Poland Education Minister Przemyslaw Czarnek says he wants there to be consideration of a possible extradition of Yaroslav Hunka, who fought for a Nazi unit in the Second World War and was honoured by Canada’s Parliament last week.
Czarnek posted on X, formerly known as Twitter, that he’s taken steps toward the process after the tribute made by parliamentarians during Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s visit to Canada last week.
In an interview with Global News, Poland’s ambassador to Canada, Witold Dzielski, describes the current situation as very preliminary.
“I don’t think we’re beginning an extradition process. There was a request of a Polish minister to the Institute of National Remembrance to consider that option,” Dzielski said.
He explained that the Institute of National Remembrance is responsible for safeguarding records of Polish history and suffering, such as that during the Second World War. Nearly six million Poles were killed during that time, about a quarter of the country’s population.
“This institution in particular is very important in Poland and its role is to preserve the memory and to investigate crimes against the Polish nation, historically speaking,” Dzielski explained.
“So, I’m sure this request will be considered at the Institute of National Remembrance, and possible some steps will follow. But at this point, it’s the first steps of the request for the institute to get involved in the process.”
Hunka was a member of the First Ukrainian Division, also known as the 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS.
During Zelenskyy’s address to Parliament, Speaker of the House of Commons Anthony Rota rose to deliver remarks and recognized Hunka in the gallery as a “hero”. He described the 98-year-old as a veteran who fought for “Ukrainian independence against the Russians.”
“He is a Ukrainian hero, a Canadian hero, and we thank him for all his service,” Rota said.
Hunka received two standing ovations from those in attendance, including Zelenskyy.
Rota has since apologized multiple times for the oversight on Hunka’s history and said the decision to invite Hunka and recognize him in the House was his, and his alone.
As for the government’s response to the exploration of extradition action, Justice Minister Arif Virani told reporters on his way into cabinet that Canada has not received any official correspondence.
“I can’t be commenting on an extradition matter until it actually appears in front of my desk, because that would jeopardize the investigation,” Virani said.
Dzielski said he would have to check with the institute if they have a file on Hunka specifically, but that the unit multiple Jewish groups have said he served with — 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS — is well-known in Poland for their brutality.
This is why he said Poland is looking for a broader apology for the recognition.
“The apologies, which happened in the public sphere, address in particular Jewish communities, which is very appropriate and obviously needed in the context of the whole situation, but they did not address the Polish communities,” Dzielski said.
“One needs to remember that this particular military group, that was brought to light unfortunately, acted against, in a brutal manner, murdered Poles – ethnic Poles, ethnic Jews. Both groups were of Polish citizenship, so these were basically Poles.”
He added that the omission of Polish people from these apologies is historically wrong.
The interview with Dzielski took place amid growing calls for Rota to resign as Speaker, which he did on Tuesday. Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly and Government House Leader Karina Gould had been among those saying he should step down.
While Dzielski will not weigh in on the internal politics of Canada, he did meet with Rota on Monday.
“We had a very good conversations, a conversation on the details, historic details of relating to the topic. He is, you know, he’s a good friend,” he said.
“We had to react in a vigorous manner, but it needs to be stressed. I have no grudge with Speaker Rota.”