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By John Helmer, Moscow

The Polish government is dragging its feet, closing its eyes, and covering its mouth over prosecution of Ukrainian war crimes against Poles, Jews, and Russians during the German war of 1939 to 1945.  

Officials reveal they are reluctant to pursue the Canadian Ukrainian Yaroslav Hunka (lead image, right) for war crimes against Poles and Jews between 1943 and 1945, when Hunka was a volunteer in the German-led SS unit, the SS Waffen Grenadier Galician Division. After it was routed by the Red Army at the Battle of Brody in July 1944, Hunka and the survivors fled southwest where the German SS command re-formed them in a new unit called the SS 14th Grenadier Division; later the 1st Ukrainian Division,  which in May 1945 surrendered to the British Army.  But not before the Ukrainians had operated against the anti-German partisans of Slovakia, Yugoslavia, and Austria, where  investigations have identified more of their war crimes.*   

There is also more to the Polish government’s reluctance. It is a combination of misinformation, deliberate inaction, and camouflage to pacify Jewish communities in the US, Israel and Canada;  satisfy the Ukrainian diaspora of Canada led by Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland (lead image, left); and mislead Polish voters who go to the polls in ten days’ time.

The four Polish officials responsible for this deceit are the former prime minister Beata Szydlo; the current minister of education Przemysław Czarnek; the chief archivist and spokesman for the Institute of National Remembrance (IPN) Rafał Leśkiewicz, who is also an adviser to Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki; and Poland’s ambassador to Canada in Ottawa, Witold Dzielski.

Despite their public statements about the Hunka case, they are Russia haters, proponents of the war against Russia, and defenders of the Ukrainian leader Vladimir Zelensky.

To obscure the contradiction between what the four have said publicly after Hunka was saluted by Zelensky and the Canadian parliament on September 22, and what they have done behind the scenes with senior officials in Warsaw, they are now covering up what Polish, British, Yugoslav, and Russian records already expose of Hunka’s wartime actions, along with those of the Galician units in which he participated.  

Cynically, the four Poles are proposing to request information and assistance from the two sources certain not to provide it,  the Canadian and Ukrainian governments; and make promises to the Polish media certain that journalists will ask no further questions.

It was past midnight on Saturday morning, September 23, when the news of Zelensky’s speech and the Canadian parliament salute to Hunka first reached Warsaw. Szydlo was first to respond publicly after she had eaten her lunch on Monday afternoon.  

She had been the Law and Justice (PiS) party’s prime minister between 2015 and 2017, after succeeding Mateusz Morawiecki. He then succeeded her and remains in the job. But Morawiecki made no response himself to the news from Ottawa.  Speaking at an election rally on the Friday, September 22, before the House of Commons session started in Ottawa, Morawiecki had told Polish voters: “I want to tell President Zelensky never to insult Poles again, as he did recently during his speech at the UN.”    Morawiecki then took time off from the Ukrainians over his weekend.

So did the Polish President, Andrzej Duda. Two days before the Ottawa events, he had told a London newspaper that “Ukraine is behaving like a drowning person clinging to anything available. A drowning person is extremely dangerous, capable of pulling you down to the depths … simply drown the rescuer. We have the right to defend ourselves against harm being done to us.”    Duda was hitting at Ukrainian dumping of farm products in Poland, which is an acute grievance among the farmers of eastern Poland where the PiS draws its majority voter support.

The next day, Friday morning, Duda softened on the Ukrainians. “I have no doubt, “ he now claimed, “that the dispute over the supply of grain from Ukraine to the Polish market is an absolute fragment of the entire Polish-Ukrainian relations. I don’t believe that it can have a significant impact on them, so we need to solve this matter between us.”  

On Sunday, Polish Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau spent his sabbath attacking the Germans, the bigger traditional enemies of Poland, not the lesser Ukrainians.  At a meeting with Polish businessmen he attacked Chancellor Olaf Scholz for publicizing the innuendo that the government in Warsaw has been corruptly granting visas to Ukrainian refugees to induce them to  move out of Poland and on to Germany.  “The competence of the German Chancellor clearly does not concern the ongoing proceedings in Poland,” Rau said. “Statements in this regard indicate an attempt to interfere in the internal affairs of the Polish state and the ongoing electoral campaign in Poland.”  

Between themselves,  the president, prime minister, and foreign minister had decided not to say anything on Hunka. Szydlo, it was agreed, would speak instead; that’s to say, tweet once.   

She claimed the Canadian MPs didn’t know what they were doing in their standing ovations for Hunka, Zelensky likewise.  “Canadian politicians – though it doesn’t speak well of them – may not have known who they were applauding. But did the Ukrainian president not guess what a 98-year-old ‘Ukrainian hero’ was doing during World War II? Perhaps President @ZelenskyyUa didn’t notice the problem, just as he didn’t pay much attention to the increasingly widespread cult in Ukraine of WWII Ukrainian formations collaborating with Nazi Germany. In recent months, Ukrainians have fought bravely against Russia and seemed to have new heroes. I hope that Ukrainian identity will not be built on a foundation of red and black tradition.”

