Auxiliary Police and Camp Guards blameless?
The Honourable Anne McLellan, P.C., M.P.
Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada
Room 360, Justice Building
239 Wellington Street
Dear Ms. McLellan:
I wonder if your Justice Department is not too ready to jump to the conclusion that membership in a German Auxiliary Police unit, or in a German Camp Guard detachment, constitutes either collaboration or a war crime. Before attributing culpability to any such membership, perhaps we should first rule out the possibility that the motivation of individuals who joined such units was benevolent and blameless, and that this motivation was neither a sympathy with Nazism, nor a desire to fight the Allies, nor a desire to persecute Jews. Here, for example, is the description of just one such motive for joining German forces — the motive of wishing to oppose the Communist re-occupation of one's country — and, more importantly, a description of how the Nazis frustrated that motive:
Operational Situation Report USSR No. 187|
Until March 20 , about 8,000 men have volunteered for the newly [re]organized Auxiliary Police. However, recruiting has, for the time being, come to a complete standstill ever since the population of Latvia has learned that the volunteers who were previously recruited were not satisfied. This is because they were given faulty weapons and are to be employed for guard duty in the Ukraine, even though at the time of their recruitment they were promised to be used to fight Bolshevism at the front. (Yitzhak Arad, Shmuel Krakowski, and Shmuel Spector, The Einsatzgruppen Reports: Selections from the Dispatches of the Nazi Death Squads' Campaign Against the Jews July 1941-January 1943, Holocaust Library, New York, 1989, p. 321).
What the above statement tells us, then, is that the East European recruits were sometimes, en masse, assigned to tasks other than the ones promised, and that the substitute assignments led to disaffection.
And I remind you also that in addition to such Nazi bait and switch as the above, there was the motivation on the part of many of those same East European young men — sometimes teen-age boys — who found themselves prisoners of war to escape the holocaust of POWs going on around them. For your convenience, I quote again a passage that I have already brought to your attention in my letter to you of 20 Feb 98:
Confident of victory and anxious to eliminate "surplus" Slavs, Nazi authorities herded the prisoners into open-air camps encircled by barbed wire and allowed them to die of exposure, disease, and hunger. Often they simply executed their captives. Consequently, by the end of the war, of the 5.8 million Soviet prisoners who had fallen into German hands, about 3.3 million had perished. About 1.3 million of these fatalities occurred in Ukraine. (Orest Subtelny, Ukraine: A History, University of Toronto Press, Toronto Buffalo London, 1994, p. 468)
If we were to attempt to list the various motives that an East European might have for joining the German armed forces, then we could begin with the following:
(1) Some recruits might be interested in opposing the Communist re-occupation of their country.
(2) POWs might be motivated to escape the holocaust that they could see going on around them of fellow POWs.
(3) Some recruits, as we have just seen above, might be either uninformed or calculatedly misinformed about the duties that would be expected of them once they were in German uniform.
(4) Some recruits might expect their cooperation with German forces to improve treatment of their fellow countrymen — their mothers and fathers, their sisters and brothers, their sons and daughters — who found themselves outside the barbed wire of the POW compound, but nevertheless under German occupation.
(5) Some recruits might expect that the military training they would receive when in German uniform might eventually provide a foundation for a national army that would promote aspirations to statehood or independence.
(6) Some young men were neither recruits nor volunteers, but conscripts, taken away by the Germans at gunpoint.
In view of the existence of many such reasons for volunteering, or for allowing oneself to be conscripted, into the German armed forces, or into uniformed forces under the command of the Germans, and in view of the fact that all of these motivations are blameless, and even noble and commendable, then surely from mere membership in an Auxiliary Police or Camp Guard unit, no inference of war criminality can be drawn, and even the inference of collaboration is a stretch. Surely it is no exaggeration to call such membership a war misdemeanor, one unworthy to be prosecuted at any time, and certainly not after the passage of more than half a century.
As you show no sign of wavering from your course of prosecuting for exactly such war misdemeanors individuals with one foot in the grave (Wasil Bogutin, I understand, is 88), even while genuine war criminals still in their prime probably walk freely among us (see my letters to you of 6 Feb 98 on Japanese war crimes and of 20 Feb 98 on Jewish war crimes), I must ask you again to explain how it is that you feel that you are not in violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, particularly the section concerning Equality Before the Law, particularly the statement "Equality before the law at a minimum requires that no individual or group of individuals be treated more harshly than another under the law" (see my letter to you of 25 Feb 98)?
In the case of the 88-year-old Wasil Bogutin mentioned above, we see still one more non-culpable reason that someone might have for joining a German-sponsored unit: Bogutin's father was Jewish, and his mother engineered his admission into an Auxiliary Police unit in order to afford him a measure of protection against Nazi persecution. Make that a non-culpable motive number (7) to be added to our list above.