, that's not her fault.
But what Freeland does need to explain is why she kept this truth hidden from the Canadian public. For at least twenty years, Freeland has known many of the gory details about her Ukrainian grandfather's key role in the Nazi news behemoth. She knew for example that the daily newspaper under his control disseminated antiSemitic fake news which conflated Jews with those much-reviled political enemies of the German-Ukrainian axis that were said to be operating from the Kremlin in Moscow.
We know that Chrystia Freeland was made aware, in great detail, of her Ukrainian grandfather's pivotal role as a newspaper editor overseeing this hatemongering "fake news," because she was acknowledged in a scholarly article on that subject. The article, "Krakivski visti and the Jews, 1943," was published in 1996 by John Paul Himka, a prominent Ukrainian Canadian scholar who was then a professor of history at the University of Alberta. He listed Freeland as having reviewed his article and he credited her, among a few others, with "pointing out problems and suggesting improvements." Himka then added an additional caveat, saying: "In the case of this particular article, I would like to say explicitly what should go without saying: that I alone am responsible for the views expressed herein."[i]
However, despite having this information in 1996, Freeland has never mentioned it in any of the glowing narratives that she has publicly shared about her maternal grandfather. For many years, Freeland's whitewashed renditions of her grandfather's war-time life were spread far and wide thanks to the corporate news machine. These narratives completely hid all information about what he was actually doing during the war. And, there seems to be no evidence that any journalist ever asking her to elaborate even a little on what her grandfather was actually doing during any of the war years. Even now, after the news of complicity with the Nazi regime finally broke through the Great Wall of Media, very few details of Chomiak's propaganda work have slipped through the cracks. Tons of detailed evidence is there waiting to be exposed, if only the media were interested.
Despite the major lacunae in Freeland's official version of her grandfather's war years, she has always been sure to use that family story to malign the Soviets and to highlight the positive role that her collaborationist grandfather played in inspiring her fiercely patriotic Ukrainian spirit. This spirit has clearly been a driving force throughout her life as a strident Ukrainian political activist, an advocacy journalist vilifying Russian leaders and now a Liberal cabinet minister responsible for representing Canada's decidedly antiRussian foreign affairs' policies.
Chomiak's daily paper, Krakivs'ki visti, presented the Nazi version of truth by whitewashing the Holocaust and other mass murders from history. It was a prime example of what the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust (LAMOTH) called a "Ukrainian Collaborationist Newspaper." LAMOTH houses an online collection of three such newspapers, including numerous issues of Krakivs'ki visti. It describes this group of records by saying:
"Ukrainian newspapers followed official German ideology. They adopted anti-Bolshevik rhetoric, but emphasized Ukrainian economic and cultural development under German auspices. The editorial boards carried out a policy of soliciting Ukrainian support for the German cause. German administration limited the scope of both publications, Lvivski Visti and Krakivski Visti, to pure Ukrainian internal affairs and to the demonstration of Ukrainian support of the Nazis’ 'New Order.' It was typical, within these publications, to not ... give any accounts of the German genocidal policy, and largely, the editions resorted to silencing the mass killing of Jews in Galicia. Ukrainian newspapers presented the Jewish Question in light of the official Nazi propaganda, corollary to the Jewish world conspiracy.
"Execution of the Final Solution was never a theme for the Ukrainian periodicals published under German control."[ii]
So, while shocking realities ‑ like Ukrainian participation in the Holocaust and the mass murder of Poles and Soviets ‑ were consistently left out of their newspapers' narratives, Ukrainians living under the Nazis' generous protection were left free to build proud images of themselves and their culture. Despite the horrors of WWII, these untarnished self-images still remain largely intact among many offspring of the Third Wave Ukrainian émigrés who came to reside under the safety blanket of multicultural, "Canadian values."
Forgotten (or, rather, never learned) by so many of those living in the ideological village which raised Freeland, are basic historical realities about how the German military ‑ with the assistance of their ultranationalist Ukrainian collaborators ‑ exterminated 1.6 million of the 2.5 million Jews who had lived in Ukraine before the war. The Third Wave émigré village, and many others within Canada's mainstream culture, have also been sheltered from learning another basic truth ‑ that 900,000 Jews survived the Ukrainian "Holocaust of bullets" because they escaped to the safety of the USSR in 1941.
