In Canada, Nazism, Nazism and World War Two

Nazi praised in Canadian Parliament, Yaroslav Hunka

Yaroslav Hunka in the House of Commons before receiving applause Sept. 22. His Nazi history in Ukraine is the tip of an iceberg hidden in sealed commission findings. Photo by Patrick Doyle, the Canadian Press.

From The Tyee.
Alvin Finkel, 13 October, 2023

Growing up in Winnipeg, I was sometimes fascinated and sometimes skeptical as my dad, an immigrant Jewish railway worker with not a single grade of formal education, kept pointing out people in our North End neighbourhood he insisted were Nazis that Canada had welcomed after the Second World War.

In 1984, I indicated to the archivist at Library and Archives Canada who specialized in federal immigration files that I wanted to see records that might help me determine whether my dad was on to something. His answer: “There’s a story to tell, and you are the person to tell it.”

I had never met the archivist before and I assume that his favourable opinion regarding me had something to do with my having developed a reputation as a left-wing historian. But, after warning me that the documents he was providing me were replete with redactions, he said I would find that my dad’s viewpoint was amply supported within the materials the Department of Immigration had been willing to make public.

Ironically, just months later, after an incident suggesting that Josef Mengele, the monstrous Nazi physician who performed medical experiments on prisoners in Auschwitz, might be living in Canada, the Canadian government appointed the Commission of Inquiry on War Criminals in Canada to research and report on the issue of whether Nazi war criminals resided in Canada and, if so, who they were and how they got here.

The Deschênes Commission, as it was also called, reported in 1986 and did confirm that there were many war criminals in Canada. But a large part of its report was kept secret, and the public report, in my view, ignored the issue of why there were tens of thousands of former Nazis in Canada, including a very large number of individuals whom the Nuremberg courts after the war labelled as war criminals.

The commission report suggested a rather lazy effort by immigration bureaucrats to keep track of who they were allowing to enter Canada in the late 1940s and afterwards when labour demands seemed to trump all other concerns. My research suggests that is nonsense.

Canada’s Immigration Department after the war determinedly and successfully prevented communists and other leftists from immigrating to Canada or even visiting the country. It also determinedly and successfully prevented non-whites from becoming immigrants to Canada between 1946 and 1962. For several years after the end of the war they also successfully prevented Jews, desperate to leave deportation camps in Europe and settle in permanent homes, from coming to Canada.

So why were they so lax in terms of people who had clear connections with the Nazi regime, particularly with those whose claims that they were forced to serve the Nazi cause were transparently false?

My interpretation of the immigration files, along with cabinet discussions, is that the same anti-communist obsession that dominated immigration policies before the war and resulted in indifference, if not actual support, regarding fascists and Nazis who might be entering Canada, quickly re-established itself after the war.

Right-wing extremists, rather than being viewed as a security threat, were viewed as potential docile workers who would be on the “right side” as Canada made the fight against communism internally and worldwide the centre of its foreign policy. They would be bulwarks against Marxism and Marxists in Canada.

Filtering for race and politics

At war’s end the federal government decreed that “persons who served with the enemy in any capacity are not eligible for admission.” But pressures both from employers and from ethnic organizations gradually eliminated that policy. Several interrelated factors worked together to promote that policy turnaround. The need for additional labour was the key. Many workers might have been found among married women whose wartime labour participation permitted male workers to join the Armed Forces. But government policy firmly favoured returning women to their homes so that pre-war gender norms could be restored.

Non-European workers could easily have been lured. But the authorities wanted only whites. The liberalized Immigration Act of 1950 invited “any person, other than one of Asiatic race, who met, to the satisfaction of the Minister, certain requirements relating to suitability and capacity to be integrated into the Canadian community as set forth in Section 38 of the Immigration Act.” African-origin potential immigrants were unmentioned because a long history of instructions to immigration agents made it clear that Blacks were unwanted in Canada.

Not all Europeans were welcome. The cabinet decided in 1947 to exclude all immigrants whom a security check determined were communists. The immigration authorities applied the exclusion strictly, and also excluded applicants with “a record of left-wing activities” while scrutinizing closely applicants whose Canadian sponsors exhibited “left-wing tendencies.” Left-wingers were even rejected as visitors to Canada.

While Hal Banks, a convicted American mobster, was permitted to enter Canada as a labour organizer despite rules forbidding entry for convicted criminals, the government banned labour figures from the U.S. who were suspected of Communist tendencies. An Italian applicant who had never participated in political life was rejected as a potential immigrant because a police check suggested that he had portraits of Communist leaders in his home.

For several years, despite the Holocaust having become public knowledge, Canada continued as well not to want Jewish immigrants. So the immigration branch produced a rule that required potential immigrants to have resided for two full years in the country from which they were applying. Immigration files make it clear that officials viewed the rule as a means of encouraging Jews displaced by the war in camps outside their home countries to look for another country to take them as permanent residents.


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