Courts Rule to Reinstate Citizenship of Former Nazi Death Squad Member

Helmut Oberlander at age 17 worked as a interpreter for the Einsatzkommando 10a. The group of mobile killing squads targeted Jewish people. Source: CIJA

92-year-old Helmut Oberlander of Waterloo, Ontario, is accused of being a member of a Nazi death squad. The Canadian government is trying to revoke his citizenship. They argue that he failed to disclose his activities in World War II when he obtained his citizenship.

His lawyer, Barbara Jackman, has maintained that Oberlander was forced to work for the Nazis. The Canadian Supreme Court has ruled that it will not hear the government’s appeal of a lower court’s decision telling the government to reinstate his citizen status.

“Now it goes back to the governor in council to make a decision to consider again, for the fourth time, whether to take away the citizenship of a man who was involved in the war against his will and who did not commit war crimes,” Jackman said.

Oberlander was born in Halbstadt, Ukraine in 1924. When he was 17, he worked as an interpreter for Einsatzkommando 10a. The group of mobile killing squads targeted Jewish people.

He obtained his Canadian citizenship in 1960 and worked in the Waterloo area as a building developer. The government has revoked Oberlander’s citizenship three times. The first time was in 1995. He has remained in the country awaiting the outcome of the legal proceedings.

The government’s stance is that Oberlander obtained his citizenship by hiding his activities in the war and therefore is not entitled to that citizenship. His lawyer maintains that Oberlander was forced to participate in the war and that her client did not participate in any war crimes, therefore his activities are not pertinent to citizenship.

The court’s rulings hinge on a 2013 case, Ezokola v. Canada, in which it was ruled that guilt by association is not enough. The burden of proof is on the government to prove that the person contributed to a crime or a criminal organization.

In that case, a former diplomat of the Democratic Republic of Congo had been denied citizenship status because he served the government while it was involved in atrocities including genocide and recruitment of child soldiers.

Jackman said that this means the government must prove that Oberlander was complicit in the war crimes they accuse him of committing. Back in April, Jewish groups asked the government to continue working to remove Oberlander from the country.

“Mr. Oberlander was a member of Einsatzkommando 10a, a Nazi mobile killing unit responsible for the murder of tens of thousands of Jews,” Shimon Koffler Fogel, CEO of the Canadian Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs said. “He lied on his citizenship application and gained access to Canada fraudulently. Based on these facts, neither of which are in dispute, he should be deported.”

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE