Helmut Oberlander, Canada’s Last Suspected Nazi War Criminal Dies at 97

WATERLOO REGION – Helmut Oberlander Waterloo, the last suspected Nazi war criminal in Canada, has died. He was 97 years old.

When he died, Ottawa was in the final stages of trying to deport Oberlander, saying he would never have been allowed into Canada if immigration officials had known he was a member of Hitler’s Einsatzgruppen, the mobile death squads that killed. to between 1.5 and 2 million people. mostly Jews, when Germany invaded the former Soviet Union in June 1941, and he was complicit in crimes against humanity.

Oberlander died after successfully delaying all legal challenges raised by Department of Justice attorneys for decades. Ottawa spent millions of dollars since the 1980s to get Oberlander out of the country for hiding his membership in the Einsatzgruppen.

His attorney, Ronald Poulton, shared a statement from the family Thursday.

Helmut Oberlander passed away peacefully. In the end, he was surrounded by loved ones at home. Despite the challenges in her life, she remained steadfast in her faith. 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. We will miss him very much. “

Born on February 15, 1924 in the former Soviet Union in Halbstadt, Oberlander had a sister. His father, Johann, was a doctor and his mother, Lydia, a nurse.

The family history has its roots in a German Mennonite community that had lived there for 250 years. Oberlander was Volksdeutsche: ethnic Germans who had lived in Eastern Europe for generations. He grew up speaking Russian, Ukrainian, and German.

German-speaking families named their hometown Halbstadt, while Russian and Ukrainian-speaking families named it Molochansk. It is located about 75 kilometers north of the Sea of ​​Azov. When Ukraine became an independent country in 1991 after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Oberlander’s hometown was part of the new country.

German military units moved through this area on their way to the Baku oil fields on the Caspian Sea when Oberlander was 17 years old. Oberlander volunteered for the Waffen SS in October 1941 and was still a member in May 1944, when he was granted German citizenship.

As an interpreter for the security and counterintelligence units of the Waffen SS, SD, and SiPo, Oberlander was on the Nazi party payroll. For a time they sent him to a concentration camp. SD and SiPo entered those camps, identified Jews and political officers with the Soviet Red Army, commissars, and executed them.

He was part of Einsatzgruppe D, which was made up of several smaller units known as Sonderkommandos or Einsatzkommandos. Einsatzgruppen units initiated the mass murder that became The Holocaust. Of the six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust, the 3,000 members of the Einsatzgruppen murdered between 1.5 and 2 million between 1941 and 1943.

Oberlander’s 120-man unit, Einsatzkommando 10a, moved through 30 villages around the Sea of ​​Azov and into the North Caucasus. It killed about 47,000 people, mostly Jews.

Oberlander was part of a two-day operation on the outskirts of Rostove-on-Don in southern Russia, where more than 27,000 Jews were shot over a mass grave. It was the second largest massacre to occur on Russian soil during the war.

Oberlander was stripped of his Canadian citizenship four times for hiding his war record. The last time he lost his citizenship was in 2017, and the Supreme Court of Canada refused to hear further appeals from his attorneys. That paved the way for a deportation hearing before the Immigration Division of the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada. Oberlander died before his deportation hearing was held.

Transcripts of interviews with several other members of EK 10a, conducted by West German researchers in the 1960s, were the main evidence against him. The transcripts are gruesome to read and include first-person accounts of mass executions.

“A blanket directive has been issued requiring all members of a command to participate in an execution at least once,” said Lothar Heimbach, a member of EK 10a.

Another member of the death squad, Leo Maar, said that Oberlander was working as a translator when EK 10a killed 27,000 Jews in Rostow. The Jews had to report to different collection points where they were loaded onto trucks and taken to the anti-tank ditch on the outskirts of the town where they were shot.

“I remember that many members of the command were used in this operation,” Maar said. “The two interpreters, Seetzen and Littich, and Oberlander participated in it, as I recall.”

Otto Nurnberg told war crimes investigators that the assassination operation in Taganrog began at 10 a.m. From October 26, 1941 and continued until 3 p.m. M.

German military records show that EK 10a killed 7,000 Jews in Krasnador.

When the Soviet Red Army broke the German siege at Stalingrad, German units withdrew, including that of Oberlander. After obtaining his German citizenship, Oberlander surrendered in the British Sector at the end of the war.

Later he worked on a farm, studied construction engineering, married, and applied to come to Canada in 1953. As of April 1953, all Germans had to list their occupations, addresses, and military service for the previous 10 years. Oberlander concealed his voluntary membership in the Waffen SS, Einsatzgruppen, SD, and SiPo.

“There is no question, if it weren’t for (Oberlander’s) misrepresentation before Canadian immigration authorities, he would never have obtained permanent residency or Canadian citizenship,” Department of Justice attorneys said in written arguments filed with the Immigration Division. .

“That misrepresentation gave him the undeserved privilege of living a long life in Canada, something the EK 10a victims never had,” they said.

Oberlander and his wife Margaret arrived in Quebec City in May 1954. They settled among the large German community of Kitchener-Waterloo.

In 1958, he founded Oberlander Construction Ltd. Initially focused on building additions to schools and gas stations, then houses. From houses, it branched out into apartments, placing around 1,000 rental units in KW, Woodstock, Stratford, and Guelph in the mid-1960s, when it went from construction to development.

Oberlander’s firm was behind Waterloo’s most ambitious residential subdivisions: Lakeshore Village.

Oberlander Construction thrived in the rapidly growing postwar economy. He had two daughters and obtained Canadian citizenship in 1960.

As he became a community leader, the RCMP Security Service quietly built a file on Oberlander’s war activities. They opened a file on Oberlander in May 1963 when Foreign Affairs alerted the Mounties to news reports describing Oberlander’s involvement in shooting Jews. At that time, the RCMP collected information on suspected war criminals, but did not initiate investigations.

In the early 1980s, Ottawa wanted to identify immigrants who had concealed their Nazi past in order to obtain visas, strip them of their citizenship, and deport them. The RCMP opened more than 200 investigations.

The RCMP described Oberlander as its most promising case.

Those investigations were interrupted by the appointment of the Commission of Inquiry into War Criminals in 1985, the Deschenes Commission. It also concluded that Oberlander should lose his citizenship and be deported for hiding his membership in the Einsatzgruppen.

No one had a clue this was happening to one of the most prominent members of the Kitchener-Waterloo community. The Deschenes Commission did not identify the people it investigated. The Waterloo Region Registry obtained Oberlander’s files from the commission and the RCMP using the federal Access to Information Act.

Oberlander first hired attorneys in the fall of 1986 and sent them to a closed-door hearing at the Deschenes Commission in Toronto. In March 1987, the commission’s final report included Oberlander among 29 cases singled out for special attention due to the seriousness of the allegations and the availability of evidence.

Only a small circle of people connected with the commission knew about Oberlander’s past and it remained that way for another eight years. During that time, Ottawa tried to prosecute four Nazi war criminals in Canada, but failed to achieve a conviction. In 1995 it adopted the strategy of revocation and deportation of citizenship. It was then that Ottawa publicly announced that it was going after Oberlander.

“I will fight this case until death do us part, or until I run out of money and have to put a mortgage on my house, whichever comes first,” he said in a May 2000 interview with a reporter for The Record.

In September of this year, Oberlander’s attorneys advocated for a temporary or permanent stay of proceedings at his deportation hearing, citing his health. The member of the Immigration Division who heard his case reserved his decision.

More to come.

Terry Pender is a reporter for The Record in the Waterloo region. Contact him by email: [email protected]


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