Victims of communism memorial received donations honouring fascists, Nazi collaborators, according to website
Fundraiser says the list of names to be included on the monument has not been finalized
A controversial monument being built in Ottawa to honour victims of communist regimes has received donations in honour of known fascists and Nazi collaborators, according to a list posted online by the organization spearheading the project.
The Memorial to the Victims of Communism is being financed partly through a "buy-a-brick" campaign called Pathways to Liberty, which is run by the registered charity Tribute to Liberty.
The campaign sells "virtual bricks" that appear on the organization's website and in their newsletter. The bricks are dedicated to alleged victims of communism and include biographical notes about the individuals being commemorated.
But some donors seem to be attempting to sanitize the records of known fascists and war criminals.
An organization calling itself the General Committee of United Croats of Canada purchased virtual bricks dedicated to Ante Pavelić, describing him only as a "doctor of laws."
Pavelić was the wartime leader of the Ustaša, the fascist organization that ran the Independent State of Croatia, a Nazi puppet regime. In this role, Pavelić was the chief perpetrator of the Holocaust in the Balkans. Approximately 32,000 Jews, 25,000 Roma and 330,000 Serbs were murdered by the regime.
If Canada commemorates Ante Pavelić or Roman Shukhevych,it can throw its human rights record right in the trash.- Efraim Zuroff, Simon Wiesenthal Centre
The same organization purchased a brick dedicated to Mile Budak, whom they identified simply as a "poet". Budak was also a high-ranking Ustaša official.
References to Budak and Pavelić have been removed from the Tribute to Liberty website.
It's not clear whether the donations were returned; when asked, Ludwik Klimkowski, Tribute to Liberty's chair, said it would be "premature" to comment. Another Ustaša official, Ivan Oršanić, remains listed on the site.
An organization calling itself the Knightly Order of Vitéz purchased five bricks. "Several members of the order actively participated in the persecution, despoliation and, in 1944, the deportation of the Hungarian Jews," said László Karsai, a professor of history at the University of Szeged.
Vitéz members included high-ranking members of the Nazi-puppet government established late in the war, which organized the deportation of some 437,000 Hungarian Jews. "It was the biggest, fastest deportation action of the Holocaust," said Karsai. "Several tens of thousands of Vitéz members got large lands (from) Jewish properties."
The League of Ukrainian Canadians' Edmonton Branch, meanwhile, purchased five virtual bricks in honour of Roman Shukhevych — who led the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) during the Second World War and was responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of Belarusians, Jews, Poles and Ukrainians.
Orest Steciw, executive director of the League of Ukrainian Canadians, told CBC News that while his organization did sponsor bricks for the monument, he cannot name the individuals to whom they were dedicated because he was not the executive director at the time.
"If Canada commemorates Ante Pavelić or Roman Shukhevych," said Efraim Zuroff, a noted Nazi-hunter and the director of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre in Jerusalem, "it can throw its human rights record right in the trash."
'They remember what they want to remember'
The UPA was the armed wing of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists-Bandera faction (OUN-b). Per Anders Rudling, a historian at Lund University in Sweden who has written critically about Shukhevych, said devotees of this "Nazi collaborator" have been working to rehabilitate his image.
"While Shukhevych (and the OUN-b) were antisemitic and totalitarian, most of his admirers today are not," Rudling told CBC News. "They remember what they want to remember — a sanitized, whitewashed image of a heroic officer.
"Shukhevych was a Nazi collaborator and ethnic cleanser. The units under his command massacred Jews and Poles.
"A monument to the victims of communism is fair and legitimate. Millions of people were murdered by Stalin and Mao, and there is a case to be made for their commemoration. It is peculiar, however, that people who committed genocide are being glorified along with those legitimate victims."
Klimkowski wouldn't comment on the specific names listed on the charity's website.
He said that questions about the individuals being commemorated "are premature" since Tribute to Liberty and the Department of Canadian Heritage are still reviewing the final list of names to be included on the memorial itself. Klimkowski said that process should be finished by December of this year.
Canadian Heritage, meanwhile, said that it's reviewing the list of names proposed for the monument itself — not the names listed on the charity's website.
A troubled project
The Victims of Communism memorial project has been beset by problems. The project originally was supposed to cost $1.5 million, to be drawn exclusively from private donations, but the amount of money raised in the early years of the project was so low it barely covered Tribute to Liberty's operating expenses.
In 2013, the Harper government pledged $1.5 million to the project, a figure that increased to $3 million by 2014. By the end of 2014, the project's budget had ballooned to $5.5 million, with a taxpayer contribution of $4.3 million.