Their escape from the mass murder that befell most Ukrainian Jews was achieved thanks to the protection offered to them by the Soviet Red Army which was forced to retreat from Ukraine when the Nazis launched Operation Barbarossa. This massive German invasion ‑ across a front that spanned 2,900 kms ‑ deployed 3.8 million Nazi troops, 3,350 tanks, 2,770 warplanes and 7,200 artillery pieces. It remains the largest invasion in world history.[iii]
Operation Barbarossa unleashed horrors that are still largely unknown and unacknowledged by many Canadians, such as the murder of 25 to 30 million Soviet citizens. Details of the Nazi invasion were outlined by Soviet prosecutors at the Nuremberg trials. Evidence presented there showed that besides devastating many large Soviet cities, "1,710 towns and more than 70,000 villages and hamlets" were "totally or partially destroyed and burned." Also demolished were "31,850 industrial works" and "6 million buildings" that "rendered some 25 million persons homeless." The Nazis also targeted communication systems ("36,000 postal and telegraphic offices, telephone centers") and transportation infrastructure ("65,000 kilometers of rails and 500,000 kilometers of cables for the automatic railroad controls, signals, and communication lines... 13,000 railway bridges, [and] 4,100 railway stations").[iv]
The Nuremberg Trials also revealed that the Nazis destroyed "40,000 ... medical institutions." This left millions of wounded Soviet citizens without their state health-care system. And, because the Nazi invasion killed tens of millions of cattle, pigs, sheep and goats, and "destroyed and looted 98,000 collective farms" and "1,876 state farms,"[v] the Soviet people faced starvation. Six million Soviets died from disease and lack of food. This was a genocide beyond comprehension. But, to those whose cultural narratives make them blind to Soviet suffering ‑ preferring instead to always see the "Russian Bear" as the evil aggressor ‑ the Barbarossa invasion has been ethnically cleansed from history, and hidden in a mass grave of facts about the Nazis horrendous crimes against peace and humanity.
To many Ukrainian nationalists, the Nazi's mercilessly brutal invasion of the Soviet Union was welcomed with gleeful euphoria. For example, a Banderite newspaper in Ukraine rejoiced in 1941, proclaiming
"We are all so happy that tears well in our eyes. Some of our people were so shocked by the good news that they fell ill from sheer happiness. ... [T]he heroic German Army is helping to create an independent Ukraine and is bringing freedom to all the nations. Hence...our simple gratitude to the Fuhrer and his triumphant army in which Ukrainians take pride. All our people, all over the country are cheering their liberators.... Glory to Adolph Hitler Fuhrer of the German nation! Glory to the heroic German Army!"[vi]
And how was Nazi's genocidal Barbarossa invasion and its mass murder of Soviet citizens portrayed in that Ukrainian propaganda organ under Michael Chomiak's control? "At last the hour has come!" declared Krakivs'ki visti in 1941. "Our dreams, our ambitions are now reality. This is our resurrection.... The German Army is bringing us our cherished freedom."[vii] This is how the daily newspaper edited by Chrystia Freeland's grandfather delivered the wonderful news about the early victories of the Nazi's unprecedented killing spree against the Soviets.
Soviet civilians not only took the brunt of Germany's war crimes, 75% to 80% of the allied forces who died fighting against Michael Chomiak's Nazi side in the war, were Soviets. By eventually turning back the Nazi invasion in the massive battles of Kursk and Stalingrad, it was the Red Army that turned the whole tide of WWII. It was the Soviets that then chased the Nazi invaders back across Europe to Germany, and thus led the war's victory over fascism.
But even the most obvious truths of history, such as the fact that the Soviets and Nazis were mortal enemies throughout WWII, are studiously ignored by Freeland and others who have been sheltered by the ultraright ideology of her Ukrainian village. Instead, they try to equate the Nazis and the Soviets. This historical illiteracy requires them to deliberately turn a blind eye to the Nazi's vehement hatred of all things Soviet and communist. This Nazi hatred can be seen in everything from their staging of the Reichstag fire in 1933 (and then framing communists as a pretext for repression), to their 1941 invasion of the USSR. And how can Freeland forget the prodigious outpourings of Nazi propaganda against Soviet communism, including that expressed in Ukrainian newspapers overseen by grandfather Michael Chomiak? But instead of acknowledging the most basic reality of WWII ‑ that Germany and the USSR were diametrically opposed enemies ‑ Freeland and others aggressively project their fake rendition of history to brand the Soviets and Nazis as close friends and allies during WWII.
