Irving Abella lecture confronts war criminals

by Mark Reynolds

Canada is a haven for hundreds of war criminals, and there is no sign that this will change anytime soon, according to Irving Abella.

Abella is a professor of Canadian and Jewish history at York University, and the author of several highly regarded books, including None is Too Many, which revealed the Canadian government's deliberate attempts to keep Jews out of Canada before and during the Second World War.

Abella said in a lecture last term that indifference and willful blindness have made Canada what some have called the Argentina of the North in dealing with war criminals.

In the years just after WWII, the Canadian government was more concerned with the Cold War than with the prosecution of war criminals, he said. If one could prove that one was a confirmed anti-Communist -- even if this meant showing SS tattoos -- one could get into Canada. "What was most distressing about my research is that Canada actively encouraged some war criminals to come to this country," Abella said. Like Britain and the United States, Canada recruited scientists who had worked for the Third Reich to come to Canada to boost our own research capabilities, in a project known as Operation Matchbox.

According to Abella, of the 71 scientists brought to Canada in Operation Matchbox, 61 have turned out to be known or suspected war criminals. Not until American activist Steve Rambam came to Canada in the 1990s did the government put any serious effort into finding war criminals.

"Steve Rambam found more war criminals in a few months than the RCMP did in 50 years," Abella said. The problem is that since most of these criminals came into the country legitimately, there are profound legal difficulties in getting them back out. Also, immigration records from the period have been destroyed, making evidence-gathering difficult.

Abella was in Montreal at the invitation of the Institute for Canadian Jewish Studies. The Institute, housed in the Religious Studies Department, has scheduled a series of talks on issues relating to Jewish identity, including the inaugural lecture by Dr. Norman Ravvin, holder of the new Chair in Canadian Jewish Studies, on January 18 at 8 p.m., in Room 767 of the Hall Building.

Copyright 2000 Concordia's Thursday Report.