Applause by @ZelenskyyUa and @JustinTrudeau of an SS Galizien veteran in the Canadian parliament is part of a broader problem. Canadian politicians – though it doesn’t speak well of them – may not have known who they were applauding. But did the Ukrainian president not guess what a 98-year-old “Ukrainian hero” was doing during World War II?

Perhaps President @ZelenskyyUa didn’t notice the problem, just as he didn’t pay much attention to the increasingly widespread cult in Ukraine of WWII Ukrainian formations collaborating with Nazi Germany.

In recent months, Ukrainians have fought bravely against Russia and seemed to have new heroes. I hope that Ukrainian identity will not be built on a foundation of red and black traditio
Source: https://twitter.com/

Przemysław Czarnek, the PiS party’s minister of education, followed a day later on Tuesday.  “In view of the scandalous events in the Canadian Parliament, which involved honouring, in the presence of President Zelensky, a member of the criminal Nazi SS Galician formation, I have taken steps towards the possible extradition of this man to Poland,” Czarnek wrote in a mid-morning tweet.

Source: https://twitter.com/

Czarnek attached a letter he had just written to the head of the Institute of Public Remembrance (IPN is the Polish acronym):

That was the first step Czarnek took on the Hunka case. It was also his last; he hasn’t mentioned the issue again publicly. Czarnek has also said nothing about the Ukraine war or Ukrainians during the election campaign. He has concentrated instead on winning voter sentiment against  Russia which Czarnek equates with Marxism and atheism.  “Marxism is unfortunately taking over universities in Poland, including the University of Warsaw,” he has announced in the case of a student reprimanded for electioneering for the PiS. “If [this student] were a member of the Left’s youth wing, he would be honoured with medals by these Marxists for expressing his views. This is the problem of today’s world in the academic sphere.” Czarnek has also attacked Polish academics who have published the historical evidence of Polish collaboration in the killing of Polish Jews.  

“Poland will either be Christian or it will not exist,” Czarnek added the week before the Ottawa episode. By this Czarnek meant to establish Polish credentials as crusaders against godlessness to its west and also to the east. “Those who today not only throw off Christian values, but fight against them, are trying to forcefully throw out the key to understanding Polishness…[Poland’s survival as] “a great, strong nation between Russia and Germany…If there were only those among us who cut off – who sawed off – Christianity, we would probably be speaking Russian or German today”.  

Przemysław Czarnek at a seminarian ceremony on September 10. Source: https://notesfrompoland.com/

To avoid offending Jews, Czarnek then promoted the memory of Polish Christians who were murdered by the Germans for trying to shield and hide their Jewish neighbours during the war.

Source: https://twitter.com/

To Czarnek’s letter to IPN, there was a prompt reply from Rafał Leśkiewicz, the Institute’s spokesman. On September 27, he said  “the [IPN] prosecutor will take steps to obtain foreign legal assistance to obtain information on Hunka…The request is to be addressed to the Canadian authorities. He recalled that there is no doubt that Hunka, upon entering Canada, had to provide information about himself to immigration authorities. Leskiewicz added that Hunka’s case is reminiscent of that of Ivan Demyaniuk, a Ukrainian guard at the German camps at Treblinka, Sobibor, Flossenburg and Majdanek, who fled to the US after the war and was deported to Germany and later tried and convicted.”

Following the Ottawa salute to Hunka, Leśkiewicz claimed an investigation is under way of the role of the Galician division, and of Hunka’s unit, in the murder of more than 800 Poles at Huta  Pieniacka. “This investigation is being conducted by the Branch Commission of Crimes against the Polish Nation in Cracow. The crime of February 28, 1944 was the largest crime committed by the SS Galizien.”  

Leśkiewicz is a historian who has worked at the IPN for more than twenty years; he headed the IPN archives since 2010.  He then directed the computerisation of the Institute’s files in 2016. With rapid access to these, Leśkiewicz and his subordinates may already know what Galician division units were at Huta Pieniacka. In a telephone interview, he said some of the IPN files are digitised; many are not. “Are you sure Hunka is his real name?” he said. “We are not,” adding that for checking this and other details the IPN investigation “will last some weeks.”

In the press briefing the IPN spokesman gave, he added that “soldiers of the formation in which Hunka served are also suspected of committing crimes in Iwonicz, Chodaczkowo Wielki, Prehoryłe and Smoligów. He added that the purpose of analysing dozens of volumes of files is to check whether Hunka’s name appears in them. Dr. Leśkiewicz emphasized that these actions were taken immediately after receiving information about Jarosław Hunka and the greeting for him with an ovation by the Canadian parliament and President Zelensky.”  