For example, in 2016, Freeland invoked the memory of her Ukrainian grandparents in order to highlight an ultraright propaganda event called "Black Ribbon Day." On that day, she tweeted: "Thinking of my grandparents Mykhailo & Aleksandra Chomiak on Black Ribbon Day."[viii] This day exemplifies the kind of historical amnesia, obfuscation and outright denial of historical facts that allows people to ignorantly proclaim the fallacy that the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany were actually allies during WWII.[ix] This day was used by Prime Minister Harper to launch the controversial "Memorial to the Victims of Communism" in 2014. His announcement on that day, made at a $250-per-plate fundraising dinner, included an initial pledge of $1.5 million from the Government of Canada.[x] Besides being promoted by the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, both Black Ribbon Day and the anticommunist monument are also promoted by the Liberal government, and supported by all the parliamentary parties.
The Nazis as Victims? Sure, just Blame the Russians!
Chrystia Freeland has always been careful to portray her Nazi propagandist grandfather and his family as victims of the Soviets during WWII. In all of her narratives of their wartime experiences she creates the impression that they were innocent people who were forced in 1939 to flee from their beloved Ukrainian homeland by the Soviet communists and their invading Red Army. Freeland's simplistic morality tales about her grandfather's life during the war never actually mentioned anything about his complicity with the Third Reich. In fact, she never divulged a single thing about what he was actually doing during the entire length of the war. Instead, Freeland has always used her narratives as an excuse to criticise the Soviet Union and suggest that they were the real aggressors of WWII.[i]
One of the memes basic to many of Freeland's narratives, one which she often falls back on ‑ regardless of the subject at hand ‑ is that Russian leaders are to blame. In her world, the official all-enduring backstory is that, whether communist or capitalist, Moscow's Kremlin can never be trusted. This, of course, is not a fringe belief. For a century, the world of mainstream western institutions ‑ whether political, economic or military ‑ have all used narratives that use the bogeyman of Russian leaders to arouse moral panics on the homefront. The main machinery used to spread these social phobias has been the mass corporate media.
A typical Russophobic response to crisis was clearly evidenced in Freeland's recent efforts to divert public attention from the truth that her maternal grandfather was indeed a Nazi collaborator.
On March 6, Freeland was asked to respond to what the Globe and Mail called "allegations" that her grandfather was a Nazi collaborator. Here is what she said:
"I don't think it's a secret. American officials have publicly said, and even [German Chancellor] Angela Merkel has publicly said, that there were efforts on the Russian side to destabilize Western democracies, and I think it shouldn't come as a surprise if these same efforts were used against Canada.... I think that Canadians and indeed other western countries should be prepared for similar efforts to be directed at them."[ii]
The Globe and Mail followed lock-step in this mainstream line of defence. It's article, entitled "Freeland warns Canadians to beware of Russian disinformation," confirms her accusations in its very first line:
"Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, who is being targeted by allegations in pro-Moscow websites that her maternal Ukrainian grandfather was a Nazi collaborator, warned Monday that Canada should expect to be the focus of Russian disinformation campaigns..." [iii] (Emphasis added.)
Outright denial was initially used as another official line of defence. The Globe and Mail, for which Freeland worked as deputy editor (1999-2001),[iv] reported that "An official in Ms. Freeland's office denied that the minister’s grandfather was a Nazi collaborator."[v]
In an effort to rally the faithful, the newspaper called upon the words of Paul Grod, president of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress whose member groups representing fascist political groups and Nazi veterans' associations. “It is the continued Russian modus operandi that they have," said Grod with the gall of self-assured confidence. "Fake news, disinformation and targeting different individuals.... It is just so outlandish when you hear some of these allegations – whether they are directed at minister Freeland or others."[vi]
This is not untypical. The best defence, after all, is supposed to be a good offence. And, when in doubt, it is now a century-old western tradition to throw blame at the Russians.
