Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal Pioneer
I’ll lay my cards on the table: I have never been particularly fond of Chrystia Freeland’s attitude towards the Russian Federation.
I was aware that her family originates in the western part of Ukraine, inhabited by anti-Russian nationalists largely Ukrainian Catholic (Uniate) by religion, where collaboration with the German invaders was a major issue in the Second World War.
It never would have occurred to me, though, that her grandfather, Mykhailo Chomiak, ran a Ukrainian newspaper in Nazi-occupied Cracow, Poland, on behalf of the Hitler regime.
Before the war, he was a young journalist in Lviv, then a part of Poland. Having graduated from university with a degree in law and political science, he started work for the Ukrainian-language daily Dilo (Deed).
In 1939, as the Germans and Soviets attacked Poland, Lviv fell to the Russians, and Chomiak fled for Crakow, in the German zone of occupation, where he became editor of Krakivtsi Visti (Cracow News), in a plant confiscated by the Nazis from a Jewish-owned paper.
Chomiak’s work was directly supervised by Emil Gassner, the head of the Nazi press department there. It contained numerous anti-Semitic stories and revelled at German triumphs over the Allies in the early stages of the conflict. Other writers have now provided excerpts of his enthusiasm for “cleansing” various cities, including Kyiv, of Jews.
All this, while millions of Jews were being slaughtered in nearby death camps such as Belzec and Auschwitz.
So enmeshed was he with the Nazi Generalgouvernment headed by Hans Frank, that in the last stages of the war, he fled west with the retreating Nazis, and continued editing the paper from Vienna, until the final collapse of the Third Reich.
All this has now become public knowledge, along with the fact that Freeland not only kept quiet about this – understandable – but also fabricated her grandfather’s biography to make him appear a simple Ukrainian patriot opposed to both Stalin and Hitler, one who struggled “to return freedom and democracy to Ukraine,” rather than an enthusiastic collaborator.
My own life story is one almost the exact opposite. My parents were Polish Jews from Czestochowa, whose entire families in Europe were wiped out in the Holocaust. They were themselves in a Nazi concentration camp until liberated by Soviet troops in January 1945; I would otherwise not be alive today.
So clearly I have a very different perspective regarding the Russians, though I would never consider myself an apologist for Stalin’s (or Vladimir Putin’s) crimes, and I have in fact written a number of books regarding the naiveté of those Jews who allowed their anti-fascist sympathies to blind them to those crimes.
It needn’t have to be said that Chrystia Freeland, born long after the war ended, is not responsible for her grandfather’s war crimes, though it might have stood her in better stead had she condemned these long ago, especially once she entered public life, when they were bound to be unearthed sooner or later. She has known the truth for some two decades.
In other words, the problem isn't that her grandfather was a Nazi collaborator -- she can't, obviously, be blamed for this -- but that she defended him, in essence serving as a propagandist and purveyor of what people nowadays call “fake news.”
Yet not only have some sympathized with Freeland’s own rewriting of her grandfather’s history, they also try to turn the tables against the Russians by portraying Freeland as a victim.
One article in Maclean’s magazine, for example, suggested that the Russians have been trying to discredit Freeland, an outspoken advocate for continued sanctions, “with a smear job about her grandparents.” (A smear, though, usually implies libellous accusations; this story turns out to be true.)
None of our Canadian political parties have made any statements either. No, we can’t demand that Trudeau fire Freeland, despite her dissembling and attempts to turn this into a story of Russian attacks on her. But surely our leaders should at the least state their disappointment in her lack of candor.
Of course the post-2014 Ukrainian regime, its support coming mainly from western Ukraine, itself passed a law in 2015 that grants recognition, as fighters for Ukrainian Independence, to Stepan Bandera’s Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists and the Ukrainian Insurgent Army.
They have been designated “defenders of the fatherland.” Streets have been renamed and statutes erected for Bandera.
These organizations were allied for much of the war with Hitler and participated in the massacres of many thousands of Jewish and Polish civilians. Poland itself has protested their rehabilitation.