The Speaker of Canada’s House of Commons has apologized for recognizing a man who allegedly fought for a Nazi military unit during the Second World War.
Anthony Rota called 98-year-old Yaroslav Hunka “a Ukrainian-Canadian World War II veteran who fought for Ukrainian independence against the Russians” and “a Ukrainian hero and a Canadian hero.”
Lawmakers in Canada’s parliament then gave Hunka a standing ovation, prompting him to smile and give a thumbs up.
Rota subsequently apologized when it emerged that Hunka had served in a division of the Nazi SS during the war, according to the Jewish advocacy group Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center.
They called Rota’s warm introduction “shocking” and “incredibly disturbing” and said an apology had been issued to Holocaust survivors and veterans.
Rota, a Liberal MP, apologized on Sunday, saying he “later became aware of more information” that made him “regret” his recognition of Hunka.
The speaker’s address had come later Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky gave an impassioned speech to Canada’s House of Commons.
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Yaroslav Hunka, right, awaits the arrival of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in the House of Commons in Ottawa on Friday. The Speaker of Canada’s House of Commons apologized Sunday for recognizing Hunka, who fought for a Nazi military unit during World War II
The apology, sent out in a statement on Sunday, came from Anthony Rota (right) – who said he only just became aware that Hunka, 98, had served in a Nazi unit. Also present were Justin Trudeau and Zelensky, who, according to the speaker, were also unaware of the veteran’s history
After Rota praised Hunka, Canadian MPs cheered and Zelensky, who is Jewish and lost family members in the Holocaust, raised his fist in recognition as the veteran saluted from the stands.
Both Zelensky and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took part in the ensuing standing ovations.
The Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center said Sunday that Rota’s comments “ignore the horrific fact that Hunka served in the 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS, a Nazi military unit whose crimes against humanity during the Holocaust are well documented.”
They added: “An apology is owed to every Holocaust survivor and World War II veteran who fought the Nazis, and an explanation must be given as to how this individual entered the hallowed halls of Canada’s parliament and recognition received from the President of the Second World War. House and a standing ovation.’
Rota, 62, said in his statement yesterday: ‘In my remarks following the speech of the President of Ukraine, I recognized a person in the stands.
‘I subsequently became aware of more information that made me regret my decision to do so.’
He continued to insist that it was his idea to honor Hunka.
“This initiative was entirely my own… I would especially like to offer my deepest apologies to the Jewish communities in Canada and around the world,” he said.
Hunka could not immediately be reached for comment.
Afterwards, lawmakers gave Hunka a standing ovation after Chairman Rota drew attention to him. In response, the elderly ex-Third Reich supporter was seen waving a thumbs up and smiling at some of Canada’s most important figures. He has not yet commented on the apparent confusion
After Zelensky delivered a speech in the House of Commons on Friday, Canadian lawmakers gave Hunka a standing ovation — after Rota drew attention to the senior by hailing him as both a “Canadian (and) Ukrainian hero”
The Ukrainian politician’s visit came as part of the two countries’ ongoing alliance against Russia, and after he secured a multimillion-dollar aid package from the US last year.
Members of Parliament from all parties stood to applaud Hunka. A Conservative Party spokesperson said the party was not aware of his history at the time
A statement on behalf of Mr. Trudeau said: “This was the right thing to do.
“No prior notification was given to the Prime Minister’s Office, nor to the Ukrainian delegation, about the invitation or the recognition,” the prime minister’s team said.
The Ukrainian president had been in Ottawa to drum up even more support from Western allies for his country’s war against Russia.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly described Ukrainian troops as neo-Nazis.
Canadian lawmakers cheered and Zelensky raised his fist in recognition as Hunka saluted from the stands during two separate standing ovations – performed by almost everyone in attendance, including Trudeau and an unwitting Zelensky
Zelensky, meanwhile, is Jewish and has lost family members in the Holocaust, but has yet to comment on the enormous confusion
The First Ukrainian Division was also known as the Waffen-SS Galicia Division or the SS 14th Waffen Division, a volunteer unit commanded by the Nazis.
The Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies issued a statement Sunday saying the division was “responsible for the mass murder of innocent civilians at a level of cruelty and malice that is unimaginable.”
“An apology is owed to every Holocaust survivor and World War II veteran who fought the Nazis, and an explanation must be given as to how this individual entered the hallowed halls of Canada’s Parliament and gained recognition from the Speaker of the House of Representatives and a standing ovation,” the statement said.
Michael Mostyn, the CEO of B’nai Brith Canada, said it was “beyond outrageous” that Parliament honored Hunka.
He said Ukrainian “ultra-nationalist ideologues” who volunteered for the Galicia division “dreamed of an ethnically homogeneous Ukrainian state and endorsed the idea of ethnic cleansing.”