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One of the World's Most-Wanted Nazis Just Won a Big Legal Victory

Helmut Oberlander, a former translator and shoe shine boy with an infamous Nazi death squad, will be in Canada for the near future, as a court orders his case reconsidered — again.
Justin Ling
Montreal, CA
Helmut Oberlander

It's been twenty years since Helmut Oberlander's Canadian citizenship was revoked, and he was ordered deported. But he's not heading back home yet.

The 92-year-old's eviction from Canada has been delayed again after winning another victory in a federal courtroom.

A judge ordered the justice system to review Oberlander's case a final time to determine whether he was, in fact, only cooperating with the Nazis under duress, and whether he should be allowed to stay in Canada.


Oberlander was a member of the infamous Einsatzkommando 10a — also known as the Ek 10a — a mobile death squad that operated behind German lines, exterminating Jewish and other civilians.

The decision, handed down last week by an Ottawa judge, is asking the courts to review "the extent to which he made a significant and knowing contribution to the crime or criminal purpose of the Ek 10a."

That's one question that has ping-ponged back and forth between the courts and the government for more than a decade.

"Einsantzkommando10a killed babies, children, women, men and those categorized by the Nazis as being physically or mentally infirmed. If murderers such as Oberlander are not prosecuted, what precedent is set for the future?"

"Mr. Oberlander served with the Ek 10a as an interpreter and an auxiliary," reads a 2009 decision from the Federal Court of Appeal. "In addition to interpreting, he was tasked with finding and protecting food and polishing boots. He lived, ate, travelled and worked full time with the Ek 10a." The Ukrainian-born German then served as an infantryman from 1943 to 1944.

Oberlander joined the Ek 10a around his 17th birthday, and told the court that "he was conscripted and that his participation in Ek 10a was under duress because the penalty for desertion was execution."

The Canadian government, in 1995, moved to revoke his citizenship, arguing that simply by being a member of Ek 10a, Oberlander was guilty enough to warrant the title of 'war criminal.' They also argued that, by not informing the government of his Nazi past when he entered Canada in 1954, he had illegally obtained his Canadian citizenship.


"Translators were critical cogs in the Einsatzgruppen machinery of murder."

Oberlander appealed and, thanks to the government's inaction in the appeal, the order was overturned. Ottawa had his citizenship revoked once more, and ordered him deported, only to have that decision successfully appealed again. The courts held lingering concerns that Oberlander may have only been party to Ek 10a under duress. The government is now in the throes of trying to remove Oberlander for a third time.

However, in 2000, the court found that "there was no conscription of non-Germans to serve with the German army" and that Oberlander, as a Ukrainian citizen, was likely not pressed into service out of fear of death and may have joined voluntarily.

Oberlander's job, as translator, may have also been instrumental in the atrocities committed by the death squad.

"Translators were critical cogs in the Einsatzgruppen [SS death squads] machinery of murder," wrote Bernie Farber Eric Vernon and in the Canadian Jewish News last year. The pair, through the Canadian Jewish Congress, investigated Nazis like Oberlander.

"One can hear the echoes of their voices as they rounded up human targets with local informers and collaborators: ('How many Jews were in this village? Where would they be apt to hide?'); assisted with interrogations ('Where are the others? Do they have weapons?'); and ordered victims to places of execution while maintaining the German obsession over control and order ('Line up over there in front of that ditch. Remove your clothing. Be silent.')"


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The government has never charged Oberlander with a crime, nor have the courts absolved him of guilt in the war crimes he's said to have been party to.

"My guess is he'll live the rest of his life in Canada," Farber told the Toronto Star last month. Given Oberlander's age, and his most recent legal victory, that is looking increasingly likely.

"The last year and a half has been especially tough, since he lost his wife of 62 years to cancer, but he will carry on because he wants to see justice done and wants his good name restored," his daughter told the Toronto Star in January.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Nazi-hunting organization, lists Oberlander as one of the world's most-wanted WWII-era war criminals.

"Einsantzkommando10a killed babies, children, women, men and those categorized by the Nazis as being physically or mentally infirmed," reads a statement from the nazi-hunting center. "If murderers such as Oberlander are not prosecuted, what precedent is set for the future?"

It's not clear where Oberlander will be deported to, or whether he will be extradited to stand trial at the International Criminal Court in the Hague.

Follow Justin Ling on Twitter: @Justin_Ling