The Royal Architectural Institute of Canada initiated a court challenge of the project, arguing that the National Capital Commission (NCC) violated its own procedures on public consultation and the rules set out in the National Capital Act. A poll from the spring of 2015 found that a majority of Canadians — including nearly two-thirds of self-identified conservatives — opposed the initial project.
A NCC spokesperson said the estimated total cost of the monument is now $7.5 million, with $6 million coming from the federal government after Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland included an additional $4 million in this spring's budget to complete the monument.
High-level political support
The monument has received letters of support from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, former Green party leader Elizabeth May, former NDP leader Tom Mulcair and former federal justice minister Irwin Cotler.
Former prime minister Stephen Harper purchased several commemorative bricks, as did Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, who was the project's champion while in Harper's cabinet. Sen. Linda Frum is listed on the monument's donors page as a legacy donor, having committed over $100,000.
Initially, the Wall of Remembrance was supposed to feature the names of 1,000 victims of communism, but by the end of 2015 a list of only 300 or so names had been compiled. The department said it is now looking at a list of 600 names for possible inclusion in the memorial.
Canadian Heritage hired Carleton University historian Michael Petrou to review those 600 names, but not the names listed on Tribute to Liberty's website or in its newsletters. Petrou told CBC News there is overlap between the list of names for the monument and the list on the website.
Identifying the collaborators
Petrou filed his report to the department back in the spring. He said he red-flagged the names of individuals in that list of 600 who collaborated with the Nazis or were associated with fascist organizations that were active in Eastern Europe and the Balkans during the Second World War.
Petrou said he also flagged names of individuals who could not reasonably be described as "victims of communism."
The Pathways to Liberty list seems to embrace a very broad definition of "victims of communism" that extends to other apparent victims of political violence and veterans of Cold War era conflicts.
The list on the website also includes people who don't seem to be victims of persecution by communist regimes — such as Tara Singh Hayer, a Sikh journalist and activist assassinated in Vancouver in 1998, and Jagat S. Uppal, a successful B.C. businessman who was one of the first Sikhs to attend public school in Vancouver.
Tribute to Liberty's website and newsletter say that the Pathways to Liberty project features stories about victims of communism, while the Wall of Remembrance will display the names of victims and survivors of communist regimes.
"... Visitors will see names ranging from donors' own names or those of their ancestors to the names of historical figures and events that are important to these donors," says a statement from Canadian Heritage, which declined a request for an interview. "These names will be linked to a planned website to be developed and hosted by Tribute to Liberty that will share the stories of these individuals, groups and events."
Donations to monument closed now, says treasurer
The Tribute to Liberty website indicates that it is still seeking $1,000 donations in exchange for official commemoration on the wall itself and on the website. A link on the charity's website labelled 'donate today' leads to PayPal and an auto-loaded $1,000 donation.
But Tribute to Liberty's treasurer Alide Forstmanis said donations to the wall are no longer being accepted and the organization is only accepting $200 donations for virtual bricks now.
Klimkowski said in an email that Tribute to Liberty's fundraising was finished by the end of 2017 and that all the necessary funding was forwarded to the NCC, which is overseeing construction of the monument. A spokesperson for the NCC indicated that Tribute to Liberty sent $1 million in 2017 and another $500,000 in 2018, and has not transferred any additional funds.
'A broader effort to distort the history of the Holocaust'
Zuroff said he's alarmed by efforts to present wartime Nazi collaborators as anti-Communist patriots.
"From the beginning of their renewed independence, following the breakup of the Soviet Union, almost all the governments of Eastern Europe — and nationalist elements in diaspora communities — have promoted the canard of equivalency between the crimes of the Third Reich and those of Communism as part of a broader effort to distort the history of the Holocaust and the Second World War," he said.
Some war memorials in Canada have inspired controversy over their ties to wartime collaborators. A cenotaph dedicated to the veterans of the Waffen-SS 'Galicia Division' in an Oakville cemetery made headlines last year when Halton Region police opened a hate crimes investigation after the monument was defaced.
A bust of Roman Shukhevych outside the Ukrainian Youth Unity Complex in Edmonton was tagged with the words ''Nazi scum" in late 2019. Because it was suggested that the act may have been motivated by hatred toward an identifiable group, the Hate Crime and Violent Extremism Unit of the Edmonton Police was tasked with investigating, although it ultimately concluded the vandalism didn't meet the standard of a hate crime.