But what if this truth about Freeland's Nazi heritage had been revealed by "proJewish" websites? Would Freeland, Grod and the Globe and Mail have had the chutzpah to say that she was "being targeted" by Jews? (Chutzpah, said Leo Rosten, is "that quality enshrined in a man who, having killed his mother and father, throws himself on the mercy of the court because he is an orphan."[vii])
Even when the Globe and Mail acknowledged on March 7 that Freeland actually knew that her grandfather had edited a Nazi newspaper, it still continued to blame the Russians. The article's second sentence returned to the fall-back position of blaming the Russians. It read: "Ms. Freeland's family history has become a target for Russian forces seeking to discredit one of Canada’s highly placed defenders of Ukraine." Russian forces? And, the paper also included this gem:
"Conservative foreign affairs critic Peter Kent who said it was obvious the Russians dug up details on Mr. Chomiak’s past to smear Ms. Freeland. 'It is unacceptable. It seems they are trying smear a minister with historical detail that has probably been misrepresented,' he said. “It is unfair and it is typical of what we have seen in other countries and it has nothing to do with her ability to represent Canada.” [viii]
As a former journalist, does Mr. Kent not realise that the truth is actually something worthy of some respect? And, surely a person's inability to report or tell the truth does actually affect their "ability to represent Canada." Whether someone is representing Canada as a news reporter or as a politician ‑ dual careers that Kent and Freeland share ‑ surely standing for the truth must mean something. But perhaps in the world of journalism and politics, serving the truth is, at best, not a prime concern.
Many representatives of Canada's Third Wave Ukrainian émigré community prefer not to accept the truth of their forebear's collaboration with the Nazis. The phenomena of this amnesiac culture has actually been a major focus of study by some scholars within the Ukrainian Canadian community for some decades. Here for example is a quote from an article called "War Criminality: A Blank Spot in the Collective Memory of the Ukrainian Diaspora,"[ix] by historian John-Paul Himka:
"[T]here persists a deafening silence about, as well as reluctance to confront, even well-documented war crimes, such as the mass murder of Poles in Volhynia by the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA)[x] and the cooperation of the Ukrainian auxiliary police in the execution of the Jews.[xi] In his submission to the Deschênes Commission [of Inquiry on War Criminals in Canada] in 1986 John Sopinka, counsel for the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, stated that Ukrainian nationalist organizations 'were not in any way allied with the Nazis.'[xii] It has also been denied that the Ukrainian movement in World War II had any ideological predisposition which could have facilitated participation in genocidal actions. UPA veteran and military historian Lev Shankovsky, for example, asserted at a round-table discussion that organized anti-Semitism 'never existed in Ukraine. But there exists a myth about Ukrainian anti-Semitism' promoted by Moscow."[xiii] (Emphasis added.)
The last quotation cited by Himka, is worth highlighting. Shankovsky, being a veteran of the UPA was hardly an unbiased and objective narrator of military history. (The UPA an army established by the Bandera faction of the Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists.) After the war, Shankovsky was on the payroll as a "special correspondent" for a CIA-funded propaganda publication called Suchasna Ukraina, which was circulated to the Ukrainian diaspora in two dozen countries (primarily the US, Canada, England and Germany).[xiv] In his statement from 1960, Shankovsky demonstrated that when exposed for antiSemitism, Ukrainian ultranationalists have long been using that old standby known as the "blame-the-Russians" defence.
Canada needs Truth and Reconciliation, not Denials and Obfuscation
In case they have somehow forgotten, it might be worth reminding Peter Kent, Paul Grod, Chrystia Freeland, and others who are stepping forward to embarrass themselves with outrageous denials and accusations against the victims of Nazism, that Canada is currently engaged an important process called "Truth and Reconciliation." Priding itself on "Canadian values," the Government of Canada claims to be facing the historical reality of its huge role in the genocide of Indigenous peoples.
This cultural process of "Truth and Reconciliation" is also needed to face up to the very real complicity of Canadians in other horrendous genocides. We need to be able to acknowledge that proud Canadians, like Michael Chomiak, played an absolutely pivotal role in helping to run the Nazi's fake news machine. The lies spread through Ukrainian newspapers that were edited by Chrystia Freeland's grandfather did, after all, help to justify and rationalise the Holocaust, and the mass murders of Poles and Soviets.
Although the genocide of Indigenous peoples and the mass murders of WWII were both facilitated by huge institutionalised processes, it must also be recognised that they were carried out on the ground by ordinary individuals. Most of these people, like those belonging to the well-meaning Christian communities that created, administered and then covered up the horrors of Canada's Residential Schools, had become convinced that their actions were necessary to promote the civilisation, Christianisation and Canadianisation of inferior peoples.
