We were down this road 25 years ago. Then it was the Canada’s Commission of Inquiry on War Criminals presided over by Justice Jules Deshcenes. Then it was the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Canada-based Nazi hunter Sol Littman who decided that “Ukrainians, by reason of their large numbers and historic hatred of Poles and Jews, proved themselves particularly pernicious [Nazi] collaborationists.” It was in this context that he proceeded to drag the Bandera family name through the mud.
I remembered Littman from when my father Andriy was still alive. It was the last Rizdvo he would be with us. The CBC sent a camera crew over to our house to film the way our family celebrated Ukrainian Christmas Eve on January 6, rich in traditions, song and a twelve course of soul food. The “reporter” accompanying the cameraman was Littman, who was pursued his own agenda that evening, ruining my father’s mood and Christmas for our family.
Seven months later, my father was no more, dead at the age of 38. Heart attack, they said. But it was the attacks from the likes of Littman that ultimately killed dad...
So with my father out of the way, Littman thought he could get away with calling Stepan Bandera a Nazi collaborator. He was wrong. When he did, my mother, then a 33 year old widow with three kids and a sick sister-in-law to look after, rose to the occasion. I got the day off school and went to Ottawa to stand by her side in Supreme Court of Canada building.
It was during this time that our family was contacted by a lawyer for Holocaust-denier Ernst Zundel who thought he would find common ground with our cause. Boy, was he mistaken and promptly dispatched, for Ukrainian nationalist literature is full of incontrovertible truth about the fate of Jewish prisoners (among others) at the hands of the Nazis.
In Ottawa, we had the support of Alex Epstein, a prominent Jewish Canadian lawyer, who helped prepare the submission my mother would read on May 1, 1985. Here’s that text :
My name is Marika Bandera, and I am appearing on behalf of my family: my son Stepan, who is here with me today, and my two young daughters. My husband, Andriy (who was the son of Stepan Bandera, the Ukrainian nationalist leader in Ukraine's struggle against both Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia) died July 19th of last year.
It is my duty, as the surviving widow and mother of three children born in Canada, to defend the honour and integrity of the Bandera name, a name that was unscrupulously maligned by Mr. Sol Littman during your Commission hearing held in Toronto, Wednesday, April 24th, 1985.
Thank you, Mr. Justice Deschenes, for allowing us to present our family's submission.
On page 247 of the transcript of last Wednesday's proceedings, it is stated by you, Mr. Commissioner, that:
Further in the transcript, on page 366, Mr. Sol Littman proceeds to mention our name:"no names of individuals should
be mentioned during our public
hearings by whoever appears
before this Commission."
This statement is blatant misinformation and historically incorrect. Stepan Bandera, as a matter of fact, was a Ukrainian nationalist leader who was brave enough to challenge Hitler's demands, and refused to collaborate.
"Bandera readily joined the expectation
that Hitler would create a totalitarian Ukraine under their leadership, free of Poles and Jews."
I wish to present to the Commission a German document which states that:
Subsequently, members of the Ukrainian nationalist movement were arrested, detained and tortured in Nazi concentration camps. Bandera was sent to the infamous Sachsenhausen camp, 30 km. from Berlin. His 2 brothers, Oleksa and Vasyl were taken to Auschwitz where they were tortured and eventually died a slow death, encased in cement which was allowed to dry around their bodies. Stepan's father, who was a priest, was captured by the Soviets in September, 1939, and sent to Siberia to die.*
"ALL FUNCTIONARIES OF THE UKRAINE BANDERA MOVEMENT ARE TO BE LIQUIDATED ON ACCOUNT OF THEIR PREPARATIONS FOR A REVOLT."
(Doc. 014-USSR, November 25, 1941 published at Nuremberg, Germany, 1949)
At this time, I would like to submit the name of Mr. Wasyl Bezkhlibnyk of Toronto who was an in-mate with Bandera in Sachsenhausen during the period of his incarceration by the Nazis.
Also, I include eye-witness reports of prisoners who saw the Bandera brothers in Auschwitz. Their notarized affidavits will be presented in due course.The Bandera name became a symbol of steadfastness among the Ukrainian population and of the nationalist will not to compromise with the oppressor. I submit copies of German secret documents which very clearly state the intentions of the Nazis to annihilate the Bandera resistance movement:
"We were able to seize the illegal journal of the
Bandera group, "Banner of Youth" from 1.6.1941, which appeals to Ukrainian youth not to believe the Germans, but be ready to co-operate with the Bandera movement
in its fight for an independent Ukraine."
(Doc. R58/698, Berlin, 28.VIII.1942)
Stepan Bandera was the spiritual leader of the Ukrainians in their struggle against both the Nazis and the Bolsheviks. The nationalist aspirations of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists, of which Bandera was the leader, and the Insurgent Army, were not motivated by anti-semitism, but by the goal for an independent Ukraine.
"After last September's actions against the illegal
Bandera group, apart from the leader Stepan Bandera, almost all important members of the organization were seized, and activities of the Bandera group on Reich territory
became almost non-existent. Within the last few months, however, the leaderless Bandera sympathizers have begun to organize themselves again."
(Doc. T175/146, Berlin, 20.XI.1942)
Stepan Bandera, nationalist leader, husband, father of three children, was assassinated October 15, 1959. I am submitting a document which was prepared for the Committee on the Judiciary, United States Senate (March 26, 1965) in which it is clearly stated that Bohdan Stashynsky was awarded the Order of the Red Banner by the KGB chief, Shelepin, for the assassination of Stepan Bandera.
Stepan Bandera had one son to carry on the proud family name. That son was my husband who also left a son whom we named after his grandfather. My son, Stepan, is proud of his family heritage and commitment to the Ukrainian cause, and his name and his rights as a Canadian must be protected by the judicial system. The Canadian judicial system must not be abused and allow itself to become a public forum for maligning innocent people and people who cannot defend themselves.
Therefore, with all due respect to this Inquiry, I suggest that the Commission give very serious consideration to:
a. the credibility of the public statements made during your Inquiry, andIn order for your Commission to provide the necessary expertise to make informed decisions, ell information offered must be critically examined and sources substantiated.
b. the backgrounds of witnesses who come before you.
In conclusion, in the memory of my late husband and his father, and for the future of my children, I beseech the Commission not to allow hate-mongers and bigots to abuse your just Intentions, end to protect Innocent individuals and communities who are entitled to respect and protection of their rights.
I cannot underline too strongly the anguish and pain that the Bandera family has suffered because they would not submit to the Nazis and Soviets, paying with their lives, and I consider it a grave Injustice that their name has been allowed to be maligned and slandered publicly during this Inquiry.
* After the Soviet Union fell, documents showed that Fr. Andriy Bandera was executed in Kyiv by the Soviets on July 10, 1941. Oleksa’s Auschwitz tattoo number was 51020, Vasyl Bandera’s tattoo number 49271.