In Ukraine

By Sheldon Kirshner, The Times of Israel, March 9, 2017

Why can’t Chrystia Freeland acknowledge the truth? Why can’t she come clean?

Freeland, Canada’s foreign minister and a member of Parliament representing a mid-town Toronto district, has been less than transparent about her maternal grandfather, Michael (Mikhailo) Chomiak, who edited a pro-Nazi Ukrainian newspaper in Cracow during Germany’s occupation of Poland.

The publication in question, Krakivski Visti, was established, financed and supervised by Germany’s intelligence service. Its offices and printing plant were previously owned by Jewish publisher Moshe Kafner, who was murdered in the Belzec extermination camp, 300 kilometres from Cracow.

Krakivski Visti, a mouthpiece of theNazi propaganda juggernaut, solicited Ukrainian support for the Nazi cause and published antisemitic articles during a period when Polish Jews were being slaughtered by the thousands. It stoked anti-Jewish feelings in Poland, presenting the ‘Jewish Question’ within the framework of Nazi conspiracy theories, and thereby contributed to the Holocaust.

John Helmer, a Moscow- based journalist who writes the blog Dances with Bears, recently published an expose about Chomiak, who settled in Canada with his family in 1948 and died in 1984.

Helmer presumably gleaned some of his information from the Ukraine Archival Records in Alberta, where Freeland was born, and from a scholarly article written by Freeland’s uncle, John Paul Himka, a professor emeritus at the University of Alberta. Krakivski Visti and the Jews, 1943 was published in the Journal of Ukrainian Studies in 1996.

Freeland, a journalist by profession, helped edit the monograph, according to an article published in The Globe and Mail.

In recent days, the story has belatedly been picked up by Canadian newspapers, though the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, strangely enough, has chosen to ignore it in its TV and radio newscasts.

When it finally surfaced in Canada several days ago, Freeland’s press secretary, Alexander Lawrence, issued a terse statement: “Dating back many years, the minister has supported her uncle’s efforts to study and publish on this difficult chapter in her late grandfather’s past.”

Lawrence later told The Globe and Mail, “People should be questioning where this information comes from, and the motivations behind it.”

Freeland did not answer the question forthrightly either. Instead, she accused Russia of spreading disinformation about her grandfather, thereby suggesting the story is false.

“I don’t think it’s a secret,” she said coyly. “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.”

The Ukrainian community in Canada has also dismissed the claim that Chomiak was a Nazi collaborator. Paul Grod, the president of the Canadian Ukrainian Congress, blamed Russia for circulating the story.

Freeland, a harsh critic of Russian foreign policy, supported the imposition of sanctions against Russia after its 2014 annexation of Crimea, formerly in Ukraine. Since then, she has been declared a persona non grata by Moscow and banned from entering Russia.

According to Helmer, Freeland has portrayed her family as a victim of war: “My maternal grandparents fled western Ukraine after Hitler and Stalin signed their non-aggression pact in 1939 … they saw themselves as political exiles with a responsibility to keep alive the idea of an independent Ukraine.”

And she told the Toronto Star: “Michael Chomiak was a lawyer and journalist before the Second World War, but (he) knew the Soviets would invade Western Ukraine (and) fled … and like a lot of Ukrainians, ended up after the war in a displaced persons camp in Germany, where my mother was born.”

Helmer, in his blog post, claims that Chomiak was “a Nazi collaborator from the beginning to the end of the war.”

It’s clear beyond a reasonable doubt that Chomiak, in common with a number of tainted Ukrainian nationalists, worked for Nazi Germany, hoping that their cooperation would lead to the creation of an independent Ukraine.

Freeland, a keen student of history, is well aware of this checkered aspect of Ukrainian nationalism. Now that her grandfather’s past has been exposed, she should stop being evasive and address the issue directly, openly and honestly. She should not hide behind anti-Russian slogans. She should not cynically pretend this story falls under the heading of “fake news”.

This is not about Russia. It’s about a man who was a vital cog in the Nazi machinery of death during the Holocaust. Freeland is an intelligent and wordly woman and should have no trouble recognizing and acknowledging the truth.

She owes this to her constituents in Toronto and to all Canadians.

Sheldon Kirshner is a journalist in Toronto. He writes at his online journal,

Related reading:
Whitewashing Freeland’s silence, commentary by Henry Srebrnik, published as a guest column on the website of Sheldon Kirshner, a journalist living in Toronto, March 13, 2017


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