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Henry Srebrnik
Born in Poland, raised in Montreal, education in Boston and Birmingham, and residing in Charlottetown, Henry Srebrnik is a professor of political science at the University of Prince Edward Island. He teaches comparative politics, and his scholarly expertise is the history of the 20th-century Jewish Communist movement. Writing about 100 op-ed pieces per year in addition to his academic work, Dr. Srebrnik is a valued contributor to the PAH.

Chrystia Freeland and the complexities of history

On March 8, the Globe and Mail reported that “Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland has known for more than two decades that her maternal Ukrainian grandfather was the chief editor of a Nazi newspaper in Nazi-occupied Poland.”

Her grandfather, Michael Chomiak, was a Nazi propagandist for Krakivski Visti (Crakow News), supervised by German intelligence officer Emil Gassert. Its printing presses and offices were confiscated by the Germans from a Jewish publisher, who was later murdered at the Belzec concentration camp.

The paper was a mouthpiece for the Nazi regime, circulated among ethnic Ukrainians living under the “Generalgouvernement” of Hans Frank, Hitler’s Governor-General of the occupied Polish territories.

That area of Poland, known as Galicia, had been contested between Germans, Poles, Russians, and Ukrainians over the decades, and Hitler was playing them off against each other. But it doesn’t excuse collaboration with the Nazis – though some Chomiaks defenders are using that excuse to portray his as simply a Ukrainian nationist defending his own people.

What are the sources for the information that Freeland’s grandfather worked for the Nazis? No, it isn’t something cooked up in Moscow.

The Ukraine Archival Records held by the Province of Alberta has a whole file on Chomiak, including his own details about his days editing the newspaper Krakivski Visti.

Chomiak noted he edited the paper first in Crakow, Poland and then in Vienna, after he had to flee with his Nazis colleagues as the Russians advanced into Poland.

Yet as of March 7, Freeland was falsely claiming this story was Russian disinformation, even though she had helped edit the monograph Krakivski Visti and the Jews, 1943, written by her uncle John Paul Himka, a professor emeritus at the University of Alberta, and published in the Journal of Ukrainian Studies in 1996.

All of my family in Europe was killed by the Nazis and their collaborators, and I don’t appreciate being told that this story is simply about “Vladimir Putin trying to make Chrystia Freeland look bad.”

Minister of Public Safety Ralph Goodale, a day earlier, had the gall to claim that Canada has to be “alert” to these Russian tactics.

The Globe and Mail also reported that an official in Freeland’s office had denied the minister’s grandfather was a Nazi collaborator.

All of my family in Europe was killed by the Nazis and their collaborators, and I don’t appreciate being told that this story is simply about “Vladimir Putin trying to make Chrystia Freeland look bad.” (And by the way, my own parents were freed from a Nazi concentration camp by the Red Army in 1945.)

You can’t reduce this to the simple Russian skulduggery known as kompromat– after all, the story is true! And as Richard Nixon found out, it’s the cover-up that kills you.

Freeland, as soon as she entered politics, should have known this would eventually emerge and should have “got ahead of the story,” as they say.

Freeland lied about this and should now condemn what happened. Her grandfather ran a Nazi newspaper not that far from the Auschwitz death camp where millions perished.

Just pooh-poohing it as Putin propaganda is like saying the Holocaust is no big deal when a Trudeau cabinet minister is involved! Even Marine Le Pen kicked out her own anti-Semitic father from the National Front.

The Jewish community won’t see this as something minor. Freeland’s grandfather was part of the machine that murdered six million Jews. It’s not “ancient history.”

Also, although clearly no one blames her, or even her mother, both born after the war, for what happened in wartime Cracow, she did obviously imbibe very hostile views of the Russians, as was no doubt the case of many of the refugees that fled Ukraine as the Soviets reconquered it.

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More from the PAH:

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by Adam Wilson

How to press reset between NATO and Russia?
by Vincent Huston

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It’s important to remember that the problem isn’t that her grandfather was a Nazi collaborator– she can’t, obviously, be blamed for this– but that she defended him, while knowing the truth.

“My maternal grandparents fled western Ukraine after Hitler and Stalin signed their non-aggression pact in 1939,” she has stated. But Chomiak did not flee in 1939. He moved to Cracow, the capital of the Nazi Generalgouvernement, to become editor of a virulently anti-Semitic pro-Nazi paper, and remained a collaborator until the end of the war.

And today’s Kyiv government, which she lauds, is, in my mind, in some ways a continuation of that ideology.


The Prince Arthur Herald
Photo credit: Flickr.