“Regardless of these analyses, the prosecutor will take action to obtain foreign legal assistance in order to obtain information about Hunka. The request is to be addressed to the Canadian authorities. He recalled that Hunka undoubtedly had to provide information about himself to the immigration authorities when he entered Canada. Leśkiewicz added that the case of Hunka resembles the case of Ivan Demjanjuk, a Ukrainian guard in the German camps in Treblinka, Sobibór, Flossenburg and Majdanek, who fled to the US after the war and was deported to Germany, and then tried and convicted. The IPN spokesman added that other directions of archival research concerning Hunka are also being analysed. Perhaps information about him is in the Ukrainian archives. Recently, as part of legal assistance, Ukrainians gave us documents concerning the crime in Huta Pieniacka. The investigation documents have already been supplemented with these materials.”

According to this statement by Leśkiewicz, the IPN in Warsaw and the Cracow branch are looking to Canada and the Ukraine for information. They are not acknowledging that the most detailed and comprehensive files on Hunka and the other members of the Galician division which surrendered to the British Army in May 1945, are in the UK.

 The British “Rimini List”, for example, is the alphabetical roll of every Ukrainian in the prisoner-of-war camp run near Rimini, Italy, from 1945 and 1947.    The Rimini List is still classified as a British state secret.  Even more secret are the records of the combined services interrogation units and the subsequent recruitment of Ukrainians for anti-Soviet operations by the British Secret Intelligence Service (MI6).  Hunka was under British guard and control from May 1945 until 1954, when he emigrated to Canada; the British files on Hunka are likely to be more thorough than the Canadian and Ukrainian papers. In Warsaw Leśkiewicz said by telephone he is not himself familiar with the Rimini List or the British files on the Galician division and Hunka. Until now there has been no IPN contact with the UK authorities, he said. “I don’t know exactly the plan of the prosecutors. It is secret.”  

IPN has been particularly supportive of the Canadian military since the special military operation began in February of 2022. Eight months later, in October 2022, an IPN delegation paid an official visit to the Royal Canadian Military Institute to plan “the mission, aims and goals of the two institutions and a discussion on possible future forms of cooperation.”   

The IPN director, Karol Nawrocki, is as anti-Russian, and in favour of the war, as the rest of the PiS government and the NATO allies. “Though weakened and impoverished by the fall of the Evil Empire,” Nawrocki wrote in an essay published on the IPN website on September 19, “Moscow has not stopped seeing Poland and most of our neighbours as part of its sphere of influence. In this respect, the current geopolitical visions of Putin’s criminal regime hardly differ from the Red dictators’ superpower assumptions in the Soviet era. As someone who firmly believes in the role of history as a teacher of life, I find this lesson particularly relevant today.”  The title of Nawrocki’s piece is “Three centuries under the Russian bayonet”.  

At the Foreign Ministry in Warsaw, Rau decided to limit official reaction to the Ottawa salute for Hunka to a script prepared for the Polish ambassador, Witold Dzielski, to make public in English. Witold received his orders from Warsaw over Sunday night, and in the early morning of  Monday, Ottawa time, he issued a tweet. He told the Canadian government he “expected[ed] an apology”. This was several hours before Szydlo issued her semi-official tweet for Polish  consumption.

Source: https://twitter.com/

There has been no further tweet on the Hunka affair from the ambassador since then.

Instead, Dzielski gave three Canadian media interviews, starting on September 25 with the state organ, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC).  By then House Speaker Anthony Rota had issued his Sunday apology, taking “full responsibility” for inviting Hunka to the House session with Zelensky. “In my remarks following the address of the President of Ukraine,” Rota announced, “I recognised an individual in the gallery. I have subsequently become aware of more information which causes me to regret my decision to do so. I particularly want to extend my deepest apologies to Jewish communities in Canada and around the world. I accept full responsibility for my actions.”  

This apology had been prepared in advance with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. It wasn’t good  enough for the Poles, Dzielski was told by Warsaw to say – with the qualification that he was not to attack Zelensky or the war against Russia. The “priority is continuously to provide support to Ukraine that is fighting a brutal, horrid oppressor,” the ambassador began his remarks to CBC. “The problem is that it [Rota’s apology] is not complete.”  

Source: https://www.cbc.ca/

Asked what the ambassador wanted Canadians to understand about the Galician division, he said: “I don’t want to go into detail…because this is a difficult element of Polish-Ukrainian history. And I don’t want to allow the Russian trolls to play with our discussion.”   Dzielski went on to say he had spoken earlier that day with Rota. “He apologised, as he did in the public. The meeting was full of understanding, so to speak.” Dzielski added that he supported prosecution of Hunka.