Remarkably there are still Canadians, like Senator Lynn Beyak, who make excuses for Canada's genocide of Indigenous peoples. She, for instance, wants to embrace the positive impacts of the Residential School system such as the Christianity it forced on Indigenous children. Commenting on Beyak's remarks, Romeo Saganash an NDP MP and Residential School survivor said: "It equals saying what Hitler did to the Jewish [people] was good .... I think she should resign .... If one reads the definition of genocide under the UN convention, it's pretty clear to that effect that forcibly removing children … constitutes genocide."[i]
Interestingly, Senator Beyak's husband of 32 years, Tony Beyak (1948-2002), was a deeply religious Ukrainian-Canadian used-car salesman who served two terms as president of the Fort Francis Chamber of Commerce.[ii] When Lynn Beyak made a donation to the "Memorial to the Victims of Communism," she did so in his memory. The online comment which she posted when making the donation reads: "In memory of our dear Tony Beyak, from his loving family."[iii] The board of directors for this controversial anti-communist memorial includes Paul Grod, president of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress.[iv]
Although most Canadians should by now know that this country was founded on a xenophobic system of racist apartheid based on a west-European supremacist propaganda, it is still fashionable to rationalise away such past crimes by saying that we cannot judge our forebears actions based on the advanced moral understandings that we now possess. This feeble excuse ignores the seemingly obvious fact that many people in the past knew full well, for example, that Residential Schools were a profound crime. For example, Indigenous and Metis people knew that they were victims of Canada's dehumanising political, legal, economic and religious systems, of which Residential Schools were only one manifestation. Excusing the perpetrators of past genocides by saying that people back then just didn't know any better, is an insult to survivors of Canada's genocide, and their families.
But past cries for justice fell on deaf Canadian ears. What's worse, authorities responded by punishing those who dared to expose or push back against Canada's genocide of Indigenous people. How much have times changed? Nowadays, when people dare to expose the truth about Canadians who collaborated with the Nazis, they are accused of colluding with the Russians to undermine Canadian democracy. Do the mass media, and those politicians who emerged from careers in corporate news, have no shame? Would it have been acceptable to blame the Indians for trying to subvert Canada's "good government" every time someone tried to expose a major collaborator in the Residential School program?
It is incumbent upon us all to struggle to understand how sincere, well-intentioned people can become complicit in institutionalised processes which promote, excuse, carry out or whitewash such atrocities as genocide. Huge social institutions, such as the media, government, religions and corporations, have tremendous power to inspire widespread confidence and faith among masses of people. With such power they can create and perpetuate grand mythical narratives that inspire individuals to place the "cause" of their social group above all else. This passionate fixation on a righteous cause, movement or organisation ‑ whether nationalistic, religious or otherwise ‑ is a force so powerful that it can prevent people from recognising the harm that they are doing. People can become so captivated, heart and mind, by their commitment to their noble cause that ‑ for the "greater good" ‑ they will even commit war crimes, crimes against peace or crimes against humanity.
Such crimes are so huge that they cannot possibly be committed by just a few psychopathic individuals. To orchestrate these horrors, widescale social complicity is required. When bigotry and hatred become accepted and normalised within a culture, societies face the spectre of mass psychosis. There are of course a million shades of grey within the cultural syndromes which accept racism, apartheid, slavery, imperialism and other forms of exploitation, hatred and abuse, as the norm. Neither does such social madness happen suddenly. It is a heavily institutionalised cultural process that creeps up slowly from behind our backs. The result is that good, honest, decent people are trained ‑ often from an early age and throughout their lives ‑ to turn a blind eye to their society's complicity in grand schemes of social injustice.
We all need to understand how these cultural processes work ‑ and the roles played in them by individuals, organisations, governments and the media. While stopping moral panics while they occur is virtually impossible, a society may be able to prevent institutionalised psychoses from growing and taking hold. At the very least however a mature society needs to be able to recognise, acknowledge and reconcile itself with the institutionalised crimes that are part of its history. To do this, people need to have access to the truth and they need to be able to confront that truth without turning a blind eye.[v]
^5000Breaking the lethal Western media monopoly is urgent.
PLEASE pass this post on to friends, workmates and kin.
Let truth open the road to peace, justice and real democracy!
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