The Kleinmann Family Foundation
Twelfth Annual Cégep Holocaust Symposium


Death defeats justice for Nazi victim's son
Federal case against collaborator closed when he died in March of this year

By MARINA JIMÉNEZ, Globe and Mail
Article originally appeared September 29, 2004

Sydney Itzkowitz spent his adult life trying to bring his father's Nazi murderers to justice.

He thought the federal government was an ally when it brought a case against Walter Obodzinsky for his role in the Nov. 9, 1941, massacre that killed his father and 1,500 other Jews in Mir, during the German occupation of Belarus.

But when Ottawa failed to deport the 84-year-old Polish-born Montrealer, even after the Federal Court found he was an accomplice in atrocities against Jews, Mr. Itzkowitz became frustrated. He hired a private investigator, who discovered Mr. Obodzinsky had died on March 6, 2004.

"Why didn't the Canadian government deport him? The court ruled he lied. He should not have been allowed to stay," Mr. Itzkowitz, 77, said from Montreal. "It bothered me every day that he lived here. I tried to do everything I could to pressure the government to get rid of him."

The Obodzinsky case is being held up as the latest example of Ottawa's inability to bring to justice those found to have lied about their involvement in Nazi war crimes. David Matas, an immigration lawyer, says the government is allowing suspected Nazi collaborators to "litigate their way to death" and avoid deportation.

"We don't have an effective system to deal with war criminals in Canada. The message we send to modern perpetrators is that lying pays off and Canada is a safe haven," said Mr. Matas, who wrote a book on war criminals in Canada.

Ottawa abandoned criminal prosecutions of Nazi war-crimes suspects after losing a Supreme Court case against Imre Finta in 1995. It adopted a policy of trying to strip alleged war criminals of their citizenship and deporting them.

But the federal cabinet, rather than a judge, must do this. Since 1995, Ottawa has revoked the citizenship of and deported one suspected Nazi war criminal.

Five more people whom the Federal Court found had lied about their involvement in Nazi atrocities remain in Canada. Four others died before deportation proceedings were initiated; two left voluntarily, and several others are in litigation.

"The government takes these cases very seriously and has initiated proceedings against 21 World War II war-crimes cases since 1995," said Terry Beitner, director of the war crimes section of the Department of Justice. "These matters are complicated. The legal process calls for a trial and then consideration by the minister of citizenship and immigration and cabinet about whether citizenship should be revoked."

The case against Mr. Obodzinsky began in 2000, when the government alleged he was a member of two Nazi police forces and had lied about his past to obtain Canadian citizenship.

Mr. Justice François Lemieux of the Federal Court ruled on Sept. 18, 2003, that Mr. Obodzinsky was "an accomplice in the perpetration of atrocities committed, undeniably, during the German occupation of Belarus."

He noted that Mr. Obodzinsky volunteered to join a police unit under the direction of Heinrich Himmler, supreme commander of the SS, that was responsible for many massacres. Mr. Obodzinsky later fought for the Allies in Italy.

Constable Barry Head of the RCMP's war-crimes unit said it was "unfortunate" that Mr. Obodzinsky's death was not known to the force before he travelled to Montreal to take a statement from Mr. Itzkowitz in April.

Mr. Itzkowitz told him that on Sept. 9, 1941, his family took cover under a haystack in their barn after all Jews were called to the market square.

"Mr. Obodzinsky went into the barn and pulled my father from the haystack. I heard my father saying he would obey the order to gather in the town square with the other Jews. Then two shots rang out and my father was dead," Mr. Itzkowitz recalled. "Though I did not see Mr. Obodzinsky pull the trigger, there were only two people in that search party."

Mr. Itzkowitz evaded detection although that same day his uncle, a great-uncle and his son, and three cousins were killed. When he read about Mr. Obodzinsky's case in the paper last year, he was outraged. "I lay awake at night thinking about what I could do to see that the man was brought to justice. Now it's too late," he said.

France Bureau, speaking for Citizenship and Immigration Minister Judy Sgro, said that Mr. Obodzinsky's lawyers were making submissions, which they are entitled to do, when he died.

Among those whose citizenship has not been revoked after they were found to have lied about their pasts are:

Michael Baumgartner, who in 2001 was found to have been a Waffen SS member and concentration camp guard;

Jacob Fast, who is awaiting a decision after the Federal Court found in 2003 that he lied when coming to Canada but found no evidence he committed war crimes;

Vladimir Katriuk, who in 1999 was found to have been a member of a battalion that fought enemy partisans in Ukraine and whose appeal to the Supreme Court was dismissed in 2000.