“We need to make sure…er, this is a lesson. It should make us stronger as allies, and it should not stop us in providing support to those who are fighting for freedom, for democracy, and for security of our countries… the Polish people, Polish voters as well, need to understand that we need to remain friends of Ukrainian. This is essential. ”

In his speech Dzielski carefully avoided using Hunka’s name. He also avoided the words German, Nazi, and fascist. He wanted to avoid, he repeated, assisting “Russian trolls”.

Dzielski then spoke to CTV News. He exonerated Zelensky. “[I] cannot imagine” that he understood who he was applauding on Friday. “For me, this is not possible.”  

“This is a person,” the ambassador meant Hunka, not Zelensky, “who participated in an organization that was targeting Poles, was committing mass murders of Poles, not only the military personnel but also civilians. For me, such people should not be present in public life and probably should be prosecuted.” He repeated the point: “That person should not have appeared in any public place, to tell you the truth, due to his history in SS Galicia [he should] face prosecution for what his unit was doing.”

Exactly who should prosecute Hunka, if anyone, Dzielski tried to avoid the next day when he gave his third Canadian press interview.   “I don’t think we’re beginning an extradition process. There was a request of a Polish minister to the Institute of National Remembrance to consider that option. This institution in particular is very important in Poland and its role is to preserve the memory and to investigate crimes against the Polish nation, historically speaking. So, I’m sure this request will be considered at the Institute of National Remembrance, and possible some steps will follow. But at this point, it’s the first steps of the request for the institute to get involved in the process.”  

On September 29 Fakt, a large-circulation Polish tabloid owned by the German Springer group, questioned what IPN was planning to investigate.

Left: Fakt report of September 29. Right, Rafał Leśkiewicz, spokesman for the IPN.

“‘The prosecutor is currently reviewing all the evidence,’ the institute’s spokesman, Dr. Rafał Leśkiewicz, told Fakt. He also explained what the next moves would be. ‘Then we will apply to the Canadian authorities, but also to the Ukrainian authorities for access for us within the framework of international legal assistance to all documents concerning Yaroslav Hunka. There is a high probability that as a member of the SS Galizien he could have participated in actions directed against the Polish underground or civilians in the lands that were part of the Second Polish Republic before 1939,’ emphasises the historian. ‘We want to verify that. We also want to find out what Mr. Jarosław Hunka wrote in his immigration documents when he entered Canada, what facts from his life he gave and whether he wrote the truth.’

‘We are also conducting a query in the archive of the Institute of National Remembrance to verify whether we can find any materials concerning this person in our documents. I hope that soon we will be able to report a little more about what we have been able to find. If it turns out that Jarosław Hunka took part in the massacre that the SS Galizien committed during the pacification of Huta Pieniacka, or took part in committing other crimes, the Institute does not intend to let go.’ When asked how realistic it is to bring a man before a Polish court, taking into account his age, Dr. Leśkiewicz dispels doubts, emphasizing that although it is difficult to determine at the moment how the case will go, such a legal possibility exists.”  

‘In a situation where it turns out that Hunka took part in crimes against Poles, we will make every effort to be able to bring him to Poland and bring him to court. However, we know very well that this is a long-term process. Hunka is 98 years old, but his age here does not prejudge the possibility of charging and bringing him to justice for crimes he may have committed. Anyway, there are examples of sentencing the elderly. At the end of 2022, a former secretary from [concentration camp] Stutthof, 98-year-old Irmgard F. was convicted of aiding and abetting crimes.” 

Not only did Leśkiewicz withhold the full name of Irmgard Furchner,  he omitted to say it was a German court which tried and convicted her, not a Polish court, although the Stutthof concentration camp was near Gdansk, in Poland;  and that in addition to Jews murdered there, many thousands of Poles, Russians,  and other nationalities were also killed.

What other restrictions have been placed on IPN and Polish prosecution Leśkiewicz was asked directly this week. Why is the IPN focusing on the two governments least likely to give up any information about Ukrainian war crimes, the Ukrainian and Canadian governments, when the most extensive records are the British files on the Galician division and Hunka, after they became prisoners of war? “I am sure we will ask the British”, Leśkiewicz said. “We will do it.”

[*] In the September 25 session of the House of Commons which followed the Hunka salute, this is what MP Michelle Rempel Garner said: “the individual in question who was recognised on Friday was part of the division that was used against the Slovak National Uprising, which was the military uprising organized by Slovak resistance movements during World War II, comprising the anti-Nazi political faction of the Slovak nation, which is my heritage.  Units  of this division this man [Hunka] fought with were sent to help squash the Slovak rebellion. Battle groups were formed to actively search out and destroy members of the resistance. According to Slovak historian Karol Fremal, the division's members were helping anti-partisan, repressive and terrorist actions, and they committed murders and other excesses.”  

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