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Ex-Nazi interpreter Helmut Oberlander has died in Waterloo, Ont.

cbc.ca logo cbc.ca 2021-09-23 CBC/Radio-Canada
a person posing for the camera: The federal government has been in a legal battle with Helmut Oberlander since 1995 to strip the former Nazi interpreter of his citizenship. Oberlander died on Wednesday at his home in Waterloo, Ont., his family said in a statement. © CIJA The federal government has been in a legal battle with Helmut Oberlander since 1995 to strip the former Nazi interpreter of his citizenship. Oberlander died on Wednesday at his home in Waterloo, Ont., his family said in a statement.

Helmut Oberlander, the former interpreter for a Nazi death squad during the Second World War, has died in Waterloo, Ont., according to his family. 

Oberlander, 97, died in his home on Wednesday. A statement from his family said he was "surrounded by loved ones."

"Notwithstanding the challenges in his life, he remained strong in his faith," read the statement sent to CBC News by Oberlander's lawyer, Ronald Poulton. "He took comfort in his family and the support of many in his community. He gave generously to charity, supported his church and was a loving family man. He will be dearly missed." 

Oberlander had been in a legal battle with the federal government to maintain his citizenship since 1995.

Earlier this month, Oberlander faced an admissibility hearing by the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada about whether he could remain in Canada.

In this still from a CBC-TV news report, Helmut Oberlander is seen outside his condo in Florida in 1995 after allegations of war crimes were reported. Oberlander denied the allegations. © CBC In this still from a CBC-TV news report, Helmut Oberlander is seen outside his condo in Florida in 1995 after allegations of war crimes were reported. Oberlander denied the allegations.

The federal government argued Oberlander lied to Canadian authorities about his wartime activities despite no evidence he took part in any atrocities.

"While this case is now over, the government is determined to deny safe haven in Canada to war criminals and persons believed to have committed or been complicit in war crimes, crimes against humanity, or genocide," a spokesperson for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada said in a statement. 

Oberlander was born in Halbstadt, Ukraine, in 1924. He has steadfastly maintained he was just 17 when he was forced on pain of execution to join the Nazi death squad Einsatzkommando 10a, known as Ek 10a.

The squad was responsible for killing close to 100,000 people who were mostly Jewish. Oberlander was not accused of taking part in any executions.

He came to Canada in 1954 and became a citizen six years later.


Video: Former Nazi dies in Waterloo, Ont. (Global News)

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Calls for accountability

In the summer of 1942, the Nazi death squads Oberlander worked for went to the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don, about 1,000 kilometres south of Moscow, and over a year and a half reportedly killed 27,000 people.

Chaim Danzinger, the rabbi in Rostov-on-Don who continues work to rebuild the community, told CBC News earlier this year that he has struggled to explain to the community how Canada handled Oberlander's case.

Oberlander himself has not been accused of carrying out the executions in Rostov-on-Don, but Danzinger said he should have been held accountable for his part in the massacre as a member of the unit responsible.

"[Oberlander] will certainly not be missed by the individuals and families who remember him for his role in the massacre in Rostov during the war," he said in an email to CBC.

"It is outrageous for them to hear that he died 'peacefully' when their relatives died horrifically in that mass killing, which he was never held accountable for. I do believe in divine justice and know that the ultimate judge will now mete out the consequences he deserves, but it's unfortunate society did not seek justice in this world."

Shimon Koffler Fogel, president and CEO of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, said in a statement that Oberlander "should have been deported decades ago to face justice in Germany."

"To honour Canadians' collective commitment to 'never again,' we call for a thorough review of the immigration and refugee system as it pertains to suspected war criminals, so that those alleged to have committed the most atrocious of crimes cannot evade judgment. This travesty of justice should never be allowed to occur again in Canada."

B'nai Brith, Wiesenthal centre react

B'nai Brith Canada, an independent Jewish human rights organization, issued a statement Thursday saying the group was frustrated by Canada's failure to deport Oberlander.

"The peaceful demise of Helmut Oberlander on Canadian soil is a stain on our national conscience," said the group's chief executive officer, Michael Mostyn.

"The fact is that this country slammed its doors on Jewish refugees fleeing the Nazis, then allowed some of their tormentors into Canada and failed to deport them," Mostyn continued.

"We at B'nai Brith are proud of our decades-long fight on the Oberlander file and will continue the struggle to ensure that those who have attacked Jews and lied about it in order to enter Canada cannot remain in this country."

The Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies also issued a statement.

"To Canada's great shame, justice was never served in this case," president and CEO Michael Levitt said in the statement.

"Oberlander was handed the privilege of dying peacefully by his family's side as a free man, a reality denied to the millions of Holocaust victims who had their freedoms, dignity and lives taken away from them. Let this be an opportunity for us all to reflect on the failure at bringing a former Nazi death squad member to justice."

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